Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Post-denominational egalitarian girl in an orthodox world

So, what does an egalitarian girl do when she’s engaged (much less married) to an orthodox boy? This is a question I expect I’ll be answering over and over again in different ways for the rest of my life. And, as usual, there isn’t an easy answer other than to approach each issue as it comes up.

At the moment the interesting thing is that figuring out how to strike the right balance in our wedding is much more difficult than figuring out how to live our lives together. That makes sense actually, because as it turns out our practice, apart from the egal davening, is not very different. So setting up a life together is relatively easy on that count. And we are happy to continue to daven in two minyanim. We are particularly lucky in our current locale in that we can do that all in one building, but even if that does not remain the case, we’ll be okay.

But planning a wedding? That’s a bit more complicated. Luckily we have great resource in Rabbi Linzer’s article for JOFA (circa 2003), which indicates a variety of ways to make Jewish weddings more egalitarian within the boundaries of halacha. Stay tuned to see just what our balance will be. It promises to be an interesting ride.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Made with love, not angst

I have previously written at length about the subject of conflict diamonds and (consumer-based) measures to alleviate the problem. However, this question had renewed potency when I recently became engaged. You may wonder, what did Sunkist Miss decide to do about an engagement ring? Well, I’m here to share that information with you.

Initially when we went shopping (browsing), I really couldn’t find anything I was happy with. And the more I thought about it, the more I recognized that I was not going to be happy with a standard Kimberly Process certificate of origin. Don’t get me wrong, the Kimberly Process represents a very important improvement in how diamond retailers do business. However, it wasn’t enough. It is well known that, as I described previously, “it’s difficult to actually verify where diamonds come from and the major buyers (companies) may mix them together.”

Enter Brilliant Earth -- a San Francisco-based company committed to making socially conscious jewelry. Their diamonds come from Canada (from Canadian mines, not through Canada). They use recycled metal (mine is white gold) for making the settings and bands. The materials they send/pack in are all made from recycled paper and the jewelry boxes are from wood from a sustainable forest. Finally, they recognize that all of these things are not enough because, as I wrote about in my previous blog post on the subject, the problem with effectively boycotting African diamonds is that while verification is extraordinarily difficult, not all African diamonds are conflict diamonds, and poor communities are reliant on their export. Their solution? As their website explains, “Brilliant Earth also dedicates 5% of its profits to directly benefit local African communities harmed by the diamond industry.” Moreover, they are also beginning to offer certified Namibian diamonds which are conflict-free, and mined with fair labor and environmentally monitored mining practices. In other words, they are really making an effort to get to the source of a variety of social problems in the jewelry and diamond business one ring at a time. Also, the people there were very helpful and informative and we got a hand-written note with the rings! (We got wedding bands there as well so they would be made from recycled metals and would match).

Yes, I know I sound like a commercial for this company, but really, I want people to know that this option is out there. Finally, when I found them, I actually felt good about the ring. Because it’s not just me getting something I don’t have to feel guilty about, but something I can feel confident is making a market-based statement about what is important and helping to support a company that does good work in this area.

I will add one last thought. In my prior post on this subject I brought up the question of whether wearing a diamond ring in some sense constitutes marat ayin. Marat Ayin is the Jewish concept which proscribes an action that while technically permissible looks like something that is not, and which therefore makes others think that the impermissible is permissible. So, is wearing an extremely socially conscious ring marat ayin because other people might think that any old diamond ring was acceptable? This was really my last hold-up. What I concluded is that (a) as mentioned above, it is important to support this company, and (b) it is in a certain sense an educational opportunity for me. No, not everyone I encounter will know the story of my ring. But my friends and family will, anyone who reads this blog will, anyone who attends our wedding will. And in that way we will teach people that there are more possibilities out there. It’s not only about Brilliant Earth, but more broadly about the fact that it is possible to make socially and politically responsible choices.