Some problems with naming

The term “Jewish feminism” specifically refers to feminism within Judaism – ie, making the religion and its practices more egalitarian. What about secular Jewish feminists? Jewish feminists who want their feminism to be within an ethnic Jewish framework, with a culturally Jewish support network? Jewish feminists whose hearts beat faster when the words women and radical and Judeo-Arabic/Ladino/Yiddish are all in the same sentence? What does such a feminism even look like in practice?

And if I light candles on Friday nights and, throughout the rest of the week, crave the calm that follows, am I still completely secular?

**

What’s the word for someone who believes that if the nation-state system is what we’re dealing with, then Jews have the right to an autonomous nation-state, and that it’s pretty noticeable when people seem the most eager to talk about questioning nation-states when the topic is the Jewish one – BUT that there’s no way to form an ethnicity/religion-based nation-state without displacing/oppressing another group of people, and doing so is contrary to doikayt anyway – BUT that since the Jewish state already exists, the question is moot, and now we should all just stop arguing and focus on equal rights for non-Jews in Israel and Palestine – BUT that it won’t be moot anymore if the non-Jewish population in Israel/Palestine continues to rise? As I’ve written before, I can put on Zionist, anti-Zionist, non-Zionist and post-Zionist caps within the course of a single thought, and remain solidly leftist all the while.

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What do you call it when all your dreams center on women, but in waking life all you’re into is men? What do you call it when you perform pretty femme, and enjoy performing femme, but don’t often feel very femme? (“Poor body image,” maybe? How many of my issues are socially constructed, and how many just come from personal baggage? Almost every time I played pretend as a kid, I’d pretend to be a male character. In this video interview I chalked it up to a lack of good female characters in kids’ pop culture, and I think that’s true – but over the past couple of years, I’ve begun to suspect that there was more to it than that.)

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Is the term “guerrilla gardener” offensive to actual guerrillas?

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I personally identify as and feel white, but I hate it when people claim that Ashkenazi Jews are required to identify as and feel white, because many of us don’t. If the construction of whiteness – see Noel Ignatiev’s essay “Immigrants and Whites” for an explanation – is designed to be an absence of markers, are you still white if you’re visibly marked with sidelocks or a headscarf? I’ve heard Orthodox Jews report that no, they aren’t – or, well, they don’t feel like it, at least.

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When I was growing up, Jewishness was defined solely in terms of religion, and more specifically, in negatives: Jews didn’t believe Jesus was the messiah, Jews didn’t celebrate Christmas. I never wondered how, if I did celebrate Christmas and belonged to an interfaith family that did believe, at least on the surface, that Jesus was the messiah, I could still be a Jew – I just knew that I was, or a half-Jew at least, and figured that it would make sense eventually. One of my first deep philosophical questions was whether I could believe Jesus was the messiah and not believe it at the same time.

Alain Badiou defines a Jew (although is it really his place to go around defining Jews? I know he made a controversial statement about the Holocaust, although I never read it firsthand) as anyone who can’t say they’re not a Jew. Again with the negatives – but given issues like intermarriage and conversion (either to or from Judaism), it does make a lot of sense.

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“Calendula” is not just a fancier name for “marigold.” Different types of marigolds have different blooming seasons. The owners of the website that listed calendulas – a winter flower – as a good companion crop for basil need to be sacked.

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If I’d known that Julie is, in the minds of 99% of the English-speaking population of the world, not a nickname for Julia but rather a completely different name, I would have never started going by it. Every time I meet someone! “Is your name Julie or Julia? Both? But… but… how? How!?” It’s too late to turn back now – I no longer see myself as a Julia, except on paper.

**

For a brief time in high school, my sister wore a cross necklace and attended Christian rock concerts at Angel Stadium. She would have been within her rights to call herself a Jewish Christian, even though it would have driven people up the wall. She’s never identified as Jewish, though. Instead of two half-Jews, my parents produced one Jew and one WASP. I’ve always thought it has something to do with the fact that I look Jewish and she doesn’t. We don’t look like sisters at all.

She’s having a chuppah and a glass at her wedding, though! I was thrilled when she asked my advice about it, even though that advice was whether our Jewish relatives would think it was weird. My response: “Of course they won’t think it’s weird! Why in the world would they think it was weird!? I was afraid they’d think my wedding was weird, too.”

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The name of this site is Modern Mitzvot. Is what I’ve written mitzvot? No. Well, yes. Okay, sort of.

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5 Responses

  1. Very nice.

    I feel you on Shabbat. I’m an atheist who gets genuine meaning out of ritual. I’ve worked it out in my head so I don’t feel like a hypocrite when I say blessings. I believe in gratitude and humility, in recognizing that what I have is not entirely through my own efforts. The only way that makes sense to me to do this is through my own traditions.

    But the more I do this, and the more I bring observance (by my very secular standards, not by religious Jewish standards) into my life, the more I wonder if I’m still an atheist … like a real atheist.

    And my brother doesn’t consider himself Jewish at all and flirted with Christianity in high school (though not as much as your sister). While I very much consider myself Jewish and always have. Interesting.

  2. Amazing post. I identify with so much of what you say.

  3. Interesting combination here–food for thought.

  4. Confession: When we became “friendsters” oh so long ago, and saw that on your profile you went by “Julia,” I got really stressed out and worried that I had been calling you the wrong name all along and that maybe you and tomemos were too polite to say anything or something. Then, I think I basically tried to avoid saying your name, or biting off the end of it ,while listening very carefully to how others pronounced it. Wow, looking back on it, that’s totally psychotic. I should have just asked.

    Obviously not a substantive response to what you’ve written, but I did want to say I’ve been enjoying your series of posts on negotiating your Jewish identity. Mostly because growing up, it never occurred to me that being Jewish made me anything other than white. Though having a South African mother and growing up in the South may have had something to do with this – I think my parents would be appalled at the thought they weren’t white. I think Southern Jews – especially of my grandparents generation which saw pretty severe anti-semitic violence – adapted by asserting their whiteness.

  5. There’s a book called “How Jews Became White Folks: And What That Says About Race in America”. In fact, Irish, Italians, Slavs, Hungarians, Greeks, etc. also didn’t use to count as “white” in America. “White” pretty much meant WASP. Not sure if Scots, Scandinavians, French or Germans were sometimes included.

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