So many of us have processed the shock of Oct. 7 and beyond in private, scrolling social media and feeling helpless. Others have been deeply and directly affected, wondering how to express and channel their fear and sorrow.
The Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA) wants to amplify, legitimize and preserve these emotions: They’ve launched a global story-collecting initiative to gather the voices and experiences of Jewish women and gender-expansive people for future scholars, reflecting on October and beyond.
“Part of our work is about mining history for its relevance today, but part of our work is also about making sure that we’re documenting history as it’s unfolding. Every moment is a historical moment, and even those who are not historians can recognize that we’re living through a historic moment that’s unprecedented. It’s an inflection point for Jewish people,” says JWA CEO Judith Rosenbaum.
JWA is sensitive to the fact that many people’s primary mode of communication and expression is in mainstream or social media, which can only capture so many voices and perspectives. She hopes this collection offers a deeper, more nuanced view.
“I think a lot of people are feeling frustrated that maybe some of the narratives they see out there—whether it’s in mainstream media, whether it’s in Jewish media, whether it’s in different places in their lives—aren’t necessarily capturing their own experiences. We’ve also been very aware that social media, which is one of the places where we often engage, isn’t a very productive space right now. We’ve been thinking very carefully about: How do we tell the stories, document this moment and engage people in meaningful reflection and conversation in a way that will be productive?” she says.
JWA’s longtime mission has been to document Jewish women’s stories, elevate their voices and inspire them to be agents of change within the larger, longer context of history.
“The truth is that you can’t really analyze history in the moment. You have to document it and then have a little bit of distance. I think it’s really important for people to feel heard and like their story matters and is part of a larger story. That’s part of what we can offer, but without having to put things out at the speed of media where there isn’t necessarily the space for reflection and a larger perspective,” she says.
For this initiative, JWA created a set of short, incisive questions that participants can either answer themselves or use as prompts to interview others, such as, “What are you afraid of right now?” and “What gives you hope?”
So far, Rosenbaum says nearly 50 responses have arrived from all over the world, from people of all ages and backgrounds. But they do have some universally human similarities.
“The biggest common theme is feeling lonely and isolated, feeling alienated from previous communities, families or relationships,” she says. “And two different people wrote in about the Bibas family and what it’s like to have their own redheaded babies and to be thinking about how they could be their children. It breaks your heart open when you read about these human pieces that touch us.”
Stories will be curated and shared, perhaps on a JWA podcast—but not quite yet.
“It just feels like we’re still in it,” she says.
In the meantime, JWA continues to accept submissions in any language. Upload stories here, either in writing or by audio from a mobile recording app.