by Rachel Eisen, Mayyim Hayyim Intern
I remember a story my mother once told me. At the beginning of her career, my mother, who holds two doctoral degrees from an elite university, was accepted into a prestigious research fellowship in her field. But she turned this incredible opportunity down, because her would-be boss told her that, “she better not get pregnant.” As an impressionable teen girl, I remember being horrified that my mother (who has since been profiled in national newspapers and has won numerous awards for her work) had been told that her career advancement depended on her private life.
I’m still horrified. And I’m even more horrified because it’s still a problem. People–especially women, but all people–across our country have to make sacrifices they shouldn’t have to make in order to have a family. Whether it’s taking unpaid leave or going back to work before they’re ready, new parents are forced make hard choices about balancing work and home life. And the Jewish community isn’t immune to this problem, which is all the more upsetting considering how highly we as a community value family.
Recently, Mayyim Hayyim was honored by Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community for being one of the first 100 organizations to sign onto the “Better Work, Better Life” campaign to “improve parental leave and flexible work arrangements in Jewish organizations.” It makes me so proud to intern at a place that steps up to openly proclaim its intention to live out the values that make our community and our world a better place.
I’m proud, but unsurprised. Mayyim Hayyim has always been at the forefront of positive transformation in the Jewish world. Who had ever heard of a pluralistic mikveh that welcomed any Jewish or becoming-Jewish person to come and embrace mikveh in whatever way they wanted? And now, there are more mikvaot that do just that; even more continue to come to Mayyim Hayyim and ask to learn how.
In an eJewishPhilanthropy article about the campaign, AWP’s Shifra Bronznick recounted that, “it took two years to persuade the first twelve organizations to adopt paid leave, and in the following four years, more than 90 additional Jewish organizations have adopted such policies.” Change is hard. It’s slow to get the ball rolling, but once it does, it picks up steam and quickly catches fire. The first few people or organizations on the ground may face an uphill battle, but once they show what they can accomplish, many more will join to fight the good fight.
I don’t have a personal stake in Mayyim Hayyim joining this incredible campaign. I’m an intern whose time here is, well, time-bound. But the decisions made by organizations today will affect me deeply in the future. So I’m incredibly grateful to AWP and Mayyim Hayyim for setting the example, and for showing me that in everything from Jewish life to family life, and all the interconnected places in between, it is possible to stand up and lead the way.
May I never need to be as brave as my mother in making the choices she did, but may I always be as brave as AWP and Mayyim Hayyim in transforming this world for good.
Rachel Eisen is an intern at Mayyim Hayyim, and a graduate student in the Hornstein Program at Brandeis University, where she co-chairs the Hornstein Gender Initiative. She is studying for a Master’s degree in Jewish Professional Leadership as well as a Master’s degree in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies.