by Leah Robbins, Administrative and Marketing Assistant
If you know me at all, you know that I’ve always got feminism on the brain, but our current political moment has my hair on fire. Suffering has reached unfathomable highs, and our threshold for the basics of compassion, unfathomable lows. I can’t control violent policy, I can’t control violent streets, I can’t control violent people, but I can control myself (to the extent possible when living under patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism). I can push my feminist analysis forward, I can tinker with my personal convictions, I can adjust my own behaviors in partnership with others to manifest a brighter, gentler, more just world.
I believe the soul work of personal politicization is a marathon with no finish line, and in the spirit of this truth, I recently convened a small group of women-identified Jewish folks for an ode to 1970’s consciousness-raising groups. I was inspired to organize this space by the transformative nature of the Hebrew month of Shvat. This month is represented by the Hebrew letter tzaddi, which is intimately bound to the words tzadok and tzedek, righteousness and justice. I wanted to offer a space that would emulate divine righteousness by harnessing our own righteous anger, moving towards justice by bearing witness to one another through truth-telling and intimate connection. Patriarchy works diligently to isolate one person from another, and I consider our storytelling an act of political resistance. The structure of the letter tzaddi itself offers some resonant wisdom.
The letter looks like a bent nun that makes room for a yud to rest upon it. Like the tzaddi, we have been conditioned to bend our voices, our convictions, our truths, and our very bodies so that others can climb from the boost of our breaking backs. But like the tzaddi, we always have the yud, the divine presence, resting on our shoulders – guiding us, protecting us.
With this kavanah (intention) in mind, we burst open within ourselves the answers to some tough questions: Where are we missing opportunities to refine our feminist lens? Many of us do game-changing justice work in the community, like Mayyim Hayyim, which has crafted a vision of a Jewish world that centers compassion, dignity, and autonomy. But what about the ongoing project of personal work? Where is patriarchy clandestinely touching our every day? Are there things we are missing? Passes we are giving? Excuses we are making?
We discussed emotional labor, sexual violence, tone-policing, the messages our mothers taught us about weight and body hair, gendered expectations, patriarchal norms repackaged in the queer community, gaslighting, accountability, harassment, consent, toxic masculinity, manipulation, and fear, to name a few. We laughed, we sighed, we cried – relieved to name what we’ve endured and to see our grief mirrored in the nodding faces around the circle.
I emerged from this learning experience grateful and energized, having stirred a stewing pot of frustration, hopeful that such conversations begun in sacred space would be a launching point for exploration and personal interrogation.
Political movements begin with me and you. Paradigm shifts start with the hard questions. So I ask, who do you care for? Who cares for you? Is the emotional labor reciprocal? What aspects of sexism do you still struggle to unlearn? What do you let slide? Whose behavior might you sometimes overlook? For whom do you sometimes make excuses? What kind of world do you want to see? What will you do to get us there?
Leah Robbins is the Administrative and Marketing Assistant at Mayyim Hayyim.