Sisterhood Blog

'Feminist' Feels More Political Than I Am

By Abigail Pogrebin

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This is the second entry in an ongoing series about Jewish feminism.

It’s difficult to be “for” something I have never lived without.

I don’t remember a bimah without women. When I was growing up, my mother was the cantor at our makeshift shul on Fire Island, so my Jewish practice always had a female face. I don’t remember learning Judaism without women because some of my most formative Jewish teachers — Miri Kubovy, Mychal Springer, Jennifer Krause and Angela Buchdahl — were strong, scholarly women. I have only known integrated, egalitarian Judaism, just as I have only known an egalitarian home — my parents’ and now my own.

Radical as it may sound, I never really experienced sexism, just as I didn’t encounter anti-Semitism. I know both still fester, and that they were once controlling and insidious, but thanks, in significant part, to the work of my mother and her compatriots, we live in a different world now.

So where does that leave my identity as a “Jewish feminist?” I don’t squirm at the word, feminist, except when it conjures the word “activist,” and I’ve never been one.

I was raised by someone who was unmistakably active — always pushing against the maddening status quo. I could not be more proud of her courage and indefatigability, but I never had a similar impulse to rebel or upend. I don’t own the term “Jewish feminist” because I’ve never felt the need to label an identity which I was simply born into. The label feels more political than I am.

I am Jewish. I believe in equality. But I’ve never introduced myself by putting words “Jewish” and “feminist” together. I imagine it would feel unnatural to start now.

Abigail Pogrebin is the author of “Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish,” “One and the Same,” and “Showstopper.” She has written for New York Magazine, the Daily Beast, Salon, and Tablet, among others, and she wrote all the biographies for Newsweek’s top rabbis list last year. Abby has her own interview series with newsmakers at The JCC in Manhattan.


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