When Abigail, or “Abby,” Fisher began wearing a tallit during prayer in her Modern Orthodox elementary school, she recalled fielding jokes and put-downs from other students, and even from teachers.
“The attitude was ‘calm down — who do you think you are?’” recalled the Riverdale native and recent high school senior.
And it wasn’t just the prayer shawl. After she was not permitted to wear a kipa, she took to wearing very noticeable fedoras in 6th and 7th grade. She remembered one teacher flicking her hat and asking, sardonically: “So that’s your davening hat?”
Since, Fisher has made sure her opinions are not overlooked. Her articles — on lighting rod issues ranging from Jewish feminism to gun violence to LGBTQ rights — spark dissent, pushback and, most importantly, conversation. An article she wrote in the Jewish Daily Forward last year shaming Jewish day schools that canceled student walkouts intended to protest gun violence was met with a hailstorm of responses, and not all of them positive.
But Fisher is after a bigger goal: a more inclusive Jewish community.
“As a community, we need to start decriminalizing listening to other people,” said the recent Heschel graduate. “That can feel like a treacherous thing to do, but empathy is not an endorsement.”
She realized the critical importance of active listening during the summer of 2017, when she participated in Seeds of Peace, a program that brought her into dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of Israelis and Palestinians. Now, she is using her contacts from the program to create a group that encourages dialogue through personal writing.
“The goal is to edit one another’s pieces in a way that isn’t judgmental, but exposes members of the group to serious differences,” she said.
Next year, Fisher will transfer her rebel-rousing energy to Wesleyan University, where she hopes to promote dialogue around contentious issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It’s never too late to talk — or write — across differences,” she said.
Showstopper: Fisher performs in the musical theater group the Riverdale Rising Stars, where she has appeared in every performance since she was 8. She just completed her 28th and final show.