Q: Hi Shayna! You’re the newest addition to Ma’yan! What’s your role here?
A: Hi! As the Communications, Outreach, and Marketing Strategist, my role is to tell the world what we’re thinking about and what we’re doing; to be the May’an’s voice concerning Judaism, feminism and social justice. It’s really a privilege to be in charge of the Ma’yan blog—I have the opportunity to read and share writing from feminists of all ages.
Q: How did you become interested in feminism?
A: I went to a Modern Orthodox Jewish high school on the Upper East Side. So I was not at all familiar with the world of feminist and trans-activism that I encountered as a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College. At first I distanced myself from this kind of activity. I was studying creative writing and Jewish history and I couldn’t see how my academic interests were related to feminism. Nor could I see how feminism could do something for me as a straight, cisgendered woman (though I wouldn’t have used the term ‘cisgendered’ at the time) But college worked the way that it ideally should work—I read more and I learned more. I had a professor who pointed out the pervasiveness of masculinity complexes in modern Jewish literature. Thinking about men and emasculation led me to read more about depictions of Jewish women. I became interested in gender and gender equality.
Q: What were you doing before you got here?
A: Before I got here I worked at YIVO–my job was to digitize Yiddish collections from 19th and 20th century Poland. Then I went to graduate school at the University of Michigan and participated in the school of Social Work’s Jewish Communal Leadership Program. I got my masters in social work and then in Judaic Studies. It was an interesting couple of years—I studied Yiddish, I read a lot of Jewish literature and I went to a lot of Michigan football games.
Q: When you’re not curating our blog, updating our website or doing Ma’yan-y things, how do you like to spend your time?
A: I no longer spend my free time watching college sports. But I still hope that one day I’ll understand what’s going on during the game. I do try to stay on top of new fiction and to work on my own writing projects.
Q: What does Jewishness look like in your life?
A: Judaism is a part of most aspects of my life whether or not I like it. I’ve learned about its ancient and modern history and I’ve thought about how Jewish writers engage with their Jewish identities. But as far as I’m concerned, I never made a conscious decision to study Jewish things. It doesn’t matter what class I take or what movie I watch or what conversation I’m having—I will always notice the details that relate to Jewishness (and often specifically to the Holocaust). How many times have I used the word “Jewish” in this interview?
Q: At Ma’yan we think a lot about the intersections of privilege, oppression, social change, research and liberation. How do you like to think about these things?
A: I have a strong sense of my own Jewish identity and I recognize how this can present challenges in recognizing other narratives of oppression. In recent years I’ve worked more on expanding my understanding of what it means to have this kind of strong cultural identity. More and more it’s come to mean being sensitive to and relating to other cultures, perspectives and struggles.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: Some more fun facts: I grew up in soho and have some early childhood memories of what the nieghborhood used to look like. My father is a Scottish Jew (yeah, there are Scottish Jews!) who writes musicals. I like to follow Top 40 hip hop and have seen every episode of ABC’s The Bachelor. I don’t know if you should know that though.