Jew­ish Text

Salt & Hon­ey: Jew­ish Teens on Fem­i­nism, Cre­ativ­i­ty, and Tradition 

By – December 22, 2022

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 TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

Discussion Questions

As judges, we’re con­stant­ly ask­ing, what makes a book Jew­ish? As judges of books for teens, we’re con­stant­ly ask­ing, is this authen­ti­cal­ly teenage? Salt & Hon­ey is a book that asks these very real and dif­fi­cult ques­tions — and asks those ques­tions bet­ter than we do, to be hon­est. From pieces about out­spo­ken athe­ism to pieces of qui­et won­der and very loud reli­gious dis­cov­ery, the young women in this col­lec­tion of per­son­al essays, poet­ry, fic­tion, and visu­al art do what we’re sup­posed to do every time we pray, which we almost nev­er do in prac­tice: take this thou­sands-year-old tra­di­tion and ancient words and make them our own. Aydia Caplan’s The Last Death of Jerusalem” sees the con­flu­ence of a reluc­tant agnos­ti­cism, the ghosts of Jerusalemites, and the build­ings them­selves come togeth­er in a birth of faith. Shoshana Maniscalco’s You Bloom in the Art of Oth­ers” cat­a­logs the life of the narrator’s friend as a dic­tio­nary of school, syn­a­gogue, boys, and warn­ings about drugs. Yael Beer’s Because I Can” is a recount­ing of the first time lay­ing tefill­in — a per­fect storm of resis­tance, reluc­tance, and empow­er­ment. Just like this volume.