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Editorial: Where Are the Women?
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Podcast: Adrienne Cooper's Musical Life
America's Most Influential Women Rabbis
Mother’s Day, 1983. I’m sitting in our cramped apartment kitchen in Philadelphia with my husband and two older friends who were, I guess, substituting for our own parents that day. The crazy traffic along the Northeast corridor on that Sunday in May often meant that we skipped visiting my mother in New York and my mother-in-law in Virginia. We were never big on Hallmark holidays, anyhow.
But this day was memorable because we excitedly told our friends that we were expecting our first child. Mazel tov and hugs all around. Champagne. I probably took a sip, in defiance of the admonition to avoid alcohol while pregnant. I have always made exceptions for champagne.
It’s now 30 years later. That baby-to-be is grown up, married and expecting her own child. Besides acknowledging the stunning passage of time, I find myself contemplating motherhood today in an entirely new, confusing, wonderful way.
Motherhood is easy.
Okay, it isn’t really, but doesn’t it feel so good to hear that it might be? That it could be? That, maybe, it should be? Those words, together, motherhood and easy — just writing them allows me to breath deeper. It gets me thinking that, maybe, things really are all right.
Like many new mothers, before I had my first child I was kind of terrified about becoming a parent. This is partially because taking care of children is legitimately quite hard and partially because most of the discussion surrounding motherhood these days is about how difficult it is and how much sacrifice it requires.
Criminals. Troublemakers. Attention seekers. These are just a few of the names that Women of the Wall have been called. I’ve met these women. I’ve prayed with these women. And you know what? I call these women discrimination-fighting superheroes with the guts to stand up for the human right to pray.
As an OTZMA participant and a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, I am blessed to have the opportunity to intern with this social advocacy group and experience the magic. Women of the Wall seeks to achieve the rights of women to conduct prayer services, read Torah while wearing tallitot or tefillin, and sing out loud at the Western Wall. Their quest is to change the current status quo that prevents women from doing so — and to educate Jewish women and the public as well as empower Jewish women to take control of their religious and prayer lives.
At Rosh Hodesh Iyar, the first of the month, I prayed in the women’s section of the Kotel. Surrounded by a couple hundred women pushing up against me with their prayer books, I didn’t feel claustrophobic at all. I enjoyed feeling close to them. I like feeling part of a team — one united army of women from all different branches of Judaism with the common goal of freedom in prayer.
Yet the Kotel was swamped with photographers, reporters and police officers watching us as if we were plotting evil. Orthodox men stood on chairs in the men’s section screaming at us to pipe down and to stop the racket. They stared us down as if we were parasites.
Remember the good old days, when everyone hated prom? Okay, maybe everyone didn’t hate it, but for a long time there was a deep and widespread cynicism of this (forced) rite of passage— and those who took it too seriously were considered out-of-touch or uptight. (See basically every high school movie from the last 25 years.)
Well, luckily for local florists and limo drivers, and unluckily for all of us who prefer our teens a little angsty and anti-establishment, prom has a made a major comeback.
The reports from this prom season have been rife with tales of teenagers really loving — and spending big money on — prom. The New York Times had a story on teenage boys seeking out increasingly complicated and expensive ways to ask dates. Some are even paying companies upwards of $400 to help them with their “prom-prosals.” Even boys at Jewish high schools are getting into the spirit, as evidenced by the elaborate prom-posal by Jake Davidson of Milken Community High School in Bel Air, CA. in which he asked actress and model Kate Upton via Youtube. The video earned him a 2.5 million hits and a “no thank you” from Upton.
As Women of the Wall members and supporters prepare to welcome the Hebrew month of Sivan on Friday morning, with Rosh Chodesh services in Jerusalem, its U.S. allies are getting ready to again demonstrate their support by doing the same. Solidarity services are scheduled for New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago.
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, opposing group Women for the Wall is gathering approbations from strictly Orthodox rabbis and hoping to rally women to also turn out in numbers for Rosh Chodesh services at the Kotel.
On Friday, just a few days before the holiday of Shavuout, which celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, Women of the Wall will not read from a sefer Torah, as they had planned. It is a concession made to Israel’s attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, during a meeting on Tuesday at which he agreed not to appeal an April 24th district court ruling that women praying in tallit and tefillin “does not disturb the public order.”
The views of Weinstein and others appeared to shift rapidly this week.
I will never forget the day I joined the Israel Defense Forces. It was five years ago, and I remember 18-year-old me, kissing you and Dad goodbye and boarding the bus that would take me to a month-long boot camp. You hugged me close and shed a tear, and I remember thinking you were weird. I could not understand why you were getting all emotional when you’d probably see me that very same weekend, or in the worst case, the weekend after that. I had no idea why you made such a big deal out of me starting my mandatory IDF service, all the more due to the nature of my service, which had me sleeping at home almost every day.
Now, Mother, I understand.
My little brother is now an IDF warrior, and I finally see what hid behind that tear. I saw it the day he went on that bus to boot camp to start his mandatory service — the helplessness that you and all the other mothers who kissed their children goodbye felt. Not because you won’t see your baby boy for two weeks, but because that day you were forced to let go of your natural grip of your child.
In case you missed the thousand or so references to it so far this season on Dancing with the Stars, Aly Raisman’s arc on the show is about how she’s going from innocent young girl in a leotard to sexy young woman in skimpy dance dresses. In other words — from Aly to Alexandra.
This week, Aly’s dance was the Argentine Tango, a huge crowd favorite. It’s an easy way for even bad dancers to look good, thanks to the quick, jerky movements and the permitted lifts — in particular, it’s easier for female celebrities since they get to be the ones twirled around and lifted, instead of the guy who has to do it.
This week’s segment begins with Aly and her pro partner Mark Ballas having the world’s most awkwardly staged conversation at a restaurant that serves no food. He tells her that the dance is all about sexuality and drama: “You have to be so seductive that you steal all my money,” he says.
May, I recently found out, is Jewish American Heritage Month. (It also happens to be Mental Health Month and National Salad Month.) I don’t know how the existence of JAHM eluded me until now; it was first proclaimed by President George W. Bush back in 2006. (Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Senator Arlen Specter introduced the resolutions in Congress.) Even the fact that this year’s White House reception recognizing the month was a victim of sequestration did not bring Jewish American Heritage Month to my attention.
I normally take a rather cynical view of “history months.” I don’t like the idea of confining any group’s history and heritage to a 30-day period, implicitly excusing the ignoring of that group for the rest of the year. As I recall, schoolchildren see a pre-packaged theme curriculum (2013’s is “Jews in Entertainment”) as a signal to dismiss a topic they might otherwise have engaged with. But when I typed “Jewish American” into my browser’s search box, the first suggested result was “Jewish American Princess” and the third was “Jewish American Princess Jokes.” Could a special month for American Jews make things any worse?
Recently, Elissa Strauss wrote a post about how most of our clothes are likely made in sweatshops. I thought of the issue again as I woke up each morning this week to see the death toll rise in the gruesome wake of the collapsed clothing factory in Bangladesh. It’s now 700.
In the ashes of this unsafe factory where Western companies had contracts, many American Jews will naturally see the long shadow of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, a product of companies’ decades-long “race to the bottom” away from safety standards and minimum wages. We inevitably remember the dead women lying on the street and the brave young women who organized and agitated in the wake of horror to get safe labor laws on the books — and unions recognized. But this calamity in Bangladesh also brings to mind a more recent pain: there was the image of the wall of “missing” workers outside the factory which so vividly recalled the missing person posters that plastered lower Manhattan after 9/11.
Women of the Wall has in recent months attracted lots of press and public support, from Members of Knesset to rabbis and laypeople, particularly since police stepped up arresting women leading Rosh Chodesh services at the Kotel. Women of the Wall then ramped up its own efforts to illustrate that current policy there — which prohibits women from praying wearing tallit or tefillin or with a Torah scroll — is discriminatory. Now there is an additional party to the conflict: a new group called Women for the Wall.
Women for the Wall — abbreviated as W4W — was co-founded by Ronit Peskin, a 25-year-old mother of three, who opposes Women of the Wall’s goals and approach. On its website, Women for the Wall describes Women of the Wall’s efforts as “political battles” turning the Kotel into “a media circus”: They “do not belong at a place such as the Kotel. Their monthly activism threatens to turn this holy place into a site for a media circus rather than prayer, and is disruptive for all that come there to pray peacefully and connect to G-d.”
NPR recently interviewed Sylvia Ann Hewlett about her new book, “Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets: Why Women Are the Solution.” She explained why women in the BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — are climbing corporate ladders faster than their American and European counterparts. In India, 11% of CEOs of top companies are female; in Brazil women hold 13% of those spots. In the US the figure is 3%.
Hewlett chalks this up to better child care policies in those countries, as well as the fact that more opportunities tend to arise during periods of rapid economic transition. Though she also says that American women need a “change in narrative.”
The tawdry spectacle of “get” refusal and extortion in Jewish divorce has made the rounds in both Jewish and secular media for decades. But the Jewish community now faces an historic opportunity. We have within our hands the data on which to base a plan of action to alleviate the plight of “agunot” and a tool to drastically cut the future risk of chained women.
A 2011 survey of agunot in the U.S. and Canada, co-sponsored by the Orthodox Union (OU), Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), Jewish Women International (JWI) and Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), revealed 462 cases of agunot between 2005 and 2010. While the survey understates the problem due to some right-wing organizations’ refusal to respond, the results clearly outline the case for a clarion call to action.
Most agunot are under 40 years old. They have children yet little money, and are unaware of even the limited resources available to them. During the survey period, religious courts considered just half of reported cases, and contempt of court citations were infrequently issued against recalcitrant husbands. When a case did go to rabbinical court, some agunot were required to forgo financial payments or custody of their children in exchange for a get.
Sometimes I wish every week was Shiva with its unending support and ongoing hours, and days, of continual storytelling. For when loved ones die, the narratives we share help keep them alive. Shiva is the week before we must dance with reality, when the debate over how long it is supposed to take to reach acceptance in the stages of grief is not a spectrum, but a staunchly understood cavernous, amorphous abyss.
But all too often after Shiva, we forget. People are still mourning, but we forget. After the rugelach, fruit platters and babka have been laid on the kitchen counter and carried to the dining room table, then eaten, we forget. After the family members deepest in mourning — their loved one so recently a breath away — have cried, wailed and sat stunned in shock, we forget.
My brother, Joshua, died in October 2002, nearly 11 years ago. He was struck by a car while walking down a sidewalk in the Chicago suburbs; a senior from his high school pulled an illegal U-Turn and an elderly man struck Joshua, then 15, in an attempt to avoid collision with the teenager. The car flung Josh’s body into the side of a store building. Immediately left unconscious, he died the next morning in the Intensive Care Unit.
For years, I skirted around Berlin. Trips to Europe took me to Denmark, Holland and France, but never to their neighbor. When a friend finally convinced me to visit this spring, I got one of two responses from all of my Jewish friends: “Oh, I love Berlin! It’s like Brooklyn. I’ve been thinking about moving.” And then there was, “Oh, I could never.”
Until now, I’ve been firmly in category two. It isn’t personal. My family was lucky enough to have already been in the United States when the Shoah happened. My beef’s with the Ukraine, who chased them out (and which I still won’t visit), not with Germany. But the Holocaust is all over every Jewish kid’s curriculum, and it’s full of German people and German words. I keep thinking of scenes from Eytan Fox’s movie “Walk On Water,” which is basically the German/Jewish conflict illustrated on an individual scale. In fact, one of the reasons I’m in Europe right now is to attend an Austrian friend and former roommate’s wedding.
But as the plane circled Tegel airport, I felt a shadow crawl into my stomach. In the Customs line, I watched an elderly German couple and thought Were they there? What did they do? I was convinced that everyone could look at me and tell, like those guys in the New York City subway who always stop and ask if you’re Jewish.
For all the Obama Administration’s alleged embrace of science over ideology, it is still stalling and stonewalling one of the most obvious pregnancy prevention measures around: the easy availability of emergency contraception (EC), or the morning-after pill, over the counter to consumers of all ages — and genders. Even after being roundly chastised by a judge for “intolerable delays” in making EC over the counter, why is the Obama Administration not quietly letting that judge’s decision to allow Plan B over the counter, instead defending age limits on the drug in court?
The NYTimes explains the appeal:
The appeal reaffirms an election-year decision by Mr. Obama’s administration to block the drug’s maker from selling it without a prescription or consideration of age, and puts the White House back into the politically charged issue of access to emergency contraception.
The Justice Department’s decision to appeal is in line with the views of dozens of conservative, anti-abortion groups who do not want contraceptives made available to young girls.
Ultimately, the availability of Plan B over the counter for more people than before — those age 15 and up — would be an improvement. But the ID requirement still leaves younger women and undocumented immigrants in the lurch, as many advocacy groups noted this week. To put it more bluntly, those who are the most vulnerable to sexual assault or coercion are also the least likely to have the demanded ID. Yet from a public health perspective, the more Plan B available, the better.
Forget about the exorbitant price tags that come with many weddings these days. Try $45,000 for a marriage proposal.
That’s what ad agency exec Josh Ogle spent last year on an elaborate, scripted, national-media-attention-grabbing proposal to Nataliya Lavryshyn, which included a custom ring, a vintage car to whisk the couple away, and a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer to document the whole thing. (Lavryshyn said yes.)
“She would’ve said yes if I’d asked it while she was playing a video game,” Ogle wrote last month in a Reddit thread that generated no small degree of vitriol about how spendy he’d been. “I knew what her answer would be, I just wanted to ask it in a way that was creative, adventurous, fun, and memorable.”
Ogle was profiled in the New York Post in a story about the growing industry of proposal planners, who men hire to help them craft the kinds of creative, documented proposals that might go viral on YouTube (Ogle spent $3,500 on a planner).
Most of my friends don’t have the dough to shell out on proposals so exorbitant, but anecdotally (and also according to the Post), there’s a trend toward bigger and fancier proposals.
That trend should be in the other direction, away from the tradition of proposals entirely.
We all expect makeup to do exactly what it promises, right? A woman in Monsey, N.Y., has filed a lawsuit in federal court against cosmetics giant Lancome saying that its “24-hour foundation” doesn’t last for 24 hours, which she needs to make it in full makeup through Shabbat.
Rorie Weisberg is charging, in her lawsuit, that Teint Idole Ultra 24H, a pricey purportedly pore-perfecting product, doesn’t live up to its promise. And she needs it to last through Shabbat so she can look her best at her son’s June bar mitzvah, the lawsuit states.
Now this is a lady who does her homework; her son’s bar mitzvah isn’t until next month and already she has done trial runs of her makeup. And for the fastidiously frum there are specific rules about wearing makeup on Shabbat. There are several companies that manufacture makeup specifically formulated to allow observant women to look fabulous without contravening Jewish law. Shaindy Kelman started one of them, ShainDee Cosmetics, — whose tag line is “look beautiful and follow halacha” — two decades ago.
Every week, Dancing with the Stars comes up with a new way to torture its already-frazzled celebrity contestants, from a solo dance to a faceoff against a pro dancer. This week, the celebrities and their partners were paired against each other. In some cases, that was bad news, but for Aly Raisman it was great news, since her opponent was comedian Andy Dick, who has been one of the lowest-scoring contestants this season. That meant that this week’s total was determined first by a regular dance, with extra “judges’ points” going to the winners of the face-off dances.
First up: the salsa.
This dance was all about the sex appeal, and it definitely felt like Aly was loosening up and becoming less awkward doing hip shakes, which can only be good for her future Latin dances. That said, Aly’s pro partner Mark Ballas really needs to cool it with the gimmicks in their dances. It’s one thing to use gimmicks (in this case, having Aly work at a fruit stand and literally shake pineapples in the beginning of the dance) to disguise a bad dancer, but Aly’s good enough that he should let it go.
Sexual dysfunctions within relationships are more common than ever today, with an estimated 40% of women and 30% of men suffering from sexual dysfunctions, according to a new study from the Robert Wood Johnson Medical school. Many women experience pain during intercourse, which could relate to conditions like vaginismus, dyspareunia, and vulvodynia, while common male sexual dysfunctions include premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction and other disorders related to anxiety.
In many Orthodox circles, the essence of a couple’s life revolves around having children. Sexual dysfunctions within a relationship could hurt, and possible even cede, the reproductive aspects. Couples seeking counseling might shy away from the subject, a topic not necessarily widely addressed, and with the laws of family purity weighing in, the pressures seem to tack on.
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, a marital and family therapist from Brooklyn who specializes in Orthodox couples, has just released a new book, “Getting Closer,” which offers a glimpse of sexual dysfunction issues — from painful intercourse to erectile dysfunction to desire disorders — within the Orthodox community. He discusses marital intimacy using an approach called Emotionally Focused Therapy to help Orthodox couples through difficulties in intimacy, which can be the underlying issue of much of marital stress. The Sisterhood spoke with him about his new book and some of the unique issues the Orthodox community faces.
Is an egalitarian section the best solution for the Kotel? That’s one of many questions that editor-in-chief Jane Eisner and Change the Ratio founder Rachel Sklar discuss on the latest episode of The Salon on the Jewish Channel. Watch it below, and click here for more discussions about the morning after pill, Margaret Thatcher’s legacy and California attorney general Kamala Harris’ looks.
This episode features writer and performer Judy Batalion; Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson, Director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, and freelance writer Dvora Meyers, author of Heresy on the High Beam: Confessions of an Unbalanced Jewess.
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