It took me the better part of my college years to work up the courage to get a tattoo, but when I finally did, I decided to get something that connected me to my identity as a woman and a person of faith. I landed on “Eshet Chayil”, or Proverbs 31, a well-known Hebrew proverb about the ideal Jewish woman: someone who works hard to reach her goals, stands up for what she believes is right and helps those in need. As a Jewish woman, it’s a quote that has made an impact on me during the times when I struggle to feel confident in my culture and my womanhood.
My personhood has largely been shaped by Jewish women. I look up to the strong women of my religion who have overcome stereotypes, bigotry and a lack of representation to make strides in history, the government and the arts.
That’s why I was hurt when I recently read a CNN article with the headline, “Ivanka Trump: America’s most powerful Jewish woman.” It detailed the faith of President Donald Trump’s daughter, who converted to Modern Orthodox Judaism when she married her husband Jare
d Kushner. The two are the first Jewish members of the First Family, which marks a milestone in the diversity of our government leadership.
But I can only feel as though labeling Ivanka Trump the “most powerful Jewish woman” in America sets the bar low for what a truly strong Jewish woman should be.
When I think of strong Jewish women, I think of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, who have dedicated their lives to fighting for civil rights on the Supreme Court. I think of Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook and a proponent for women’s rights in the business world. I think of Sarah Silverman, who has spent her entire career battling sexism in the comedy industry.
And then there are the many strong Jewish women who have made a personal impact in my life, like the female rabbi and cantor at my hometown synagogue, who have persisted in a predominately male clergy and helped form the tight-knit Jewish community of my youth. There’s my grandmother, who worked with the FBI in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1960s to collect insider information on white nationalist groups. And of course, there’s my mother, who helped form me into the woman I am today by being an artist, a working role model and a woman of faith.
When I think of strong Jewish women, so many come to mind — but I don’t think of Ivanka.
The article applauds Ivanka Trump for praying at the Western Wall during a visit to Israel and for partaking in holiday traditions with her children. But it skirts around the fact that she has remained largely silent during the increase in instances of anti-Semitic assaults and vandalism and the rise of white supremacist groups during her father’s presidency.
CNN calls this a “cautious approach.” But to me, her lack of action indicates that she isn’t interested in representing the Jewish population in any way that makes an impact. And while the beauty of Judaism is that everyone can decide how to observe in their own way, as someone in a position to make positive change for the Jewish community, Ivanka Trump shouldn’t be put on a pedestal for doing the bare minimum.
Although holiday celebrations are one of my favorite parts of Judaism, I grew up with the distinct knowledge that my religion was about much more than eating latkes and playing dreidel during Hanukkah. It’s about using whatever platform I have to stand up for others and caring for those in need.
Many of the sermons my rabbi gives during the High Holidays are about the ways we can come together as a community and give back.
During the presidential primaries, I was excited about voting for Bernie Sanders, not only because he was a fellow Jew, but because of his commitment to social justice, an essential tenet of the Jewish faith and culture. Being socially conscious was never just a suggested part of my religion, but a way of life weaved into the community that raised me. That is why Ivanka Trump’s indifference and complicity irk me.
It makes me angry that Ivanka, as the first Jewish member of the First Family, is being lauded as the embodiment of modern Judaism. But more so, it makes me sad that, given the lack of Jewish representation in modern culture, other young Jewish women are being told Ivanka is their newest role model, when there are countless other powerful Semites in the world who are doing far greater things with their talent and strength.
I can’t change the fact that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are the first Jewish members in our nation’s history of First Families, nor can I erase Ivanka Trump as part of our political and cultural landscape.
But I can make sure that as a woman of faith, I exemplify the values I believe to be most important in my religion and that I remain a positive force for those around me. I can do my best to live by the words that I have tattooed on my bicep, that have made such an impact in my life. Through this, I hope I can model what a truly powerful Jewish woman looks like.