May these moments multiply

The following is an abridged version of the remarks by Daphne Lazar Price, executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, at the Safety Respect Equity (SRE) Network’s annual convening, held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City on June 4, 2024.

I was invited here to talk about my work as a woman supporting other women in the field. As the executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, supporting women and creating infrastructures that support women is what I do. To say that I know something about bumpy roads –  barriers, obstacles, and sky-high mechitzas — is somewhat of an understatement.

For those of you who don’t know, JOFA was first conceived as a conference inspired by conversations around Blu Greenberg’s dining room table. I attended that first conference in 1997, and for me, I can tell you that, other than having my children, it was the single most positively disruptive experience of my life. To be in a space of over 1000 people who were in search of supporting and building Orthodox feminism was nothing short of inspirational. Orthodox feminism, which started out as just an idea, quickly turned into a movement — and for those of you familiar with the patriarchal norms of the Orthodox community, not always a welcome one.

Feel free to ask me about the work of JOFA, but for now, in the two minutes I have left, I want to fast forward to Oct. 7.

I was in Israel, with my family on Oct. 7. It’s a day that changed me forever. It continues to change me, in good and in not so good ways.

First, the not so good: We quickly saw the spike in antisemitism spread like wildfire around the world, and with that, claims that ignored or diminished or completely erased the systemic weaponization of sexual violence targeted at women and children. People who we thought were our friends, disappeared or worse. Advocacy groups — from feminists to child welfare activists to those combating sex trafficking — have all but ignored what happened in the homes and on the streets and at the Nova music festival on Oct. 7. And they continue to ignore the plight of the hostages. The second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that stripped away women’s universal rights to access abortion care is nearly upon us, and for all of the abortion access reproductive justice advocates who wept and mourned and rallied at that time, how dare they sit silent now. There are women hostages who are likely in varying stages of pregnancy after being raped. They have completely lost their bodily autonomy.

To the activists who can’t find space in their hearts, and to everyone in this room: It doesn’t matter to me how you feel about the conflict and what you think might be a solution to peace. Rapists are not freedom fighters and rape is not resistance. And the hostages must be returned now.

And now I want to talk about the good.

I stayed in the region for an additional two weeks. During the time I was there, my lay leadership was deeply supportive of the time I needed while there and once I returned home to recover. Just a few short weeks after, one of our board members, Rachel Berke, approached our board chair Dr. Mindy Feldman Hecht, who approached me to think about running an Israel mission. And that is what we did.

In January, JOFA, in partnership with Maharat, led a three-day mission through a gender-based lens. We were able to do so because of the generosity of the Schusterman Family Foundation and Micah Philanthropies. Both Lisa Eisen and Ann Pava, a lifelong champion of JOFA, saw the need and helped us to step up to the plate. 

While there, we explored the intersection of women, this war and Jewish law — which in Israel’s case, is also civil law. We met with an army unit of tatziptaniot, army spotters. It was their sister unit that first alerted the IDF about Hamas activity – and was summarily ignored – only to be decimated on Oct. 7. We learned about the sexual violence and the rise of domestic violence and so many other permutations of the intersection of gender and this war. And so much more.

I want to say that these days, it can feel very lonely to be a Jewish person. It can be lonelier to be a Jewish woman, and lonelier still to be a Jewish Orthodox woman, where not only is our voice discounted by Jewish people on the right and on the left, but too often we don’t even get a seat at the table. So to be able to come back here, to bear witness, to share with you, to be surrounded by so many incredible leaders who are so invested in supporting women, and supporting the women who support women, leaves me eternally grateful, inspired and breathless.

These moments are too few and too infrequent. And so in addition to thanking the leadership at SRE and all of you for listening, I want to add the blessing “ken yirbu” – that please, let these moments multiply. Let there be more women brave enough to lead, let there be more women leaders brave enough to step out of line. And let there be more spaces where women who support other women are recognized for their tireless efforts. Ken yirbu. Amen.

Daphne Lazar Price is the executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.