Extract from 'Across the Spectrum' - September 1999

Jewish Feminism and Community Building

New Network Chair Vicky Grosser reports on the keynote speech by Leah Shakdiel

Leah has a very specific theory about the development of feminism, which she laid out for us at the event. She used a flipchart to draw a diagram of what she calls 'the three stages of its development':-

Liberal feminism: which was about achieving equality in relation to what white, middle- class men already had in the West, such as equal pay for equal jobs. Whilst achievements were made under this model such as the first women to become Rabbis, the approach inevitably ignored the differing needs of huge numbers of women.

Radical feminism: when women noticed they were modelling their liberation on the men's world, many decided to change the whole approach. This was a move to positively use women's culture and experiences to develop feminism, but tended to develop a movement which was not in connection with men at all.

Difference feminism: Leah believes that this is the stage we are at now in the women's movement, where our different experiences as women - Orthodox, Sephardi, lesbian, are examples Leah gave - are recognised and expressed more fully. Our identities do not need to be neglected for the whole and our strengths as women in terms of our emotional expression are not considered undesirable. In fact they compliment well our increasing intellectual confidence.

Leah went on to flag up how difficult it is at times to be pluralistic. It can be challenging to handle the differences between us and I certainly heard this as a reminder of how we need to keep a balance in the Network between identifying our collective concerns whilst always hearing the different priorities of each sub-group. These need not be incompatible: each step we take to support one another will have a knock-on effect on all of our liberation. For example, the commitment JWN has to support Agunot may not directly impact on all women's lives but is an example of how we can participate in achieving change which will impact on us all in the long term.

Leah encouraged us to enable different groups of women to develop their own agendas. This does not need to be divisive but can, in effect, end up with us all heading in the same direction. She expressed a view that as we develop our agendas as Jewish women, we can do so with conviction in the knowledge that the cause of women goes hand in hand with pluralism and democracy. In effect it will benefit all Jews: male and female. She encouraged us to develop our individual perspectives as Jewish females in the knowledge that this would not only strengthen us individually but also effect us collectively as a community.

Finally, Leah said that she has learnt that effective women's organisations don't concentrate on only one agenda, but develop several interconnected ones. At this point I felt proud of JWN, where we have often concentrated on a general subject but never avoided a range of aspects. Which brings me neatly to our programme for the Network over the coming year......


JWN - 2000 ........

1. Focusing on building networks: ·
Between us as Jewish women: a database for sharing skills and interests for women of all ages. · Building alliances with women in other organisations - Jewish and non-Jewish. Building bridges in order to support one another.

2. Breaking down the divisions in the Jewish Community: ·
How do these divisions effect us? · A Jew is a Jew, is a Jew: leading as women and challenging the divisions in our community.

3. Information & Support: ·
Bereavement Booklet: voices of women on their experiences of bereavement, plus some practical information and guidance for women of all ages and affiliations.

This is a particular priority, and some steps have already been taken to develop this booklet. You might like to write a personal account of a bereavement, or have knowledge or skills which could contribute to its production.

How would you like to participate in these activities? Vicky Grosser

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