Theory suggests that the complexities surrounding the Jewish women’s identity and perceptions of life are unique, thus having implications for counseling. The Jewish woman’s identity is informed by ethics such as, world repair, history, culture and people-hood.
Largely, Jewish women comprise of two ethnic groups, the Ashkenazi and Sephardi. Nonetheless, the identity of the Jewish women is not typical because each Jewish woman is diverse in terms of socioeconomic class, race, religion, culture or nationality.
Fundamentally, these complexities potentially lead to the misunderstanding of Jewish women during counseling.
Considering that the complexities are theoretical, Ginsberg & Sinacore (2013) undertake an evidence-based, qualitative-phenomenological study on self reports of 12 non-Orthodox and Ashkenazi women of the Jewish American origin.
They examine their perceptions of the Jewish identity and the world view to inform counselors about the Jewish women.
The researchers use qualitative-phenomenological method, which employ purposive selection to get a portion of participants that represents the phenomenon being investigated.
Markedly, the respondents constitute of the Jewish American women aged 30 years and above because Jewish women acquire a self-determined identity at 30 years of age. The researchers gather data from the entire research team, including psychologists.
Participants sign informed consent, fill a demographic sheet and undertake a 60 to 90 minute audio taped interview. Eventually, data is analyzed using the phenomenological data analysis approach.
Data analysis reveals the two major themes (a. and b.) noted below.
Under Jewishness, four sub-themes emerge as noted below.
- Jewish ethics. Respondents attest that Jewishness is informed by the ethical tradition of charity (Tzedakah) and doing good deeds (mitzvoth) aimed at fostering world repair (Tikkun Olam). This propels them to have a strong view about equality and social justice for all people.
- The Jewish community life and family. Participants note that their community and families have taught them how to be Jewish. This is in regard to maintaining Jewish values and adhering to Tikkun Olam since they were young.
- Gender roles. According to the respondents, the Jewish family life determines what constitutes a Jewish woman. This is informed by culture, including the ideal of a romanticized woman of valor based on a Hebrew prayer. The Jewish women’s identity is also informed by their marginalizing religion. Women are denied the chance to engage in religious activities in favor of men. This angers them and makes them feel marginalized in the Jewish society.
- The Jewish people. A sense of belonging to the Jewish people is crucial to Jewishness. As participants acknowledge, it gives them a sense of familiarity, cultural sense and establishes a connection to Jews all over the world. However, they perceive the association of Jews as “a chosen” people to be offensive and isolating.
Being A Jew In A Wider Societal Context
Under this theme, there are four sub-themes as noted below.
- Being a minority. As a minority religious group, participants feel differentiated from majority groups and a sense of being the ‘other.’ This makes them feel that no one understands them, but yet provokes them to be sensitive and compassionate towards other minorities.
- Anti-Semitism and Jewish stereotypes. Marginalization is compounded by the anti-Semitic stereotyping. According to participants, stereotypes, such as the rich Jew, selfish and the Jewish American princess are troubling. This makes them theorize the cause of anti-Semitism negatively, thus making them feel threatened.
- Personal anti-Semitism experiences. These include violent, explicit and implicit anti-Semitism. The experiences affect their self view and identity because they know that they are not welcomed everywhere and cannot just go anywhere.
- The Holocaust. Participants reveal that being a minority and experiencing anti-Semitism is complicated by being perceived as “post-Holocaust” Jews. The holocaust experiences are imparted from one generation to another. This makes Holocaust a lived psychological experience that affects the participants’ personalities and determines how they perceive the world.
The results reveal consistency with the theory in terms of Jewishness being a complex factor that is crucial to the worldview and identify of Jewish women.
The respondents highlight the multi-faceted factors that inform Jewishness, including cultural expectations as informed by Jewish ideals and morals.
The nature of Jewish morality is exposed when participants highlight their involvement in social activism to counter discrimination and inequality.
The results also reveal how a Christian society complicates the anti-Semitism they face and intense traumatizing effect of the Holocaust that makes them unsafe.
Limitations/implications for future research
The methodology reveals several limitations. The geographical area is confined to Midwestern U.S., an area where Jews are less compared to other areas. The study also fails to attend to denominational differences and only focuses on a defined age group.
This makes generalization of the findings limited. Nevertheless, the study provides insight regarding the Jewish identity from Jewish women accounts.
The research sets a foundation for future research, which could focus on Jewish men and women who are of different denominations, sexuality, ethnicity and age. In addition, this research acts a checklist for assessing study results of Jews in other countries.
Implications for counseling
Essentially, the study highlights the need to include anti-Semitism, and Jewish religion and history in counselor education to enable counselors counter Jewish-related issues during Jewish counseling sessions. Among other benefits, this would enable counselors to conceptualize Jewishness identity.
This also goes for acknowledging traditional gender roles, such as women’s role in keeping a home as crucial for Jewish women to understand their lives and as sources of conflict.
More so, counselors would understand how the “other” concept works with Jews; how Jewish women perceive themselves for being a minority in a Christian, anti-Semitism dominated society. This would enable counselors understand the Jews’ lack of trust in non-Jews counselors.
In essence, the overall implication is that counselors need to understand Jewish women in the context of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and other factors discussed to increase their sensitivity towards them during counseling.
Ginsberg, F., & Sinacore, A. L. (2013). Counseling Jewish women: A phenomenological study. Journal of Counseling & Development, 91, 131-139.