As an Orthodox Jew, feminist activist, and first-year college student, I’ve got a pretty full schedule to balance. I’ve previously written about how being a feminist has influenced my perspective on being an undergrad, but I have yet to explore how being Orthodox impacts both my feminism and collegiate career.
Being a feminist in a patriarchal society is no simple mater. However, so far, I’ve found college to be a pretty conducive place for feminism and other social equality movements. There’s a sizable feminist community at Harvard, every member of which is absolutely fabulous and truly dedicated to making the world a better place for women and men alike. Numerous gender-related events occur every week, from screenings of documentaries like 12th and Delaware to speeches by New York Times columnist Gail Collins. All of the upperclass feminists I’ve met have strongly encouraged me and other first-years to get involved in activist work; my first semester of college hasn’t even ended, and I’m already on the board of an on-campus feminist organization and write for the college’s feminist magazine. Even in groups that are not specifically gendered or activist-oriented, I have found and fostered several feminist-friendly spaces.
Not everybody I meet on campus is as involved in gender issues as I am. Although I have encountered some insensitivity or misunderstanding when I’ve espoused feminist ideals or used the word feminist, the typical reaction is a few respectful questions about what exactly feminism is. Consequently, I’ve had some really interesting, eye-opening conversations with a varied group of people about gender issues.
Just like my feminism has been flourishing, my Judaism has also been thriving. The Hillel at my school is home to a vibrant and active Jewish community filled with truly inspiring individuals. The Orthodox community at my college is strong and tight-knit; I know that I will always have a core group of frum kids and rabbinical staff to rely on. I’ve yet to experience any anti-Semitism or discrimination based on my halakhic observance. Non-observant Jewish students and students from different faiths have all been extremely tolerant and respectful of my beliefs and practices, and so has the school administration and faculty. I haven’t found it difficult to be frum in the slightest.