To Be a Woman in the Place Where There Are No Women


Back when I was a dorm counselor, my student sent me a meme that said: “This is not a bakery. I don’t sugarcoat anything. If you ask for my opinion, then that’s what you’ll get. Don’t be mad when it’s not what you want to hear.”

She texted it to me, along with the message, “Miss K, this is so you!”

She was right. It is so me.

Yes, I’m compassionate, a good listener, and I aim to be understanding and sensitive…but I’m going to be honest and straightforward when sharing my insight.

I’m an observer by nature. I like to stand at the sidelines, and watch and listen to what’s going on around me. I then process the data as objectively as my analytical brain will allow, and react accordingly.

Sometimes, it means I roll my eyes and choose not to expend energy on a response.

Other times, it means I take a deep breath, and knowing that I’m heading into unchartered territory, I state what’s on my mind.

I’m not afraid to challenge the status quo and stand up for what I believe is right.  I’m not afraid to be the one to call out that which is incongruent with our Torah values. I’m not afraid of making people uncomfortable with what may be perceived as controversial content.

In short, I’m not afraid “to be a [wo]man in the place where there are no [wo]men” (Pirkei Avot 2:6).

But how far can I go? At what point does it become “too much”?

I’m not asking from the perspective of what others can tolerate, but from the perspective of what is right according to my values and belief system.

I’ve been taught to “not separate [my]self from the community” (Pirkei Avot 2:5).

This concept is taught alongside the one quoted previously, and honestly, it leaves me with a struggle.

On the one hand, this is intuitive to me; on the other, I often find myself being that one woman.

Following rules is in my nature. I like to know what I’m supposed to do, when I’m supposed to do it, and simply follow that route. I’m not inclined to break the rules.

But my passion for emes, for righteousness, drives me to challenge those rules when they don’t jive with Torah values.

In a way, I find it easier to be the one on the outs. It’s a lot simpler to deal with the criticism of an entire concept that makes others uncomfortable than criticism of the minutiae of my choices that they mostly approve of.

I often wonder how to reconcile the two. How do I honor my nature, and the understanding that I shouldn’t stand out from the community, while recognizing the value I offer in being that woman at the edge of the community?

Recently, I posted on social media that “the older I get, the more I realize that I am less sure about anything.” And I stand by that. There’s a lot I haven’t figured out—and a lot more growing I have to do—but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an obligation to share that which I have.

I’ve figured out how to be honest, unapologetic, and stand up for what I believe is emes. I’ve learned how to be a voice not only for myself, but for so many other women and girls who aren’t comfortable expressing theirs. I’ve discovered that I have the courage to be the change.

What if that means that I’m not really standing away from the community? What if it means that I’m standing for the community?

I talk a lot about what it means to be a frum woman in a modern world which is inundated by messages that do not align with our values.

I share my insights on what it’s like to be a single woman in a society that prioritizes marriage and family, yet fails to recognize that there is so much beyond our control when it comes to finding the right man to date.

I advocate for a truly healthy lifestyle—one that respects the body as a vessel for the soul, along with the understanding that we cannot effectively isolate our physical health from our emotional and mental health, and I combat unrealistic ideals that suggest otherwise.

We all pick and choose our battles. Some do so privately, and some do so publicly.

I can tell you with certainty that those of us who opt to publicize our struggles don’t do it for the fame or glory. It’s not easy being vulnerable on an open forum, or inviting criticism to your front door. Despite what you might think, it’s not for the attention of an ignored inner child.

It’s because we care. It’s because your pain resonates with ours, and because we believe that we can make things better. Or at least, we can try.

And so I ask you: What if I’m not truly separating myself, but rather using my voice as a tool to represent the community, to say the things we’ve been afraid to say for so long? Not because we deem them to be wrong, but because we’ve allowed the external messages to infiltrate the psyche of our communal mind and have forgotten that we have the strength to stand up to it.

What if I am your voice, but you’ve been afraid to acknowledge this, because of the change it’ll mean for you? What if you give yourself permission to truly listen to me? Will you include me in the mainstream community?

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Sara Kupfer is the founder of Fit Jewess, and a fitness coach with the mission of empowering Jewish women worldwide through joyful movement and fostering a community united, through body positive and weight-neutral fitness. She is a CrossFit L1 trainer and HAES advocate, and coaches women and girls in person and online.