Monday, July 13, 2015

A Role Model of Orthodox Feminism

NSA Chief Risk Officer, Anne (Chani) Neuberger
Anne Neuberger is my kind of feminist.  She is the kind of achiever that - given the opportunity - any woman could achieve. I don’t necessarily mean in her particular job. But in a field for which they are naturally talented.  I am a firm believer in the kind of feminism that equalizes the workplace and gives equal opportunities to both men and woman; and equal pay for equal work.

Tom Gjeten of NPR, that bastion of liberalism that everyone loves to criticize as being antisemitic – or at least anti Israel wrote a wonderful article about Mrs. Neuberger.  She is at the top of her profession as the Chief Risk Officer at the National Security Agency (NSA) and is described as a rising star in one of the most unlikely places you will find an observant Jew… let alone an observant Jewish woman.

In my version of feminism there should be no limit to what any individual can achieve, man or woman. It is all about what an individual is capable of. Not what sex they are.  

Anne (Chani) Neuberger is an Orthodox Jewish woman that was raised in a Charedi environment. One that generally eschews the kind of job she has.  Women are expected to be first a wife and mother. 
"The Orthodox Jewish community tends to be more conservative about gender roles," she notes. "For my parents, the thought that a young girl would go alone to a college environment was something frightening.
But that has all changed for a variety of reasons. Charedi women are now expected to support their husbands in Kollel. At least during the early years of their marriage. Schools like Lander College - a division of Touro University that offers a women’s only division - made such an education more palatable for them. She took advantage of it. After she got married she attended graduate school. Eventually becoming a White House Fellow having been motivated to do so after 9/11. She wanted to serve the country that gave her Holocaust Surviving grandparents and parents a refuge

Her success story does not stop there. From NPR
Her understanding of that reality led her to start a charity called Sister to Sister. It operates in 30 Orthodox Jewish communities around the country and in Canada, serving single Jewish mothers who may not be prepared to support a family on their own. 
What an accomplished individual this woman is. And at the relatively young age of 39 no less. My hat is really off to her. Although I doubt that she refer to herself that way, I think she is a role model for Orhtodox feminism. She has achieved equality in the secular world and as a Charedi woman understands that feminism does not generally apply in the world of religious ritual. That different role models for men and women do not detract from tremendous achievement in a world where women are still not fully equal to men. And yet does not feel diminished by her role as a woman in Judaism. As noted in the article: 
Her professional achievements have come not in spite of her faith. They've come because of it… "I try to lead an examined life," she says. 
She is introspective about her motives and wants to make sure she is doing the right thing… that her motives are not simply a reflection of personal desire. In other words she thinks about how to serve God best and not how to make Judaism more meaningful to her.

Mrs. Neuberger is a bit of a rebel – holding values that have fallen out of favor in recent times. Values that I hold dear. Like “the notion that people with talents should make the most of them”. And not fall into the cookie cutter mold of doing what everybody else does. A pattern  that is so prevalent in the Charedi world today. 
Her adherence to this principle made Neuberger determined to further her education, even if it meant challenging tradition. 
Mrs. Neuberger knew what to challenge and what to accept. If only the rest of the Orthodox world understood that. Both on the right and on the left. We would then all be living in a far better world.