Sisterhood Blog

Ban Bossy? But It's a Jewish Birthright

By Elissa Strauss

Sheryl Sandberg is trying to ban the word “bossy” by telling everyone what to do. It’s kinda funny.

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Requiem for a Sheitel Makher

By Frimet Goldberger

Sheitels, or wigs for Orthodox women, come in different colors and styles to match women’s preferences — they are short and neat, long and wavy, matronly and sexy. Maintaining the freshness and vibrancy of a sheitel requires a skilled sheitel makher, a wig stylist. It’s a demanding job that calls for loads of patience, talented hands and a predilection for chatting about everything — from the weather to the people you know who are currently pregnant — all while standing over someone’s head. It’s also demanding because women want to look their finest even when they cover their hair or shorn heads. The color, length and quality are all important factors in ordering a sheitel, and the sheitel makher plays a central role in this decision-making process.

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Bye, Bye Barbie?

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images

When Ruth Handler created Barbie in the mid ‘50s, she tapped into a fantasy of feminine perfection very particular to the mid 20th century. Those shiny blond locks, the wasp-waist, long legs and perky breasts proved irresistible to girls from all backgrounds, including Jewish ones like Barbara Handler, Ruth’s daughter and the doll’s namesake.

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My Fast of Esther

By Jennifer Bernstein

Getty Images

When my nana, Claire Laufer Daniels, was 17-years old, the Nazis marched into her hometown of Vienna and were welcomed with open arms. Seemingly overnight, her friends turned on her, she was forbidden from attending school and she was even forced to scrub the city’s sidewalks with guns pointed at her head. Thankfully, she was able to escape, but her parents stayed behind and were eventually murdered at Auschwitz. She came to the United States all alone as a scared 17-year-old. She spoke no English. She knew nobody. She had no idea what would happen to her parents. Thankfully, the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) was there to help. They took her in and taught her hairstyling, a skill she would later use to open her own salon. They taught her to speak English. They helped her become an American citizen. My nana passed away last summer at the age of 92. To honor her memory, and to honor the plight of today’s immigrants, yesterday I participated in NCJW’s Fast of Esther.

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Women Read the Megillah

By Miriam Kresh

A staging of King Ahasuerus and Queen Esther in an 1865 photo by Julia Margaret Cameron // Wikimedia Commons

From Haifa to Dimona, women are gathering to unfurl the Megillah and let Queen Esther’s voice come through. The feeling, for me and every woman who participates, is that a woman’s reading brings the Megillah alive in a new way. When a woman reads the text, she gives the audience time to savor the dramatic elements in the story. It comes together like a novel. Esther was taken by force from her home with Mordechai and brought, essentially a slave, to Ahasuerus’s palace. By her beauty and strength of character, she rose to be queen. And who was Mordechai to her, anyway? Some commentaries say they were married, sacrificing their love to work for Jewry in secret.

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Standing Up for Agunot

By Martyna Starosta

Martyna Starosta

Shira Dicker protests the plight of chained women, or agunot, whose husbands refuse to grant them religious divorces, during a small Times Square gathering on International Agunah Day.


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The Modern Day Vashtis

By Hadar Schwartz

Getty Images// Children in the Philippines protest against sex trafficking

In the Purim story, Vashti’s expulsion, we know, is the result of her refusal to present herself before King Achashverosh. The text is ambiguous about the reason for her refusal, leaving much room for modern-day, feminist interpretation. Perhaps Vashti did not appreciate being summoned, did not want to be paraded around in front of the king and his presumably inebriated friends. Maybe she did not want to be put on display, appreciated solely for her body. Or conceivably, as commentators have suggested, Vashti did not want to be forced to appear in her crown and only her crown. we read the text through this contemporary lens, we commend Vashti, admiring her for preserving her dignity and remaining true to herself. We marvel at her choice to refuse the king given the high price she had to pay — losing her title, her husband, and her royal home, and who knows, maybe even her life — all to send the unequivocal message to her husband that no one could force her to put her body on display. It’s as if we wish we were sitting with Vashti as she received the king’s request, commiserating with her about the king’s chutzpah to even ask such a thing.

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Israeli Beauty Queen Fights for Women

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Israeli beauty queen Doron Matalon is a firm believer that good things can come from bad experiences. As a soldier in December 2011, she was sexually harassed by an ultra-Orthodox man on a Jerusalem bus. Now, as the first runner-up in the recent 64th Miss Israel pageant, she plans to use her newfound fame to help advance the fight for women’s rights in her country.

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Throwback Thursday: Queen Esther in New York City

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.

Forward Association

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50 Is Not the New 40

By Elissa Strauss

Photo credit Jeannie Cole

There was a brief moment there, must of been my early 20s, when I thought that women of a certain age were not subject to the same contradictory demands and humiliations as younger women. I believed that we all would eventually reach a point when projecting the right image on the outside wouldn’t require such a difficult balance act within. No more: act friendly but not over-eager, look attractive but not too sexy, and be confident but not overbearing. Ah, ignorance. You’re not quite bliss, but you are certainly low-maintenance.

Well, ladies, it doesn’t stop. Luckily we have Annabelle Gurwitch to guide us through the pleasures and horrors of being a woman over 50. The Sisterhood’s Elissa Strauss spoke with Gurwitch about her new book of essays “I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50” and why 50 is not, nor has ever been the new 40. (Sorry 40, this also means you are not the new 30.)

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When Hasidic Boys Grow Up Without Real School

By Frimet Goldberger

Getty Images

My 9-year-old son hates school. I explain to him that “hate” is a strong word used only in rare instances, and that school — as awful as it may seem to him — is essential to pursuing a career as an adult. I explain to him that education is power, that I would have given the world to be a child again and experience the joys of a “real” education. He loves to take me on a guilt-trip several mornings a week — a trip that begins with him saying “I hate school” and ends with me saying, “You’re going anyway,” and then follows with a post-school, “You know, mom, I don’t learn anything in school because I already know everything.”

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Too Sexy for Purim?

By Alison Kaplan Sommer

(Haaretz) — It seems terribly appropriate that International Women’s Day was happening this year as Israelis were caught up with preparations for the holiday of Purim — and not just because it is the only Jewish holiday with a woman, the heroic Queen Esther, who saved her people by charming a king, at its center.

Purim costumes and the hot-button issues surrounding women’s’ and girls’ bodies have become increasingly intertwined in recent years.

On one end of the spectrum there is the ever-present issue of ultra-modesty and fundamentalism and how that plays into the preparations for Purim costumes. Just before Purim of 2012, when the awakening in Beit Shemesh that sparked showdowns regarding “exclusion of women” was fresh - a fierce backlash took place regarding advertisements for Purim costumes in community newspapers aimed at the Orthodox population.

It had become the norm in such publications for advertisements for costumes to be divided into two. On one side: pictures of lads dressed as cowboys or pirates with smiling faces. On the other, girls covered in tulle fairy, bride or princess costumes - with their faces blurred out.

Over the several years, the women in Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem at the forefront of battling extreme modesty in the public sphere have spoken out against the phenomenon, covering the Facebook pages of the toy stores that allowed their advertisements to be altered with their complaints and pointing out the disturbing trend in the mainstream media, and in some cases, even eliciting an apology.

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Not Becoming a Rabbi Was the Best Decision of My Life

By Chanel Dubofsky

Thinkstock

There are a lot of things that I’m never going to be: a morning person, someone who remembers to check the weather report. A rabbi. It’s especially good that I am not this last thing, because it would have been the biggest mistake of my life.

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Clara Zetkin and International Women's Day

By Naomi Zeveloff

Clara Zetkin (left) with Jewish Marxist Rosa Luxemberg in 1910 // Wikimedia Commons

Today is International Women’s Day. Two German women, Clara Zetkin and Luise Zietz, first proposed the holiday in 1910 at the International Women’s Conference in Copenhagen. A year later, the holiday was celebrated for the first time. Neither woman was Jewish, but Zetkin, a member of the German parliament, was called a Jew by members of the Nazi press who wanted to prevent her from speaking at a government event.

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Treating Babies Like Adults

By Elissa Strauss

Thinkstock

A few years ago at a holiday party at my brother’s house one toddler began hitting another toddler. After a few minutes the parents of the boy being hit asked the parents of the hitter if they wouldn’t mind telling their kid to stop.

“No. We can’t. We don’t believe in telling our son ‘no.’ We believe kids need to figure out these things themselves.”

A little shocked and a little annoyed, the parents of the boy being hit picked up their son and walked away.

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Helen Broza Helped Israeli Women Fly

By Chana Pollack

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.

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Reclining and Leaning In Aren't Only Options

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images

Foreign Policy columnist Rosa Brooks wrote a call to arms last week inciting women of the world to recline. In the piece, Brooks explains that she tried to lean in, a la Sheryl Sandberg, stepping up at work, volunteering more at school, pushing, pushing, pushing as hard as she could until, finally, she realized that while she was indeed more successful she was also totally miserable.

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How Pat Boone Saved My Jewish Soul

By Sarah Seltzer

Memoirist and abuse survivor Sue William Silverman tackles her relationship to “the tribe” in her latest book.

Sue William Silverman is nothing if not a courageous memoirist. Her first two books, “Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You” and “Love Sick” were each taboo-breakers, detailing in turn the author’s sexual abuse at the hands of her father and the ensuing compulsive behavior she later overcame. Silverman’s third memoir, “The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew”” (University of Nebraska Press) is a series of essays and vignettes linked by Silverman’s youthful infatuation with the clean-cut, uber-goyish crooner Pat Boone, who she hoped would adopt her and take her away from her family, her faith and particularly, her father. Eventually, of course, Silverman found her way back to her Jewish identity, but not after several run-ins with Boone, a trip to a kibbutz, road trips, and several failed relationships.

Silverman spoke to the Sisterhood on the phone the week before “The Pat Boone Fan Club” was released, discussing memoir, her fluctuating Jewish selfhood, and the reason she sees her younger self as a gefilte fish.

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Haredi Wives to Sara Netanyahu: 'Be Our Esther'

By Frimet Goldberger

Mazal Tov! Sara Netanyahu has been crowned Queen Esther of Israel.

Eighteen wives of Haredi Members of Knesset penned a letter to Mrs. Netanyahu urging her to use her powers as Queen of the Israeli empire to influence her husband, Benjamin Netanyahu, Emperor of all Israelis. According to Israel National News, the women pleaded with Mrs. Netanyahu to appeal to her husband to strike down a pending law being drafted by a Knesset committee. This law is set to criminalize Haredi non-enlistment in the IDF, further exacerbating the tension between Haredim and the general public.

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Abortion Belongs in TED Talks, And Beyond

By Sarah Seltzer

Last week, feminists launched a flurry of actions demanding the inclusion of abortion rights as a topic tackled by trendy TED talks. A representative from TED, interviewed by Jessica Valenti for her column in the Nation, had deemed the subject too political and controversial. This admission was followed by a petition from NARAL and general online outcry (digital feminism! it works!) which then prompted a lot of backpedaling from TED. So far, so good. We’ll just have to wait and see whether abortion-themed talks emerge from the slick-wisdom factory of TED in the future.

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