Two Jewish Women is a website designed to unpack the nuances of Orthodox Judaism
Created by two women – one a designer, the other a poet – the site seeks to upend common ideas about the religion through “startling and confusing” its viewers.
- Matt Alagiah
- 28 August 2020
According to its creators, Emunah Winer and Meira Kerr-Jarrett, Two Jewish Women is about taking a closer look at the “unseen side of the Orthodox Jewish woman’s world”. An interactive, editorial-style website, it combines dynamic design (led by Emunah) and original poetry (penned by Meira). “We wanted to share a unique perspective of the creative Jewish woman that people in and out of our community have not seen before,” Emunah explains.
While both women were born and raised in the US, they met and became friends while working at a creative agency in Israel, Emunah as lead designer and Meira as lead copywriter. “When we both moved on to pursue our own independent work, we knew that our collaboration needed to continue,” says Meira. “It was just a matter of what.”
Two Jewish Women is that collaborative project. The main motivation was challenging the prevailing perception of women within their community. “As Orthodox Jewish women, our lives are often seen as shrouded in mystery and modesty, or even as one-dimensional,” says Meira. “It’s easy to make assumptions about distinctive groups of people – we all do it. And when our world is portrayed, we often find that portrayal to be more apologetic than anything else – focused around: ‘Orthodox women can be doctors, judges, athletes, too.’ Those are all great things, but we’re not trying to prove anything about what we can or cannot do. We’re trying to cast a light on our unique sliver of reality.”
Alongside this more outward-looking motive was also the simple desire to have a creative challenge without the constraints of a client. This was both liberating and anxiety-inducing. “Two Jewish Women could be anything we wanted it to be,” says Emunah. “It could evolve and change along with our thoughts and point of view. This vulnerability of not knowing what we were doing led to great results.” In the end, it was all about staying true to their unique perspective: “It began as, and remains, a practice in confidence for us – to force us to honour our point of view.”
When it comes to the actual process, everything starts with the poetry. Emunah and Meira pick a topic – “something mundane and broad, like time or food, something that all humans can relate to,” as Emunah puts it – and then Meira goes away and starts writing poetry. After that, Emunah takes the words and breaks them down into sections or screens, and begins looking for matching imagery. “I’ll find a bunch of images and start photoshopping away until I find the weirdness I’m looking for,” she says.
“Weirdness” might seem an odd word to use, but this is fundamental to achieving the reaction the pair wants to evoke in the reader or viewer. “Confusion is key,” says Emunah. “We are looking to startle and confuse. People mostly don’t know what an Orthodox Jewish woman’s point of view is, and we want to extract that unknowing out of people and let them confront the questions they have.” Something she looks for is the uncanny – something that appears familiar but also strange. “We want the reader to go away asking themselves, ‘What just happened? Why did that affect me so?’ It’s about simple objects, simple practices, adding up to something much larger that become our lives.”
Once she has her imagery, Emunah turns them into gifs and uploads them into Wordpress alongside the broken-up poems. For her, this use of gifs is a workaround to replace more time-consuming animation, something she would never do in a client project. “Here,” she explains, “I allow my lack of skill set to take a key, leading role in how the project pans out.” After some tinkering and refining, the pair sets the site live.
The choice of form is itself unusual. Why a website and not, say, a book? Partly the choice was governed by their limited budget and timescales – a Wordpress site is relatively straightforward to build and launch. But for Meira, their chosen form offers lots of creative options as well. “I see this project as somewhere between a book and a video,” she explains. “In a book, you conjure up a visual world that represents what you are reading, albeit filtered through your unique perspective. In a video, the visuals are taken care of for you, so your thoughts can be directed more towards meaning and feeling.”
Two Jewish Women, she says, allows viewers/readers to vacillate between these two states, increasing that unsettling feeling she and Emunah are hoping to cultivate. “Our world can seem very black and white,” says Meira. “In reality, though, our experiences of these seemingly binary concepts are extremely subtle and nuanced. This is at the heart of what we are trying to convey through Two Jewish Women. Nothing is as simple as this vs that. We are all humans, after all. We are all so many things at once, and we all have parts of our lives that seem contradictory. This place of discomfort and contradiction is where we want to leave our readers/viewers.”