Sisterhood Blog

How Parenting Came to Be a Group Effort in Israel

By Avital Norman Nathman

The author (left) and her son in the Dead Sea, Israel. / Copyright Avital Norman Nathman

There’s a certain sense of overwhelming fatigue that comes from spending hours traipsing along the streets of Tel Aviv under the hot summer sun. Even my mother, who accompanied my almost 8-year-old son and me on this outing and can truly shop till she drops, started flagging. After walking a few blocks in the wrong direction, we reoriented ourselves and grabbed the No. 19 bus, which would take us back to my uncle’s apartment in Rishon. I was exhausted. My mother was exhausted. My son? Still running high on his seemingly endless supply of energy. It must have been the three extra falafel balls he scarfed down at lunch.

I pulled out a notebook and pen, hoping they would keep him occupied on our 40-minute ride. The bus quickly filled up, and the seat next to him, the one across from me, was taken by an older woman who looked kindly at him. Over the next 40 minutes they formed an unlikely bond as she gave him sweets and he showed her the math tasks he’d given himself. They chatted — a mixture of halted Hebrew and English — until she got off, a few stops before us.

“I made a new friend,” my son told his grandfather later that day. “I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.”

Welcome to Israel.

The following day we decided to do it all again, because one cannot get enough of shopping in Tel Aviv — at least according to my mother. Not wanting to be too much of a burden, we had my aunt drop us off at a bus stop somewhere near Tel Aviv on her way to work. We managed to get on the right bus, but weren’t quite sure when our stop was coming up. My mother and I tried to keep an eye out for it, but an excited boy who wanted to point out every last thing made it difficult. The bus rapidly filled up the closer we got to Tel Aviv. It stopped in Yaffo, and I was fairly certain the time had come to debark.

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Euny Hong's Hebrew Seoul

By Seth Berkman

Kate Hong

Korean-American author Euny Hong’s journey to conversion began with Maimonides after reading “The Guide for the Perplexed” during a freshman-year course at Yale. With two Korean parents, her father secular and her mother Methodist, Hong grew up in a Chicago suburb before moving to Seoul when she was 12 years old.

In early August, eight years after her debut novel “Kept” (2006), Hong, 41, released her second book. “The Birth of Korean Cool” (Picador) is a witty chronicle of how pop culture shaped South Korea’s meteoric rise from a war-torn nation to a technological giant.

Hong spoke recently to the Forward’s Seth Berkman about the challenges Korean Jews encounter in America, the similarities between Israel and South Korea, and her friendship with another prominent Korean Jew, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl.

Seth Berkman: How do you know Angela Buchdahl?

Euny Hong: We were in the same dorm, basically, for three years. She doesn’t seem to remember this, but one of the first conversations I ever had about converting to Judaism was with her.

You moved to Korea in 1985. What are the main differences in Korea today?

Basically now it looks like the capital city from “The Hunger Games” and all that implies, including the technological jaw-dropping wonders and their opulence, decadence and extreme wealth. In 1985, the thing that kind of is the most visceral in memory has to do with defecation. It seemed really uncivilized and very barbaric, and it was very common to be in a taxi and then the cab driver stops, you don’t really know why, and he goes over to the wall by the side and pees because, I don’t know, why wouldn’t you pee against the wall? And then he comes back into the taxi and says nothing and keeps driving.

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Throwback Thursday: Labor Union Activist 'Sister' Bessie Hillman

By Chana Pollack

Bessie Hillman and Sydney Hillman on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1938 // 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.

Although better known as the tireless wife of labor leader Sidney Hillman, who founded the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, Bessie Hillman was an activist in her own right.

She was known as ‘Sister Bessie,’ a name thought given to her by southern textile workers she helped organize and who were enamored of her. In an apocryphal tale, Hillman was speaking at the Union’s southern convention in 1946, following her husband’s death. Long considered an unorganized territory, the South became part of her responsibilities when she was then appointed Vice President of the Union. Addressing the convention hall filled with women garment workers, a largely Christian crowd taken to wearing crucifix necklaces, folks back East at Union headquarters worried about how this Yiddish accented speaker, a foreign born Jewish woman, would be received.

They worried in vain—with her Yiddish accent and her reported Yiddishe mame style — she electrified the crowd. Not long into her speech, the crowd shouted itself hoarse crying out ‘Sister Bessie’ from the floor. Their attention was so rapt, a pin drop could be heard. These southern Christian women, hailing from Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi applauded her words, and blew kisses at ‘Sister Bessie.’

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The Complete History of the Sheitel

By Frimet Goldberger and Shimon Steinmetz

At Shuly Wigs in Boro Park, Brooklyn / Martyna Starosta

The sole purpose of Taxonomy of the Sheitel was to inform you, dear perplexed reader, of the various Orthodox wigs and what each signifies. The intention was not to opine on the reasoning behind wigs and its relevance today.

However, as was expressed in the vibrant comments section of the article, readers wished to know more about the history of wigs: whether or not women wore wigs in biblical times (not to be confused with Talmudic times), and why it is common practice among pious women to cover their own hair with someone else’s natural-looking hair. Doesn’t it defeat the entire perceived premise of the Halacha, modesty? What about the issue of misogyny, the feminist asks? Isn’t it a form of patriarchal control to demand that a woman cover her hair, and what more, because this sensual part of her body is to be kept for her husband’s eyes only? And do all Orthodox and/or Hasidic women shave their heads and don a wig?

The short answers are: There is no evidence that women wore wigs during biblical times. The Halacha is not completely clear on the reasoning, outside of stating that hair on a married woman is considered nakedness and therefore, naturally, needs to be covered up. While debatable and indeed the subject of much controversy, we feel that a woman cannot be considered controlled unless she herself feels she is being controlled. And no, most Orthodox women do not shave their heads; only a select few Hasidic sects, like Satmar and Skver, require married women to shave their heads. Even then, many women covertly grow their own hair, defying their community standards and risking expulsion.

Orthodox Wig World from Jewish Daily Forward on Vimeo.

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War Brings Social Media Fame to Gaza Teen

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

(Reuters) — As bombs explode in Gaza, Palestinian teenager Farah Baker grabs her smartphone or laptop before ducking for cover to tap out tweets that capture the drama of the tumult and fear around her.

The 16-year-old’s prolific posts on Twitter have made her a social media sensation through the month-old conflict. Once a little known high school athlete, Baker’s following on the Web site has jumped from a mere 800 to a whopping 166,000.

Living near Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, where her father is a surgeon, provides Baker with a live feed of blaring ambulance sirens in addition to blasts from Israeli air strikes and shelling attacks.

Baker often records these and posts video clips to provide followers with a quick personal glimpse of the war.

A tweet from Aug. 1 included a link to a video of a darkened street punctuated by the sounds of repeated explosions. In another tweet Baker tells of hiding from the shelling in one of the rooms of her home.

“I am trying to tell the world about what I feel and what is happening where I live,” Baker told Reuters at her Gaza home, adding that she has been “trying to make other people feel as if they are experiencing it, too”.

Baker, whose Twitter profile photo shows a blue-eyed frightened looking young woman calling herself “Guess what”, or @Farah_Gazan, said she’s surprised at the popularity she has garnered.

“I did not expect it. I was writing for a small circle of people, and the number has become too many,” she said.

Baker dreams of becoming a lawyer, hoping to use that profession as a means to advocate for crowded and impoverished Gaza, a coastal territory wedged between Israel and Egypt.

It isn’t always easy to overcome her fears to tweet, but she feels compelled to go on.

“I see this is the only way I can help Gaza, showing what is happening here. Sometimes I tweet while am crying or too scared but I tell myself, I should not stop,” Baker said.


Ladies Night With Bulletproof Stockings

By Rachel X. Landes

An all-female, all-Hasidic rock band? Alright!

Throw in an all-women crowd, and you’ve got the Bulletproof Stockings show which took place at Arlene’s Grocery last night.

After several unsuccessful attempts, in which venues have backed out last minute, Bulletproof Stockings finally managed to showcase their music and let their hair down (figuratively, as all band members wear wigs, per Orthodox custom) with their fans.The five-part band played to a packed house at the rock venue in New York’s Lower East Side.

For the first time in its history, Arlene’s Grocery closed its doors to men, who were allowed in the bar outside, but not by the actual stage. The modesty prohibition of kol isha forbids women to sing in front of men. As a result, Bulletproof Stockings only performs for women.

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Hasidic Rock Band Takes to Stage — No Men Allowed

By Gabe Friedman

Bulletproof Stockings // Facebook

It isn’t everyday that Arlene’s Grocery hosts a show for women only. But that’s what will happen Thursday night when the all-female Hasidic rock band Bulletproof Stockings takes the stage at the iconic Lower East Side venue.

The modesty prohibition of kol isha states that Hasidic women cannot sing in front of men. The group — led by Perl Wolfe, 27, and Dalia Shusterman, 40 – has had trouble booking gigs restricting male attendance in New York City after forming in Brooklyn a few years ago. The manager of Arlene’s Grocery was hard to convince at first, but she warmed up to the idea after seeing how devoted Wolfe and Shusterman were to gaining fans. They hit the streets to promote the show and got signatures from women who promised to see them play.

“We did take a little bit of a risk on them,” the venue’s manager, Julia Darling, told the New York Post. So far there have been no complaints. The Post notes that Arlene’s male employees are exempt from the ban.

The band says their style is influenced by blues, jazz, rock, and even classical music. Wolfe’s piano playing is front and center.

Thursday’s show will be filmed by the Oxygen Network for their upcoming series “Living Different.”


#TBT: Rosa Hilferding's Haunted Gaze

By Chana Pollack

Dr. Rosa Hilferding, June 1941 // Forward Assocation

Peering into Dr. Rosa Hilferding’s eyes as she gazes directly at the camera, posed in front of the Forverts’ photo file cabinets in this riveting seated portrait, one might grasp but a hint of what transpired prior to the photo session in our old East Broadway building one June day in 1941.

A physician herself, Hilferding was born into a Hungarian Jewish family and married to Austrian Jewish Marxist economist Rudolf Hilferding. They eventually expatriated to Berlin, Germany in the early 1900s, where he eventually became Finance Minister and then Reichstag spokesman for the Social Democratic Party in the Weimar Republic.

The Hilferdings fled Germany with Hitler’s rise to power, along with other party members — first to Denmark, then Paris and Zurich. Returning to Paris in 1939, Rudolph Hilferding remained the focal point of the German Socialist Party in exile. When France fell to the Nazis, the Hilferdings successfully escaped to Marseilles. Eventually, Rudolph Hilferding was turned over to the Gestapo by Vichy police.

At that point in February 1941, Rosa Hilferding told the Forverts, having survived a Paris so congested by the occupation that all one saw there were Nazis — the French basically acted as “kidnappers” for the Gestapo, happy to hand over their prey. Since then, there had been no word from her husband. She remained in Arles in Provence, attempting to establish contact with him to send him clothing, food and cigarettes —  to no avail. She left the country.

By the time this photo was taken, she had journeyed to safety from Marseilles first to Martinique where she applied for a US visa only to witness her ship being overtaken by the Dutch who sought out Nazi agents reportedly on board.

Diverted to Trinidad where the captured agents were detained, the ship was forwarded to Winnipeg, Canada and finally — New York City.

By the fall of 1941, it was understood that Rudoph Hilferding had been tortured to death by his Nazi captors. Rosa Hilferding eventually resettled herself in Boston where she was employed in her field.


She's a Bird. She's a Plane. She's Ilanit.

By Nirit Alderman

(Haaretz) — A woman named Ilanit, wearing a black bodysuit, is suspended on a rope and swinging in the air. During a routine tour of the roofs of Tel Aviv, she notices a man standing on the roof of a nearby building. “This is Nahid Abdallah-something, the second most wanted man in Jenin,” Ilanit calls out. She and Nahid begin to fight, and Ilanit kicks him off the roof to his death. But then she sees that his twin brother, Fahid, the most wanted man in Jenin, is standing on a nearby roof.

Several chapters from “Ilanit, the Spider Woman from Reut,” the comic book by Boaz Kadman, have been published in recent years on various platforms. Now they are being published as a book, with all the old stories appearing beside several new ones. Published a few weeks ago, the book will be on sale at the traditional annual comics fair, which opens Wednesday at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. The fair, which is part of the 14th annual Animix Animation, Comics and Caricature Festival, runs until Saturday.

haaretz/tomer applebaum
Boaz Kadman

The excerpt cited above is taken from the first chapter of the book, “Ilanit vs. the Explosive Twins,” the first story in the series, which was created about a decade ago. “I sorted through comics I had bought many years before and I saw that they spoke in so many cliches,” Kadman says in an interview in Tel Aviv. “Then, one day, I read an interview in the political supplement of the newspaper, and the interviewee kept repeating himself, speaking in awful cliches about the historical connection to the Land of Israel — and suddenly it looked like a comic to me. What motivates the superheroes is always one very simple thing, ‘the war on crime,’ and political talk in Israel is the same. There’s something ridiculous about political texts and superheroes.” In that same moment, Kadman decided that his next comic strip was going to star political cliches alongside cliches about superstars. At the height of the battle between Ilanit and Fahid on the roofs of Tel Aviv, both contenders take a short breather. “Terrorism against Israeli citizens is a war crime,” Ilanit says, and Fahid retorts, “You’re continuing the occupation. You strengthened the desire for revenge. Settlements are terrorism.”

Kadman, who was born in 1971, enrolled in the Midrasha School of the Arts at Beit Berl College when he was 25. “I did comics about Joseph Beuys, for example, a prominent artist who was always being mentioned to us, and to me he’s something comic, really exaggerated. I did excerpts from his autobiography in Bazooka comics format and called it Bazooka Beuys.” Between 2003 and 2004 Kadman published several works in the A4 Booklets of the well-known cartoonist, illustrator and comic book creator Dudu Geva. For two years Kadman had a comic strip in the art magazine Studio, and then moved to Time Out magazine. In 2001 he began editing Plan B, an alternative comics magazine, with Guy Lavie. Plan B was published every few months, and several days later it changed its format and became an online blog.

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The Fight Against 'Immodesty Signs' in Beit Shemesh

By Nili Philipp

Nili Philipp (third from right) and other residents outside the Beit Shemesh court house / Courtesy of Nili Philipp

Beit Shemesh has featured prominently in the news over the past several years as a hot spot for violations against women and girls, from the Orot school scandal to several highly publicized assaults against women, to routine harassment of women in the city’s streets.

But June 16 marked a new phase in the struggle for gender equality in Beit Shemesh, three years after I was attacked by a Haredi man who threw a rock that hit me in the head as I cycled along a main thoroughfare, and two years after a mob of Haredi men attacked Vered Daniel, who was holding her infant in her arms at the time, alleging that she wasn’t dressed sufficiently modest, which prompted three other religious women and myself, all residents of Beit Shemesh, to demand that the city address the increasingly frightening attacks against women and girls.

With the help of our lawyer, Orly Erez Likhovsky from the Israel Religious Action Center, we sued the Beit Shemesh municipality for 100,000 shekel (29,200 US dollar) after they repeatedly ignored our pleas to remove the large and imposing illegal signs that harass and threaten women in public areas of the city. The signs loom over main commercial centers and are signed by the local leading Haredi rabbis, ‘requesting’ that women dress modestly. The signs also define modest dress: long sleeves, long skirts, high necklines, no pants, nothing tight. Other signs instruct women to avoid walking or lingering on certain sidewalks, public city sidewalks that were built and maintained with taxpayers money. Not coincidentally, in these very same areas where the illegal signs hang, women deemed insufficiently modest have been habitually harassed, threatened and attacked, lending strength to the thesis that one law violation abates another.

We had several reasons for requesting that the city remove the signs. First, the signs are illegal and intimidating. Their harassing message is an invasion of privacy and freedom. Second, they promote an atmosphere of anarchy by blatantly violating the rules of the State with the tacit approval of the municipality. Third, we wanted a clear public statement that violations of women’s rights wouldn’t be tolerated.

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Secrets of the Sheitel Stylists

By Frimet Goldberger

Gneshe Bron of Wigs by Gneshe / Martyna Starosta

On the Wednesday evening before Passover, Gneshe Bron sent out the last freshly washed and styled sheitel from her salon, Wigs by Gneshe. She swept the tan linoleum floor clean of hair, washed the styling table and chair and plopped down on the black leather couch to breathe a sigh of relief.

“There is nothing like the feeling of sending out that last wig and closing shop for Pesach,” she said.

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When Atheists Talk About Rape

By Elissa Strauss

Richard Dawkins / Getty Images

Earlier this week prominent atheist Richard Dawkins said some pretty insensitive comments about sexual assault on Twitter. “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”

This was a follow-up line to an earlier assessment on the social media platform that “Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think.”

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Throwback Thursday: Carole King, Civil Rights Crusader

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.

At a time when supporting the rights of the accused in deportation and civil rights cases frequently invited harassment, Jewish New York City attorney Carol King was a noted expert on both.

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Was 'Bachelorette' Andi Dorfman Slut Shamed?

By Maia Efrem

Getty Images

As the rose petals settle from the aftermath of the “Bachelorette” finale earlier this week, the blogosphere is on fire dissecting Jewish Bachelorette Andi Dorfman’s acceptance of Josh Murray’s proposal. The finale had all the makings of good TV: A heart wrenching profession of love and an angry confrontation between Andi and scorned bachelor Nick Viall and an appearance by Grumpy Cat.

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Why We Don't Need Period Talks

By Elissa Strauss

British artist Francis Wheatley’s depiction of mother and her children, probably not having a period talk / Wikimedia Commons

In a recent Sisterhood post, fellow contributor Frimet Goldberger writes about how her mother never had a menstruation talk with her until after she got her period.

“There was no big fuss made; she didn’t sit me down and explain anything to me. You were going to bleed every few weeks because, nothing — just because.” And later: “The friendship grapevine is how I learned about puberty, the birds and the bees and many other things not customarily introduced by mothers in the Hasidic community.”

Now Frimet, who is no longer part of the Hasidic community she was raised in, is wondering how to best talk about puberty and periods with her daughter. Here’s my advice: don’t have a talk at all.

My mom never gave me a period talk. Does this mean that I didn’t know about menstruation and, by natural extension, how babies are made until I got my period? No way. Just that we never sat down over muffin and smoothies, or whatever else people ate back in the mid ’90s, and had a dedicated conversation about what happens to girls when they become women.

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Let's Talk About 'Sects'

By Frimet Goldberger

Facebook

Brenda Rosenberg, who goes by the online moniker “Brenda Turtle,” is a social media celebrity with thousands of followers. She posts photos of herself in suggestive poses, often repurposing religious paraphernalia like tefillin (phylacteries) or a tallis (prayer shawl) for the added shock value, since no Hasidic and few Orthodox women utilize those items. Many of Brenda’s fans are Hasidic men hiding behind fake virtual profiles. So when Brenda was in a tragic car accident with a few friends last week, some of her followers, operating from covert locations where the Internet is banned and where God is a swift and predictable punisher, said she deserved it. Hashem wants you back on His good side, they beseeched her.

What ensued was a mini social media firestorm, with Internet denizens arguing for and against her shtick. Some suggested she is deeply disturbed, while others said that she is young and naïve and is being taken advantage of by repulsive and perverse Hasidic men. Others, still, insisted that she is a Jewish Madonna, a misunderstood artist.

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Meet Sue-Ann Levy, Toronto's Gay, Right Wing Columnist

By Michael Kaminer

Photo by Michael Peake/Toronto Sun

Sue-Ann Levy doesn’t sound like the devil, which a 2012 headline in a Toronto publication, The Grid, suggested she might be.

In fact, the woman who picked up the phone to chat with the Forward’s Michael Kaminer has a sweet, chirpy voice and an endearingly cheery manner. But these qualities belie the Toronto Sun investigative columnist’s steel spine. An out lesbian and relentless advocate for Israel, Levy’s also a dogged reporter whose scoops on municipal corruption and cronyism have made her both an idol and a punching bag.

Detractors have pounced on her more outrageous actions, like her 2012 tweet implying Barack Obama may be Muslim. Enemies have called her “an Internet troll, but in real life.” But those jabs just seem to stoke her. “Either you love me or you hate me,” she told the Forward from the home she shares with her wife, interior designer Denise Alexander, and dachshunds Kishka and Flora.

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In Vitro and Me

By Talia Liben Yarmush

Talia Liben Yarmush and her family

I always imagined having a large family. I was the middle child of five, and although I can’t honestly claim to have loved every moment I’ve had with my siblings, I feel immensely blessed to have them. Growing up, they were always my biggest role models. I emulated the way my older brothers spoke, I listened only to the music they listened to, and I even wore their hand-me-downs. My younger siblings were my most treasured playmates; we climbed trees in the front yard and played make-believe in the basement. My brothers and sister were allies against our parents, they were my confidantes and they were my refuge. Today, they are my closest friends. And when I need advice on something, I know just who to ask for each problem.

Six years ago, when I was hit with the shock of infertility, and I knew it would be difficult to have children, my expectations of family size changed dramatically. A little after a year of marriage, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, one of the leading causes of infertility. I had two surgeries to remove the growths inside of me, but they grew back with full force each time. My doctor was clear: in vitro fertilization was the only way I would get pregnant. I went into my first cycle of IVF without a clue I thought, This is it! I’m about to grow the family I always dreamed of! I suffered through the daily injections and the blood drawings and the vaginal ultrasounds, because I knew that in the end, I would have my baby. But after two full cycles, I was left alone with just another negative pregnancy test and I thought maybe I was asking too much. I stopped dreaming of a large family.

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Joanna Rakoff's 'Salinger Year'

By Judy Bolton-Fasman

Joanna Rakoff

Joanna Rakoff’s lovely memoir, “My Salinger Year,” brings to mind an image from the Talmud in which an unopened letter stands in as an uninterpreted dream. Rakoff, a poet, novelist and founding editor of Tablet Magazine, has written a book that braids together a stint after college assisting JD Salinger’s literary agent with her coming of age story. It’s about the year that she was one of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of young women in New York City carrying tote bags bursting with manuscripts while balancing a cup of coffee from the Greek deli on her subway ride to work.

I was one of those girls too. I read manuscripts for Harper & Row, forerunner of Harper Collins, and then for GP Putnam & Sons. I was in publishing before the confusing mergers — when everyone used blue pencils to edit and typed press releases on Selectric typewriters.

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Sexy for Soldiers

By Sarah Seltzer

Facebook

When I read the story of Israeli women sending sexy photos off the to IDF to wish them luck and boost morale, my reaction was more of a bemused shake of the head than anything akin to the outrage, confusion, and energy-draining sorrow I’ve been experiencing while reading a lot of recent war-related stories.

The same can be said for my response to the tale of the observant women in New York who are campaigning for an Israeli victory by holding a modesty contest at home, convinced that immodesty brings bad events to brethren abroad. Good luck covering those elbows for your cause, ladies. As Talia Lavin writes, her tone laced with irony, “The way to “help our brothers in their time of need,” apparently, is to suppress every inch of skin their sisters possess.” She even suggests an Iron Dome over women’s flesh.

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