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January 23rd, 2004
Native Milwaukeean rabbinical student co-edits anthology
Six years ago, native Milwaukeean Julie Pelc and her friend, Tobin Belzer, resolved to become midwives, not to birth babies but to share the stories of young Jewish women.
Finally, last month, they had the pleasure of experiencing a long-awaited birth, the publishing of the book that they co-edited, Joining the Sisterhood: Young Jewish Women Write Their Lives (State University of New York, 227 pages, $18.95).
The idea began in 1996 when Pelc and Belzer met in Israel at the Kol Isha Leadership Seminar of the World Union of Jewish Students.
As we traveled through the country, we shared stories about the unique joys and challenges of growing up Jewish and female. We discovered that each of us, in her own way, had struggled to find a community that would honor and celebrate her identity as a Jewish woman, they wrote in the books introduction.
Tobin and I
realized that we had read all the same books [about Jewish feminism], and none of them were written by anyone under age 50, said Pelc in a recent interview.
We knew all these women who could write essays, which meant there were women out there. So we said, Why dont we write a book?
So began a six-year process of calling for papers and extensive editing. It was a lot more work than I ever anticipated, she said.
For Pelc, 27, creating this book is part of a process that began when she became a bat mitzvah and she wasnt permitted to lead her Conservative congregations service. She knew then that she wanted to be a rabbi.
And after graduating from the Milwaukee Jewish Day School and Nicolet High School, she went on to earn a bachelors degree from Washington University and two masters degrees one from Harvard University Graduate School of Education and the other in rabbinic studies from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.
She is now studying to become a rabbi at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles and is a recipient of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship.
Last January, Pelc suffered a brain aneurysm, underwent brain surgery and spent five weeks in the hospital. Though she is now taking one class, she hopes to return to full-time studies next semester.
But through the intensive healing of the last year, Pelc said that one thing has remained consistent in her life: I never doubted I wanted to be a rabbi. Ive doubted everything else but not wanting to be a rabbi.
Part of a bigger picture
Pelc and Belzer created Joining the Sisterhood as activists bent on bringing to light voices of the younger generation of Jewish women, loosely defined as women aged 21-35.
We grew up enjoying the achievements and advances made during the Jewish feminist movement, they wrote in the introduction, detailing Jewish womens presence in the Jewish and non-Jewish professional world, the prevalence of life cycle events for girls and women, the wealth of literature about Jewish women, and more.
We have the footsteps of [older Jewish feminists], who set a precedent for us. Now we have the privilege of other challenges . Our fights are different now, said Pelc.
Those struggles and issues are highlighted in the diverse selection of essays and poetry in the anthology. What I think is unique is that the issues and struggles are intermingled and complex, she added.
Pelc envisions the book being given by synagogues to girls at their bat mitzvah ceremonies. Its important for [girls after their bat mitzvah ceremonies] to know that theyre part of a sisterhood.
Synagogues have sisterhoods, but theyre mostly for older women. Feminists talk about sisterhood, but what we want these young women to know is that theyre part of a greater dialogue and that their struggles are part of a greater Jewish and feminist discourse.
So when they struggle with issues in their own lives, they can know that theyre part of a bigger picture.
Though the book is newly published, the response has been positive, Pelc said. She and Belzer have read from the book at two readings and are fielding inquiries for more events. Were very excited, Pelc said.