Sisterhood Blog

Gabrielle Birkner Named to Top JTA Post


Former Sisterhood editor Gabrielle Birkner has been named the new managing editor of JTA.

Birkner is heading JTA’s editorial team and leading efforts to expand and improve the 97-year-old Jewish news agency’s digital offerings.

“We are so proud and excited to have Gabi assuming this role,” said Ami Eden, JTA’s CEO and editor in chief. “She is a top-rate journalist, a great digital strategist and a superb mentor and manager. She is the perfect person to uphold our century-long tradition of journalistic excellence, while helping us continue to implement a digital strategy for the future.”

Birkner is the former director of digital media at the Forward, where she founded and edited the women’s issues blog, The Sisterhood. She also served as a religion reporter and features editor at The New York Sun, and as a staff writer at The New York Jewish Week. She co-founded and serves as executive editor of Modern Loss, an online magazine about grief and loss, geared toward 20- and 30-somethings.

“I’m thrilled to join JTA’s talented team at this pivotal moment for the news organization. I look forward to working with our staff writers and correspondents around the world to deliver exceptional journalism to our online readers and client newspapers,” Birkner said.

Founded in 1917 and known for decades as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, JTA reports on developments impacting Jews and Jewish communities in the United States, Israel and around the world. JTA serves 3 million users per year via its website and enewsletters, and distributes content to 75 syndication clients around the world.

JTA is in the process of merging with MyJewishLearning. Eden and board leaders of both organizations have agreed that even after the merger JTA will continue to operate as a standalone news brand.

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The Shallowness of Men Who Won't Sit by Women

By Simon Yisrael Feuerman

Copyright Thinkstock

What’s up with these men — my brothers — who refuse to sit next to women — my sisters — on planes and trains, buses and light rails?

The situations of frum men refusing to sit next to women lend themselves to a kind of grade-school snickering. Methinks the man doth protest too much, way too much. In fact, one imagines a gap between what they are thinking and what they are saying — something like, “I can’t (but desperately really want to) sit next to you” The woman might be thinking the same thing or the opposite “I am insulted and also glad that you don’t want to sit next to me, thank you very much.” Beneath the oppressive humor though there may be serious matters at stake.

As everyone knows, much of the hubbub and hullabaloo has formed around a prominent Orthodox feminist whose flight from Israel to the United States was delayed by a man who insisted that he did not have to sit next to her — a woman — for religious reasons. The woman rather than just “take it” protested loudly calling it an insult akin to racism and published an article about it. In a separate incident reported in the Washington Post and elsewhere, a number of “ultra-orthodox” men delayed a flight to Israel, causing “chaos and panic in the aisles” because they did not want to sit next to women.

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Why Netanyahu and Abbas Might Ask For Forgiveness

By Rachel Delia Benaim

Peace Agreement: Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat with U.S. president Jimmy Carter at Camp David, 1978. // Copyright Wikimedia Commons

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ addresses at this year’s United Nations General Assembly were, well, not the friendliest.

Netanyahu accused Abbas of war crimes.

Abbas accused Israel of genocide.

Netanyahu accused Abbas of executing civilians.

Abbas accused Netanyahu undermining peace efforts.

You get the picture.

This weekend marks the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Traditionally, in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, Jews engage in deep introspection. We each look at our relations with others in the world, and asking their forgiveness, because, according to scripture, only then are we fit to appear before God and ask his forgiveness as well.

This weekend also marks the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha. During Eid al-Adha, practicing Muslims sacrifice sheep and calves to commemorate the patriarch, Ibrahim, or Abraham, following God’s commandments. In addition to these sacrifices, on Eid, family members travel around to visit and greet each other, and mend and renew interpersonal relations.

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A Life of Social Activism and Free Love

By Chana Pollack

Lucy Fox Robins Lang (second from right) at her book party, 1948 // 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.

When Lucy Fox Robins Lang’s memoir “Tomorrow is Beautiful” was published by Macmillan in 1948, the Forverts was there to cover the book party.

Celebrating along with Lang, on the far left of the image with his back to the camera was no less than David Dubinsky, President of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union.

As a young girl Lang immigrated to America with her family, where she evolved into a much beloved progressive activist who reportedly journeyed within movements as varied as anarchism, the Wobbly group (Industrial Workers of the World), socialism and pacifism. Her belief in women’s equality carried into her intimate life where she was a practitioner of “free-love” and domestic partnerships decades before that was common. In her later years, Lang was also part of a dynamic progressive power couple when she married third husband Harry Lang, Forverts lead writer on labor and eventual pioneering Labor Editor for the Forverts’ West Coast bureau. But before going West together, they reportedly travelled way back East to his town of origin in Lithuania, as early as 1928.

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The Danger of Teshuva Season

By Debbie Nehmad

We are currently in the thick of what I like to call Teshuva Season. Starting with Rosh Chodesh Elul and continuing through Hoshana Rabbah, this time of year gives us a full seven weeks of reflection, repentance, and self-reproach. It is known as a time to mend our relationships with others and with God, our chance to beg for forgiveness lest our names be excluded from the Book of Life for the coming year.

As someone who recovered from depression and had, at one point in time, a very low sense of self-worth, this time of year can be deeply triggering for me. Year after year we are taught to repent for our sins, leading many of us to feel that the more we suffer over our mistakes, the greater our chances will be of deserving forgiveness and salvation. I remember growing up in school and hearing about how we needed to beg God to spare us our lives. I remember hating myself for feeling like I wasn’t strong enough to fully commit to certain mitzvot. I remember thinking during Yom Kippur services that there was no way I deserved to live another year because of the many sins I felt I had done. No one ever said these things to me, and yet these were the messages I absorbed from my teachers every September.

Many people can use this feeling of guilt in a way that is healthy and constructive, turning them into powerful motivators for change. I am not one of those people. If I’m not careful and disciplined with my thoughts, my guilt turns into a bitter tirade against myself. In this way the Yom Kippur craze can become a tool for masochism that is sneakily disguised as religious fervor. Even without an active behavior, the self-loathing mentality is one that indulges those inner demons I work so hard to silence and yet find so difficult to ignore.

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When Yom Kippur Prayers Don't Help Grieving

By Judy Bolton-Fasman

Rosh Hashanah prayers, as depicted in the 18th century // Copyright Wikimedia Commons

My father was buried on the eve of Rosh Hashanah 2002 and the holiday began just a few surreal hours after I stood at his open grave. The shiva — the seven-day period of formal mourning — was cancelled to usher in the New Year. With a truncated shiva behind me, I debuted as a congregational mourner on Rosh Hashanah. It was the first time that I said the Mourner’s Kaddish. Arguably, the busiest day of the year in the synagogue, I stood up in front of 800 people to recite the Kaddish — effectively a love song to God whom I felt didn’t deserve my adoration.

The feminist, poet and liturgist Marcia Falk had a similar experience. In 1978, her father Abraham Abbey Falk died midway between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and her grieving was cut short by the advent of the Day of Atonement. After three days of shiva, Falk braced herself to mourn in a crowded synagogue. But the public face she tried to show faded away when she was confronted with the somber, terrifying words of the Un’taneh Tokef. The thousand year-old prayer, written by an unknown author in Northern Europe, is central to the Yom Kippur liturgy.

In a recent presentation at Brandeis University sponsored by the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, Falk noted that her ambivalent relationship with the Un’taneh Tokef was the inspiration for her latest book, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, And Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season.. “The Un’taneh Tokef” she said, “is a listing, a repentance. The message it conveyed to me, five days after losing my father, was that if he had been a pious, righteous and repentant man the decree would have been averted and he would not be dead. No one actually believed that, but nonetheless the words were hurtful and unhelpful.”

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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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