Sisterhood Blog

Wanted: Female Date Tree To Save 2,000-Year-Old Species

By Shira Rubin and Ruth Schuster (Haaretz))

Dr. Elaine Solowey planting a rather younger Methuselah in the ground, 2007. Photo by Dan Keinan

Methuselah, the Judean date palm grown from a 2,000-year old seed, has turned out to be male, and there’s fresh hope he could sire a revival of his extinct species – he’s potent.

Now ten years old, the tree is over ten feet tall, with offshoots and flowers, and its pollen works, says Sarah Sallon, MD, director of the Hadassah organization’s Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center.

Sallon who initiated the Germination of Ancient Seed Program as part of her long term Middle Eastern Medicinal Plant project, works with neighbors - Palestinians and Jordanians - to develop and conserve the medicinal plants in this area. “Plants have no borders,” Sallon points out, and she believes there could be great potential in their medicinal properties.

Methuselah was born of a date seed found during the 1960s excavation of Masada by Prof Yigal Yadin. Sallon obtained it by asking the late archaeologist Prof Ehud Netzer for seeds. “He thought I was mad but he agreed,” Sallon said.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Problematic Passover Reading

By Sarah Brodsky

Getty images

In the Passover story, as in most of the Bible, men usually get the acclaim. So when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt recently published an article highlighting the role of Moses’s sister Miriam, Pharoah’s daughter Batya, and other women in the biblical narrative, it was hailed as a feminist perspective. But while being reminded of the women who participated in the events related at the Passover seder may feel inspirational and affirming to women, such female-centric retellings work counter to the goals of empowering women in Judaism. People who want to advocate for Jewish women should be careful not to lean too heavily on the rhetoric of the strong female biblical figure.

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Remembering Infertility on Passover

By Amy Klein

Photograph by Michal Solomon

(JTA) — I recently attended the bris of my friend’s son and it was the first such occasion at which I was not crying tears of sadness for myself. Two years ago I was at her older son’s bris, and I remember pretending my copious tears were of joy. In reality, all I could think was: How come everyone else gets to have the very thing that I want most?

It would take me three years, 10 doctors, nine rounds of in-vitro fertilization and four miscarriages to finally get and stay pregnant.

And there I was, in my second trimester of pregnancy, listening to my friend deliver a speech at her son’s bris, and all I can think was: What about everyone else who can’t have children? Even though I’m out of the precarious first trimester, when risk of a pregnancy loss is greatest, the pain of my long, winding fertility journey is still too raw for me to forget everyone I’ve left behind.

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The Art of Goysplaining

By Lilit Marcus

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

The other day at work, I got goysplained.

Let me back up. In 2008, Rebecca Solnit wrote her seminal essay, “Men Explain Things To Me.” In the essay, Solnit relates a story where she went to a party and mentioned that she had been writing about the famous photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Almost immediately, a man begins talking over her, pontificating that a very important book on the subject was published recently and she should really know about it. The book he is talking about, despite not having read, was the one written by Solnit. Another party guest had to point it out to the man several times before he would acknowledge Solnit’s book, and he didn’t apologize for lecturing her.

Although Solnit herself did not coin the term “mansplaining,” she is often given credit for identifying the phenomenon where men who are less knowledgeable on a topic insist on lecturing a woman who may know more than they do but who is ignored or taken less seriously because of her gender. And thanks to her essay and others like it, I finally have words to articulate the feeling of being condescended to by people who are less informed than I am. That’s why when a non-Jewish colleague at work spent ten minutes explaining Passover to me as if I, a Jew, had never heard of it before, a word immediately popped into my head: “goysplaining.”

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Lena Dunham's Piece Was Anti-Semitic. Get Over It.

By J.E. Reich


By now, you’ve surely heard of the uproar of Lena Dunham’s latest New Yorker piece, titled “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz.” In list form, Dunham asks the reader to judge whether it is her pet dog or her Jewish boyfriend (Jack Antonoff of the rock bands Bleachers and Fun) who “doesn’t tip,” “never brings his wallet anywhere,” and “expects to be waited on hand and foot by the women in his life.” As per most things produced by Dunham, the (Jewish) internet flew into a frenzy, debating as to whether the piece was anti-Semitic or not. After reading the piece myself — and as someone who is a champion of Dunham’s work — I came to the conclusion that yes, Dunham’s article is not only guilty of perpetuating well-worn Jewish stereotypes for cheap laughs but ingrained with anti-Semitic overtones, if not borderline or overtly anti-Semitic in nature. (For a dissenting opinion, read Flavorwire’s Sarah Seltzer’s hilarious “Other Lena Dunham Pitches The New Yorker (and the ADL) Will Definitely Accept”, or Hilary Saunders’ response here at the Forward.)

It’s no one’s place to judge another person’s sense of Jewish identity; to do so is not only egregious, but divisive for the Jewish community as a whole. However, Dunham’s piece can also be considered a case of whether it is, indeed, a piece of Jewish humor, or whether it is a piece of humor that happens to be written by someone Jewish. To me, it’s the latter. Humor that speaks from within the culture is different than humor that speaks from one who positions themselves on the outside the culture. By failing to use inclusive qualifiers to identify herself from within the culture, Dunham’s piece skewers toward the anthropological, the study of the Jewish boyfriend from one that does not identify as the sole same.

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Teachers Are Working Parents Too

By Amy Newman

In September, I’ll begin my tenth year as a Jewish Day School teacher. I have taught Judaic Studies to almost every level from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and I feel lucky to have found a career path that enables me to spend every day engaging with Jewish texts in a rewarding and purposeful way.

Amy Newman

There’s not a lot of glory in day school teaching. It’s not prestigious work. People assume that they could walk into our classrooms and do our jobs for us, forgetting — or not believing — that we are skilled professionals. The highest-achieving students in day schools and colleges are encouraged to pursue careers in law, medicine, finance, maybe even the rabbinate — not in day school teaching. When promising young teachers arrive at new jobs, they often insist that this is just a starter job before they find their real career or advance to a higher role in their school. I was one of those teachers, until I realized that I didn’t want to work anywhere but in a classroom.

Among parents who believe that full-time immersive Jewish education is the best choice for their children, and who take on the immense financial burden of day school tuition, there is a conversation taking place about how to make the day school commitment more manageable for families. There is talk about how to address the tuition crisis, and — more recently, in these pages) — about how to make the day school schedule more accommodating for families with two working parents. Without a doubt, it is difficult for couples to manage two careers and the day school calendar. My husband and I have just begun to deal with this ourselves; our older son is in his first year of Jewish nursery school and we’re trying to figure out if either of us will be able to attend his first model seder.

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The Drama of Henrietta Schnitzer

By Chana Pollack

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

When Henrietta Shapira attended Joel Entin’s ‘Progressive Dramatic Club,’ whose acclaimed members included beloved acting teacher Lee Strassberg, not only did her acting career change—but her romantic life as well. It was there, while starring in the club’s many one act plays, she met Louis Schnitzer and by the year’s opening theatrical season, 1919-20, they were married.
As if to celebrate their union they opened the country’s first Yiddish Art Theatre on 27th Street and Lexington Ave. No sooner did they premiere their creative enterprise than the fur truly began to fly and detailed accounts of their theatre’s internal theatrics sold much of that summer’s Forverts.

Arguments with both Schnitzer’s and accusations against them were frequent and even Forverts’ Editor Ab Cahan devoted some space to Henrietta fledgling acting career.

But beloved Yiddish actor Celia Adler truly threw down, adding her two kopeks to the mix, letting readers know the Schnitzers were, in no uncertain terms, ‘amateurs’ with no “actorly” aspirations. And then she launched the deepest arrow to pierce the heart of anyone desirous of a life in the arts saying Louis himself was nothing but a ‘successful businessman.’ Though she conceded he claimed to want to create better theatre and even seemed to have an innate respect for intelligence and knowledge.

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What About Teacher Salaries?

By Rachel Rosenthal

Rachel Rosenthal teaching students and their parents in the Dr. Beth Samuels Drisha High School program

I had my first teaching experience as an 8th grader, leading groups at my synagogue. I was immediately in love. The person I became when I was teaching — confident, funny, charming, and able to command the attention of small children and their parents — amazed me. I went on to volunteer as a tutor and teach Hebrew School throughout high school and college, so when I had to face the realities of graduation, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I would move back to New York and become a teacher.

What I forgot was that New York is expensive, and teaching is not lucrative. When I accepted a job teaching at a Jewish day school in 2006, I found out that my salary would be $28,000 for the first year, without benefits. Although the low number shocked me, research showed that it was standard across the board. After paying for health insurance and having taxes taken out of my paycheck, that meant that I received $762.50 on the 15th and 30th of each month, for a total monthly take home pay of $1,525. This was for my full time job, 10 months a year, 7 and a half hours a day. The take home number is above minimum wage, but not by much. This is what we are paying the people we are trusting with educating out children.

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Meet Ruth Porat, Google’s New CFO

By Anthony Weiss

Ruth Porat. Photogprah by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

(JTA) — To the business press, the symbolism of Ruth Porat’s move from her position as chief financial officer of Morgan Stanley to her newly announced perch as Google’s CFO of the future couldn’t be more obvious — it represents a shift in power from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. And there’s no question that it’s a big deal when one of the most powerful women in finance decides that the grass — or at least the money — is greener on the other side of the country.

But Porat’s career leap to the Mountain View, Calif., tech giant, starting May 26, also means that she is moving back home to the Bay Area, where she grew up. And a brief look at her family history reveals that the forces that led them to end up in northern California were nothing less than the defining events of 20th century Jewish history: the Holocaust and the founding of the state of Israel. Porat’s father, Dan, was born in 1922 in what is now Ukraine, and he later moved with his family to a shtetl in the Carpathian Mountains and then to Vienna, which is where they lived when the Anschluss of 1938 brought the Nazis to power. In a written memoir archived by the Center for Jewish History, Dan Porat recalls going to watch Hitler ride triumphantly into the Austrian capital. Thanks to his strong grasp of Hebrew learned at cheder, he was able to escape to a kibbutz in British Mandate Palestine; the rest of his family was killed in the Holocaust. Dan Porat volunteered to fight in the British army.

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If Men Cleaned For Passover

By Devorah Blachor

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

A friend of mine recently suggested that if men nursed babies, there would be no more endless debate among parents about breast versus bottle. Everyone would do what was best for them and their families without guilt, criticism and second guessing.

  This made me think about other possibilities. What if men were in charge of Passover cleaning, for example?  

In the Long Island Orthodox home where I was raised, Passover cleaning started a month before the holiday. We removed all the books from the shelves and shook them in case a crumb had clung to the pages. Clothing, rugs, windows, desktops, mirrors, cars, garages, bathrooms, the dust that gathered above the closets – all of this got a good scrubbing.  

If you’re not weary yet, wait for it because we haven’t gotten to the epicenter. The kitchen is where the party really started. We emptied kitchen cabinets, cleaned them and covered them with new lining. In the days leading up to the seder, we removed plates and silverware from the kitchen and replaced them with Passover sets, along with pots, pans, dish towels, tablecloths, can openers, peelers, whisks and garlic presses that were waiting in a basement closet all year. We cleaned sinks and ovens with boiling water and cleanser. We emptied the refrigerator – everything had to go because if its proximity to chametz – and then lined the shelves to ready it for newly-purchased food, condiments and drinks.

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Stav Shaffir's 'Politics of Happiness'

By Sarah Breger

Stav Shaffir at J Street. Screenshot via YouTube.

In the wake of the Israeli election and Bibi’s statements on the two state solution, it’s not surprising J Street’s annual conference focused on the fears of what the future will bring and warnings of what will happen if Israel continues on its current path. But it was Stav Shaffir — who at 29 is the youngest member of Knesset — and her “politics of happiness” that finally gave the 3,000 person audience something to believe in.

“Since I arrived in the United States I have heard frustration I haven’t heard in the past, beyond frustration — almost despair,” said Shaffir.“But despair, this we cannot afford.”

In analyzing the election outcome, Shaffir shrewdly acknowledged, “we simply did not give the Israelis a clear enough picture of what dreams we have for a better future. Ladies and gentleman its about time we do.”

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Pulpit Plus One: Putting All His Chips In

By Julie Sugar

llustration by Lior Zaltzman

“Pulpit Plus One: The Secret Lives of Rabbis’ Husbands, Partners, and Wives” features the voices and experiences of the partners of pulpit rabbis. In this interview series, “Pulpit Plus One” takes an honest and lively look into the nuances of a complex role.

Justin is a 32-year-old adjunct mathematics professor, who grew up Protestant and is a convert to Judaism. He lives in New Jersey with his wife Lisa and their eight-month-old daughter. Lisa works seven days a week on the rabbinic team of a very large Reform synagogue.

When you were dating, what was it like for you when your partner decided she wanted to be a pulpit rabbi?

It’s weird now that I think about it years later: it wasn’t anything that came up. In my Jewish journey I was so into Judaism and into learning, that it wasn’t like: “Why would you want to do that?”, it was: “This is awesome!” It just kind of happened, that she was going to go to rabbinical school, and everything was going to be fine.

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Monica Lewinsky Finds Her Voice

By Sarah Breger

I remember poring over the Starr Report in 1998. A special excerpt was published in the Washington Post and as a eighth grader at the time it served as the sex-ed class my school didn’t provide.

But what I most remember the most was the vitriol directed toward Monica Lewinsky, less for her actions than her actual being. Everyone from late-night comedians to leading feminists were vicious in their attacks against her. She was fat. She was ugly. She was Jewish. She wasn’t the type of girl you would risk having an affair with. As a Jewish girl concerned about my appearance and my weight, seeing someone who looked like me be so denigrated shaped the way I saw myself and how I thought the world saw me. (It also gave me a permanent fear of straightening my hair.)

Then like the rest of the world I moved on. Monica Lewinsky would pop up in the news once in a while as an aspiring handbag designer or reality show host, and more recently as a name check in popular rap songs.

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Bibi Offers Israel Troubled Sleep — and No Hope

By Amy Wilentz

I understand why some Israelis, intending to go vote for Isaac Herzog and the Zionist Union, went in and voted for Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud at the last minute.

Tuesday I was wondering, really, how I would vote if I were Israeli - knowing what I know and having lived through what I lived through in Jerusalem during the peace process in the late 1990s.

A Bibi voter is, perhaps, a liberal whose city has been bus-bombed. Or maybe, better yet, a liberal who is watching Islamic State videos.

The last time that peace between Israelis and Palestinians was a serious solution to what many Israelis refer to as “the situation,” the streets of Jerusalem were not safe. As Israel moved to normalize relations with the Palestinians, extremists on both sides of the green line started fomenting campaigns of violence for which average citizens on both sides paid in blood. That was a time of hope, and it was very difficult.

I guess it all depends on what peace really is. On how you define it.

Is the occupation peace? Is peace a time when your streets are safe but you continue to build walls to isolate yourself from your neighbor and to control his movements and to bomb the living daylights out of him when it suits? A time when the future down through the generations looks dim, but the present seems secure?

Or is peace a time when your own streets are not safe? When the road to good intentions is paved with hell? Is peace a time when the future for your sons and daughters may promise stability and growth, but the bus they’re on might not get there?

The known is better for most voters than the unknown, security today better than peace in a distant tomorrow. The pragmatist in Israel today deals only with reality - and votes for Bibi. The idealist deals with dangerous hope - and votes for  Bibi, when the voting machine brings her back to reality.

Because of this, though, Israel is not the place most of its founders had dreamed of.

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Philly's Champion of LGBT Health

By Michael Kaminer

The Mazzoni Center aims to “provide quality comprehensive health and wellness services in an LGBT-focused environment.” Photograph Courtesy of Mazzoni Center

When Nurit Shein joined Philadelphia’s Mazzoni Center in 1995, she inherited an organization saddled with debt and unsure of its future.

Two decades later, the LGBT-oriented health facility is still struggling to cope — with success. Under Shein’s leadership, the $11.3 million organization has outgrown its three Philadelphia-area buildings; next summer, the center will consolidate into a sparkling, 45,000-square-foot headquarters at the southern edge of Philadelphia’s downtown core.

The clinic began as an HIV/AIDS facility; today, thousands of Philadelphians access its primary health care, mental and behavioral health, and LGBT legal services, along with HIV/STD testing, outreach, and education programs. “Nurit has made a major contribution to LGBT health,” says Mark Segal, founder and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News. “She realized that the needs of LGBT people were not being met by the standard medical profession and she filled that void.”

Israeli-born, Shein worked her way up through the ranks in the Israel Defense Forces, retiring as a colonel. Before arriving in Philadelphia in 1995, she was the director of programs for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. She and her wife, Union for Reform Judaism leader Rabbi Sue Elwell Levy, live in Philadelphia’s Center City. The Forward’s Michael Kaminer caught up with Shein on a busy morning that started with an accidental lockout from her own office.

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Say No to the 'C'

By Dorri Olds

Courtesy of Jennifer Margulis

According to a 2014 study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, the United States is the only developed country with increasing rates of maternal mortality rates. And the World Health Organization reported that between 1990 and 2013, the maternal mortality rate increased from about 12 to 28 deaths per 100,000 births in the U.S. Journalist and researcher, Jennifer Margulis believes this is because America’s health care system is failing pregnant women.

Margulis is the author of six books on the topics of childcare, including her recently published “Your Baby, Your Way: Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenting Decisions,” published by Simon and Schuster. A former Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, she has openly criticized the big business of childbirth and the soaring numbers of Caesarean sections in the United States.

The Boston native and daughter of scientists, Margulis, 45, has dedicated much of her career to researching the medical and business practices of childbirth and childcare in the United States. Her mother, famed microbiologist Lynn Margulis was married to astrophysicist Carl Sagan before meeting Margulis’s father, an X-ray crystallographer.

Margulis lives in Oregon with her Italian-American Catholic-raised husband, and their four children — who they are raising Jewish. With a master’s in comparative literature from U.C. Berkeley and a Ph.D. in English from Emory, Margulis dedicated her career to research.

Margulis spoke to the Forward’s Dorri Olds about her decision not to circumcise her son and other concerns.

Dorri Olds: Why are there are such high maternal death rates in the United States?

Jennifer Margulis:The first is the overuse of C-section births. A variety of studies confirm that a woman is two to four times more likely to die in childbirth from complications from a Caesarean section than from vaginal birth. As our C-section rates have climbed and now remain high — over a third of American births are by C-section — so do our maternal mortality rates. Women sometimes die unnecessarily because they don’t have access to surgical birth. But in America we’ve taken a lifesaving intervention and made it into a life-threatening intervention.

Another reason has to do with poverty in the U.S., which influences every aspect of a woman’s maternity care. Poor women, and especially poor women of color, are at higher risk of dying in childbirth — often because they do not have access to adequate care. This is not a failure on the part of these women, it is a failure by the medical system. It is important to realize that this is a social problem, not an individual problem.

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Bring Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Your Seder

By Sarah Breger

Getty Images

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg can now add Torah scholar to her resume (after fashion icon and weight-lifter). On Wednesday, the 82-year-old released a feminist reading of the Exodus story to be read at the Seder. The essay, created with Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt of D.C.’s Adas Israel congregation, focuses on the women who were instrumental to the Passover narrative: Moses’ mother Yocheved, midwives Shifra and Puah, Pharoah’s daughter Batya and Moses’ sister Miriam. “Since Jews are commanded to to see ourselves as having lived through that story, so that we may better learn how to live our lives today. The stories we tell our children shape what they believe to be possible — which is why at Passover, we must tell the stories of the women who played a crucial role in the Exodus narrative,” writes Ginsburg and Holtzblatt. “These women had a vision leading out of the darkness shrouding their world. They were women of action, prepared to defy authority to make their vision a reality bathed in the light of the day. Retelling the heroic stories of Yocheved, Shifra, Puah, Miriam and Batya reminds our daughters that with vision and the courage to act, they can carry forward the tradition those intrepid women launched.”

The reading, published through the American Jewish World Service, is a call to action and part of a series from the humanitarian organization that “draws on teachings from the holidays to inform our thinking about Judaism and social justice.”

Although she served as camp rabbi at Camp Che-Ne-Wa in Minerva, New York, when she was 15, Ginsburg is not an observant Jew. In a speech at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in 2008, she attributed this to being prohibited from being part of the mourner’s minyan (because she was a woman) upon her mother’s death when Ginsburg was 17. But Ginsburg has always cited her Jewish identity as a key component her value system, famously saying, “I am a judge, born, raised and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition.”

Throughly Modern Esther

By Chana Pollack

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

From 1915 until 1930, Esther Grosshandler Friedman of the Bronx helped usher in the modern era in local politics when she presented herself as candidate for the Socialist Party’s representative in New York’s State Assembly and Senate. In 1920, ushering in an era when envisioning women’s emancipation in popular culture meant bobbing one’s hair a la Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary Grantham, bathtub gin and maybe even free love — Friedman really walked on the wild side, as it were, by running for Congress while Jewish and female.

A child immigrant from Hungary, Friedman had the “mazl” of working in a cigar factory — where one easily imagines she may have met fellow cigar makers Ab Cahan, future founding editor of the Forverts, or Samuel Gompers, future founder of the American Federation of Labor. It would not have been unusual for Friedman to have acquired literacy skills on the job as well, as cigar making, factories were known for having “readers” relaying newspaper articles and other literature to the workers as they rolled tobacco leaves into cigars. Studying at night-school at City College and the Teacher’s College of Columbia University, she pursued her education and later taught at the noted Rand School of Social Science on East 15th Street. A foundational educational resource for workers and activists it offered lectures, courses and even a summer camp experience. An in demand speaker at strikes, she addressed several strikes including those of the garment workers, embroidery workers and even her old cigar making colleagues.

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28 Women Elected to Knesset in Record


Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home Party is one of 28 women elected to the Knesset./Flash90

In an election with the highest voter turnout since 1999, a record 28 women were chosen for the 20th Knesset.

The percentage of eligible voters who came out Tuesday was 71.8; the turnout 14 years ago was 78.7 percent.

Ten of the parties running in the election garnered seats in the Knesset, with 15 not reaching the electoral threshold of 3.45 percent, or four seats.

The number of women elected broke the record of 27 set in the 2013 elections, according to the Israel Democracy Institute. The Zionist Union had eight women elected, followed by the Likud Party with six.

The number of Orthodox and haredi Orthodox lawmakers fell from 39 to 25, while the number of Arab-Israeli lawmakers increased from 12 to 17, including one each in the Zionist Union, Likud and Meretz parties.

The Knesset will welcome 41 new lawmakers, or slightly more than one-third of the parliament, according to the Israel Democracy Institute.

'Kimmy Schmidt' Is My Ex-Orthodox Life

By Leah Vincent


After all the New York Times articles, PBS segments, NPR interviews and memoirs (including my own) about the Off The Derech (OTD) narrative, the long rumored OTD TV show has finally arrived. Well, the show isn’t exactly about a person trying to build a self-determined life after leaving ultra-Orthodoxy — but it still feels like a sample of the genre.

I’m talking about Tina Fey’s new Netflix comedy, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” The show follows twenty-nine-year old Kimmy (the ebullient Ellie Kemper), as she transitions into a new life in New York City after being held captive for fifteen years, together with three other women, by a doomsday religious leader in an underground bunker in Nowheresville Indiana.

Certainly, an ultra-Orthodox childhood is a different kettle of fish from a prolonged stay in a hole in the ground, but as I watched Kimmy’s unusual transition into “normal” adulthood, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my experiences and those of my friends.

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