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
As a young Jewish woman privileged to have grown up in the new multi-racial South Africa, I like most of my fellow citizens, mourn Nelson Mandela’s passing like that of a family member. Mandela brought out the best in those around him. Women and children always held a special place in our beloved Madiba’s heart, and few leaders around the globe have done more to ensure the respect, freedom and equality of women.
South African women played a crucial role in the fight against apartheid. In 1956, women of all races marched against the discriminatory laws of apartheid with the rallying cry of “Wathinta umfazi, wathinta imbokotho.” (“You strike a woman, you strike a rock.”) In a speech commemorating this event on Women’s Day in 1996, Mandela stated that, “As long as women are bound by poverty and as long as they are looked down upon, human rights will lack substance. As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow. As long as the nation refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure.”
Edie Windsor, the plaintiff who toppled the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court, was named the number three runner up for Person of the Year by TIME magazine; she’s also the only woman on the list of five. (Number one was Pope Francis, and number two was NSA leaker Edward Snowden.)
The Forward also named Windsor in its top five list on the Forward 50, our annual ranking of people who have made the biggest difference in the American Jewish story. (We placed her at number two, after Newtown mother Veronique Pozner.)
The recent New York Times story about breast cancer in Israel focused, in part, on the low percentage of women who undergo the surgery after being told they’ve tested positive for BRCA1 or 2, which indicate a much greater risk for breast cancer. The story suggests that this is in part because doctors in Israel are reluctant to recommend women get mastectomies, because the (mostly male) doctors in Israel are sexist, and don’t want women to remove their breasts. The article also mentions how the Times op-ed written by Angelina Jolie about her own double mastectomy sparked a lot of debate in Israel, and caused many women to start thinking about and asking for the surgery.
Implicit in the article is a message that high risk women like myself are told over and over again: get a double mastectomy to save your own life. Angelina Jolie did it — why shouldn’t Israeli women? (Other things Angelina Jolie has done: have six children, wear a vial of blood around her neck, wear black rubber pants at her first wedding.)
It’s been a good (or perhaps bad) year for normal-woman outrage. I’m still pretty irked about being told to “Lean In,” and now there is yet another book by an uber-successful (and uber-lucky) woman who thinks her life lessons apply to the rest of us. If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about former Facebook marketing director Randi Zuckerberg’s “Dot Complicated,” in which a one-percenter who was born in 1982, went to Harvard, and thinks her hometown of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. — which the New York Times once called “Exclusive on the Hudson” — is “typically suburban,” tells the rest of us how to live online.
Unlike “Lean In,” which was treated as a manual for all working women but truly applied only to those who wish to join a very select group of leaders in particular fields, the work-life balance tips in “Dot Complicated” are meant for everyone. Women, men, children, and even unborn babies; there is a frankly icky paragraph with the heading “Digital Identity Begins Before Birth.”
And some of the advice, though painfully unoriginal and obvious, is decent. You can’t go wrong telling people to avoid burying their faces in their cell phone screens while conducting face-to-face meetings, or pointing out that it’s unwise to lie about personal details in a social media profile.
Can we please stop pretending that stay-at-home-dads are a viable, large-scale solution for gender equality? Fifty years after Betty Friedan encouraged women to get out of the house, men have not, in any statistically significant way, come to take their place. And yet, the stay-at-home dad continues to live on in our cultural imagination as a feminist success story when really it’s hardly anything resembling a trend.
The New York Times ran a story yesterday about the stay-at-home husbands of Wall Street in which we got a glimpse into the lives of the men who make their banker wives’ lives possible. Writers Jodi Kantor and Jessica Silver-Greenberg looked at the domestic arrangements, and masculine malaise, of the men who tend to the kids and home while their wives work 14 hour days reeling in serious dough.
According to the BBC, a quiet revolution is taking place among ultra-Orthodox women in Jerusalem. They have discovered the power of mascara.
There are, of course, numerous strict restrictions on these women when it comes to their appearance. They must wear modest clothes — no elbows, no collar bones — cover their heads, and many even cut off their hair. And yet, whether it is pressure from the secular world to look a certain kind of pretty or some deep-rooted desire in women to beautify oneself, they are heading to the beauty salon.
Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.
Last week the Supreme Court agreed to hear Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, two cases about the conflict between Obamacare mandates and religion. Specifically, they examine whether for-profit corporations can refuse to provide employees with certain types of contraception (those that prevent fertilized eggs from implanting), which they object to on religious grounds, as part of their health insurance. The new healthcare law requires all employers, with exception of certain types of non-profit religious institutions, to offer contraception or be subject to fines.
Naturally, the Court’s acceptance of this case has caused many to speak up against the notion of “personhood” for both corporations and fertilized eggs, and, once again, breathlessly, for women’s right to affordable and accessible contraception for the many, many health-related reasons we require it.
While the matter at hand here is, unequivocally, civil law and the separation of church and state, the case still piqued my curiosity about Hobby Lobby’s interpretation of religious texts. What exactly does the bible say about contraception? How does the Jewish tradition differ from Christianity on the topic? And how does it relate to religious notions of personhood, or when life begins?
From what I could find, there is no direct mention of birth control in the bible because birth control, as we know it today, didn’t exist back then. The closest it comes seems to be when Onan withdraws before ejaculation and God punishes him for “spilling his seed on the ground” by killing him. (Long story, but Onan doesn’t want to impregnate his wife Tamar, the widow of his brother Er, because he doesn’t want to share his inheritance with a child they they might produce.)
I asked sometimes Sisterhood contributor and always awesome feminist Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg (pictured below) to explain, over email.
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.
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