The Passover seder is a complex, ancient tradition steeped in values and meaning. Using the Haggadah as a guide, Jews around the world reflect on events set forth in Exodus, hearing the story of the Jewish People, connecting with Jewish culture, and internalizing the Jewish experience.
One group of Jewish teen girls has found stories of women missing from the Haggadah, so over this past school year, they wrote their own. They will host "The Revenge of Dinah: a Feminist Seder on Rape Culture in the Jewish Community," on Sunday, May 21, from 1-3 p.m. at DePaul University, 2250 N. Sheffield Ave., Chicago. The seder is open to people of all backgrounds, religions, and gender. Registration is required.
The event is the culminating project of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago Research Training Internship (RTI), a selective 10-month paid internship for high school-aged girls, where students discuss, examine, and report on the cultural messages Jewish teen girls receive about who they are supposed to be and become. RTI is a joint program between JUF and DePaul's Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender, and Community.
Ten Chicago city and suburban high school students who make up the third RTI cohort began meeting last fall. Through their discussions, they focused their research on rape culture.
"The underlying themes and commonalities in our society normalize and perpetuate not only rape, but sexual assault and violence in general through cultural norms, media, victim-blaming attitudes, and the frequent objectification of women's bodies," said Chloe Wagner, a junior at Francis W. Parker High School in Chicago. "That is rape culture."
Rather than writing a more traditional research paper to present their findings, the girls wrote a Haggadah based on the life of Dinah, whose rape and its subsequent aftermath are described in the Book of Genesis. Although Dinah's brothers seek to avenge the rape, "It's them trying to protect the family name, not her," said Jordana Bornstein, a junior at Deerfield High School.
"The idea for a Haggadah on rape culture took a while to come up with. As a cohort, we wanted our work to affect the right people and engage the proper audience," said Meghan Kier, Schaumburg High School junior.
Their research has made them more sensitive to the both the overt and subtle sexism they observe in American and Jewish culture, the girls said.
"The effect rape culture has on Jewish teen girls in everyday life is astounding. This can be seen in such expectations as trying to be the 'perfect' Jewish girl," Wagner said.
"We know that rape culture is a huge task to take on because it encompasses so much," Kier said. "But, if we educate the right audience, that change can start to happen."
The girls' Haggadah features data-driven context with new rituals that reflect on the social consequences of rape culture and its related issues.
While the project focuses on educating participants about rape culture-it also provides a framework of hope for the future. The text reads: "…Our potential to make change is not something impossible to attain. Rather, the tree of life, our prospective growth, lies right in front of us."
"By getting teens to come together to talk about it, that in itself is making change," Bornstein said.
Becca Gadiel, a junior at Jones College Prep in Chicago, wants participants to realize they can stop sexist speech and attitudes in their own lives and social circles. "I feel like the biggest thing is awareness and educating people, especially teenagers," she said. "Unless you know what's going on, you can't really do anything about it."
"If we can give those tools to other teens, by the time people of our generation are parents, we can stop the language that perpetrates rape culture," Bornstein said.
Register for the seder here . For more information, contact StephanieGoldfarb@juf.org.
Teens create social change through JUF Research Training Internship
The Jewish United Fund Research Training Internship (RTI) offers Chicago area high school-aged girls the opportunity to advise JUF's work from their unique perspectives. Students explore the messages Jewish teen girls receive-from popular culture, parents and other adults, the Jewish community, from school and from peers-about who and what they should be. Students meet twice a month at DePaul University, and receive a $200 stipend at the end of the internship.
RTI is hosted by JUF, DePaul University, the Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender, and Community in partnership with Ma'yan and with funding from the Jewish Women's Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, the Ellie Fund of the Jewish Women's Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, and The Hadassah Foundation.
"Students focus their research on injustice as it relates to the Jewish community," said Stephanie Goldfarb, JUF Director of Youth Philanthropy & Leadership.
Prior cohorts have researched the roles of power and privilege on the lives of Jewish teen girls in Chicago; and on the perpetration of pressure on Jewish teen girls to achieve high standards of academic success, beauty, religious life, relationships and more.
Students are seeing a positive effect, not only on themselves, but also on the Jewish community.
"Women and girls are definitely the future of the Jewish community," said Becca Gadiel, junior at Jones College Prep, Chicago. "It's really important to keep younger people involved and connected to Judaism. (By) making it more inclusive … it will help attract and connect younger people."
"I think that the fact that an organization like RTI and similar groups exist says something," said Jordana Bornstein, Deerfield High School junior. "There are girls in the Jewish community that are knowledgeable and want to do this-break gender roles, and be more inclusive."
"In the Jewish community programs and opportunities like RTI should continue to be available," said Meghan Kier, Schaumburg High School junior. "As teenagers, sometimes we feel that we don't have a voice. RTI gives Jewish women a powerful voice that could affect people worldwide."