The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

May 11, 2017 by

What a Papaya Has to do with Jewish Feminism

better papayaOne of the first pieces I ever wrote for the Lilith blog, in April 2013, was about how to perform a manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) abortion on a papaya. An MVA is one type of early abortion, and a papaya is a realistic model for a uterus. I wanted to write in order to at least begin to break apart some of the stigma around abortion­—in this case that it’s dirty, dangerous, and that doctors who perform it aren’t legitimate. As long as the procedure remains a mystery, the stigma continues to be perpetuated. 

When I pitched the piece to the blog’s then editor Sonia Isard, she did not ask, “How is this Jewish?” There was no need to sell an angle, to summon a Jewish connection, because there already was one—Jewish people have abortions. That reality was, and is, enough for an article. The importance was understood, there was no need for proof.

I wrote other pieces after that were less explicitly political—about my mother, her early death, and what that death prevented me from knowing about her, and by extension, about myself. Again, there was no questioning or demand to “make this Jewish.” The strength of an identity does its own work—folding in on, pressing, infusing. How fear is inherited, what we forget, what we mistake, what we’re never told—those are experiences that are universal, but are also certainly impacted by my Jewish imprint. And really, you don’t need to have seen what I’ve seen, but that’s what writing is for—to access our insides, to bring us closer to each other, even if we lack a specific experience. 

More than ten years ago, I stopped keeping kosher. It’s a strange thing to write about for a Jewish publication (or maybe it isn’t), but I did write about it for Lilith, in a piece called “My ‘Good Woman’ Brain.” The piece is about how, even more than I wanted to be a certain kind of Jew (Observant? Good?), I wanted to be a certain kind of woman—the kind who controlled food. For me, kashrut was the means of doing that, more so than it was a means of practicing halacha, which it turns out, I had zero interest or belief in. This wasn’t the only reason I stopped, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how central that desire to control eating was, and how I was manifesting it through ritual. 

I have written about my break up with kashrut before, and when I have, there has always been a legion of men rushing to its defense. “That’s not what kashrut is for,” they’ve said. “You did it wrong.”  I’m not saying that no woman who read that essay thought the same thing, but there is something about having a place to talk about the connection, my connection, between internalized misogyny and kashrut, between my desire to be “good” and how, as women, we tend to act when someone brings a tray of sweets to the office of a Jewish organization—”Oh, this is so bad, I’m so bad!” that is grounding, and that provides at least the opportunity for an echo, regardless of whether or not you share my experiences as a kashrut quitter. 

In the end, there’s this—the fact of having one’s intentions, and one’s connection, and the strength of one’s work answer the question of “What makes this Jewish?” Instead of citing Talmud or coming up with a quote from a rabbi, the identity of the writer as a Jew whose experiences matter because they are hers is powerful in itself, and trusting those experiences is a political motion, especially now, in a world that wishes to obliterate them.  Lilith’s work to find the voices of women in Jewish bodies, to hold them tight, and to trust them when they say, “This is me,” is what makes me grateful to have occupied space within its pages. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.