Wednesday, December 11, 2013

First Impressions of the JOFA Conference

I was even interviewed for a video for The Forward 
at the conference! You can watch the full video here.
On Sunday, December 8, I was privileged to attend and speak at the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) conference. I’ve been looking forward to this conference for several months, and I am happy to report that it was worth the wait.

The day started off with a plenary session featuring speakers from each generation of the Orthodox feminist fight. It was really interesting to hear such distinct voices in sequence like that. I particularly enjoyed listening to Ronnie Becher’s discussion of JOFA’s genesis and evolution. I was also really happy to see a fellow undergrad at the podium, since it shows that JOFA is truly dedicated to making space for the younger generation. At the plenary, Member of Knesset Ruth Calderon also spoke. It was an honor to simply be in the presence of such a groundbreaking feminist who I’ve read so much about. Unsurprisingly, Calderon is an excellent speaker who had a lot of interesting things to say about Orthodox feminism.

After Calderon spoke, concurrent sessions about different topics began. I chose to attend the screening of the documentary The Bulletproof Stockings, about the Hasidic all-girl alt rock band of the same name. As a music junkie, avid concertgoer, and Orthodox Jew, I love the fact that this band exists. I was happily surprised that they were at the conference, since I expected to be one of the only more right-wing types in attendance. The documentary itself was very well-made and interesting to watch, but I most enjoyed the talkback with both members of the band. They spoke candidly about how the Bulletproof Stockings came to be, their life experiences, Jewish journeys, musical influences, and more. Honestly, it was just awesome to see two women wearing skirts and shaitels (wigs worn for religious purposes) who know how to rock out at a feminist conference.

The next session I attended was titled Mirror Image: Eating Disorders in the Orthodox Community. Although I have never suffered from an eating disorder, some of my closest friends have, so this is an issue close to my heart. As I have previously researched and written about this issue for my blog and other publications, I was eager to continue learning about this topic. Speaker Dr. Esther Altmann pointed out how women’s everyday speech patterns - “ohmygosh, you’ve lost so much weight, you look great!” - can be so toxic, and encouraged attendees to model self-love for the women around them to emulate. Her presentation was particularly powerful; during the Q&A session at the end, several people asked questions in tears, showing how deep of a chord the session struck.

After lunch, which I ate with other feminist undergrads, I went to ‘Slut!’ The Shame Effect. It was probably the best session I went to all day. I was drawn to the session because of speaker Leora Tanenbaum, the author of Slut!: Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation, who I hadn’t even known was religiously affiliated. Tanenbaum presented her research on how negatively the label slut can impact a girl or young woman, and urged attendees to boycott this word. I have always gone out of my way to avoid it, but her impassioned plea certainly strengthened my resolute. I also really liked Tanenbaum’s co-presenter Rachel Hercman, who discussed slut-shaming within the Orthodox community, and how it usually manifests itself around tzniut (ritual modesty) and shomer negiah (the prohibition of touching member of the opposite sex). Overall, this session made me think harder about slut-shaming and how it impacts my life as a teenage girl, college student, feminist, and Orthodox Jew.

Next, I attended a session titled The WOW Factor: Women of the Wall. Although I entered with mixed feelings towards WOW’s monthly prayer groups at the Kotel, I exited as a complete supporter. The three WOW-affiliated presenters gave a comprehensive rundown of the situation on the ground and chronicled their day-to-day WOW advocacy. I had previously thought that WOW was more concerned with making noise than championing change. Having heard these women speak, I now understand that it’s about being able to pray in a way that’s meaningful at the Kotel, not about politics.

After the WOW session, I spoke on a panel called Blogging for Change. I thought I was going to be nervous about speaking, but the anxiety never came. To be honest, I really enjoyed the panel. It was a lot of fun being able to share my thoughts on and experiences with feminism, activism, and blogging alongside three other fabulous feminist writers. There were 25-30 people in attendance, and they were all really engaged and interested to hear what we had to say. Based on the amount of hands raised during the Q&A session, we could have sat and answered questions for another half hour. I know that I was a little sad when we had to wrap up.

I had a really amazing time at the conference. The only bad part of the JOFA conference is that I’ll have to wait another three or four years for the next one.


  1. Talia
    Please note that what WOW and o-WOW do at the Kotel is prayer. Demonstrations are held against the group. Members of the group do not demonstrate at the Kotel.

    1. Duly noted, and the article has been changed to reflect that. Thank you for pointing that out.