In this collection of personal essays, poetry, and visual artwork, Jewish young adults from the online publication jGirls Magazine confront difficult truths in a changing world. Many of the pieces are unfiltered, seeking to connect with other teens rather than defending their points of view to adults. The result is a moving work that encourages solidarity. Nonbinary and LGBTQ+ teens speak out, as do biracial Jews, disabled Jews, and other marginalized Jews who refuse to accept the limitations of traditional Judaism and aim to create viable new Jewish communities.
Searching for meaning, the works reflect on race, gender, family, religious practice, and culture. In the section “A Healthy Collection of Hardships and Blessings,” Abigael Good writes of trying to find “The Right Words” to articulate how anxiety has been a constant presence in her life. Emanuelle Sippy’s poem, “The Menu is Overwhelming,” uses metaphor to describe the universally difficult yet necessary process of making decisions. Bold truth-telling characterizes many selections in “Traditions, Interpretations, and Imperfections,” where writers come to terms with rigid barriers that have limited their Jewish identities. Emma Rosman’s strong convictions answer the question, “Asian Jew or Jewish Asian?” and Lauren Alexander’s “My Version of Practicing Judaism” discusses the inaccessibility of some Jewish rituals, which abled Jews may take for granted.
Each of the creative responses to contemporary Jewish life is unique. Elena Eisenstadt’s clever variation on bar/bat mitzvah culture, “My Jewish-Themed Bat Mitzvah,” inverts a societal norm by offering a seemingly obvious alternative. In Ofek Preis’s interpretation of Jewish social justice values, “The Power of Jewish Youth,” she addresses Jewish teens’ involvement in the fight against gun violence. Other pieces engage with the mitzvah of praying with tefillin, a practice from which women are generally excluded in the Orthodox world. Alyx Bernstein’s “L’hitateif V’l’hani’ach (To Don and to Wrap)” examines the seeming contradictions of this spiritual experience for a transgender person.
The visual artists’ interpretations of Jewish life are richly varied, and each work rewards repeated viewing. Whitney Cohen’s Eva is an insightful portrait of old age; Alexa Druyanoff’s Held depicts a mother and child and draws attention to their similarities; and Dina Ocken’s visionary Kotel of My Dreams imagines a place where barriers of religious difference and gender have been replaced by harmony. Ocken’s painting summarizes the first chapter’s introductory remark: “We are inheritors and authors of memory; it’s the most powerful heirloom entrusted to us.”
Emily Schneider writes about literature, feminism, and culture for Tablet, The Forward, The Horn Book, and other publications, and writes about children’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures.