Imagine a room packed full of 60 college-aged Orthodox women in a New York City apartment–and they’re all talking about sexuality, menstruation, and their vaginas.
The gathering was inspired by Eve Ensler’s 1996 off-Broadway play “The Vagina Monologues,” and was the first meeting of its kind called “Monologues from the Makom.” Makom, which means “place” in Hebrew, is also the Talmudic term for vagina, as well as a name used for God, according to The Jewish Week.
The event-organizer, 21-year-old senior at Stern College for Women, Sara Rozner, described her first experience seeing “The Vagina Monologues” and how it inspired her to create a space where Orthodox women could talk about their sexual identity:
“I went with a group of friends during my freshman year, and while I really enjoyed it, I got the sense that a lot of my peers at Stern wouldn’t go because it was too risqué. I wished then that I could create a space where people in my community would feel safe sharing about these topics.”
Of course, this isn’t to say that Rozner wasn’t anxious about the meeting, considering she grew up in a Modern Orthodox family in Rockland County, stating:
“I was terrified before this event. The issue is not black and white. There’s something special to the Orthodox community’s value of keeping sexuality private and sacred.
At the same time, other values, like mental health, need to be acknowledged. No one should feel like an outcast for having sexual feelings and experiences—it needs to be spoken about in a healthy way.”
Rozner was surprised by the huge turnout–the event had 17 speakers talking about issues ranging from coming out as LGBTQ, masturbation, and the lack of sex education in Orthodox high schools. Roznor, who is currently double majoring in psychology and Judaic studies, plans on becoming a sex therapist.
Because of this, she felt it was her duty to create a supportive space for women–especially as it does not currently exist for many Orthodox women:
“There simply are not a lot of forums for religious women to talk about these things. I did this for myself as much as for other people. I wanted a safe forum for these conversations, a place where we could be supportive of sexuality as part of our lives.
There’s a real thirst for this kind of forum. Being Orthodox doesn’t mean you can’t also be a sexual being—the two are not in conflict.””
Many of the women who attended felt the event was a success–and were happily surprised by how positive it was. 22-year-old Batya Weiss described it as “empowering,” stating:
“The way that the Orthodox community deals with these issues is so specific—it was empowering to be in a space where you could fully relate to everything being shared.”
More events like these need to happen on college campuses around the country–because sexuality is not something to feel ashamed about, no matter your religion or observance–and it’s definitely not OK for girls to grow up ignorant of their own bodies and feelings.