A few months ago I had the privilege of representing AUJS at the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Shared Table Women’s Networking Dinner. The dinner included two keynote speakers: Chanel Contos and Rabbanit Judith Levitan who each spoke about women’s empowerment and what it means to them. This shared table brought together a diverse group of strong women from a wide range of backgrounds, religions and cultures. I felt that a powerful and transformative environment was created on that night.
A powerful environment was created because there is power in the collective coming together and sharing. Rabbanit Judith gave us insight into her path of building her own power, she explored the ability to build power from within, form our own self-determination, drive and persistence. Chanel talked about how she identified something that was wrong in society and took the opportunity to build the power of a movement. The connection between the two speakers was that the challenges that were discussed were topics that transcended religious and cultural differences. The topics of improving education around consent, removing the taboos that sexual assault victims face is a call to action regardless of one’s religious or lived experience.
As the Leadership and Development officer for AUJS NSW and assistant community organiser in the Sydney Alliance I believe that gatherings like this are imperative to breaking down barriers. When we don’t have these in person interactions I think people and communities lose touch with each other. Social media fills those voids: fear, inaccuracies about the other and sometimes hate can creep in. So when someone stands up and addresses the room as ‘Sisters’ a sense of oneness is created. When women stand up and talk about topics that are relevant to their lives and then call for change because the current approaches aren’t doing a good enough job, that is power. It’s powerful when an Orthodox female figure actively talks about a topic that is relevant and important, using her Jewishness to call for social change.
For the past three years I have had the privilege of taking leadership positions within AUJS. I’ve come to understand the power in transformative events. Whether it’s providing an opportunity for someone to have their first Hamantaschen on Purim or seeing my co-leaders put on an event and bringing awareness to what’s happening to the Uighurs in China. Events like these have transformative power. But the power is also created after these events because It’s how we choose to act that creates power, which creates the ability to enact change. Pirkei Avot 2:16 says “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either”. I really resonate with this quote. It’s saying that one needs to be an upstander in the world, that we have responsibility to care about the world around us and to take part in creating power with those who need it, to work in social justice spaces.
There are a myriad of ways of doing this; personally I do that through my involvement in AUJS and the Sydney Alliance. Others have done it through social media like Chantel who started a conversation on Instagram, a small act but a powerful one nevertheless because it started a movement. I admire Chantel for her bravery and ability to be vulnerable.
I hope that if I am ever in a situation that she found herself in, where I can create change that I’m up to the challenge. As Pirkei Avot (1:14) says “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”.