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Orly Michaeli, 28
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DIVERSITY36 Under 36 2020

Orly Michaeli, 28

A Space for Womyn

What you do:

I run Wominyan, the Jewish-feminist organization that I founded in 2016. We’re a community for, by and about Jewish women to take ownership, celebrate and author their own identities. We have 160-plus members across the country (and the world). At Wominyan we welcome all who feel they belong in a space for Jewish women, regardless of sex assigned at birth, gender expression, religious history or practice.

I’m also an educator and retreat mentor for Moishe House. I helped launch LatiCon, Moishe House’s conference for Latin American community leaders, and I’ve provided one-on-one mentorship to 17 retreat creators across the U.S. and Latin America — from St. Louis to the Sonora Desert, from the Bay Area to Santiago.

Unexpected fun fact:

I was born and raised in Guatemala City, Guatemala until I was 18. I’m 20 percent of the Jews my age in Guatemala, since there were five of us total.

How you got here:

As the collisions between my Judaism and feminism deepened after college, I stumbled upon a question: What would Judaism be like if women had been a part of the Sanhedrin? It became a question that unlocked a world of possibility, a question that demanded the creation of our own SanHerDrin.

For that first Wominyan retreat, I gathered 20 people for a cathartic weekend, where pages of Talmud and Kimberle Crenshaw [who coined the term intersectionality] were strewn amongst us as participants revealed feelings they’d never shared before. On the train ride back to the city, I immediately emailed Moishe House asking for the opportunity to do it again. That one-time retreat turned into a movement. Since 2016, we’ve had eight retreats and our community is growing.

Formative childhood moment:

When I was 13, I spent Simchat Torah with my brother in the U.S. for the first time, where he was going to college. At Hillel, my mom and I danced on the women’s side, and I was shocked to see a Torah make an appearance there.

I knew I had to bring this tradition back with me. But when my rabbi handed over the hefty scroll, which was heavier than I expected, none of the women wanted to hold the Torah with me. I carried it by myself, passing it to my mom when I got tired and then receiving it back. No one had taught us. We were fighting against so many seeds that had been planted within us a long time ago. I didn’t blame the women in my community, or at least now I don’t, but in that moment, I felt alone. I craved an army of Torah-holding sisters beside me, dancing ecstatically.

Follow me: www.wominyan.com, @wominyan, @omichaeli 

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