Jennifer Elsner

Women's History Month 2017

March is the month of International Women’s Day and the Jewish holiday of Purim, which features inspiring and fearless feminist role models. We’re celebrating with a series of conversations with Jewish ladies who are building empowering and supportive women-focused communities.

Check out all featured women here.

Tell us the story behind the community you’re building.

In 2010, I saw a movie that was the antecedent of what was to become Inquiry Pop-Up. At a certain point, Bill Cunningham, in his eponymous documentary Bill Cunningham New York, says he has to come back to Paris every six months “to re-educate the eye.” Mr. Cunningham’s pluck, outlook, and prolific career was most enviable. It was then when I first realized something critical was missing from my practice. Something Bill had. Immediately, intuitively, I booked a flight to Paris.

Bill’s eye was clear to see the future. Clear to create the future. More than the most revered, and trusted in the industry. I, too, wanted to do my best work and feel most fully myself. To be on the vanguard. A dedication to refreshing the eye became an important part of my practice.

I envisioned gatherings of friends to facilitate fertile “intake” time. For us to refresh the eye together. We’d engage in new skills, new relationships, and a revitalized understanding of the world around us.

Inquiry Pop-Up is a vacay meets salon meets dinner party for a carefully curated coterie of women in a spectacular and remote location. It’s five days of personal and professional inquiry, intoxicating conversations, and bread-breaking with a different luminaries from the arts, design, business and culture.

Describe your leadership style.

As a designer, I take pleasure in setting the conditions of a project or exerience. Sharing the framework and conditions — plus the desired goal — allows me to lead in an generous manner.

Growth is born from mutual respect.

Share the most challenging moment you’ve had while building this community. When were you closest to quitting? How did you pull yourself back up?

In bullfighting, “querencia” is a term used to describe an area in the ring that a bull instinctively chooses as his own, to feel safe, gather strength, and charge the matador once again. During the first year of Inquiry Pop-Up, I didn’t understand the importance of my having a quiet place of my own to recharge. Holding mental and physical space for guests was depleting. A tired me gets pissy.

I don’t like admitting this, but there were times I felt unsupported. These emotions felt ridiculous since my role as Inquiry’s creator is to help facilitate liberation. Thanks goodness Marfa, by its very nature, gives ample opportunity for sweet solitude. There’s nothing a West Texas drive can’t cure.

Share the most empowering instance of women lifting up other women that you’ve witnessed.

Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” raised awareness of the unique experience of being a Black woman and illuminated the intersections of gender, race, sexuality, socio-economic status, and more. Many women found themselves (finally) seen and heard by the individual and collective anthems of the album. That Beyoncé empowered women via popular culture is at the same time subversive and breathtaking.

What does being a Jewish woman mean to you?

It’s comforting how I can fall into a quick rapport with other Jewish women. There’s a modicum of deep understanding we naturally share. While there’s nothing clandestine about it, the sisterhood feels private and mysterious. I believe these bonds are embedded in being a Jewish woman. It has been passed down through the matriarchy and I, too, get to participate in it.

What advice do you have for other women who are looking for supportive communities to build or join?

Build it. And exactly how you want it to be — based on what you want, not what you think will attract people, or sell, or the market will allow.

Favorite Jewish holiday? Least favorite Jewish holiday?

I like hissing at Haman on Purim (and that we eat his hat). I adore the excuse to convene with nature for Sukkot. My favorite Jewish holiday is Rosh Hashanah when my family and I go to the river at sunset to reflect, and empty our pockets. I don’t traffic in least favorites ;-}

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