“I’m just an intersectional Jewish Feminist standing in front of a social justice movement, telling it I’m not going anywhere

The challenges of being a progressive feminist Jew in the social justice scene
By Avital Norman Nathman  Published on 08/11/2017 at 12:00 PM EDT

[Photo: Guest writer Avital, sporting a Star of David ]

For me as a Jew, being a part of social justice movements always felt like a given; since Judaism as a religion is deeply rooted in helping other people, bettering the world, and ensuring justice, its always just gone handinhand. But in today’s social justice movement, Jews are occasionally marginalized and even attacked — mostly surrounding issues with Israel and the denying that anti-Semitism can be an institutional issue. And yet, I remain stalwart in continuing to be a part of both Judaism and social justice efforts… for better or worse.

In the last few years, particularly within the progressive left, there has been a hyperfocus on anti-Zionism/anti-Israel. From the International Women’s Strike US platform that specifically called out the occupation of Palestine — and no other international conflicts —  to the recent ousting of “pro-Israel” Jewish marchers carrying rainbow flags with Jewish stars at the Chicago Dyke March (and subsequent banning then easing up on restrictions on Jewish imagery from Chicago’s SlutWalk organizers), there seems to be a rise in anti-Semitism couched as Anti-Zionism in progressive circles.

I’m not calling out those in the movement working toward ending the Palestinian Occupation. In fact, there are many Jews — both American and Israeli — who work tirelessly to find new paths to peace and equality in that area.

However, as a Jew who strongly believes in a homeland for my people — and who, at the same time, fiercely disagrees with the Israeli government’s continued occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians — it pains me to see American organizations in particular conflate all matters regarding Judaism and Jews with the significant issues with the Palestinian Occupation.I would argue that our religion insists we push for an end to the Occupation and for humane, equitable treatment for Palestinians ASAP, but not all Jews agree on any one thing, especially the issues surrounding the Occupation; targeting and marginalizing us as a group isn’t the way to fix what is happening.

My identity as a Jew is intrinsically linked to my identity as someone involved in the social justice movement. Social justice has been woven into me as part of my religion since an early age. As a child in a Jewish day school setting we were taught about the importance of helping those in need, taking care of the earth, food insecurity, and more. As a teen, I was actively involved in my local Jewish youth group, eventually holding the position of regional Sh’licha, the person responsible not only for Jewish programming, but for community service and social action as well. The values imbued in me growing up have only stayed and strengthened as I became an adult.

And being Jewish and feminist and social justice-oriented is a state of being multiple things at one time that  falls under the umbrella of intersectionality, a term coined by civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, meaning that multiple identities of a person intersect to create the whole — that we have to acknowledge the fact that someone is not just a woman, but look at how her race, religion, sexuality, (dis)ability, age, gender identity, social class, etc… all factor in to make up who she is, as well as how we best work toward fixing multiple levels of systemic injustice to address all these aspects, not just one. It’s why you make sure to have interpreters at conferences and events so Deaf and hard-of-hearing folks can fully participate; it’s why you offer program scholarships and free spots to those who cannot afford it; and it is why you don’t schedule these types of things on major religious holidays (although, I can provide a list of of progressive-led events that neglect to take the Jewish religious calendar in mind, particularly in September/October during the High Holy Days).

And it is because of this that I have been extra dismayed when Jews have been pushed to the side, talked over, and demonized in certain social justice arenas. I want to be clear: I’m not here to play the Oppression Olympics: I am not comparing my experience or the way Jews have been treated in the movement to the way any other folks have been treated. I’m not claiming Jews have had it harder or easier than other groups. I’m just sharing my experience: that my religion has infused in me the responsibility to work for and with others, yet at times it feels like I’m swimming upstream, dodging a spear here and there.

I guess I’m just a Jewish intersectional feminist, standing in front of a social justice movement, telling it I’m not going anywhere.

And neither are the many Jews who are hard at work within social justice. We can’t afford not to fight for others, since we know so intimately what happens when others don’t fight for us. It’s why despite the fact that at times I may feel unwelcome just because of my religion and heritage, I will continue to keep showing up. I will continue to keep doing the work. And I will continue to make my place within this arena – even if folks in this movement continue to question my right to be here because I don’t know any other way.


Avital Norman Nathman is the editor of The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality, and a freelance writer who reports on everything from parenting to pop culture and pot. Her work has been featured in the New York Times,, The Daily DotThe Establishment and more.

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