A few months ago, I was at the Kotel with my family. When I was leaving the site, a woman stopped me. She grabbed one of the knotted white fringes dangling from under my shirt and, in Hebrew, exclaimed “Tzitzit!? But this is forbidden!” No, I told her, it is permitted according to all major codes of Jewish law. “Forbidden!” she insisted. I again told her that it was permissible. Still visibly upset, she exclaimed “But you’re a girl!” “Yes, I know,” I responded with a calm smile. “I know.”
Despite having worn my tzitzit for almost six months now, I’m still a little bit surprised when people stare at me. After almost six months, I’m used to the fringes, and seeing them against my jeans seems natural. However, what to me has begun to feel like simply an extension of who I am — a religiously-observant, seventeen-year-old Jewish feminist — is also a political statement. I am one of the relatively small number of women who considers herself commanded in this mitzvah, because I believe in both the obligatory nature of Jewish law and its inherent egalitarianism.
Historian Melissa R. Klapper recently won a National Jewish Book Award for “Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women’s Activism, 1890-1940.” In the book, Klapper, a professor of history at Rowan University in New Jersey, shows us that decades before Steinem and Friedan became households names, Jewish feminists were already working to make the United States a fairer, more just society.
The Sisterhood recently spoke with Prof. Klapper about the birth control battles of the 1870s, the Jewish push for suffrage, why peace was once considered a women’s issue and the Jewish women activists you really should know about.
THE SISTERHOOD: Why did you decide to write this book?
PROF. KLAPPER: From my early days as a graduate student in American women’s history, I was disturbed by the near absence of Jewish women from the larger narratives of American women’s lives and history, with the possible exception of the labor movement. Even historians who acknowledged the outsize role American Jewish women played in second-wave feminism didn’t seem to have much interest in the earlier activism of American Jewish women. So I thought it would be interesting to explore their participation in the great women’s social movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and to make the case that both the American Jewish community and first-wave feminism were transformed by Jewish women’s activism.
(JTA) — Eight years ago Dawn Zimmer was a stay-at-home mom and freelance photographer.
Now, the 45-year-old Democrat, elected the first Jewish mayor of Hoboken, N.J., in 2009, made the front page of The New York Times.
Since last week, when she accused Gov. Chris Christie’s lieutenant governor of trying to make Superstorm Sandy recovery funds contingent on her backing a real-estate project favored by the administration, Zimmer has been in the spotlight. Coming on the heels of revelations that the governor’s aides blocked access to the George Washington Bridge as payback to another Democratic mayor, Zimmer’s allegation has prompted an FBI investigation.
The Times article, which focuses on Zimmer’s political ascent and reputation both for honesty and not always being “the easiest person to bond with,” does not mention the mayor’s Jewish identity. However, other articles about her have noted that she converted to Judaism several years ago.
A 2010 piece in the Hudson Reporter said the Unitarian-raised Zimmer and her husband, Stan Grossbard, agreed when they were dating to raise their children Jewish but that Zimmer felt uncomfortable converting just for marriage.
However, a few years after their two sons (now 12 and 13) were born, Zimmer and Grossbard, who runs a family diamond-and-jewelry business, took an introduction to Judaism course at the Hoboken Synagogue. The family now sets aside Friday nights for family time. They are also frequent donors to the synagogue.
We think it is safe to assume the governor will not make the guest list of Zimmer’s son’s upcoming bar mitzvah.
Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.
I call babies cute. Most of the time it is because they are actually quite cute, and occasionally because it is the polite thing to say.
Calling babies cute is second-nature for most of us. It is what the spit-up splattered parents want to hear, and in those pre-personality early months there is really nothing else to comment on but the little one’s appearance.
Once kids get a little older though, many of us find ourselves commenting on boy’s personalities or intelligence, while still making sure to tell little girls how cute — specifically pretty — they are. For awhile now we have been discussing how girls internalize these messages, but now we are starting to realize how much parents do too.
As Lisa Bloom wrote a few years ago on the Huffington Post, the standard icebreaker in our culture for talking to little girls is commenting on how they look. The issue here is that “teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything.”
And the (female) kids are not alright. Bloom points out that close to half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat, 15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now regularly wear make-up, and a high number of bright, successful college women say they’d rather be hot than smart.
Roe v. Wade turns 41 today. The past few years have witnessed the landmark Supreme Court, decision, which legalized abortion in 1973, become reduced to a shadow of itself, as state after state passed restrictions which winnowed down the ability to access abortion.
We have covered these developments again and again at the Sisterhood. The logic goes like this: add in waiting periods and parental consent laws, harass or restrict rural clinics out of existence and don’t allow insurance-covered abortion for those on public assistance, and what remains is a “right” that’s a right in name only for many who seek abortion care.
Jewish women have long been at the forefront of pro-choice activism over decades of feminist foment, from before Betty Friedan right through our current age of digital feminism. Today Ilyse Hogue, the new leader of NARAL Pro-Choice America (and one of the Sisterhood’s 2014 Jewish Women to Watch), has written a feisty op-ed in Politico called, “2014: The Year the Pro-Choice Crowd Fights Back.” Hogue notes that three years of anti-choice overreach is finally creating a backlash. “In 2013, we saw a movement starting to embody the old adage that the best defense is a good offense,” she notes, referring to grassroots efforts in states like New York to enshrine abortion rights more fully. Still, she writes, “It will take time for this shifting momentum to result in a full sea change.”
Hogue also writes that voters have wised up, and know that economic security and social issues can no longer be pried apart by politicians.
Gone are the days when conservatives could marginalize abortion access as a social issue and claim elections hinge on economic matters, especially with women driving the margin of victory in so many elections. Women in this country know that our economic security depends on our ability to decide when and with whom we have families.
While bullying is sadly not new, cyber bullying can often seem like the cruelest playground. I have been writing for the Sisterhood since March of last year, and I have been bullied in the comments section below several of my articles.
As a professional writer, performer and advocate I have been subjected to public commentary for years, since I began sharing and publishing work online. Years ago, I was called an “ugly rhinoceros Jew face” on one of my YouTube videos. In 2012, a video of me performing my poem “Fat” about my experience having and recovering from an eating disorder went viral after Lady Gaga tweeted it. Amidst the endless affirmations, accolades and messages of gratitude from viewers who felt moved or inspired by my story, there were many negative comments, like “Go on a actual diet,” “Your are an unhappy fat chick!” and “In all seriousness though, you and anyone who supports Rothstein are the cancer that is killing this world.”
In “The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood To Fit Reality” (Seal Press, 2014), editor Avital Norman Nathman asks the question: “What does it mean to be a good mother?” Contributors, including Joy Ladin, Jessica Valenti, Sarah Tuttle Singer and Jennifer Baumgardner reflect on the realities of motherhood and combat the myth of the “Pinterest perfect” mother.
Norman Nathman’s writing places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender and reproductive rights, and has been featured in Bitch magazine, Kveller, The New York Times, CNN, RH Reality Check and more. In addition to her blog, The Mamafesto, Avital has a regular series, “The Femisphere,” for Ms. Magazine’s site, as well as a regular feminist parenting column, “Mommie Dearest,” for The Frisky. Follow her on Twitter at @TheMamafesto. The Forward’s Chanel Dubofsky talked to Norman Nathman about her projects.
I was supposed to be a low-maintenance bride. I am usually “the easygoing one.” Our florist would disagree. As I stood in front of his 20 foot refrigerator and pointed to every type of flower, telling him which to put in our arrangements, and which should, under no circumstances , even come near our venue, it was clear that “easygoing” was long gone.
Hey working parents, I’ve got some good news for you. (Finally, I know.) Your kids might actually make you more productive.
According to a new paper with the unwieldy title of “Parenthood and Productivity of Highly Skilled Labor: Evidence from the Grove of Academe,” mothers of at least two children are, on average, more professionally productive than mothers of only one child, and mothers are generally more productive than childless women. Fathers of at least two children are also more productive than fathers of one child and childless men.
This of course goes against conventional wisdom on the topic, as well as how we many of us feel when we sit down at our desks after a sleepless night with a sick child. And yet, at least some of us are apparently doing better than we thought. The catch? You’ve got to play the long game.
Three years ago, Toronto-born Daniel Friedman was a newly minted architect whose livelihood evaporated when the economy crashed.
Today, hundreds of people are living in Friedman’s designs — but sewing machines and measuring tapes are his work tools.
With business partner David Kusy, Friedman runs Bindle and Keep, a New York-based bespoke mens- and womenswear company whose custom suits and shirts are drawing a rabid following. Meticulous tailoring drives the company’s success. But Bindle and Keep also makes house calls, which has helped it carve a distinctive niche in a fiercely competitive field.
Friedman, 34, spoke to the Forward’s Michael Kaminer about growing up Orthodox, the long thread connecting Jews and apparel and the former Jewish archivist who helped spark Bindle and Keep’s accidental gay following.
I like people I find likeable. This goes for men and women, as well as the fictional and the living. I also like being likeable.
This all sounds pretty obvious, I know. And yet holding such an opinion these days makes one a bit of a philistine and, worse, a heretic in certain feminist circles.
We are living in a moment when calling a woman likeable is akin to calling her simple and a conformist, and calling a woman unlikeable signals depth and strength. Except so many women I know, fictional and otherwise, myself included, don’t neatly fit into these categories. We are deep, and strong and not always pleasant, but ultimately there is something likeable about us. Sometimes that thing is a traditionally feminine trait, and other times it’s not. Still, we’ll give you some reason to stick around, be it passion, kindness or a penchant for the truth.
Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt used the f-word, and he used it about himself… and we couldn’t be prouder.
This hour I tell things in confidence, I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you. — Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
In high school, I often made off with my mother’s copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” The 1998 edition, on whose cover women bore protest signs and status-quo-bashing smiles, made quite a pair with my other adolescent object of study, “To Be a Jew.” (Far from frum, I had something of a Reform inferiority complex). In OBOS’s sexuality section, one woman describes her dream of being trapped, naked, in a room with large windows, her body visible to passersby. To Be a Jew had this to say on the matter of such exposure: “Modesty should be the byword in the behavior of every member of the family.”
Tzipporah, a Modern Orthodox woman living in Manhattan, just couldn’t deal with the way that people misbehaved on the New York subway. She started taking surreptitious camera phone photos of the worst offenders — men who insisted on sprawling out onto multiple seats, even when the train was packed. She began posting the pictures on a Tumblr she created called Move The F**k Over Bro.
Soon, the blog grew and Tzipporah (she requested that the Forward use her first name in order to preserve her privacy) began getting submissions and responses from all over the country and even from places as far away as China and Brazil. But she also started getting tons of hate mail. She granted her first-ever interview to The Sisterhood.
“It’s a scary and not always smart thing to do, taking pictures,” Tzipporah admits. She has faced harassment offline as well, including a recent incident when she stood up for a woman who was being heckled on the train by guys who she’d asked to move over and free up a seat. “But I think [Jewish people] have an obligation toward social justice.”
Tzipporah, who was raised by a single father, credits him for making feminism an elemental part of her life. “He encouraged me to look at women as complex individuals. He has always been really proud of me,” she says. “Raising up Jewish girls is like my favorite thing. The idea that religion is misogynist bothers me.”
For so long, I took their word for it. Eve — the world’s first woman according to the creation myth of Abrahamic religions — messed up. Her punishment, two-fold.
One, she was kicked out of Eden, sweet Eden, where she spent her days sauntering around naked, no shame in her step. There she led a life of comfort and ease. Absent was hunger, fatigue and ever needing a jacket.
Two, she would be subservient to her husband and experience great pain in childbirth.
A new year has brought with it the growing realization that in America, access to abortion is slipping and slipping away. It’s so glaringly obvious that you can access this trend in multiple different forms, from charts and graphs to quotes from national movement leaders to on-the-ground anecdotes.
So, in what medium do you want this information about eroding reproductive rights?
A report from the Guttmacher Institute,] shows the plain numbers. In short: there were 70 abortion restrictions in 22 two states last year.
“To put recent trends in even sharper relief, 205 abortion restrictions were enacted over the past three years (2011–2013), but just 189 were enacted during the entire previous decade (2001–2010),” the report reads.
It was only five years ago that Rachel Azaria first got involved in local Jerusalem politics as councilwoman. Now a rising star in the municipality, she was sworn in as the city’s new deputy mayor on November 21.
Azaria, 36, was first elected to Jerusalem’s city council in 2008. In elections held this past October, her Yerushalmim (Jerusalemites) party doubled its representation on the council, and negotiated its way to key positions and portfolios.
The Forward has covered Azaria’s outspokenness and activism on behalf of young families and women when she was first elected in 2011. She has been at the forefront of the fight against the exclusion of women from the public sphere in Israel’s capital, and in Israeli society in general. An Orthodox feminist, she is not afraid to speak out against those who oppose her and her allies’ efforts to create a more tolerant, pluralistic Jerusalem.
In light of her appointment as deputy mayor, the Forward’s Renee Ghert-Zand asked Azaria about her approach to campaigning, her new job, her political plans and ambitions, and how she, as the mother of four young children, balances work and family life.
“Tiger Mom” Amy Chua has a new book out with her Jewish husband Jed Rubenfeld and in it she looks at the parenting practices of six cultural groups who, she claims, create more successful people. These include Indians, Chinese, Iranians, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerians, Cuban Exiles, Mormons and, you got it, Jews.
Her thesis in “The Triple Package” is that all these cultures have a competitive edge because they impart on their children feelings of superiority, insecurity and impulse control, which push their children to do better in America than others in terms of income, test scores and occupational status.