Julia Appel '04

Julia Appel profile photoCareer: Senior Jewish Educator and Campus Rabbi, University of Toronto

Thesis Title: Feminism Makes a Splash at the Mikvah: Non-Orthodox Jewish Women Reinterpret Niddah Ritual

I am the Rabbi for Hillel at the University of Toronto. I do a variety of things in that role; I build Jewish community on campus, I lead holiday and sabbath celebrations, I do one-on-one pastoral care and counseling; and I do interfaith work and work on anti-oppression issues from a Jewish perspective, and I also mentor students to create Jewish events and initiatives.            My thesis topic was probably the third thesis topic that I came up with. I remember meeting with Kiku Adatto, whose tutorial I had taken, and she asked me, what do you really care about in life? And I answered, Judaism and feminism. And that’s how I chose my thesis topic. My thesis advisor was Cameron Macdonald, who was also my sophomore tutorial leader. She and I and two other students were doing feminist approaches to ethnography, so we had a thesis group.          

The thesis itself was a big part of my career trajectory because I was interviewing Jewish women about Jewish rituals. Through their answers, I was also looking for my own answers about how to be feminist and also an observant Jew. I basically trained myself while writing the thesis in areas of theory that I still use today, including feminisms as they apply to identity and liminal ritual theory -- performing rituals is a major part of what I do for a living.               

I use what I learned in Social Studies every day. Part of my job is to translate the world for university students and to help them find their place in it, religiously, culturally, personally. In my one-on-one work with people, I often interpret back to them their own experiences. Social Studies gave me a social theoretical way of understanding the world, and and I draw on both the theory approach that I learned from Social Studies and also the theological approach I learned in Rabbinical Seminary in my work.