On Tuesday, May 9th, approximately sixty women, a majority of whom were Stern College students or alumni, gathered together for an event titled Monologues from the Makom. The word makom, which literally means “place” in Hebrew, is also used as a euphemism for the words of both vagina and God. This clever title expressed the uniqueness of the evening, the creation of a safe space where women shared self-authored pieces about sexuality, Jewish identity and the relationship between the two.
The event was the brainchild of Sara Rozner, a Stern College senior who had been thinking about organizing this sort of forum for nearly three years. At the start of her first semester at Stern, Rozner attended The Vagina Monologues. This play, which explores what it means to have a vagina, is comprised of a series of monologues, each featuring a different topic such as sex, rape, menstruation, orgasm, masturbation and childbirth.
Rozner found that though she related to many parts of the show, it did not fully speak to her experience as an Orthodox Jewish woman. She also recognized that many of her friends would not feel comfortable seeing such a play. This realization left her thinking about how beneficial it would be if there could be a space for observant Jewish women to share their distinctive narrative, a place where frum Jewish women could comfortably discuss their sexuality and know their voices would be heard. However, as a new student on campus, Rozner was not yet in a position to spearhead such an initiative, and filed the idea away in the back of her mind.
Fast forward three years and Rozner was attending Nashir, a Shabbaton celebrating Jewish women and the arts at the University of Pennsylvania. One student read a creative piece about her own sexuality, a vagina monologue of sorts. Rozner describes how the writing of this visibly observant student was a “real and perfect expression that religious girls also have their own stories to share.” Rozner found this to be a great moment and felt that she was now ready to recreate it with her peers at Stern.
Nevertheless, Rozner says that organizing Monologues from the Makom “was really scary.” She reached out to people she believed might be interested and made a Facebook event. Rozner was unsure if the community was ready for such an event; she expected that at most, twenty women would show up, and that she would have to beg her friends to speak.
To her surprise, seventeen women offered to present, and sixty women crowded into an apartment in Washington Heights to partake in this significant experience. The feeling in the room was that they had all been waiting for something like this to happen.
There wasn’t enough space for everyone to sit and the apartment was hot, but in the moment, none of these details mattered. The energy in the room was palpable as peers snapped, cheered, cried and attentively listened to two hours of presentations. No topic was taboo as presenters dealt with a wide range of issues. Some spoke about masturbating and feeling comfortable with their periods and bodies. One woman highlighted how Torah sources discuss sex freely, while today’s Orthodox community is silent. The issue of sex education in girls-only religious high schools was also raised. One student shared a painting of her vagina. Others read deeply personal pieces about trying to ignore their sexuality, coming to terms with one’s gender identity, and the pain caused by the lack of acceptance of LGBTQ individuals within the Jewish community.
Rozner explained that the goal of the event was “to help the Jewish community become sex positive. People need to feel that there is a space for their sexuality to exist, that they can be committed to Torah and not regard their sexuality as a dark and shameful thing.” The large groups of girls who gathered around Rozner, thanking her for creating such an important event, affirmed that her goal was certainly achieved.
Elisheva Rabinovich, a Stern college student, commented that Monologues from the Makom “definitely opened the door for her to have more discussions about female sexuality.” Talia Lakritz, a Barnard College senior, exclaimed that “the event was revolutionary.” She was “inspired by the energy in the room” and the sense of finally having a space to “talk about something Orthodox women have been thinking and struggling with for so long.” The overwhelming sensation at the evening’s conclusion was that this brave initiative was the start of something exciting in the Jewish community, as many participants asked when the next Monologues of the Makom would take place.