Hanah Brasch (LCW) addressed the JCPA at the Chair's Dinner about what it means to be a Jewish woman.
What does it mean to be a Jewish woman? This was the question pondered by Hanah Brasch in her speech to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) during the Chair’s Dinner this past Sunday. As it does each year, Touro sponsored a session – this one focusing on energy – at the plenum. And, as traditional, a student is chosen to speak. This year the honor went to Hanah, a student and recipient of the Presidential Scholar award at Lander College for Women. Her journey to Judaism and as a Jewish woman stresses the need to “bring hands together” among the women of her faith, as outlined in her speech:
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to speak today.
“We live in an age in which the fundamental principles to which we subscribe – liberty, equality and justice for all – are encountering extraordinary challenges, ... But it is also an age in which we can join hands with others who hold to those principles and face similar challenges."
These words were given to us by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish Woman to sit on the Supreme Court of The United States Of America.
Justice Ginsburg spoke of holding hands and creating a coalition where one might not have existed. The Jewish world, in particular for Jewish Women, remains fragmented.
When Dr. David Luchins, Founding Dean of Lander College for Women, first asked me to speak at this conference, I wondered: what does it really mean to represent Lander College for Women?
One would think that it means to be a Jewish woman seeking both a Jewish and secular education. But these concepts are so ambiguous that I wasn’t quite sure.
From a secular perspective, I am seeking a degree in political science and, G-d willing, will continue on to law school. This half of the equation is very simple.
In contrast, my personal journey with Judaism is quite an interesting one and much more complicated. My father grew up in Skokie, Illinois, in a non-observant family. My mother grew up as a Filipina Catholic girl in Wisconsin. Together, they entered the Jewish community, and together, they grew as Jews.
As the firstborn child, I have walked with my parents through much of their spiritual journey. My mother and I completed three separate conversions: One by a reform rabbi, a second by a conservative rabbi and a third by an “orthodox” chabad rabbi.
As I have matured, my experiences have opened my eyes to the myriad of Jewish opinions and beliefs.
I have learned that there are Jews who consider my definition of “Judaism” liberal, and required me to seek a letter of approval from the Israeli Rabanut for my conversion, while there are others who see me as extremely observant and seek my advice on matters of Jewish law. Yet, there are hundreds of other shades in between. So again, what does it really mean to represent Lander College for Women?
As Dr. Bernard Lander founded our college and was instrumental in the founding of the JCPA, I turn to his legacy to build an answer to my question. Dr. Lander dreamed of fulfilling the mitzvah of tikun olam and did so through many projects, one of which was the foundating of Lander College for Women. He believed in excellence in both Jewish and secular studies, valued a passion and appreciation for Judaism, and the ability to use that passion to better the world.
When I turn to the mission statement of the JCPA – I see this same vision holds true: “THE JCPA reflects the profound Jewish commitment to tikkun olam, the repair of the world. It expresses the conviction of the organized Jewish community that it must be active in the effort to build a just society.”
The nachas my father has on Shabbos as he sits at the head of a table full of six children, and the compassion for all walks of life my mother so vigorously practices has instilled within me a passion for Judaism and a desire to better the world.
And no matter where a Jew falls on the spectrum of opinions, we will always have those two things in common. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “it is an age in which we can join hands with others who hold to those principles and face similar challenges.”
From the passion of my father, to the compassion of my mother; from the legacy and vision of Dr. Bernard Lander to the mission of the JCPA; I think I have my answer:
I speak to you today as a representative of Lander College for Women, as a young woman who is proud of her Judaism and will hopefully use this passion to help bring hands together.