This month, Judith Rosenbaum, PhD, executive director of the Jewish Women’s Archive, answers 4 questions about the Jewish experience.
1. In your opinion, what is the defining feature of Jewish life today?
I would say choice. Jewish life in the 21st century is voluntary, and – even for those of us for whom Jewishness is a primary identity – it is one among many commitments and affiliations.
2. What is your favorite Jewish book and why?
It’s hard to pick just one, but if forced to choose, I would have to say Grace Paley’s The Collected Stories. Her stories, which focus on women’s lives, capture how the most mundane, brief moments of everyday life (a walk with a friend, moms watching kids in the park) contain everything we need to know about people and the world. I also love the intersections of politics, family, and storytelling. No one was better than Grace Paley at making clear the political imperative, as well as the human imperative, to love people and to tell their stories. I return to these stories again and again for Paley’s deep wisdom about people, relationships, love, and justice.
3. What do you think Jewish life will look like in 100 years from now?
As a historian, I have a great deal of humility about making predictions. As in the midrash of Moses feeling lost in the beit midrash of Rabbi Akiva, I expect – and hope – that I would be surprised and perhaps confused, because Judaism should continue to evolve.
4. If you could meet any figure from Jewish history, who would it be and why?
Again, how to choose just one?? I’d love to meet the 19th century feminist Ernestine Rose and hear about how it even occurred to her to sue her rabbi father in the Polish civil court over her betrothal to a man she didn’t want to marry and the loss of her inheritance to him. I’m also fascinated by Emma Goldman and would enjoy meeting her. And I’d be interested to get Bella Abzug’s perspective on how to grapple with politics in this challenging era. Among many others.