Sisterhood Blog

I'm Moving Back to Kiryas Joel

By Frimet Goldberger

Getty Images // Families in Kiryas Joel

Recently, while sitting at a relative’s wedding in Kiryas Joel and picking at the soggy stuffing under the skin of the chicken thigh and listening to the gossip around me, I had an epiphany: I really, badly miss Kiryas Joel.

So, when I got home and kicked off my heels, I took to the Forward website and quickly, before I had any regrets, compiled a list of comments from my articles that prophesied this moment — the moment of guilt and nostalgia for a place that birthed me and gave me boundless love, affection and freedom.

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Keeping Track of Orthodox 'Tznius Craziness'

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

tznius craziness // An ad for children’s costumes shows female faces blanked out.

Do you have the sneaking suspicion that an extreme focus on women’s and girls’ modesty has become the new normal in much of the Orthodox community? One man has gathered the evidence into an Evernote virtual notebook he titled “tznius craziness.”

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Shameful in Beit Shemesh

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

(Haaretz) — It was as frightening as any terrorist attack, recounted the young woman assaulted in broad daylight at a bus stop in Beit Shemesh last week.

But in fact, it was probably worse.

After all, one might presume that if an Israeli Jewish woman had been attacked by a Palestinian in the middle of the street, the bystanders around her would have rushed to her assistance, or at the very least, hastened to call the police. But that’s not what happened when this 25-year-old woman sitting at a bus stop with a toddler on her lap was verbally and physically assaulted by an ultra-Orthodox man last week who cursed at her and screamed that she wasn’t dressed modestly enough.

No one, she said, came to her aid or called for help, when he pulled her by her hair and threw her on the ground.

The attack was reported in the print media, but the young woman who was attacked at a bus stop in the haredi neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet went on television this week and related the full harrowing story herself. Her face was blurred on camera, but her story was clear and detailed, and painted a troubling picture of life in Beit Shemesh only a few weeks after its ultra-Orthodox mayor was reelected. The event turned the national spotlight on Beit Shemesh once more, has reinvigorated the struggle of a group of Beit Shemesh women to fight against intimidation in their city through the legal system, and revived discussion of whether coexistence is possible in Beit Shemesh or whether the non-haredi population would be wise to either pack their bags or divide their city in two, that is attempt to formally secede from the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

The woman was sitting at a bus stop with her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, dressed in a skirt with her head covered, when she was accosted by a haredi man. “He put his face right in front of mine and shouted “Slut! You weaken men!” she said in her Channel 2 news interview. “I was completely frightened by him, and I screamed.”

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Why Are Strong Female Characters So Thin?

By Elissa Strauss

Lionsgate Publicity // Jennifer Lawrence as “The Hunger Games’” Katniss Everdeen

Over at the Atlantic, Julianne Ross has a piece about the predominance of scrawny women in young-adult fiction. From “The Hunger Games” to “Divergent,” a new wave of popular books features skinny girls acting tough.

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Remembering Rivka Haut

By Phyllis Chesler

Courtesy of Phyllis Chesler // Phyllis Chesler and Rivka Haut, right

Yesterday, a fearless and legendary leader of Jewish women, Rivka Haut, was memorialized, mourned and buried.

The funeral took place at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale on March 31. Rabbi Avi Weiss compared Rivka to black fire and white fire — the black fire are the letters and words of the Torah, the white fire, upon which these words are written, are more fluid, tender, kind. Just like Rivka. It was an apt and yet extraordinary comparison.

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So Long, Schmekel

By Naomi Zeveloff

Schmekel was Brooklyn’s trans Jewish band. The group’s lyrics probed queer and trans identity to a klezmer/punk beat. In February, after three years of musical irreverence the group disbanded.

“Schmekel ended amicably,” drummer Simcha Halpert-Hanson said in an email to the Forward. “We felt finished with the project and wanted to pursue other life goals and endeavors.” The Forward caught up with Schmekel in advance of the publication of our “Transgender & Jewish” eBook, now available on Amazon.

Take a look at our video homage to the group.


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Birth of the Future for Transgender Jews

By Joy Ladin

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt of the introduction from the Forward’s new ebook, Transgender & Jewish. Buy it now on Amazon.

This is a book about the birth of the future — a future that was unimaginable to me for most of my life, and that is still unimaginable for many American Jewish communities, but which, as this book demonstrates, is undeniably, irreversibly being born.

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My Most Important Friendships

By Frimet Goldberger

Thinkstock

Female friendships are difficult to understand. The bonds that women forge — the really close friendships — are almost invincible. Although I hesitate at stereotyping female friendships, I nevertheless believe some of the stereotypes to be true.

Maybe it’s because I have recently realized that my daughter is treating her friendships differently than my son is, and that to her, finding new friends and forming strong bonds with them is an important process. Or maybe it’s because my own process of finding and maintaining friendships has evolved lately, that I find myself contemplating the connection with the women in my life often.

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I'll Miss Barbie When She Goes

By Sarah Setlzer

Getty Images

It’s probably a good thing that Barbie’s days are numbered, as Elissa Strauss noted. But would you believe me if I said I was a little nostalgic, a little wistful? Rarely do you encounter a self-identified, fairly radical feminist who also hand-wrings over the demise of doll-playing, but as I’ve noted before I’m such a paradox. I owned dozens of Barbies as a child, and played with them frequently, and I also loved American Girl dolls, paper dolls and Madame Alexander dolls. And yet, by third grade I was already identified as the class feminist. At my birthday parties, one classmate would present me a pink-clad, anatomically impossible Barbie, while another would gift me a book about “great women of history.” They’d both be welcomed.

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Has Gwyneth Paltrow Found Better Path to Splitsville?

By Elissa Strauss

I’m of two minds about Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s announcement that they are going through a “conscious uncoupling.”

Part of me cringes over the fact that Paltrow felt the need to process something as intimate as her separation in the life-perfecting GOOP mill. What she gave us is a sanitized, sunny, and even chic presentation of what is surely a raw, dark and messy experience. Her note, posted above a darling picture of the two of them sitting on the grass in formal wear, has a calm and collected tone, and refers to the hard work they put into the marriage and the peace they have discovered in their decision to separate.

This is followed by an essay about “conscious uncoupling” from East meets West doctors Habib Sadeghi and Sherry Sami who explain that we now live too long to fulfill the whole “until death do us apart” thing, and by accepting this we can change how we experience divorce and turn it into an opportunity for growth. As Slate’s Jessica Grose points out Paltrow’s “sun-dappled breakup announcement is just the same tired keeping up appearances that wives and mothers have long been expected to do,” and Paltrow even more so because she has to maintain a brand.

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6 Gloria Steinem Quotes as She Turns 80

By Anne Cohen

Gloria Steinem, feminism’s most badass (and stylish) lady, turns 80 today. Mazel tov! To celebrate the founder of Ms. Magazine, here are 6 of her most inspiring quotes.

“Women are always saying,’We can do anything that men can do.’ But men should be saying, ‘We can do anything that women can do.’


“Women have two choices: Either she’s a feminist or a masochist.”

On Jewish women in the feminist fight: “For many years, the anti-feminist movement accused feminism of being a Jewish plot to destroy the Christian family.”


“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”


“A liberated woman is one who has sex before marriage and a job after.”


“You know the passage [in the Torah], ‘Wherever I shall go, you shall go?’ That was always how I knew it was a woman speaking to a woman — because of my mother.”



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Sara Netanyahu, Israel's Marie Antoinette

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Haaretz Illustration

(Haaretz) — Oh, Sara, Sara, Sara.

First there was your nanny way way back in 1996 - a young South African girl named Tanya Shaw, who told the press that you were a nutty clean freak, a screaming shrew and accused you of firing her on the spot for committing the sin of burning soup and of having burly security guards drag her out of the Prime Minister’s residence after examining her suitcase to make sure she hadn’t stolen anything.

You called her crazy - or at least your husband, the Prime Minister did. His office issued a statement saying the young woman “showed indications of acute instability” which was why she was “removed.” and that “the Netanyahu family regrets the au pair’s severe condition and her imagined and false claims, and will do everything possible to help in her rehabilitation.”

Then, in 2010, there was your maid Liliane Peretz, who went a step further than complaining and filed suit against you in labor court. She said that during the six years she worked for you, you shouted at her, humiliated her, overworked and underpaid her - and insisted that she change clothes during the working day to remain hygienic enough for you. Your letter to the court said her claims were “fabricated” and that Peretz received nothing but “warmth and love” from you. The battle between you was ugly - and finally resolved in 2012 with an out-of-court settlement. No one knows how much money Peretz was given to stop her attacks but one can presume she no longer feels underpaid.

In both cases, your husband’s public relations team managed to launch impressive smear campaigns against the two women - you didn’t come out of the incidents looking very good, but neither did they.

But the news that broke Wednesday - the details that leaked of the lawsuit by Meni Naphtali, who managed the Prime Minister’s residence for 20 months and who’s suing you and Prime Minister Netanyahu for a million shekels in compensation - looks like a whole new ball game.

Three strikes and you’re out?

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Why Hobby Lobby Supreme Case Matters

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images // A protest against Hobby Lobby’s contraceptive policy

Today the Supreme Court will hear the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases arguing that religiously-inclined private employers should be able to exempt themselves from the ACA’s contraception mandate. When I initially wrote that Jews, as a religious minority in the country, should be alarmed by this case, I received some vigorous pushback. But I’m doubling down. In recent weeks many experts have weighed in on the case, and the obvious conclusion can’t be denied. This troubling case weighs individual religious freedom vs. corporate religious freedom, and if religious minorities want to preserve their right to live freely regardless of their boss’s beliefs, they’ll pay close attention.

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Teaching Women How to Tie Tzitzit

By Chanel Dubofsky

Chanel Dubofsky

A few things about tzitzit: First, even when there’s a map of what to do in front of you, tying it looks like a completely nonsensical project if you’ve never done it before. Second, it’s difficult to get people to talk to you while they’re doing it. Finally, there’s nothing precisely like the experience of being in a room full of folks tying tzitzit who are very serious about it, and also very joyful.

On Sunday, March 23, Princeton undergraduate Maya Rosen, with help of friends and the JTS Women’s Center, convened a group of about fifty folks on the Upper West Side to tie tzit tzit. The event helped to launch Netzitzot, a new non-profit venture to create tzit tzit designed for women. Netzitzot’s web site (www.netzitzot.com) will launch in a few weeks, and it will take orders for tzitzit from those in the United States and Israel. Throughout the evening, workshops were led on how to tie tzitzit, which were available for purchase for $20, and various folks gave dvar torah about the mitzvot and its role in their Jewish observance.

Rosen, who’s been wearing tzitzit for three years and also makes it herself, has had a many conversations about wearing it, or not, with other women. “A lot of them felt like it wasn’t accessible to them,” she told me. “They weren’t wearing it for logistical reasons-it’s not designed to accommodate women’s bodies or women’s clothing. There’s no reason to expect people to know how to sew and tie it themselves, but tonight we’re taking a do it yourself approach to mitzvot.”

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Single Mother and Rabbi

By Chanel Dubofsky

Courtesy of Diva Communications// Rabbi Felicia Sol with her children

The new film, “All of the Above,”, explores what happens when a single, Jewish clergy member wants to become a mother. The documentary, produced by Diva Communications, features interviews with Rabbi Lisa Gelber, an associate dean, at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Rabbinical School, Rabbi Julie Greenberg, from Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir in Philadelphia, Batya Schechter and Rabbi Felicia Sol of B’nai Jeshurun in New York, among others, and includes interviews with writer, activist and Ms. Magazine co-founder Letty Cottin Pogrebin. Diva Communications Founder Debra Gonsher Vinik describes the film as being for “anyone who is a mother, wants to be a mother, or has had a mother.”

Gonsher Vinik has produced and written sixteen documentaries of which eight have been nominated for Emmy awards and three have won the honors: “And The Gates Opened” (2007), “The Eternal Light” (2008), and “Yearning To Belong” (2009). In the last few years, Gonsher Vinik has concentrated on interfaith documentaries highlighting social justice issues. She is a Professor and Chairperson of the Communication Arts and Sciences Department at Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. Her next project is entitled “The Beauty of their Dreams” and will explore how faith is playing a crucial role in the education of girls. Gonsher Vinik talked with the Sisterhood’s Chanel Dubofsky about “All of the Above.”

Chanel Dubofsky: Running through the film is this idea of “the dream” — a partner and kids, the traditional nuclear family, and having to mourn it when it doesn’t happen. Why do you think the notion of “the dream” runs so deep?

Debra Gonsher Vinik: It does run deep. I don’t know that Felicia and the others thought about it, it was just a given that it was one of those things in life that you would do — it doesn’t dawn on you that it won’t work out. It didn’t even occur to Felicia, etc. that it wouldn’t go that way. I assumed that I’d get married and have children, but actually, the idea of being with someone was more important than the idea of having children. I heard the “you have a better chance of getting hit by lightning than getting married,” blah blah. At some point, I just said, this is my life, I like it a lot, I’m successful, I love being by myself. It didn’t work out the way I thought, but so be it. I gave up, I just said, it’s not going to happen. You have to come to accept and find the joy in your life. (Of course, six months after I gave up, I met my husband.)

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Second Avenue Songbird Selma Kaye

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.

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Menstrual Taboos

By Elissa Strauss

There is a heartbreaking story by journalist Rose George in Mosaic Science (h/t to Jezebel, who republished it) about menstrual taboos in Nepal and Bangladesh. Among families who observe chhaupadi, a tradition among some Hindus in the region which prohibits any contact with a menstruating woman, daughters and wives are sent to sleep in sheds for 5-7 days and eat only dry foods, salt and rice. These women are forbidden from entering their own houses, touching men or boys, eating anything made from milk out of fear that the animal whose milk it was made out of will die, and entering temples or even worshiping gods on their own. They also are not allowed to hang the rags they fashion into loincloths as sanitary napkins in the sun to dry, which turns the rags into a breeding ground for bacteria and a serious health hazard which can lead to infertility and worse.

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In Defense of Andi Dorfman, Jewish 'Bachelorette'

By Lilit Marcus

ABC

Andi Dorfman, the next star of ABC’s reality dating show “The Bachelorette,” is many things. She’s a prosecutor in Atlanta. She’s a fan favorite who took a guy to a date at a gun range. And she’s Jewish.

“The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette”’s casting process has roots in the Old Testament, with each series leading to the next. A rejected hopeful who catches on with the audience will be promoted from supporting role to lead. Bachelor Sean begat Bachelorette Desiree, who begat Bachelor Juan Pablo, who begat Bachelorette Andi.

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Why Rabbis Must Talk to Orthodox Boys About Masturbation

By Betzalel Z. Gellberg

Thinkstock

Orthodox Jews often make poor decisions when talking about sex with young people, particularly regarding discussing (or not discussing) nocturnal emissions and masturbation with boys.

I recently attended a question and answer session at an Orthodox institution in which a rabbi was asked how and when, if at all, a Jewish father should talk to his sons about those two subjects. Before he could answer, a rebbetzin warned “There are children here!” (The youngest person in the room was two months shy of his bar mitzvah. I can think of no person who needs such information more urgently than a 12-year-old boy.) Then the rabbi said he didn’t know and would probably ask his own rabbi when his children grew older.

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No Saintly Mother

By Elissa Strauss

Thinkstock

Becoming a mother didn’t make me nicer. More compassionate? Yes. More sensitive? Sure. But nicer. No.

During the few months in which I was “trying”, I started involuntarily responding to pregnant women with a snarl. Then there was the period of time following my son’s birth when my concern for other people, places and things all vanished to make room for my singular devotion to him. I’d say my low was being sullen at my sister’s bachelorette party, wholly incapable of shifting gears to easy-going and festive from the war-like intensity of early parenthood. And then there was the time a girl named Pippa hit my son with a toy in the pediatrician’s waiting room. I can’t tell you how good it felt when she later tripped and fell flat on her face.

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