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
Linor Abargil, of Netanya, Israel, was 18 years old when an Israeli travel agent raped her in the car on the ride to the train station in Milan, where she had been for a modeling event. Seven weeks later, she won the 1998 Miss World beauty pageant in the Seychelles. She reported the crime to the authorities in Rome and Israel, and the rape trial in Israel ended with her rapist Uri Shlomo receiving a 16-year prison sentence in October 1999.
A new documentary called “Brave Miss World,” directed by Cecilia Peck (the daughter of Gregory Peck), follows Abargil’s story from about 2008, when she began a website asking rape victims to submit their stories. She was swamped with emails, and journeyed to various parts of the United States and South Africa to meet with other victims and attend fundraising and outreach events.
These interviews with rape survivors make up a substantial part of the film. The stories are powerful, moving and sometimes hard to watch; there’s the 12-year-old girl in the Teddy Bear Clinic in Soweto who tells Abargil that some people rape virgins because they believe it will cure them from AIDS. There’s the college student at Princeton University who never reported her rape, there’s actress Joan Collins, who later married her rapist (Irish actor Maxwell Reed), there’s Fran Drescher, who, when recounting how two men broke into her home and raped her and a girlfriend while their husbands were present, began to cry and said, “There goes your makeup.”
It looked, at first, like another chapter in Israel’s gender segregation wars.
On Monday, an Open Zion/Daily Beast headline screamed that Ben Gurion University of the Negev had prohibited women from lighting the Hanukkah menorah. If a university rabbi had his way, that would have been true.
Even the president of the university, Rivka Carmi, hadn’t realized she was being excluded when she had not, in years past, been invited to say the blessing over the Hanukkah lights, according to former Sisterhood writer Allison Kaplan Sommer’s report in Haaretz.
Late last week a group of female students approached Carmi protesting that women were not allowed to recite the blessing at the Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony at the student center. Carmi agreed that it is unacceptable, and told them that she would have a man and woman jointly light and bless the candles this year, and next year have the genders take turns on alternate nights.
When many of his students looked unusually well-groomed, New York City high school teacher Steven Mazie wondered why. Mazie, an associate professor of political studies at Manhattan’s uber-competitive Bard High School Early College (where kids spend two of their high school years on a college curriculum, hence their teachers’ professor titles), soon learned that it was senior portrait day. Students showed him the card they had been given with strict instructions as to how boys and girls should show up for their photo shoot. Mazie was shocked — both by the gender disparities and by what appeared to be his students’ passivity.
Girls were instructed: “Prepare yourself as if you were going to your senior prom. This means that your hair, nails, makeup, eyebrows etc… should all be done. Remember, the photo will only look as good as you do… please wear a tank top beneath your attire as the yearbook photo will require you to have bare shoulders. (If for religious purposes you cannot show your shoulders, please wear black attire including any head covering.)” Boys did not get the warning that the pictures will look good only if they came looking good. They were told to get a haircut and shave the day before, to make sure their nails were trimmed and to wear a fitted and ironed shirt and tie, with a jacket optional but highly recommended.
The holiday season tends to be the time of year when many of us feel the urge to give a little. For some, it is a way to pay forward the abundance of love and joy they are experiencing themselves. For others, it is a way to temper the guilt from all that conspicuous consumption. And for those who give Jewishly, it is out of an obligation to creating a fairer, more just world rather than an act of goodwill.
Whatever drives you to give, and for many of us it is a combination of all three, it can be hard to find a cause worthy of your hard-earned dollars. So, just in time for Giving Tuesday, the Sisterhood put together a list of lesser-known, mostly smaller, but still very worthy organizations that work to create tzedek in the world around us:
Eighteen-year-old Israeli singing sensation Ofir Ben Shitrit is in New York this week to perform at the international conference of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.
The religiously observant Ben Shitrit burst on the Israeli pop culture scene earlier this year with her second-place finish on Israel’s version of “The Voice,” a television singing competition. Her surprise choice of avowed secularist rock star Aviv Geffen as her mentor on the show intrigued viewers and kept them glued to their screens week after week as the two worked harmoniously and productively together.
After Ben Shitrit’s suspension from her religious girls’ school, many are hailing her as a Jewish Orthodox feminist heroine for not being deterred from following her dreams. JOFA not only invited her to sing at its conference, but also put her name and face up in lights on a Times Square billboard celebrating key personalities at the forefront of the Orthodox feminist movement.
Having graduated from high school last spring, Ben Shitrit is currently doing a year of national service. She plans on going to university next year to pursue a music degree. In the meantime, she has begun a professional singing career, performing original compositions as well as covers of Hebrew, English and Spanish songs.
The Forward’s Renee Ghert-Zand caught up with Ben Shitrit shortly after she arrived in New York on her first visit to the United States. We asked her about how being on “The Voice” has changed her life, how she feels about being labeled a Jewish Orthodox feminist, and what it’s like to see one’s face and name in lights high up above on Broadway.
The hallowed principle of religious freedom is centered around protecting the minority from being persecuted by a religious majority, as well as granting all individuals and denominations (including us nonbelievers) the right to freely practice and express beliefs.
What it isn’t meant to do, on principle, is allow bosses to subject their employees to their own whims, be they religious or social. Yet that’s unfortunately what’s up in the air in the court case where a few dozen for-profit corporations are suing the government, post-Obamacare, so they can be exempt from offering contraception coverage to their employees. Not contraception, mind you. Just health coverage that includes benefits for contraception. Because their “religion” renders them opposed to any non-procreative sex.
Over a decade ago the Onion (a satirical newspaper), ran a story entitled “Women Now Empowered by Everything.”
“As recently as 15 years ago, a woman could only feel empowered by advancing in a male-dominated work world, asserting her own sexual wants and needs, or pushing for a stronger voice in politics. Today, a woman can empower herself through actions as seemingly inconsequential as driving her children to soccer practice or watching the Oxygen network.”
This, hilarious I might add, story is mocking what is known as “choice feminism,” a term coined by Linda R. Hirshman in the American Prospect in 2006. “A woman could work, stay home, have 10 children or one, marry or stay single,” she wrote. “It all counted as ‘feminist’ as long as she chose it.” Hirshman goes on to denounce this idea as a con, asserting that this Charlotte York approach will only lead to stalling, or reversing, gender equality.
Today, us feminists are still stuck in this “I choose my choice” quagmire, with recent battles about “selfies” and Michelle Obama’s feminism as the latest examples.
The “selfie wars,” which Sarah Seltzer wrote about for the Sisterhood, centered on the question of whether or not women taking pictures of themselves can be considered empowering. On one side was Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan arguing that self-portraits only reinforce “the socially-ingrained notion that the most valuable thing she has to offer the world is her looks.” On the other side was Rachel Simmons writing on Slate that selfies are “a tiny pulse of girl pride — a shout-out to the self,” a victory once and for all over the male gaze.
I am currently eating crow among certain groups of my friends. Year upon year, I have engaged in the traditional Jewish complaints chorus about why, oh why, can no organization seem to avoid scheduling important things during Jewish holidays? I have waved calendars over my head, yelped and squawked, made irritated phone calls and written very stern letters about religious plurality and disenfranchisement and just plain being big leaver-outers, all to people who scheduled fun or important things during Jewish religious observances. And this year… I am the offender. Sort of.
In my defense, I got squeezed by a combination of circumstances. But at a certain point, the choice was mine — have my book-launch party for “Blood, Marriage, Wine and Glitter” on the first night of Hanukkah or don’t have it at all. I had already made a fuss about not having it on Shabbos, and about wanting to have it in our Toronto LGBTQ theatre, Buddies In Bad Times, which I like to support with my dollars and well as with my warm feelings. The first night of Hanukkah happened to be the date that met all requirements. So. I did a little mental math and decided that we’d just make a virtue of the inevitable: I would make it look like it was on purpose. And, as a bonus, I’d include pole dancers. Let me explain.
It’s not uncommon that I’m balancing my work life with my religious and cultural practice – I think a lot of modern Jews experience this, and struggle with it to varying degrees. I make a living writing and speaking about gender, sexuality and culture, especially Jewish culture.
And here we are, at the intersection of queer culture and Judaism again — giving a book party on Hanukkah Well, okay. What says both homo and Hannukiah to you? I make a short list — heat, light, shine, sweetness and community.
It’s getting to the point where I can feel it in my posture. The inevitability of street harassment makes my shoulders tense up before I even leave my house. I don’t make eye contact on the street, ever, but especially with men. I wear headphones all the time anyway, but because of them, I probably don’t hear things that are said to me when I’m walking, for better or worse. None of these things stop street harassment, of course, but at least it makes it easier to get where I need to go.
Recently, photographer Hannah Price used her camera to document the faces of men who street harass, taking a picture of them in the moment immediately following their catcall. In an NPR interview Price remarked, “Just turning the photograph on them kind of gives them a feel of what it’s like to be in a vulnerable position…. It’s a different dynamic — but it’s just another way of dealing with the experience, of trying to understand it.”
For the last few months, the holiday collision known as Thanksgivukkah has been on every American Jew’s mind, or at least their Facebook wall. The Internet has blown up like butternut squash gone horribly wrong with articles about menus, decorations, and even special Thanksgivukkah sex. It’s all in good fun, of course, but it also doubles the pressure of what can already be a stressful day of cooking and party planning. This year, it might not be enough to fall back on Grandma’s trusty mashed potatoes recipe — you have to make pecan-pie rugelach and find a menurkey.
But for interfaith families like mine (pictured below; I’m in the middle in the top row), dealing with overlapping significant holidays is not a new phenomenon, and certainly not one worth stressing over. In fact, it feels perfectly natural. We’ve done this a million times. We learned about Thanksgivukkah, smiled at an image of a black kippa adorned with a gold pilgrim buckle, and thought, “We’ve got this.”
Not because our table will necessarily look like something out of a magazine, mind you. In fact, my sister Caitlin and I aren’t even entirely sure what we’re going to do, other than light a menorah and play dreidel (we celebrate Thanksgiving ourselves at her house in Boston, because flying from our east coast homes to our parents’ residence in Utah is prohibitively expensive). Latkes might wait until Friday night, or they might not. My mother might add brisket and a cornucopia of gelt to her Thanksgiving table, or she might not. We feel comfortable waiting to make such decisions because we know that the most important part of a successful holiday blend is doing what feels natural and true to your family, at that particular moment. Whatever happens, it will be meaningful, fun and delicious.
Move over Mommy Wars, breastfeeding wars and other categories of intra-feminist warfare. The selfie wars have arrived. Soon after “selfie” — a picture one takes of oneself — was proclaimed word of the year, the debate over the value of selfies began.
Erin Gloria Ryan caused a furor when she wrote at Jezebel that selfies concern her:
Retaking a photo 12 times until your chin looks right is in no way analogous to asking your boss for a raise. Nor is it the sort of self-promotion that results in anything but a young woman reinforcing the socially-engrained notion that the most valuable thing she has to offer the world is her looks.
For some, Susan Katz Miller’s new book “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family” (Beacon Press) is an inspiring testament to inclusive religious identity. For others, it sparks debate about what it means to be Jewish, what it means to be Christian, and if it’s possible to be both. But however it’s read, it’s a provocative and heartfelt analysis of the role of religion and heritage in contemporary family life.
The daughter of a Protestant mother and a Jewish father, Katz Miller was raised in Reform Judaism. She and her Episcopalian husband chose to raise their children in the inclusive community at the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington, DC. She’s written about her family’s journey for the Huffington Post, The New York Times, at her blog On Being Both and for many other publications.
Forward contributor Jessie Szalay caught up with Susan Katz Miller while she was on book tour.
The fact that birth stories are almost always intense and captivating is common-knowledge among women. The same goes for abortion stories, though those are less-frequently shared.
The comings and goings that occur in a woman’s womb are as dramatic and emotional as what happens on the battlefield. As entertaining, too.
There are moments of despair and moments of triumph, all bound up in feelings of doubt, confusion and relief. Every delivery story, every abortion story, every miscarriage story is epic in nature, perfectly capturing the tug-of-war between fragility and resilience that marks our experiences as human beings.
Earlier this month Hamas appointed its first female spokeswoman. The new voice of the organization is Isra Al-Modallal, a 23-year-old British-educated former journalist and divorced mother with a toddler (pictured below). She will be in charge of all communications with the international media and will focus on humanitarian issues and not suicide bombings or policy.
“I will make the issues more human, and even if [Palestinian] officials do not understand this language, I know Western people will,” she told a reporter.
Al-Modallal is already breaking with tradition, referring to Israel as “Israel” instead of the “Zionist entity’ and does not identify as a member of Hamas but rather “a Palestinian activist who loves her country.” Though she does agree with Hamas that Palestinians should control the land they see as historically theirs, which, of course, include Israel.
So why did conservative Hamas, considered a terrorist organization in the US, EU and Israel and not traditionally a fan of women’s freedoms, decide to mix up their international image with a make-up wearing, English-speaking, male hand-shaking lady?
Is there a Jewish stereotype more inextinguishable than that of the overbearing, food-pushing mamele? It’s 2013 and, Hollywood is still churning out characters like Amy Kanter-Bloom; the fretful mother of Larry Bloom on Orange Is the New Black.
What the Jewish mother needs, however is not a modern makeover, but a fracturing. Better than supplanting one stereotype with another is to picture a messy mosaic.
LABA, the Jewish cultural program at the 14th Street Y in Manhattan, will be showcasing one such mosaic of Jewish motherhood in a storytelling event co-hosted with Kveller.com this coming Monday (featuring a chair of fake breasts by artist Mirta Kupferminc, pictured here!). The Forward got a sneak peek of a few of the stories.
Calling her award a “medal for the movement,” Gloria Steinem accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom yesterday, the highest civilian honor in America.
In her essay “The Love of My Life,” Cheryl Strayed writes about losing her mother when she was a young woman, and returning to college to tell peers she had gone to Mexico over spring break. She wished to protect others from her own deep pain. Only later did she realize how unnatural this modern way of approaching loss really was.“ If, as a culture, we don’t bear witness to grief,” she writes, “the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up.”
Modern Loss is a new website that aims to bear witness. Filled with resources for support and essays to edify and even amuse, it targets young people in their 20s and 30s struggling with grief — and ready to break the unspoken taboo on honest, individualized talk about death. It was co-founded by Gabi Birkner (on the left in the photo below), who founded the Sisterhood during her time at the Forward, and Rebecca Soffer (on the right in the photo). Both women are journalists and media makers who lost parents in traumatic ways when they were young. Together, they wanted to use their skills to help other young people struggling in a new environment where stress over social media protocol after a loss compounds the silence and suffering.
Sarah Seltzer exchanged emails with Birkner and Soffer about women making media, gender and grief and the weird looks the co-founders get when they say what they’re working on. (Seltzer is also a future contributor to Modern Loss.)
Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.
Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day set aside to memorialize trans people who have been killed because of their gender identities. Founded in 1998 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender designer and activist in the wake of the murder of Rita Hester in Allston, Mass., the day is now observed in hundreds of cities around the world. Typically, there’s a candlelight vigil, and participants read the names of transgender people who have been killed in the past year. No doubt the name of Islan Nettles, a transgender woman who was murdered in August in New York City, will be read aloud tonight.
I gave my 10-year-old son, Zev, the Pew survey on American Jews. The entire thing. One Sunday afternoon at our kitchen table.
It all started the night before, when an undergraduate student at Hillel at Ohio University, where I am a rabbi, told my son during our Sabbath dinner that he recently found out he is Jewish. My son (pictured below) asked this student for clarification. He wanted to know more about this just-discovered identity; it was as if the student had found Judaism underneath the bed in his dorm room, or at the bookstore while buying books for class. The student replied: “My mom informed me that her parents were Jewish. So it turns out that I’m Jewish!”
Later that evening, back at the house, my son wanted to talk. Or rather, he wanted to monologue.
“Judaism,” he began, “is not just inside you like a dormant virus.” I turned to my husband with a look of desperation on my face. My son continued: “I don’t think it’s waiting there for you to realize it exists, or for you to coax it out, or for it to be teased out by some long-lost relative. In fact,” he asserted, “Judaism does not exist if you’re not practicing it.” He went on to claim, basically, that there is no such thing as an inherited Judaism. To the horror of grandparents everywhere, my son actually proclaimed that a person “isn’t just Jewish because their parents or grandparents are Jewish.” I took a gulp of my Shabbat wine and grabbed my computer. The Pew survey and my son had collided. My 10-year-old was talking about many of the same things we’d all been debating since the Pew survey had come out. I had the hysterical urge, on the Sabbath no less, to find out how he would respond to the Pew questions. I Googled around, and eventually found it: the 40-page survey of U.S. Jews.
“Ima, why are you asking me all these questions?” he wanted to know the following afternoon. I fed him ice cream to keep him seated. It was a long survey. By page 12, even I wanted out. I wondered how the hell anybody stayed on the phone for such an exhaustive list of questions, many of which, had I been asked, I would have said, “Well, if you asked me yesterday, I would have said one thing, but since you’re asking me today, I’m going to say something totally different.” Because even I, a rabbi, don’t feel Jewish in exactly the same way each day.
You've successfully signed up!
Thank you for subscribing.
Please provide the following optional information to enable us to serve you better.
The Forward will not sell or share your personal information with any other party.
Thank you for signing up.Close