Hellooooo. Greeting from 10 Av. Woke up this morning and did a post-fast protein binge, of the eggs-and-black-beans variety. It was so so good, especially when augmented by smoothie and black tea. There was a big nap today, I think the heat and the fasting hit me harder than I noticed. It is so bloody hot out, and my apartment has the great misfortune of poor air circulation and no fans. But I’m out of here shortly, and rumor has it there’s a free air conditioner headed my way when I get back down to L.A. At the very least, I have good air circulation AND several fans in my apartment.
Oh, I am so excited to go back to my apartment. It is all nice, and there are lots of my belongings in it. I’m over living out of a suitcase. It will be nice to be able to spread out a little. Though I think I’m going to have to get rid of a lot of useless junk, it’s apparent how much I don’t need all the stuff I have after not having seen it for well over a year. Who am I kidding? I am going to be very happy to play with all my random stuff. The white beaded sweater AND the black one. Or whatever.

A few items:

  • Am knee-deep in High Holy Day prep now. I am a d’var Torah-writing machine. Well, I’m not. But I’m noodling around with ideas, and trying to collect lots of other bits and bobs for other parts of the service. I have a list. I’m so organized. it will all get done, probably not by the time school starts as I would have liked, but I think I’ll have the bulk of the major work done by then, which is good.
  • Tomorrow I’m on a panel on teaching teenagers at the annual CAJE conference, a thing for Jewish educators. Two former bosses are organizing the thing, and since the conference is in Seattle, they asked if I wanted to be on it. I’m not exactly the most sophisticated pedagogue—mostly I make stuff up, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it’s a disaster—so it’ll be interesting to see how this all works, given that they’re going to make me do roleplays and stuff. I think I’m going to talk a lot about teaching about “hard stuff,” like sex and politics and prayer, in a way that tells the truth and doesn’t talk down to a perfectly intelligent 16 year-old who’s not going to be satisfied with some party line. Anyway, it should be interesting to see how I hold up against the real educators, and fun to see some old friends.

    And now, where I was all last week:

    As it turned out, the conference at Dartmouth was a lot of ass-kicking goodness.

    There were 40-ish people, roughly half doing Islamic Studies, half doing Jewish studies, and plenty of people working on stuff that addressed pieces of both. About a third were grad students. There were two or three men, only—I think a few more were invited but couldn’t make it. People were flown in from Cairo, Izmir, Turkey, the West Bank, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Frankfurt, Berlin and many places in North America. A lot of Arabic and a lot of Hebrew was spoken, since a heavy chunk of people, even if they lived on this side of the big water, had learned for their studies, lived abroad, and/or learned growing up. Some had both. Man, do I have to learn Arabic. It is so past time.

    Everybody was pretty fantastic, and there were lots of conversations during which the iceberg tip was just barely located. We had a lot of time to socialize, what with meals and receptions and going to the bars afterwards and such, and/though I’m proud to report that I think this is the first conference I’ve ever attended during which I actually, like, attended every session. And wanted to.

    The sessions were hot. I mean, not all of them equally, but I got something good out of just about all of them. The topics were often broad—feminism in Islamic studies, gender studies at Middle East universities, orientalism and reverse orientalism, gender, popular religion and civil society, etc—but it was a chance for people to talk about their work and experiences, and for us all most of the time to get into discussion mode but serious. (With most of them, two people each presented for 10-15 min. and then we moved into discussion.)

    Dude, Muslim feminists rock so hard. I knew this already, but having the chance to really hash out deeply with some extraordinary people about similarities and differences with what I do was amazing. Some of it was just thinking about parallels—how to interpret and/or reinterpret religious law? How to read sacred scripture? How to manage issues of authority and community consent? Because Jewish feminism has had a few years’ head start on Muslim feminism, in some ways the road over here is more paved. A lot of the IS grad students approached me at some point looking for book recommendations on various issues in JS to help them think through questions of Islamic law, theology, etc. And yet, perhaps we’ve been at this longer, in some ways I can see how we over in Jewville have gotten soft—it’s clear in the kinds of questions we were asking and that they were. Even when the questions are similar and applicible over here–can one deploy agency in choosing to submit to a patriarchal power structure? If so, what does that mean? I think we’ve gotten sloppy and started to assume that we know the answers (regardless of which position you would take) and could use having to re-investigate the questions from anew.

    And despite the similarities in some ways, in other ways Muslim feminists are dealing with a very different ball of wax, given the role of Islam (and Muslims) in the global picture. There are issues of state building and control and fundamentalism, of women’s participation in the political process, in the development of Third World countries with which Jewish feminists have the luxury of not contending. Any attempt to make an analogy between the (privileged) position of various groups of women in Israel with those of women in rural Bangladesh, for example—there’s no comparison. It was humbling to regain a little perspective on my work.

    I’m also glad that I was there as a religious Jewish voice. I was certainly the most traditionally observant of the bunch, the most engaged in conversations about halakha and the like. I was glad to be there to represent not only in terms of information about halakhic process (which some of the other participants also had, in spades) but also to engage an abstract conversation about prayer from the POV of a Jew who prays, to give a little on-the-ground report on the state of Orthodox feminism, to remind a colleague that, though she may think that the rabbis of the Talmud are “from a very long time ago and don’t impact our contemporary world,” for a great many people, that’s not the case at all—they are living, now, and influential, today.

    Tuesday night, when a bunch of us were hanging out late in the basement of our little dormitory, running Radio Lebanon off a coupxle of laptops (one wasn’t enough b/c of their puny speakers) and taking turns dancing and drumming on tables, I reflected on what a pity it was that it’s still a too-little known secret just how dang sexy feminists are. These chicas could dance.

    It was a good week. We ate dinners at this long, wide, clear pond, sorted out questions from our work under trees, made stupid jokes that only a select group of people could understand, and asked curious questions about how we as individuals understood what we do, how we do it, why. I hope there’s follow-up, and grateful for what’s already been.

    A few links related to projects people are working on:

    The Feminist Sexual Ethics Project at Brandeis University
    The Women and Memory Forum at Cairo University
    The Insan Center for Gender and Women’s Studies at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis

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