Sisterhood Blog

The Difference Between Fasting and Anorexia

By Kelsey Osgood

From the moment I woke up on the morning of my first Yom Kippur in September of 2010, a heavy ache sat right at my forehead, some combination of early hunger pangs, a minor hangover, and caffeine withdrawal. When I later sat next to my boyfriend and his family at their New Brunswick, New Jersey synagogue, I thought of nothing but the fact that my eyeballs were sore. Occasionally I would sneak into the bathroom, sit down on the toilet and rest my head on top of the cold metal sanitary napkin dispenser. So this is atonement.

During a brief respite between morning and afternoon services, I accompanied the family outside. We stood on the steps to Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Jersey beneath the direct glare of a sun I found annoyingly bright. I grimaced and said something uncreative about my headache.

“We can go get you coffee right now,” my boyfriend said.

“No,” I insisted, “I’m fine.”

My boyfriend wasn’t trying to tempt me, but rather giving an option he felt I had: because I wasn’t (and still am not) Jewish, I wasn’t required to fast. It hadn’t ever occurred to me, though that I wouldn’t partake. Though I hadn’t yet begun my conversion process, a part of me already considered the possibility Judaism was my faith, so I wanted to experience everything that an authentic member of the Tribe did. If I felt truly horrified at hearing my sins during the reciting of Al Chet, if the shofar did awaken some spark in me that wanted to be better, then perhaps I was, at last, home.

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Does 'No Body Talk' Ignore Race?

By Diane Tobin

Courtesy of Be’chol Lashon

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — Earlier this year, the Jewish overnight camp Eden Village garnered a great deal of attention for its “no body talk” policy, which camp leaders described as providing a “break from mentioning physical appearance, including clothing.”

The policy, which aims to lessen the stress children feel about appearance, certainly has merit. But now that students have returned to school, where social anxieties can fester, our experience at Camp Be’chol Lashon points to a much different way of approaching bodies and appearance.

At Be’chol Lashon, which provides a space for racially and ethnically diverse Jews, discussion about appearance is the norm. Instilling confidence and pride among our campers means doing exactly the opposite of the “no body talk” rule. We talk openly about shared external characteristics in the context of race and identity.

Refraining from any comments on appearance means, by default, that race will be ignored. There will be those who see this as a positive. It is common in seeking racial equality to claim not to see race, to be “colorblind.” To some it speaks to a vision of a world where the color of one’s skin does not matter. To our campers, it means that a critical component of who they are becomes irrelevant, even taboo.

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On High Holidays, Moving From Temple to Temple

By Candy Schulman

Candy Schulman outside her childhood home in Brooklyn // Courtesy of Steve Schulman

My temple I went to as a child looked exactly the same: a modest, two-story red brick building facing a fenced-in concrete schoolyard. The same Jewish star on second floor, encasing a menorah. Often when we return to our childhood memories, everything looks smaller than we’d remembered. My temple hadn’t changed, even though I had.

It was my annual nostalgic excursion back to Brooklyn — not the hipster Brooklyn I no longer recognized, not the Williamsburg where I accompanied Grandma Regina to visit her Hasidic relatives. It was the other Brooklyn, at the end of the subway line near Coney Island. My old neighborhood wasn’t classy enough for an official name, like nearby Gravesend. “It’s between Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay,” I’d say. My street jutted landmarks like Shore Parkway and Suicide Hill.

Singer Neil Sedacka grew up down the block. My next-door neighbors were concentration camp survivors; I tried to avoid staring at the numbers tattooed on their arms. My father was a first generation American who attended Cooper Union for free, became an engineer, and later left the field because of anti-Semitism. He was the son of a widow in Oceanhill Brownsville, an immigrant from Prussia who spoke six languages, earning money by cleaning houses and knitting sweaters.

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So Many Ways To Segregate Women in Synagogue

By Esther Zandberg

The women’s section in Tel Aviv’s Heichal Yehuda Synagogue./Photo by Haaretz/Adva Naama Baram

(Haaretz) — Where are you for the High Holidays? If “you” refers to Orthodox Jewish men, then you get to pray in the main sanctuary, which you will enter through the main entrance. Once inside the sanctuary, you will be full participants in the service, able to see and hear all that goes on, spending the time with your sons and younger daughters.

Once your daughters reach the age of seven, they will go from “us” to “them,” a threat to your delicate souls. Then they will be ushered into the women’s section, where they will continue a centuries-old tradition of gender-based segregation, to put it in modern terms.

Women usually enter through a side entrance and find themselves in the less attractive section of the synagogue. At best, they may be on a separate level. At worst, they may be either pushed into a stifling corner or given an area that is open from every direction, such as a corridor, or a room that is occasionally used for storage. Once inside the women’s section, you will be seated behind a divider, far away from the prayer service – the very reason you are here. In many cases, you will not be able to make eye contact with the congregation below or follow the service in your prayer book because you can hardly hear it from where you are sitting. Happy holidays.

Exemplars of segregation, exclusion

A photographic exhibition of women’s sections in dozens of synagogues in Israel and abroad by architect and photographer Adva Naama Baram, entitled “In the Women’s Section,” opened last Thursday for the High Holiday season at the Architect’s House Gallery in Jaffa. Baram photographed women’s sections of various types, sizes, locations and designs that are exemplars of the pattern of segregation and exclusion. The 27 photographs in the exhibition, whose curators are architects Rivka Gutman and Eran Tamir-Tawil, speak for themselves.

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An Artist Reclaims Jewish Sites in Kosovo

By Ron Kampeas

Elana Katz, a performance artist, at her performance commemorating Jewish Kosovo in September 2014. // Copyright Majlinda Hoxha

JTA — Since 2011, American conceptual artist Elana Katz has been performing in Europe at sites once identified with Jewish communities, through a project called Spaced Memory.

“The history of these places is unacknowledged, forgotten and in some cases even concealed,” the Berlin-based Katz, who has worked with pioneering conceptual artist Marina Abramovic, explains in a crowdfunding appeal for Spaced Memory.

She has performed in Romania and in Serbia, and this month launched a performance in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.

But Kosovo has posed some unique challenges. Mainly, the fact that documentation about Jewish properties in Kosovo was lost after the 1999 war, and current and former Kosovar Jews disagree on what was and was not Jewish. So Katz was faced with a dilemma: How to commemorate a Jewish site that might not actually have been Jewish?

She decided to focus on the Pristina Boxing Club, the one building that all her Jewish interlocutors agreed had once had Jewish use — just what kind of use, no one really knew.

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How Yemenite Jewish Performer Enchanted New York City

By Chana Pollack

Sarah Osnath Halevy // Copyright Forward Association

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

This magnetic image depicts a moment of ecstatic passion of the Yemenite Jewish multi-talented singer, actor, dancer and mime Sarah Osnath Halevy.

Occasionally titled a “Palestinian diseuse” as well as a “dancing actress” Halevy was a multi-lingual talent who gave interpretive performances in Hebrew, Yemenite, Persian, Arabic, Ladino, Russian and Yiddish. Arriving in New York City from her native Yemen in the 1930’s through the auspices of famous Jewish impresario Sol Hurok, Halevy was among the original women performers of the Middle Eastern cultural roots music and dance.

She introduced mostly Ashkenazi Yiddish speaking audiences to the deep folkloric riches of Jewish Arabic culture and Palestinian children’s songs in a manner also reflective of early romantic Zionism. Her premiere in New York City was at the Astor Theatre on Broadway and 45th Street (currently the Marriot Marquis Hotel) where she appeared at the 1935 premiere of the film “Land of Promise”, which is considered the first sound film about Jewish pioneers of Palestine.

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Joshua Venture Group Names All-Female Fellows

By Raffi Wineburg

JTA — One gets Jewish teens and b’nai mitzvah students involved in community service work in urban Detroit. Another is working to improve online Jewish education options. And another is developing a unique curriculum based on women of the Bible.

All of them are women.

Joshua Venture Group (JVP), a nonprofit organization that has been investing in Jewish entrepreneurs since 2000, recently announced its selection of six fellows for its 2014-16 Dual Investment Program. This is the program’s first all-female cohort — something that happened not by design, but was a “pleasant surprise,” as Lisa Lepson, the group’s executive director put it.

“An investment like this in female Jewish leadership is refreshing to see in our community, and we look forward to watching these women build a strong support network together alongside their impactful ventures,” Lepson said in a news release.

The two-year program, which begins this month, seeks to cultivate visionary leaders and ideas that will strengthen the Jewish community through educational, social, spiritual, cultural and service programs. Each fellow will receive more than $100,000 in funding and support to develop her ventures.

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How Ultra-Orthodox Woman Found an Egalitarian Minyan

By Frieda Vizel

The author (left) and her son at the Museum of Natural History in New York // Courtesy of Frieda Vizel

On Saturday, I was walking on Amsterdam Avenue in New York City, crossing over to the other side with my son Seth when a man with white stubble and a New Jersey accent stopped me and asked: “Do you want to be a tenth to minyan?”

I was shocked. I looked at him and asked: “Me?”

“Yes, why not?”

I was caught so off guard; I wore nothing that gave me away as Jewish. Just black leggings and a red shirt; boots. An ordinary outfit. I felt so integrated into the New York City weekend scene. But my eight-year-old son, who often chooses to be more religious than me, had his yarmulka on, so he gave me away.

I never thought anyone would ever ask me to be a part of a quorum for prayers. According to Jewish tradition, the presence of God descends to where there are ten men. Only in egalitarian synagogues women are also counted. I’ve watched men look for a tenth for minyan many times, because I grew up Hasidic and the men needed a minyan three times a day. When my grandfather was old and frail we held prayers in our house and finding ten men older than 13 who could make it was often a problem. We called the extended social network; cousins and neighbors and far away relatives who would make the effort for the sake of the grandfather; but I would never be called. I often helped get the men by running after younger brothers and knocking on neighbor’s doors to ask if someone could come be a tenth. After I got married at eighteen, I could help by sending my husband to be part of prayers when there was a need for minyan, but that was the only extent to which I could participate. Then I left the Hasidic community and began to explore small, tentative ways I can express my Jewish identity and be part of the Jewish community.

I stood there on this rainy Saturday and looked at the kindly Jewish man in astonishment. A part of me wanted to remind him that I was a woman and couldn’t be part of the minyan even if I wanted to, and a part of me was so deeply touched that this man valued me for religious services as much as he would a man.

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The Sad Lesson of Bar Rafaeli's Pole-Dancing Ad

By Elissa Strauss

Bar Rafaeli in a commercial for Carolina Lemke / Copyright: Youtube

In a recent commercial for an Israeli fashion eyewear company Carolina Lemke, Bar Rafaeli is featured bespectacled and pole-dancing in a dream sequence inside of a subway car, across from a leather-clad man who is checking her out.

The Israeli model writhes her away up and down the pole in a midriff-baring tee, jeans and stiletto heels, and we are to find her desirable until the truth is revealed: The woman is actually chubby, something the guy only realizes when he puts on his Carolina Lemke’s glasses.

Lesson? Fat is the antithesis of hot, and confusing one for the other is so ridiculous that it’s worthy of a punchline.

That’s a terrible idea, but it is not the one stirring up most of the complaints in Israel. As Haaretz writes, the majority of viewer take issue with the way in which the ad objectifies Rafaeli, putting “her in a pornographic pose just to catch the viewer’s eye” as one viewer put it.

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The Anti-Gezera Brigade on Rosh Hashana

By Susan Reimer-Torn

Rachel Benaim Photo

Sixty women sit in an ever-widening circle at B’nai Jeshurun Synagogue on the Upper West Side. We’ve come to explore a topic that has haunted me, particularly at this time of year, ever since I was a child. Rosh Hashanah is approaching and with it comes a reminder of our vulnerability to the life-threatening gezera or the harsh decree that Jewish tradition teaches will befall us if we don’t properly repent.

In my Orthodox upbringing, we were educated in a rigid schema of hard-earned reward and well-deserved punishment. How could I possibly convince an all-seeing God that I was worthy of living another year? I was more self-absorbed than helpful, curiosity won out over compliance, leaving me anxiety-ridden that my transgressions outweighed my good deeds. I trembled in terror that I might not make it past the age of 10.

Grown-up now, we are no longer in the grip of literalism. But vestiges of the primal terror and doubts about our worthiness still hold us in their sway.

That night, the women came to grapple with the potential gezera, the dark shadow threatening our desired outcomes. Is the damning decree generated by internal factors or imposed from without? The liturgy tells us that teshuva or return, prayer and good deeds will overturn the unpropitious gezera. I ask the group, what are the real life skills or resources that might counter a harsh decree?

The discussion focuses on our tendency as women to internalize the gezera. We too often impose harsh verdicts upon ourselves. Countering the gezera begins with a reframing of our own internal soundtracks and reimagining possibilities.

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Lisa Belkin, Queen of the Motherlode

By Lenore Skenazy

Courtesy of Lisa Belkin

Before Sheryl Sandberg there was Lisa Belkin. Working her way up at The New York Times, Belkin became every mother’s favorite mother in 2008 when she started the Times Motherlode blog. The blog touched a nerve as it focused on the elusive balancing act of work and parenting. Her most infamous phrase, “the Opt-Out Revolution,” came from a feature Time Magazine story in 2003 — at the height of the dotcom boom — about high-powered career women leaving the workforce to stay at home with their children. The story garnered strong reactions from readers.

The author of three books — “First Do No Harm” (1994), “Show Me a Hero” (2000) and “Life’s Work: Confessions of an Unbalanced Mom” (2003) — Belkin moved on from the Times to helm The Huffington Post’s HuffPost Parents and as their senior correspondent before accepting a position as Yahoo’s senior national correspondent in March. When this wife and mother of two boys, Alex and Evan, spoke to the Forward’s Lenore Skenazy, she said she owes it all — sort of — to the Forward.

Lenore Skenazy: How do you owe it all to the Forward?

Lisa Belkin: My great-uncle wrote for the [Forverts], so I got the “writing gene” from him.

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Throwback Thursday: Yiddish Novelist Takes On Stalin's Terror

By Chana Pollack

Copyright Forward Association Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

Vera Hacken was the Odessa-born memoirist of a Czernowitz childhood, and an early novelist of the intricacies of life under the Soviet Union’s police state apparatus — but much of her life remains somewhat shrouded in mystery. So when we found her dreamy photo in our archive and felt ourselves hooked in by her dark-eyed melancholic scrutiny, we were determined to unveil some of the hinted-at inscrutability.

Luckily she does have an entry in Berl Kagan’s Lexicon of Yiddish Writers (1986). It reads like the scene of a terse briefing in a 1950’s noir detective film with its ‘just the facts ma’am’ line of inquiry.

Still, we gratefully reaped those gleanings: The future Yiddish multi-talented novelist, poet, lyricist, memoirist, essayist, director, playwright, and German and Russian translator was born in 1912 in Odessa. Hacken spent her childhood years in Czernowitz, epicenter of a thriving Yiddish literary and cultural scene, where acclaimed Yiddish fabulist and educator Eliezer Shtaynbarg was her teacher. She studied theatre, establishing herself by 1938 as a director in Bucharest’s and Munich’s kleynkunst theatres, which are sometimes also described as literary cabarets.

She escaped to the Soviet Union during the war in 1941 with her husband, Yiddish composer and physician Emmanuel Hacken. She briefly lived in the Bavarian resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which hosted a post-war convalescent center, from 1947 until arriving in New York City in 1951.

She published in a variety of Yiddish journals including Afn Shvel and Tsukunft and in 1969, in book form, a Yiddish memoir of her youth under Shtaynbarg’s stirring creative influence. In 1990, a collection was published posthumously of her short stories, essays, poems and a novella entitled ‘Stantsye Grafskaya’ detailing, among other things, the stresses, intrigues and even romances taking place under the sadistic reign of the NKVD who were responsible for enforcing Stalin’s reign of terror. An ongoing project in the early 1980’s was her editorial supervision and writing of authoritative introductory essays for a series of Yiddish classics published in German by Weitbrecht of Stuttgart.

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A Farewell to Parenting Columns

By Judy Bolton-Fasman

The author, center, with her children Anna and Adam, in 2014. // Photo courtesy of Judy Bolton-Fasman

For eight years I’ve written a weekly parenting column for a local Jewish newspaper in Boston. My valedictory column will be published just before Rosh Hashana. When I accepted the job, I made it clear that I would not be writing a “how to” column. Nor would I consult parenting books, which, to my mind, frequently state the obvious. No, I was going to live out loud — mistakes and all — and with their consent, so were my children.

My daughter Anna was 12 and my son Adam was 9 when I started the column. They were natural story generators. All I had to do was drive carpool and listen to the sagas going on in the backseat. I learned about who was being bullied, who loved whom, who didn’t love whom and most importantly, if my children were happy. Although I strongly felt the Yiddish proverb that you’re only as happy as your unhappiest child ring true to me, keeping my children happy through my own intervention was not my goal. Of course, I wanted to swoop in and fix whatever was bothering them, but most importantly I wanted to teach them coping skills.

The parenting columnist gig was not mine alone. From the outset, my children and I were partners in this writing venture. I agreed never to write about anything puberty-related and I was forbidden to talk about any details of their social lives. I also read them every single column in which they were mentioned. I soon discovered a huge benefit to reading my column out loud to my children: it kept me honest. No poetic license for this parenting columnist.

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Dear Wendy Shalit: Adults Take Nude Selfies, Too!

By Frimet Goldberger

Jennifer Lawrence at the Paris Fashion Week, July 2014 // Copyright Getty Images

There’s nothing like reading a column by a self-proclaimed conservative who equates prudishness with modesty to realize you’re not a prude after all.

I am talking about Wendy Shalit’s post on in which she opines about the Jennifer Lawrence hacked-nude-selfie fiasco, conflating sexuality with promiscuity, the erosion of modesty with too-much social media and falling off a cliff with taking selfies, among other things.

“Since the Jennifer Lawrence photo hack, Internet security has come under scrutiny. But why do many young women feel the need to take and share nude selfies in the first place?” Ms. Shalit writes. “Young women are told that it’s a sign of being ‘proud of your sexuality’ to ‘sext’ young men — a philosophy that has turned girls into so many flashing beacons, frantic to keep the attention of the males in their lives by striking porn-inspired poses.”

Um, does Ms. Shalit really think only young, impressionable teenagers sext and get naked in front of the camera? News flash, Wendy: Adults take nude selfies, too. Yes, mature adult men and women do it all the time — and not in an adulterous manner. In fact, I bet you half of your adult friends have done so in the privacy of their own homes — photos they have every intention to share exclusively with their spouses or significant non-matrimonial others. You don’t believe me? Go to shul and take a survey of the fine and modest men and women who follow Halacha to a tee and strike poses, probably not porn-inspired, for spousal consumption. What’s wrong with a little healthy sexual teasing to keep the fire in a relationship burning? Why must it be deemed frantic male attention-grabbing when all it really is two consenting adults indulging in hard to come by (no pun intended) foreplay?

Allow me to take this a step further: You speak of the celestial romance of the Algerian-French singer Enrico Macias who sings a love song to his wife — on stage — and you call it “a drama between them that was not for the public to see.” Do you suppose that, maybe, while he was singing to her “for the public to see,” somewhere in their little private love nest there were love notes containing explicit sexual content, and perhaps suggestive photos? Jennifer Lawrence, or anyone else snapping nude selfies, does not post her racy photos for the public to see, but puts out her best, dressed self, much like Enrico Macias publicly serenading his wife.

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Throwback Thursday: Yoo Hoo, TV-Icon Mrs. Weissman

By Chana Pollack

Dora Weissman (left) and an unknown woman / Copyright Forward Association

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

Sometime in the 1900’s, in L. Boressof’s photo studio at 355 Grand and Essex, in the heart of the Lower East Side, a young Dora Weissman felt comfortable enough to pose with arms encircling another’s waist. Her head rested ever so gently against the strength of the ample bosom of another woman. Both gaze straight ahead at the camera in their warm embrace. Perhaps it was her mother.

Weissman established a bright career starting out as a child actor, under the guidance of her father Reuben Weissman, a prompter, translator and playwright and union organizer in New York City’s Yiddish Theatre.

A powerhouse, Weissman was a leading soubrette before long, acting with such notables as Jacob P. Adler and Bertha Kalich. As if that wasn’t enough, she set out to achieve every Jewish mother’s dream:medical school, after graduating Hunter College.

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On Instagram, Modest Fashion Goes Interfaith

By Elissa Strauss

Mimi Hecht and Mushky Notik / Courtesy of MIMU MAXI

We are living in an age of unprecedented democratization. Of fashion. Thanks to the rise of chains like Zara and H&M, which offer fresh-from-the-runway styles at ordinary-people prices, and to the emergence of social media, which gives every aspiring Anna Wintour an outlet, the fashionista universe has skyrocketed in recent years.

Among this community of do-it-yourself style icons are Mimi Hecht and Mushky Notik, Vogue fans, Chabadniks, and co-owners of MIMU MAXI, a clothing line that translates current trends into attire appropriate according to Jewish modesty laws, or tznius. They are part of a growing community of modest fashion lovers from Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths who see no conflict between modesty and self-expression through clothes and are coming together through Instagram.

Through the photo-sharing service these women share their own takes on modest fashion, swap tips on how to wear fall trends while showing less skin and, in the process, help build an interfaith community that has encouraged cross-cultural dialogue. More than 50,000 photos on Instagram are hashtagged #modestfashion (just one of the ways this group tags its photos), and the most popular modest fashion bloggers and designers have tens of thousands of followers who look to them to give them the tips that traditional fashion media will never provide.

Sisters Simi Polonsky, 28, and Chaya Chanin, 29, who together run The Frock Swap, a woman’s designer consignment pop-up shop that brings gently used high fashion to Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, say they doubt their business could exist without social media.

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The Ashkenazi-Friendly Beauty Revolution

By Elissa Strauss

Sarah Silverman sports wavy hair and pale skin at the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on August 25, 2014 // Copyright Getty Images

It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice. Things might never be the same.

In the style section of the New York Times, writer Marissa Meltzer looks at the rise of curly hair among fashion elite, women who are “are increasingly spurning blowout salons and the promise of a temporary straight-hair fix in favor of a curly look that is both natural and modern.” She cites singers Lorde and St. Vincent as examples of the new curl-love, as well as magazines and hair stylists who have come around to embracing all that is not straight.

“The look is styled but a little messy, even embracing a certain amount of… yes, frizz.”

Frizz is in style. FRIZZ IS IN STYLE. This would have been the best thing me and my wavy, slightly unruly, hair has heard in a long, long while if it wasn’t for the the Atlantic story that came out earlier this week by Olga Kazan on the dwindling allure of bronzed skin.

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Throwback Thursday: Jewish Queen of Polish Waltzes

By Chana Pollack

Actress and singer Marta Eggerth // Copyright Forward Association

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

The influence of Poland’s national waltz, the Polonaise, on music is so widespread that musical notation uses the term alla polacca to indicate that specific rhythm. Its popularity helped it spread to composers across the world; even America’s John Philip Sousa composed a piece entitled “Presidential Polonaise.”

Waltzing through the file drawers of our photo archive this spirited image of Budapest-born Jewish film actress Marta Eggerth, the soprano sensation of Vienna’s light opera of the 1920s and 30s, emerged. And we found her impossible to ignore, sheated in a hot sequin bird patterned gown for her role in “Polonaise.”

Expatriated by 1938, thanks to Hitler’s Anschluss of Austria, Eggerth and husband, Polish Jewish tenor Jan Kiepura decamped for the United States. Here in New York City, Kiepura joined the Metropolitan Opera and Eggerth merged her talents with Broadway and film musicals remaining, reportedly, under recognized. Molded by Vienna’s operetta scene, she was unable to compete with the rise of hip new musical film stars of the era, such as Judy Garland and Gene Kelly with whom she was once paired in a supporting role in 1942. With most of her numbers cut from that film, and Garland said to have even copied Eggerth’s large operatic gestures for a satirical bit, Eggerth self-exiled again back to theatre.

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How One Yiddish Actress Was Blocked From Stardom

By Chana Pollack

Actress Esther Nersolavska // Copyright Forward Association

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

In 1965, a short two column item at the bottom left corner of page ten of the Forverts announced the funeral of Esther Nadya Neroslavska, the Yiddish actress and widow of composer Peretz Sandler. As it turned out, on the trail of her glamorous soft-focus portrait in our archive, we learned she was known as a first class prima donna who truly suffered for her art — or at least for her union’s control of the arts.

Born in Ekaterinoslav (today’s Dneiperpetroskov) in Ukraine to a family of artists, she started vocal training early, and at six-years-old was already concertizing. Professionally trained at Kiev’s music school to which she was awarded a scholarship, she had to leave the institution early when her mother became a widow and needed her financial support.

She began performing in Goldfaden operettas and travelled throughout Eastern Europe, and eventually was engaged by an Italian opera troupe where she achieved the level of second prima donna performing the role of Micaela in the opera “Carmen.” The great Yiddish theatre impresario Boris Thomashefsky saw her in Poland in 1913 and brought Nerovslavska and her husband to New York where she performed the role of diva in many operettas throughout the US and Canada.

Reputedly talented and beloved, Nerovslavska seemed curiously to have performed only infrequently in New York City. In 1918, Forverts labor editor and West coast correspondent Harry Lang reported about Neroslavska’s lack of work. Incredulous, he wrote that Madam Esther Neroslavska has long been a guest in New York City. Youthful, beautiful and talented, he commented, she’s a prima donna and she sings — but doesn’t act. In Philadelphia’s American Theatre she had several appearances, he reported — but seemed slightly hidden. And, he concluded, it’s been said the actor’s union doesn’t want her performing. He questioned that assumption asking whether in fact the union would stoop to such treachery.

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Fighting the Israeli Macho: A Gchat with Elana Sztokman

By Chanel Dubofsky

Copyright Ingrid Muller

Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman, the former executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, is a leading writer and thinker on topics of feminism, Judaism, Israel and orthodoxy. Her first book, The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World, won the 2012 National Jewish Book Council Award in the area of Women’s Studies. Her second book, Educating in the Divine Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools (co-authored with Dr Chaya Rosenfeld Gorsetman), won the 2013 National Jewish Book Council award in the area of education and identity.

Next month, her latest book, The War on Women in Israel: A Story of Religious Radicalism and the Ravaging of Freedom, will be released by Sourcebooks. In a recent piece for the Atlantic, “Gaza: It’s a Man’s War,”, Sztokman, who lives in Modi’in, Israel, looks closely at the impact of sexism in Israeli society, particularly in the context of the current Gaza war.

Chanel Dubofsky caught up with Sztokman, who said that her book was born on this blog, The Sisterhood, where she started posting stories about gender segregation in 2009, via Google’s instant messaging service gchat.

Chanel Dubofsky: Set the scene for us regarding feminist activism in Israel.

Elana Sztokman: There is a lot of entrenched macho in Israeli culture. The challenge is the way in which that macho intersects with religion and the (secular) business and political establishment’s support of religious radicalism for their own needs and interests. It’s easy for men across the spectrum to throw women under the bus for the sake of coalition, business or money. Women are fighting this reality, to raise awareness that protecting women’s rights is a basic part of democracy, and to introduce different thinking about the role of religion in Israeli society and politics. There is no separation of religion and state in Israel, which means that religious groups have had tremendous political influence over the years. Religious (male) Elana’s wordsleaders have gotten away with lots of very anti-democratic stances and policies vis a vis women. It’s an uphill battle, but there is definitely a growing consciousness that we are witnessing now, and there is something exciting on some level in watching a real feminist movement grow from the ground up.

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