Sisterhood Blog

'Halachically Yours' Provides Sex Ed for the Orthodox

By Megan Sass

Getty Images // An Orthodox bride and groom in Jerusalem*

HalachicallyYours.org is a web site opening the lines of communication about sexuality and intimacy in married relationships in the Orthodox community. I spoke with Sarah Epstein, who has been a sex educator for four years, about her project and why sex ed is still taboo among religious Jews.

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A Real Talk College Guide for Women

By Chanel Dubofsky

Thinkstock

In preparing to interview Julie Zeilinger about her new book, “College 101: A Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year”, I asked some female friends of mine, all in our twenties and thirties, what, if any, books they’d been given in preparation to go to college. The answers included “What Color is Your Parachute?”, “Chicken Soup for the College Soul”, and “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”
In this small sample, none of the women I knew had read anything about the specific experience of being a woman in college before they went. Zeilinger’s book takes the opposite tack. You won’t find another book about going to college that also contains a smack down on slut shaming, bro culture and the specter of the “freshman 15.”

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Shape Shifting

By Frimet Goldberger

Getty Images

We live in a world over-saturated with messages about flawless skin, slim waists, perky breasts and perfectly shaped bottoms. But until my twenties, I did not know this world. My ideals of beauty were not shaped by Marilyn Monroe and Angelina Jolie; beauty standards in the Hasidic world I grew up in are radically different than that of mainstream society, and those were the standards for my formative years.

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Let's Talk About Incarcerated Women on Passover

By Sarah Seltzer

Thinkstock

During Passover it’s our obligation to think about all the people who are in chains who should be free — whether they are Jewish or not. Today, as I sit at my desk longing to munch on anything but another matzo sandwich (how oppressed my taste buds are!), I’m thinking not just about frightening instances of anti-Semitism at home and abroad, but also about two innocent women who are unfairly caught up in America’s frightening, ballooning criminal justice system. I would like to see more Jewish groups, energized by the Passover message, engage with our terrifying “prison-industrial complex,” particularly the way that system targets marginalized groups.

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Not Another 'Jewish Hotties' Slideshow

By Sarah Seltzer

Thinkstock

Oh Daily Caller, no you didn’t just publish a slideshow of Jewish hotties under the tenuously time-pegged slogan “13 Jewish Hotties We Wouldn’t Pass Over.” Just no.

In addition to being outright objectifying without even a trace of hipster irony, there’s something a little unpleasant about the project, as if the fact that Jewish women are attractive is newsworthy Meanwhile, the requisite smouldering pics of Madames Portman, Johannsen, Kunis, Hudson and company uses the worst variety of Jewish humor I’ve ever encountered. Really, guys (somehow I think it was guys who did this)? “Tzimme some Elizabeth Banks.” “We’d let Scarlett Johansson try our borscht.” Wow. This stuff isn’t just offensive to Jewish women — it’s offensive to actually funny Jewish humor.

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Why HBO's 'Doll and Em' Deserves To Be Renewed

By Elissa Strauss

A recognizable portrayal of mid-30s to early 40-something women on TV is a rare thing. When we do see women of this age they tend to have incredibly intense jobs like “Scandal’s” Olivia Pope or “Homeland’s” Carrie Mathison or they are, well, a character on “Sex and the City.”

This is what makes the new HBO series “Doll & Em,” which just concluded its first and possibly last season, such a rare treat. The show is about a pair of friends who see middle-age around the corner and try their best to figure out what that means for themselves as individuals and as best friends. There are no terrorists or presidential scandals or even rows upon rows of suitors to choose from, just the regular horrors of coming to terms with your life decisions and the feeling of not youngness that particularly afflicts women around this time.

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I Don't Want Lots of Confidence

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images

I’m not extremely confident. I second-guess myself. I ruminate. I wonder what other people might think, and even how they might feel. I don’t see this as a bad thing. Instead, I think of my lack of alpha-level confidence as a real strength.

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Is the 'Man Seder' Wrong?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Courtesy of Reuven Spolter // A scene from a ‘man seder’ in Oak Park, Michigan

First there was the feminist seder. Now there is the “man seder,” many of which are centered around beer and steak.

Versions were held in five Orthodox synagogues this year, with one attracting as many as 500 men. But conflict over the idea of a “man seder” is causing nearly as great a split in perspectives as there was as the Israelites fled Egypt.

Rabbi Reuven Spolter is the man behind the “man seder.” He came up with the idea after his wife returned home from a Jewish federation-sponsored women’s pre-Passover seder. He held the first “man seder,” as he dubbed it, a decade ago at his synagogue in suburban Detroit, Young Israel of Oak Park, as a way to teach men how to better lead their own family seders while enjoying steak, beer and the camaraderie of friends.

Spolter and his family made aliyah in 2008 and the next Passover, the Detroit branch of yeshiva Aish Hatorah took up the shank bone and began running the men-only seder in the motor city. This year there were also “man seders” in Orthodox synagogues in Potomac, Maryland, which had some 500 participants; Houston; Chicago; and greater Atlanta.

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Real Heroines of Pesach Prep

By Frimet Goldberger

Martyna Starosta // A woman hired to clean a Hasidic home before Pesach

“Thank God I don’t need to get a goyte this year,” I shout from the living room, as I’m adding, for the umpteenth time, another grocery item to the shared google doc titled “Orlando Grocery List” — Orlando is where my family is heading for Pesach this year.

I pause. Wait, did I just say that word? Goyte, it rings in my ears and rolls off my tongue. It’s the female version of goy, or gentile, and it carries a deeply-ingrained connotation for me — and not of the positive sort. Goytes are cleaning ladies in Hasidic communities — usually Eastern European or Mexican immigrants — who spend their days running from one designated house to another to clean its interiors. Most Hasidic households have a goyte come in once or twice a week, before the Sabbath, after the Sabbath and in between. But in the pre-Pesach madness, they are in high demand.

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Kisses from Rav Kook

By Sara Davidson

Thinkstock

No one smiles at you in Mea Shearim — the ultra-Orthodox quarter of Jerusalem. Signs on the buildings warn: “Jewish women — dress modestly!” I’d been warned that girls who entered the quarter wearing t-shirts or short skirts had been stoned.

It was my first visit to Jerusalem at age 35, and I hadn’t been in a synagogue for 15 years. I couldn’t wait to flee the Reform temple in Los Angeles that my family had attended, (but only on high holidays) where services were boring and Sunday school was an ordeal. Yet I was a seeker and in the Sixties, I began exploring Eastern mystical traditions.

In 1975, when I stopped in Jerusalem on my way to take a nature tour of the Sinai desert, I was startled to find a vibrancy in Jewish practice, scholars creating fresh translations of the Torah, and mystics unlocking the Kabbalah — nothing I’d seen in West Los Angeles. I had yet to encounter a spiritual community in which I felt at home, and wondered if I might find that in Jerusalem.

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Rabbis Gone Wild — About Modesty and (Gasp!) Zumba

By Frimet Goldberger

Thinkstock // One Orthodox Rabbi has strongly condemned Zumba classes.

In recent years, a slew of savvy Orthodox rabbis have taken to condemning women for everything they do. Their brilliant speeches can be found on YouTube and other websites, and have made their rounds on social media. The topics of their impassioned speeches run the gamut: from life challenges to laziness to Zumba to healthy dating — most of which include, at some points, women and their inherently provocative nature.

One such famous rabbi — let’s call him the Zumba Rabbi — is Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein, the founder of Ohr Naava, a Torah center for women and girls, ostensibly for those who are at risk. Rabbi Wallerstein, a true tzadik bestowed with unparalleled wisdom by God, uses his pulpit, err stripper’s pole, to preach to women about sexism and racism, condoning both.

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Lucy Gherman's Winding Career in Yiddish Theater

By Chana Pollack

Forward Association

Lucy Gherman had a long and winding career in Yiddish theater but it was likely her role as the long-suffering mother in the Yiddish film “A Brivele Der Mamen” (“A Letter to Mother”) that made her known for the ages. (She is pictured in the photo above, second from left, in a still from the film.) Themed around a family’s dislocation in the years leading up to WWI, the film was produced by Joseph Green. It was released in America the month Hitler invaded Warsaw in 1939. The film’s title song, long familiar to Yiddish theater goers, and was later reinterpreted by Israeli musician Chava Alberstein during Israel’s 1973 war. The song depicts a mother left behind in Eastern Europe reminding her son who has left for America to remember to write her a little note — no matter how many he’s already written her. It will ease her loneliness and pain. The film has also been released as “The Eternal Song.” It featured a script by Forverts writer Moyshe Osherowitch and scenes filmed depicting the exterior of the newspaper’s original building at 175 East Broadway.

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The Best Reasons to Unplug

By Sarah Seltzer

Thinkstock

During Lent and Passover, we are told to renounce: food, mostly, but bad habits too. One New York congregation, Romemu, has gone even further, arguing that email is virtual hametz, something to drop during Passover. I’m as compelled by the ebb and flow of cleanses and abstinence — followed and preceded by hedonism, of course — as any other Judeo-Christian American type. It’s kind of our thing, right?

But I tend to think that these “unplugging” directives are a step too far. Labeling anything sinful or even hametz gives it a moral value, which renders it too fraught — as Elissa Strauss noted, it’s kind of Puritan. Personally, I don’t think being connected online is a bad thing at all. Instagramming a moment is simply another way of being in that moment, particularly when you collaborate with a friend on a fun camera shot. It’s endearing, and breeds connectedness and cleverness. Casey Cep, a former unplugger, takes a very strong line against the unplugging movement for this very reason.

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The Redemption of Valley Girl Speak

By Elissa Strauss

IMDB // The Valley girl characters Cher Horowitz and Dionne Davenport in “Clueless”

Like, yes. Like totally. Like finally. The Valley girls of the world have been redeemed.

In what I hope is the last and final word on girl speak, the New York Times recently ran an oped by prominent linguist and literature professor John McWhorter in which he makes a case for the use of “like” and “totally.”

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A Jewish Queen of Late Night?

By Lilit Marcus

Getty Images

Last week, Chelsea Handler of “E!“‘s late night talk show “Chelsea Lately” announced that she would be leaving the network. A few days later, David Letterman — host of “The Late Show” and the record-holder for longest running late night host in history — announced that he would be retiring in 2015. Coincidence? Or destiny?

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Happy Equal Pay Day!

By Elissa Strauss

Thinkstock

Happy Equal Pay Day Ladies! Today marks how long into this year women must work in order to make how much men made last year when you adjust for how much money we lose because of the 23% gender wage gap. Feels good, right?

Equal Pay Day was started by the National Committee on Pay Equity in 1996 as a way to spotlight the fact that men still earn more than we do, and is based on Census statistics from the previous year. Today represents the median gap for all women, but if we observed one just for women of color it would be even later in the year: Hispanic women would have to wait until mid-July.

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Breakin Up by Text Is Un-Jewish

By Maya Shwayder

Thinkstock

Texting is now the most popular way to break up with one’s partner, at least according to XOJane. Why? “It’s less awkward,” survey respondents said.

My fellow millennials, let’s get one thing straight. Whipping off a short digital note with one hand and half a brain to someone with whom you’ve been recently and repeatedly intimate on an emotional, intellectual and probably physical level is not “less awkward” than sitting down in person. Sending someone who cares, or once cared, about you a few kilobytes to tell them you no longer care is degrading. It’s disrespectful. It’s dehumanizing. It’s just plain wrong.

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Pesach Prep Is a Marathon for Hasidic Women

By Frimet Goldberger

Thinkstock

It’s that time of year — the time I expect the smell of Murphy’s Oil Soap and chlorine to waft through the windows of every home. It’s my favorite time of the year, too, from my earliest memories. No, I’m not referring to spring and the anticipation of warm weather, but to Pesach — by far the best, most costly holiday in the Jewish calendar.

For most Jewish women, Pesach preparations are just getting into gear. Perhaps there are some familial arrangements to be made, lavish getaways to be finalized. Perhaps they are just getting around to scrubbing parquet floors and Farberware pots and taking apart the stovetop. But for Hasidic women, on the other hand, Pesach preparations of this nature begin the moment the cleanup from the Purim hamantaschen ends, and for some, it starts as early as Hanukkah.

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Louisa Solomon of The Shondes Talks Censorship

By Sarah Seltzer

Shondes.com // Louisa Solomon of The Shondes

Louisa Solomon is the feminist lead singer of The Shondes, a punk-rock band (think “Bruce Springsteen meets Bikini Kill,” she jokes) with openly queer members. The Forward once said she had “ a talent for androgynous sass.” Although the group espouses punk’s rebellious ethos and sometimes touch on geopolitics in their lyrics, they’re not explicitly political. “Most of our songs are about the power of friendship, hope, surviving heartbreak. We aren’t terribly polemic,” Solomon told me during a Friday afternoon gchat. “We are a rock band, we try to write anthems that help people survive, and we regularly invoke Judaism!”

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The Story Behind 'Transgender & Jewish'

By Forward staff

Forward deputy culture editor Naomi Zeveloff and Yeshiva University professor Joy Ladin talk with the City University of New York’s ethnic media show about transgender inclusion in Jewish life, following the publication of the Forward’s new eBook on transgender issues.

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