Anti-Semitism In My Own Back Yard
Being A Mom in the Midst of War
Hanukkah's Hottest Hebrew Hotties
Jews Far More Promiscuous Than Muslims
What Makes A Family?
Why I Screened Myself for Breast Cancer Markers
Police Shackle Anat Hoffman
Defending Michelle Obama's Arms
Why I'm Nostalgic for Hasidim
What's Wrong With Modern Dating?
The Case for Premarital Sex
When DIY Was More Than DIY
Sisters in Skivvies: A Graphic Review of 'Unterzakhn'
Chabad 'Likes' Facebook, But Not for Girls
Meet the 'First Lady of Fleet Street'
Video: Meet Chaya Mushka, Yet Again
'Raising a Bilingual Kid Is Harder Than I Expected'
Nir Hod's Anguished 'Mother'
Attachment Parenting's Star Evangelist
A Male-to-Female Jewish Journey
How Men Cornered the Baby Manual Market
Bubbe Cuisine Goes Local
Editorial: Defending Contraception
Should You Be Blogging Your Baby's Illness?
Video: Where Fashion Is Frum, Not Frumpy
The Case for Jewish Daycare
Saying Farewell to Filene's
The Bintel Brief Takes Comic Form
Editorial: Where Are the Women?
Video: Mah Jongg's Jewish Journey
Podcast: Adrienne Cooper's Musical Life
America's Most Influential Women Rabbis
The mommy wars just took a turn for the literary. A couple of weeks ago Lauren Sandler, author of the new book “One and Only: The Freedom of Having and Only Child, and the Joy of Being One,” wrote an essay for the Atlantic about whether keeping families small is the secret to success for many female writers.
It was only when I was working on a book investigating what it means to have, and to be, an only child that I realized how many of the writers I revere had only children themselves. Alongside Sontag: Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Hardwick, Margaret Atwood, Ellen Willis, and more. Someone once asked Alice Walker if women (well, female artists) should have children. She replied, “They should have children—assuming this is of interest to them—but only one.” Why? “Because with one you can move,” she said. “With more than one you’re a sitting duck.”
Bestselling authors like Ayelet Waldman, Jane Smiley and Zadie Smith took to the comments section and Twitter to express their frustration with this notion that being a mom to multiples somehow detracts from a woman’s potential for success.
We all knew it was coming. A medium as ripe with ethnic stereotypes as reality television was bound to, one day, find a few spunky young Jewish women and present them to the world as JAPs. Well, that day has come.
Bravo recently debuted their new reality show “Princesses: Long Island” which is about, in the network’s words, “six young women from Long Island who return to their pampered lifestyles in the comfort of their parents’ estates and at the expense of their fathers’ bank accounts. This new docu-series offers a window into their unique family dynamics and personal lives filled with labels, luxury, and love trials.”
This week on the Sisterhood we will be exploring the new show and what it does and doesn’t say about Jewish women today.
“Everybody has a stereotype of a Long Island Jewish girl. They get so offended! I’m, like, ‘Bring it.’ I’m Jewish, I’m American, and I’m a princess.” Ashlee from “Princesses: Long Island”*
As a reality TV junkie, I’m always on the hunt for my next fix. Most great reality shows are only great for one season, before participants buy into their own hype and start hiring publicists. The first season of “Jersey Shore,” before the catchphrases and the endorsement deals, was one of the best and funniest reality shows I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been searching for a replacement ever since.
“Princesses: Long Island,” the new Bravo reality show about six (mostly) spoiled Jewish women who still live at home and are trying to find husbands, has finally filled that gap. However, like many other reality shows, “Princesses” has encountered plenty of controversy. Before the first episode had even aired, several Jewish groups were calling for a boycott. On The Huffington Post, Lindsay Orlofsky wrote a post entitled “Shame On Bravo,” where she criticized the women on the show and their characterizations of their own Jewish identities.
Usually on the internet when Nazi analogies come into play, it means Godwin’s Law—the theory that all online arguments will eventually devolve into a Hitler comparison—has been invoked and the conversation is over.
But in the case of the “women who are raped can’t get pregnant” myth, a myth Republicans love to perpetuate, there’s actually truth in the comparison. This is because the myth originated with a “study” that was actually, gruesomely conducted in a concentration camp. As Emily Bazelon reminded us during the Todd Akin “legitimate rape” hullabaloo, this lie originates in part from an Nazi experiment.
Women were told they were on their way to die in the gas chambers—and then were allowed to live, so that doctors could check whether they would still ovulate. Since few did, Mecklenburg claimed that women exposed to the emotional trauma of rape wouldn’t be able to become pregnant, either.
On a quest to explore the age-old Jewish tradition of finding a “nice Jewish boy” or “nice Jewish girl,” I recently wrote about my own partnership for the Sisterhood, as well as the experiences of a few single Jewish friends. But I wanted to understand, more deeply, how being with a Jewish partner — which feels so innate to me — is not an indigenous need for others.
What is it like when two parts of one partnership grow up in two different households with two different understandings of god or gods or neither? How do couples create one household with space for this plethora of ways in which to interpret both the tangible and intangible? To answer these questions, I turned my attention to interfaith couples.
Andrew and Jennifer Walen, of Baltimore, Md., are committed to building community, both within their relationship and beyond. Andrew, Founder and psychotherapist at The Body Image Therapy Center, grew up in a reform Jewish family where religion was generally tossed to the side as something to be chuckled at. Meanwhile, Jennifer, who works in development at the Baltimore Community Foundation, was raised a Southern Baptist in Texas. Her church mentors taught her to think, which ironically prepared her to embrace the diverse world into which she was flung as both an undergraduate in Boston and a graduate student in Nashville, where she studied religion and the Hebrew bible — and ultimately met Andrew.
“I got really weirded out,” Andrew said about the first time he learned Jennifer was Christian. He had dated other non-Jewish girls in Nashville who broke up with him because he was “Jewish and going to hell.”
Growing up, two things were clear: I had to go to an Ivy League school and I should marry a “nice Jewish boy.” My partner of four years is a nice Jewish boy from Long Island; he is my longest and most serious relationship. Before Jonathan, my foremost relationships lasted three months each. The first was with my best guy friend from growing up (not Jewish) whom I was dating at my Bat Mitzvah. The second was during my sophomore year of college; he was three years older, Jewish and an assistant coach for my college’s men’s tennis team.
To me, finding a nice Jewish boy was crucial to finding a lifelong partner. All but one of my longest crushes and infatuations were Jewish. When I daydreamed about twentieth dates, and creating a home, and standing under the Chuppah, I could never envision anything realistic with a non-Jew. Whether this was based on my parents’ urgings or my own innate desire, is still unclear.
Skenazy pushes forward, searching for the true essence of Jewish fatherdom. Incessant people-pleaser? Pushover? Closet worrier? Nobody knows for certain.
Well, if Jewish dads really are such a blank slate, we thought we would make a few suggestions of who they could be. Here we present the ten steps to becoming the most awesome, feminist, supportive papa around. Consider it a Father’s Day gift, from the Sisterhood.
1) Take paternity leave, if you have it.
2) Ask for paternity leave, if you don’t.
3) Occasionally ask if we need help, even if we seem okay. Because sometimes we get so caught up in our busyness that we forget that help is even an option.
4) Ask us for help. We don’t want you to be superman any more than we want to be superwoman. Superman is not sustainable.
5) Don’t just help cook dinner, but actually plan dinner. That means think of what we are having, procuring the ingredients and then making it.
6) Be nice to our mothers.
7) Be nice to our sisters.
8) Let us sleep in once a week. We promise to do the same for you.
9) If we are spending a suspicious amount of time in the bathroom and you suspect we are reading our Twitter feed or celebrity gossip instead of eh, you know, give us five more minutes.
10) Never ever lie to your boss if you have to pick up our kid from school because he or she is sick. Bosses need to know that dads are parents too.
11) Bonus step: Make us a cup of tea.
The “What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?” Tumblr is the latest project from Lean In, the global community born out of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s book of the same title. The blog is inspired by studies showing that although women are graduating college with higher GPAs than their male peers, they are avoiding leadership roles and report being afraid to speak up. In response, the Lean In team asked women in and around New York City to tell them what they would do if they weren’t afraid.
So far, many of the answers are about work. Women report that they would “use their voices more in the workplace” and “ask for more money.” They would also quit their jobs and pursue more creative lives. They’d use the word “artist” and “writer” to describe themselves. Another trend are women who say that if they were not afraid they would live alone, travel alone and even leave the house alone at night. Others would call themselves feminists and speak undeterred about their political beliefs.
If you haven’t already, it’s worth taking a stroll through the blog; it is troubling and illuminating, and says a lot about the priorities of a capitalist society. A job, for example, should look a particular way: 9 to 5, at the very least; in an office; with a certain dress code; in a corporate culture (even for non profits), and with a salary at a certain level. It’s hard to take the leap that comes with living outside of this paradigm — it often means being without steady income and health insurance, as well as pushing back against assumptions about productivity and legitimacy.
When people ask what kind of a Jew I am, I tend to answer, “just Jewish.” It’s easier than explaining the Refoconservadox-style of Judaism I practice, and by that I mean that I pray in Conservative synagogue, keep what some would call eco-kosher (which does not abide by any halachic standard for kashrut) and wear pants and tank tops as often as I wear skirts that cover my knees. I’ve often described my way of moving within the different denominations of Judaism as wrapping myself in the traditions that speak the most to me, which is interesting when contemplating how, when and why I wrap my hair.
Whenever I think of the similarities between Jewish women and black women, hair is always high on my list. Like many black women, I relaxed mine for years. Seven years ago I stopped chemically straightening it, allowing it to grow in its natural coiling, zig-zagging state. I love my hair — most of the time — and when I don’t, I wrap it in a scarf.
Wrapping my hair is less about covering it and more about putting something on my head as a physical reminder of greater spiritual power. I don’t think my hair is particularly sexual or that it’s a private thing between my partner and me, but I’m admittedly intrigued by the religious significance of married women covering their hair. Something about wearing a scarf paired with a long skirt just makes me feel more Jewish.
After years of cajoling, protesting, advocating and pleading from women’s health advocates, Plan B, the most commonly-used brand of emergency contraception, has been released from legal limbo. Hopefully this morning after pill will now be able to spend the rest of its days in the friendlier, more accessible haven of the pharmacy shelf rather than behind the counter.
This victory only came after Edward Korman, a Reagan-appointed judge, slammed the Obama administration for stonewalling and politicizing the issue after the FDA’s recommendation that the pill be available to women regardless of ability to furnish proof of age. The administration, loath to appeal the ruling further and alienate its base, caved.
I’ve been following the story here at the Sisterhood, continually baffled that a supposedly pro-science administration would embrace the conservative position on an issue of reproductive health. Should we credit this moment to the Obama administration finally seeing the light or, more cynically, should we note that the administration has done the right thing the very week they are under fire for the NSA snooping scandal?
Is the contemporary bar/bat mitzvah model broken? What role do these celebrations play in the everyday lives of young Jews, and are they working for or against the Jewish community? These questions, and more, were debated on the anniversary episode of The Jewish Channel’s The Salon, only this time the conversation took place in front of a live audience at the JCC in Manhattan.
The Salon, hosted by the Forward’s Editor-in-Chief Jane Eisner and Rachel Sklar, founder of Change the Ratio and The Li.st, featured powerful female voices weighing in on a range of pressing issues. The event featured Rabbi Joy Levitt, executive director of the JCC in Manhattan and founder of The Jewish Journey Project; Judith Shulevitz, science editor of The New Republic and author of “The Sabbath World; and Hanna Rosin, author of “The End of Men” and senior editor at The Atlantic.
Esther Goldberger’s fashion philosophy sounds almost sexy: “We should enjoy our clothes to the point we forget we’re wearing them.”
But designs for Dellasuza, her three-month-old Montreal clothing label, take a less sultry approach. An Orthodox convert from Brazil, Goldberger creates clothing that fits specifications for tzniut, or modesty — with what she calls a “trendy” twist.
“We value your femininity while maintaining your mystery,” Dellasuza’s Web site promises.
Tzniut standards can vary, but the most widely accepted rules mean covered arms, legs and torsos. “All women and girls, married or unmarried, must cover all parts of their main body (torso) plus parts of their arms and legs when in public or in the presence of individuals outside their immediate family,” writes Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk in “Modesty: An Adornment for Life,” considered an authoritative treatise on the subject.
Goldberger’s entering a crowded category. Sites like Tznius.com, KosherCasual, ModestWorld, and Leelach hawk modest clothing that ranges from nouveau-Amish to neo-Jersey Shore. Dellasuza’s web site touts a range of simple, patterned shells and dresses from about $50. An unscientific survey of women at Forward HQ, however, deemed the designs “awful,” but Goldberger’s seeing orders from around the world.
With summer approaching, the Forward checked in with Goldberger about modesty, comfort, and style.
Like in much of the pundit world, those who opine on Israel and the Middle East tend to be disproportionately male. According to the OpEd Project, men continue to be 80-90% of key contributors to opinion forums, guests on TV talk and new shows and authors of editorials in newspapers and magazines. The OpEd Project also found that when it comes to international politics, women’s opinions only account for 13% of commentaries.
So, we created a list of nine Jewish women who we believe should be more regularly quoted, published and interviewed on Israel and the Middle East. Next time you are putting together a panel, looking for an oped or just some smart insight on all things Israel, we suggest you reach out to one of these women.
Please, if you haven’t yet, go watch “Inside Amy Schumer,” the new show on Comedy Central right now. On the show, Schumer, who was raised Jewish on Long Island, plays with topics like sex, body image and relationships through skits, stand-up and man-on-the-street interviews.
The show, beyond being friggin’ hilarious, inadvertently makes one of the most compelling arguments about why we need more female comedians: so us ladies can laugh at ourselves. Previous discussions on women in comedy have criticized the gender disparity in the field on the simple terms that it is just messed up and wrong. And it is. But what also stinks about men getting to make most of the jokes, beyond the sexism it reveals, is that women never get the piss taken out of them by someone who gets it.
And then came Schumer.
Recently the Internet decided it knew a few things about me.
The first was that I’m into Jewish news. Yahoo, a site I visit frequently to check my email, started personalizing the news stories it shows me. (And not just me; the company introduced increased personalization on the site several months ago.) What struck me was the bizarre focus of the customized news in my feed. Interspersed between the usual celebrity gossip and natural disaster coverage, there would be a story or two about Israel.
Now, I am interested in what goes on in Israel. But the headlines on my screen were not the sort I would usually click on — about Israeli tourism, say, or terror attacks, or for that matter Jewish life in America and around the world. Instead, they centered almost exclusively on obscure developments in the Knesset or nasty little tempest-in-a-teapot scandals. At first the stories came from Reuters and AP, but then it seemed any media outlet would do: RT.com, an English-language Russian news site; the Times of India; even the noxiously anti-Israel (many say flat-out anti-Semitic) mondoweiss.net. (The Yahoo newsfeed also now includes “relevant” tweets.)
While this was going on, the Internet suddenly decided that I wear, or at least want to shop for, plus-size clothes. I think I know how this happened.
I heartily agreed with Elissa Strauss’s skeptical take on Ann Friedman’s widely-circulating friendship advice. Boiled down, Friedman argues that we should figure out what attracts us in the women who provoke our envy, and befriend them. I concur, of course, with the article’s basic premise that we should cultivate these folks instead of covet their lives — but I also cheered at Elissa’s assertion that what we should be looking for in friendships is actual friendship. I would hope that genuine warmth and interest would be a better impetus for companionship than insecurity. But I learned from the excited reaction to Friedman’s article that I should never underestimate the ever-whirring engine of the latter, the way it fuels so much of success and connection-building.
The thing is, I have formed female friendships based on mutual insecurity in every stage in my young life, and they all failed when that stage was left behind. Since we were using each other to make up for what we each lacked, it follows that such utility inevitably came to an end. Bye-bye, coffees and convos. Hello awkward run-ins.
According to Ann Friedman in her post “Shine Theory: Why Powerful Women Make the Best Friends,” over at NYMag.com, we should seek out women who are more together or successful than we are. She writes:
Approaching and befriending women who I identify as smart and powerful (sometimes actively pursuing them, as with any other crush) has been a major revelation of my adult life. First, there’s the associative property of awesomeness: People know you by the company you keep. I like knowing that my friends are so professionally supportive that when they get a promotion, it’s like a boost for my résumé, too, because we share a network and don’t compete for contacts. Also, it’s just plain tough out there — for all the aforementioned reasons about the economy and the dating scene and body-image pressures. I want the strongest, happiest, smartest women in my corner, pushing me to negotiate for more money, telling me to drop men who make me feel bad about myself, and responding to my outfit selfies from a place of love and stylishness, not competition and body-snarking.
The sentiments behind Friedman’s argument are nice ones. Competition is lame. Confidence is contagious. We are stronger together. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a little icky by the piece’s end.
As Nina Badzin has been trying to cure her addiction to her smartphone — a struggle she is poignantly and hilariously documenting for the Sisterhood — I have been falling more and more in love with mine.
Over half a year ago I gave birth to a baby boy. Taking care of him has been both exhausting and enthralling, and has allowed me to reacquaint myself with the magic and mystery of human existence. But it has also been quite isolating.
Life on baby island, as I came to refer my condition to friends and family, sure gets lonely. Our little ones’ coos, giggles and cries are certainly engaging and inspire that deep attachment known as a mother’s love. Still, this doesn’t mean they are a replacement for adult conversation.
My favorite Young Adult novels when I was a young reader were the ones that I now think of as “my summer of death and kissing” novels. Sound morbid? It’s not, really. It’s about a certain kind of melancholy grandeur. The way I see it is: If art, like life, boils down to sex, death and family, then the best YA novels are the ones that describe initiation into the complexities of all three.
One of my most dog-eared in that category was Madeline L’Engle’s “A Ring of Endless Light,” where our heroine learns about death, dolphins and boys, and the other was Judy Blume’s “Tiger Eyes,” where our heroine encounters death, canyons and boys. This latter novel, my favorite by Blume, has now been made into a feature film by Blume’s son Larry — remarkably, the first feature adaptation of a Blume novel — with his famous mom’s collaboration on the screenplay. It arrives in theaters and on-demand TV on June 7.
“Tiger Eyes,” which I’ve probably read upwards of six or seven times, is told from the perspective of Davey, a teenager in Atlantic City, who must face life without her father after he is murdered tending his 7-Eleven store and her family relocates to Los Alamos. Davey is aided in her grieving process by Wolf, an older boy she meets in a canyon (only this week did a friend of mine point out the Freudian implications of the canyon) who is also losing his father to illness.
I would describe myself, in Jewish terms, as a secular, cultural, Zionist, history-reading, challah-baking, lover and cherry-picker of tradition who by upbringing and affinity feels a deep connection to the Jewish people.
The UJA-Federation of New York’s recent population survey would call me “other,” meaning, as Forward editor Jane Eisner recently defined the term, “Jews with no denominational affiliation or no religion at all.”
I’m used to lamentations about the lack of affiliation among younger American Jews, which have been circulating since I was old enough to pay attention to such things (and probably long before that). But it took me aback to be labeled a true threat to my own people.
That label comes from an essay Eisner wrote responding to Forward contributing editor Jay Michaelson’s warning about what he sees as the growing danger of Jewish fundamentalism. In Eisner’s view, it is not only the “ultra” Orthodox but unaffiliated Jews, too, who are “damaging” to the future of Jewish life in America. “The growth of the ‘unaffiliated’,” she writes, “has equally profound and worrying consequences for the future of the Jewish community.”
I may or may not count as one of the “fraction” of the unaffiliated Eisner says are “involved in alternative expressions of Jewish identity.” (I don’t feel cool enough to be “alternative,” but I would accept the compliment if someone paid it to me.)
Everyone is talking about me. They’re analyzing my behavior and criticizing my attitude (namely my narcissism). They’re pitying my inability to connect with people in a “real” way. They’re worried about my job prospects and financial future, but they champion my optimism and are in awe of my resiliency. Oh, and by the way, I mean the royal “me” of my generation, the Millennials.
Since the media seems to think everyone born between the early 1980s and early 2000s share the same exact traits and lifestyles, it seems fitting to take all of their chastisement and praise very, very personally.
I don’t know what exactly has gotten me so defensive about being a Millennial. If I could give all the credit to Joel Stein’s already well-lambasted cover story in Time, I would. However, there’s been a recent obsession with both tearing down and raising up the Millennial generation.
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