Once upon a time, Yeshivat Frisch senior Shoshi Bursztyn saw women’s issues as primarily a hot-button topic within the Jewish community. However, her perspective has broadened since beginning a 2017-18 internship with the Junior Commission on the Status of Women, established by the Bergen County Commission on the Status of Women. “I used to think of women’s rights within the context of Judaism, but now I see it as a global issue,” she said.
Bursztyn’s interest in women’s rights issues inspired Frisch junior grade dean Maren Scharf to nominate her for the competitive internship. Now, Bursztyn is one of 21 girls taking part in the program, including two from Catholic schools and the rest from various public schools in Bergen County. She is the only yeshiva high school student in the program this year.
The Junior Commission meets monthly to study various issues affecting women in Bergen County—such as domestic violence, cyberbullying, healthy relationship awareness, childcare and women in the workforce—and takes on a public service project over the course of the year. This year’s junior commissioners will launch a teen pregnancy prevention campaign.
Bursztyn says she is particularly looking forward to action-based events scheduled for the remainder of the year: a feminine hygiene products drive for women in homeless shelters; a clothing drive for victims of human trafficking; a gift drive for female victims of domestic violence and their children currently living in the Center for Hope and Safety; Habitat for Humanity home construction; and the commission’s upcoming Women’s History Month celebration in March, which will honor three women who have overcome professional obstacles and whose 2018 theme will be “Nevertheless She Persisted: honoring women who fight all forms of discrimination against women.”
Bursztyn expressed appreciation for the internship’s organizers, and spoke highly of her fellow interns, whom she described as intelligent, welcoming and compassionate individuals. “Our fundamentals are the same,” she said. “They want to help people and empower women. They’re very nice people, and ba’alot chesed.”
“I hope future Frisch kids do this internship too,” added Bursztyn, who says she is interested in pursuing activism on behalf of women’s and minority rights in the future. “It’s an amazing opportunity, as well as an opportunity for a great kiddush Hashem.”
Bursztyn believes that many issues affecting women in the general population also affect women within the Jewish community. “Domestic violence, for example, is also an issue within the Jewish community, but it is slightly more taboo in the Jewish community,” she said. “Both communities have a long way to go before these issues are solved; we need to talk about it more before we can witness change.” Concurrently, Bursztyn views the Jewish community as a great potential resource for women in crisis, noting examples of everyday acts of chesed that are so commonplace in Jewish communities. “I think the Jewish community would be a great place for women in need to turn to for help, because our community is so loving,” she said.