Women’s wisdom

Women’s wisdom

Chochmat Nashim leaders to speak on ‘Secrets of Jewish Masculinity’ in Teaneck

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll (Laura Ben David)
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll (Laura Ben David)

For $40, you can drink beer, indulge in a fleishig buffet, and learn about the secrets of Jewish masculinity from Israeli activist Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll and Forward journalist Avital Chizhik- Goldschmidt. (See below.)

But fair warning: It started as a joke.

You may ask: What do these two Orthodox Jewish women know about Jewish masculinity?

And that’s precisely the joke.

The two friends thought of the idea after running across an advertisement this summer for a Brooklyn seminar: “The Greatness of a Jewish Princess.”

The $10 event was billed as for women only — and featured two men as speakers, Orthodox rabbis Zechariah Wallerstein and Yossi Bensoussan.

For Ms. Keats Jaskoll and Ms. Chizhik-Goldschmidt, the sheer ridiculousness of men lecturing women on their greatness struck a chord — because it resonated with their activism together in Chochmat Nashim, the organization that Ms. Keats Jaskoll co-founded six and a half years ago to fight against the erasure of women from Orthodox Judaism. The organization’s name means “the wisdom of women.” Its tagline: “Because Judaism is better when women are heard.”

So in response to the Brooklyn lecture, they designed a parody advertisement for a talk on “The Secrets of Jewish Masculinity” delivered by women.

Now, with Ms. Keats Jaskoll touring the United States on behalf of Chochmat Nashim, speaking on topics such as “The Dangers of Erasing Women” and “Jewish Divorce, What Went Wrong,” the joke is coming to life as the Teaneck stop on the tour.

As for the talk itself, Ms. Keats Jaskoll promises some laughs, but says it won’t be stand-up.

Ms. Keats Jaskoll grew up in Lakewood. For 12 years she has lived in Beit Shemesh, the Israeli city that drew headlines several years ago as ultra-Orthodox charedi extremists clashed with residents who, like Ms. Keats Jaskoll, are Orthodox but not charedi.

“We’re Orthodox women who saw extremism in our community and had to speak out,” Ms. Keats Jaskoll said.

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll and Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt will respond to the discussion in the flier, left, with their own, right.

The extremism includes women being erased from advertisement, girls being seated in the back of the bus, and the words “breast cancer” being excised from the public health vocabulary.

She started by speaking out in articles and blog posts. Before long, Chochmat Nashim started a podcast. It recently began a d’var Torah project along with the New York-based Orthodox Leadership Project, to make sure that women posted articles on the weekly Torah portion on the Times of Israel’s blog platform.

At the same time, Ms. Keats Jaskoll was representing her aunt, who was in America, in Israel’s rabbinic court. Her aunt was an agunah — married to a man who refused to give her a divorce — and Ms. Keats Jaskoll was shaken by “seeing how women are dismissed in a place where you expect justice.”

It became apparent to her that the extremism in Beit Shemesh was connected to the injustice in the religious courts, “where women had no voice.

“The common thread is that women are not in policy-making positions,” she said. “When you have people making policy who are not affected by the policy, it’s by nature unjust. It harms people.”

She focuses her energies on changing communities “from the bottom up,” rather than through legislation or litigation, because “when a community decides it will not tolerate something, there is very little that can force them to.”

When she first started warning about spreading religious extremism, “people said what’s the big deal? It’s never going to come to my community. People were poo-pooing it. I said, ‘It’s not just the charedim. It becomes the new normal.’”

Sure enough, “I started getting messages that a charity I’ve been giving to for years just sent out a pamphlet with only men.”

She’s not quite sure why the task of speaking out against erasing women fell to her.

“Where is the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America when the Torah is being completely warped into a Taliban ban on women’s images?” she asked. “Where are all the rabbinic organizations happy to tell you where women should not be? (These are the Orthodox leaders who oppose women becoming rabbis.) “Where are you when we’re being erased? We have no leadership, no one taking responsibility, no one saying this is too extreme. They’re simply quiet.”

Without leadership from on high, it’s up to individuals to take action.

“You have to take a stand,” she said. “People are being damaged. We have to be as loud as possible. What it comes down to is making sure people understand what’s at stake here. We want a Jewish community where everybody is seen and heard.”

It’s not just a question of pushing back against publications and advertisements that exclude women, Ms. Keats Jaskoll said. “Bring women scholars to your community. Show up to their speeches. Make sure that if you’re on a committee or a panel that there are women there.”

Ms. Keats Jaskoll and Chochmat Nashim helps people solve these problems in their communities.

“Someone will call us up and say ‘This is happening in my town — how can I deal with it?’ We give them the right phrases to use.

“A women called to say that a school took girls off its social media feed. She said, ‘I send my daughter to a co-ed school on purpose. How do I deal with this? I want to make them understand why this is bad.’”

With Chochmat Nashim’s help, the woman made her case and the school changed its policy.

“We were successful with a major Orthodox institution that did not realize their posters were incredibly disparate,” Ms. Keats Jaskoll said. “Because of something we did, they wound up changing the way they create and design their posters that go to tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews.”

What: “The Secrets of Jewish Masculinity” presented by Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll and Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt and accompanied by beer and a meat buffet

Where: The Doghouse, 1415 Palisade Ave, Teaneck

When: Tuesday, November 19, at 8 p.m.

How much: $40

For whom: Men and women

RSVP required: info@chochmatnashim.org

read more: