Sisterhood Blog

Forward Welcomes Sisterhood Editor Sarah Breger

By Jane Eisner


Ever since our Naomi Zeveloff moved to Israel in August to be a full-time Forward correspondent, we have been looking for the right person to take over one of her important duties: editing The Sisterhood blog.

I’m happy to announce that we have found that person in Sarah Breger.

Sarah is a skilled journalist — she’s the managing editor of Moment magazine — with a deep professional interest in the lives of and challenges facing Jewish women today. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia School of Journalism, Sarah has written on issues of religious divorce, reinventing ritual and Jewish women in popular culture.

Just in the last few weeks, you can see Sarah’s personality emerge, as The Sisterhood has jumped on all sorts of news, ranging from a quick, poignant response to the Har Nof murders in Jerusalem to the tough issues of campus rape and the sexualization of young girls.

Feel free to join The Sisterhood’s unique and essential conversation by contacting Sarah at breger@forward.com


5 Stories About Dinah Way Crazier Than 'The Red Tent'

By Sarah Breger

Seduction of Dinah, Daughter of Leah by James Tissot

For some, Anita Diamant’s retelling of the biblical Dinah story — and adapted Lifetime miniseries — takes too many liberties with the biblical text. But Diamant’s version of events is almost banal compared to stories regarding Dinah found in midrash and other biblical commentaries. Here are five such tales that may deserve their own Lifetime movie:

1) When Leah — Jacob’s wife, Rachel’s sister — was pregnant for the seventh time, she became worried that Rachel had only one son while she had six. She prayed to God and God turned her fetus from male to female and Dinah was born. (Rashi)

2) Dinah is the only daughter of Jacob mentioned in Genesis. The midrash acknowledges that unlikelihood and explains that each of Jacob’s twelve sons was born with a female twin who would become their wife in the future. This also solved the quandary of who the brothers married if Canaanite women were forbidden. (Genesis Rabbah)

3) When Jacob went to his showdown with Esau, he was so nervous Esau would claim Dinah as a wife, he hid her and locked her in a trunk — an earlier midrash claims the same thing happened to Sarah in Egypt. (Genesis Rabbah)

4) Dinah had a child named Osnat from her relationship with Shechem. Osnat was so resented in Jacob’s camp that she was sent to Egypt via the angel Gabriel or Dina herself. Osnat was taken in by the wife of Potiphar and eventually married Joseph when he found himself in the Potiphar household. This again solved the problem on one of Jacob’s sons marrying out of the family. (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni)

5) After the Shechem story, Dinah marries Job (as in Book of) and has ten children — other sources say 20. (Bava Batra)


I Don't Want Kids, Thanks for Asking. And Asking.

By Chanel Dubofsky

Creative Commons

I know you said “please,” Jane Eisner. But the answer is still no, I will not have a baby because you’re nervous about Jewish birthrates.

I’m not going to have a baby, period, which I’ve said about 1 million times, on this site and others. This is the thing about people who don’t want to have kids, we end up having to say it over and over because people don’t get it, or refuse to get it, and believe it or not, we have other places to put the energy we haven’t spent on raising kids we don’t want.

People who don’t have kids have all kinds of reasons for not having them, and as a planet, we don’t deal with any of those reasons well. If you have trouble getting or staying pregnant, it’s because you waited too long, or you aren’t trying hard enough. But a lot of sympathy is still directed towards you – after all, you are a woman and at least you want kids, at least all of your woman feelings are in the right place.

If you’re a woman who doesn’t want kids, you’re just a monster, and the Jewish community is coming for your plump, wasted ovaries.

The thing is, the childfree (childfree meaning someone who does not want kids as opposed to childless which connotes someone who wants them, but does/cannot have them) have reasons for being childfree. I know that’s shocking. It’s easier to just think of us all as not caring about the Jewish community or the future at all. (Here is where, if I was writing another essay, I would mention that pushing people to procreate is guaranteeing an irreversibly huge carbon footprint, which is bad for the world.)

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Her Yiddish Majesty

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.

In 1926, Berta Gersten was photographed to publicize a play she was starring in called ‘Gevald—When Will He Die?’ a three act comedy by Forverts humorist Khone Gottesfeld, produced by the Yiddish Art Theatre of Second Avenue.

Born in Krakow, Poland in 1895, Berta Gersten immigrated with her family to America as a child where she began performing in Vaudeville. It wasn’t long before famed theatre impresario Kessler spotted her there and hired her for his Yiddish theatre. After several years there, she made her way over to the acclaimed Thomashefsky’s theatre.

Moving on once more, she became a founding member of Maurice Schwartz’s Yiddish Art Theatre, and the rest, as they say, is Yiddish theatre history. She was one of those few rare performers who was on stage from early in youth, until the very end of their lives.

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Sari Botton Still Loves New York

By Susie Kantar

Twitter

“Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York,” is the exciting new follow-up anthology from Sari Botton. The 49-year-old Long Island NY native secured mega-talented writers including, Adelle Waldman, Whoopi Goldberg, Stephen Elliott, Adam Sternbergh, Amy Sohn, and others. In addition to editing, Botton also contributed an essay depicting her own East Coast trauma.

When the rent doubled on Botton’s former-yeshiva-turned-apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the freelance writer, cultural Jew and daughter of famed Sephardic retired Cantor and musical director Richard Botton, moved to upstate New York with her musician husband. This incident sparked her surprise, best-selling first anthology, “Goodbye To All That.” These essays, by well-known writers who also had trouble affording New York, discuss a deep love for the city, but also the challenges one faces when rent becomes unaffordable and the struggle becomes overwhelming. “It’s an anthology about the idea of leaving New York,” Botton said at a recent interview in the Village.

Batton spoke to the Forward’s Susie Kantar about her adoration and continuous love affair with her of her former home. After she published, “Goodbye To All That,” critics wondered if she still possessed the same admiration she once did for New York. She absolutely does, and that’s clear when one reads her piece, “New York Cool,” in her incredible second anthology.

Susie Kantar: You no longer live in Manhattan. Are you inspired to write outside of New York City?

Sari Botton: I needed to go away and being just to the side of the city is great. I lived on the Lower East Side, on 8th street and Avenue B, for a dozen years in an orphan center, turned yeshiva, turned my home. I lost that apartment when the rent became unaffordable. I’m not a house person, and I wanted an unconventional space. I now live in a loft with my husband in Kingston, in Upstate New York.

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7 Things To Know About Helena Rubinstein

By Elyssa Goodman

Helena Rubinstein reads in her bed in the late 1930s. Copyright Getty Images

My first introduction to Helena Rubinstein came in the form of a small, white tube with a red and fuchsia logo that was no bigger than my thumb. It was waterproof mascara, hidden away in my mother’s bathroom drawer. She never actually used it, and it looked different, older than all of the other mascara she had. As a 5-year-old in the early ‘90s, I was fascinated by its unique packaging, clearly from another era.

“Why don’t you use that one?” I asked.

“It’s old,” she said. “They don’t make it anymore.”

It wasn’t until I visited “Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power,” the current exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York, that I learned that my mother was wrong. Helena Rubinstein cosmetics haven’t been sold in the United States since 1985 (that is one old tube of mascara, Mom) but the company continues to thrive in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Because of this, many people under the age of 40 don’t know who Helena Rubinstein is, and many people over 40 may not remember her impact. “She had this incredible influence but has been pretty much been erased from history, so this exhibition is an effort to rectify that erasure,” curator Mason Klein said about his inspiration for the show at the Jewish Museum.

Madame, as she was known, literally and figuratively changed the face of the beauty industry. Throughout her over 60 years of work in the cosmetics industry, she encouraged women to embrace their individualism. She didn’t believe there was one kind of beauty, and this was reflected in the way she lived her life as not only an entrepreneur but also as a patron of the arts and a philanthropist.

If you are among those who have not had the pleasure of being acquainted with Madame thus far, or if you’d simply like to remind yourself of her amazingness, here are some things you should know.

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Joan Rivers and the Brutal Honesty of My Jewish Grandma

By Rebecca Missel

Lior Zaltzman Illustration

Generally, the passing of celebrities affects me none. My Facebook feed fills up with heartfelt tributes, links to a flood of articles recounting their career and quotes from that particular celebrity’s most famous films, songs or shows. I casually glance, maybe even click, but I never really get absorbed, let alone shed a tear. I mean, I’ve never met this person, how could I mourn his or her loss?

Somehow with Joan Rivers, comedy legend, writer and celebrity fashion pundit, I felt truly and profoundly sad. It was the start of Labor Day weekend 2014 when Joan went into cardiac arrest during a routine throat procedure, and after several days in a medically-induced coma, she died at the age of 81. Maybe it’s that I could recite her scene with Miss Piggy in the Muppets Take Manhattan by heart, or that I watched Fashion Police every week or that she was still enjoying an extremely active professional life far beyond the regular retirement age. Maybe it was her unapologetic, brave comedic style that invited us to laugh at her personal insecurities as she plumbed the depths of our own imperfections.

More likely it’s that she kind of reminded me of my grandma, who had died just a few months earlier and who lived not far from Joan’s Upper East Side neighborhood. I was still emerging from the haze and sorrow of my grandma’s much-longer decline, and I remember thinking this was a tragically unfair bookend to a rather emotional summer.

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Sorry Bnei Akiva, You Can't 'Dance at Two Weddings'

By Tiki Krakowski

I never belonged to a youth group. I never attended Bnei Akiva on Shabbat afternoons. This probably makes me a bit of an anomaly as someone who grew up in a religious community, but I was always sort of an outsider, and that’s fine.

So the YouTube video publicized in Haaretz’s recent article of a group of Bnei Akiva girls dancing in black light, their faces obscured by glowing masks, their bodies shadowed in darkness, was both very foreign and yet awkwardly and painfully familiar.

The focus of the Haaretz article is Bnei Akiva’s supposed move towards the right as evidenced by the black light dance- a symbol of the more stringent standards of modesty that are being imposed on Bnei Akiva girls. Many parents have complained due to their concern regarding what they perceived to be a radicalization of the movement.

I watched the video and I know that as a feminist I was meant to be up in arms about the sexualization of young girls and the warped values that view any evidence of female sexuality as a threat. But honestly, that’s old news to me. Mostly, I was just creeped out. On the face of it, the dance routine was exactly like every dance performance I had witnessed during productions at my Orthodox high school- the bad piano music, the awkward choreography, just one beat out of step- but the more I watched the more I realized that this dance was something different.

With their eerie glowing masks and darkened bodies, you could not distinguish one girl from another. All I saw was a line of masks, hands and feet moving in conjunction. Unless a father, or brother or male friend could recognize their daughter/sister/friend by feet and hands alone, what exactly was the point of making all this effort so that they could attend?

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Keeping Orthodox Girls Dancing in Dark

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

(Haaretz) — It’s like homecoming weekend for Orthodox Jewish kids in Israel, minus the football game. The young members of the religious youth movement/scouting movement Bnei Akiva spend a full month preparing for what can only be described combination of a pep rally and a color war, culminating in a big ceremonial performance. It is called “Shabbat Irgun” – literally translated, that means “Organized Shabbat.”

The kids love the tradition. The parents – the ones that I know – have a love/hate relationship with it. (On one hand, the intense planning keeps their children engaged in wholesome activity and away from television and the computer; on the other, it can be demanding on the families of active movement members and distract kids from schoolwork.)

But this year, some parents have a bigger problem with the annual festivities: They are up in arms about an element of the big final show that has become traditional in some Bnei Akiva branches across the country – girls performing dances onstage in the dark with the use of ultraviolet light.

In these dances, the girls are dressed in all black – with parts of their body in white – feet, hands and face, creating an undeniably cool effect that makes their jazz and hip-hop moves visually interesting and dramatic. The black background makes it seem as if their white body parts are somehow floating in space.

The fun effect also, conveniently, completely hides the girls’ bodies, presumably making it possible for those who are so Orthodox that they wouldn’t dance in front of men to do so, allowing men – fathers – who wouldn’t allow themselves to watch teenage girls dance remain in the audience.

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Redacted Bible Stories: Yael

By Meira Levinson

“Giaele e Sisara” by Artemisia Gentileschi via wikicommons

Yael: who’s there?

Sisera: it’s me!!! Sisera!!! help!!!

Yael: u woke me up

Sisera: it’s…the middle of the day

Yael: wtvr. What’re u doing here in the middle of the day

Sisera: Barak’s chasing me — he’s trying to kill me!

Yael: well, you did just lose to him in battle

Sisera: yes but —

Yael: & before that, u kinda totally oppressed his ppl for 20 yrs

Sisera: true, but —

Yael: so I guess you can come in

Sisera: I can??

Yael: drags cigarette sure. Ur ruthless. I admire that in a man. Besides, what r friends for, right?

Sisera: thank u!! ohhhh thank u!!! how can I ever thank you. My mom will thank u…King Yavin will thank u —

Yael: king who?

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Threats and backlash for ultra-Orthodox women seeking political voice

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Racheli Ibenboim, of the Gur Hasidic sect, who was nominated for Jerusalem city council but dropped out after facing threats and intimidation

(Haaretz) — The backlash against ultra-Orthodox women who are daring to demand a public voice in government didn’t come as a big surprise, but it did come swiftly and harshly.

Last week a formal campaign called “No Female Candidate, No Female Vote” was launched to pressure ultra-Orthodox political parties Shas and the United Torah Judaism party to stop excluding women from their party tickets. Their argument: In an era in which ultra-Orthodox Jewish women are already in the public realm, working as journalists, attorneys, doctors or activists, forbidding them to stand for political office makes no sense. These women, who are more often than not both the primary breadwinners in their households and the primary caretakers of the family, deserve direct representation in the Knesset.

An open letter from this group of Haredi women to the Knesset representatives of the ultra-Orthodox parties was circulated on social media, making waves over the weekend. The letter stated that they would refuse to vote for any party that did not include a female candidate — any female candidate — high enough on their tickets to have a realistic chance of winning a spot in the Knesset. The movement put out its message through a Facebook group and a crowdfunding site, and the effort received extensive media coverage.

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Anne Frank? There’s An App for That

By Sarah Breger

Anne Frank, age twelve, Courtesy of the Holocaust Museum

A Dutch publisher released a new smartphone application containing “The Diary of Anne Frank” in its original language.

Besides the published diary, the app has unedited versions of diary entries and writings written by Anne, and an audio-book version read by Carice van Houten, who plays “The Red Woman” on the HBO series Game of Thrones.

Two interactive timelines show photographs from World War II and the annex in Amsterdam where Anne hid. An English version of the app was released last year.


Answering the Plea for Help

By Nathan Guttman

Courtesy of Sara Back

Sara Back is waiting for her deployment order. Sometime in December, the 52-year-old New York nurse-practitioner will board a plane to West Africa — to either Liberia or Sierra Leone, wherever she’s needed more — and join one of the emergency units treating Ebola patients.

It’s a risky mission and Back is well aware of medical staff members who have contracted the disease while treating infected patients. But these concerns are nothing new for the veteran nurse who, in her day job, treats HIV patients in a Bronx clinic. She has also gone on medical missions to Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Jamaica, when those countries experienced an outbreak of HIV.

Back expects to leave on a mission organized by the Boston-based Partners in Health organization. Upon arriving, the team will undergo a weeklong training program on the ground and then treat patients for five weeks. Organizers have found this is the most volunteers can endure, given the extreme work conditions and the emotional burden involved in treating Ebola patients. Then she can expect three weeks of quarantine, hopefully back home in New York.

Courtesy of Sara Back

Back grew up in a Jewish family she describes as “more than Conservative,” which observed Shabbat and kept kosher. She now views herself as “culturally Jewish,” and is not affiliated with any synagogue, but is strongly motivated by her Jewish values, which, in part, are what pushed her to take on this mission. The Forward’s Nathan Guttman spoke to Back about why she is volunteering to go and how the Jewish community can help.

Nathan Guttman: What made you decide to leave everything and sign up for this work in Western Africa?

Sara Back: Initially when the Ebola epidemic started, I was talking to a colleague of mine and I said, “We should do something,” but we thought why would they need us? Then when I saw that they were recruiting people, that’s when I jumped on the bandwagon. I mean, my work in the Bronx is very important, but in some sense any Joe Schmoe can do it, in terms of diagnosing, handing out medication, and social support. But I feel what is needed in these countries is people power. I’m at a point of my life where I don’t have kids, I can take a leave from my job, and I can really do it. I feel that it’s sort of an obligation from my profession. I have the knowledge and I can be that extra pair of hands. If I’m needed, it makes sense that I go.

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'Taking Back The Party' at the University of Virginia

By Sophie Taylor

Protestors outside Phi Kappa Psi. Photograph by Bob Mical/Creative Commons

On Saturday night, I stood on Rugby Road — University of Virginia’s now-infamous fraternity row — shoulder to shoulder with fellow English graduate students and faculty in full regalia. Some of us repainted the side of Beta Bridge — a frequently-used canvass for everything from displays of team spirit to praying for the return of missing student Hannah Graham — with the night’s slogan, “Take Back The Party: End Rape Now!” We held signs — “Throw Parties that Respect Women’s Bodies”; “Party Safe: Don’t Rape” — and chanted: “What do we want? An end to rape! When do we want it? Now!”

This was one of many rallies sparked by Sabrina Erdely’s recent Rolling Stone article describing the horrific gang rape of Jackie, a U-Va. freshman in 2012. Since the incendiary article, U-Va. president Teresa Sullivan has released a total of eleven statements, one of which promised to suspend frats until January 9th (conveniently, the weekend before second semester begins). Overall, the many statements coming from U-Va.’s administration have felt, at least to us in the graduate community, more interested in saving face than in the safety of its students. Sullivan, among others, has invoked Thomas Jefferson, U-Va.’s founder, saying “Jefferson, as he always does, provides a compelling backdrop: It is more honorable to repair a wrong than to persist in it.” The irony in quoting a slave-owning rapist in this context has not been lost on us.

As we stood on the bridge Saturday, cars and pedestrians returning from the big game — U-Va. v Miami — passed by, some people staring, some people cheering along or applauding us. We marched up and down Rugby, and then to “The Corner,” a collection of bars and restaurants by Grounds, frequented by undergrads. As we marched by a particularly packed bar, some men gathered outside and on the balcony shouted at us — “We’re not planning on raping you!”; “Do something productive with your lives for a change!”

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Never Mind The G-Men

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.

Only one day after publishing a front page article relaying FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s demand that all “patriotic” Americans help their government reveal so-called dangerous activities of local communist sympathizers, the image of a neighborhood Jewish woman, arrested on espionage related charges lit up the pages of the Forverts.

On July 29, 1950, Miriam Moskowitz, as seen in the original archival photo in a modest tiered skirt and summery blouse, was photographed walking to her arrest proceedings. Surrounded by FBI agents on both sides, she strode with eyes slightly downcast, head facing upwards and lipstick firmly in place.

Turning the pages of the next day’s Forverts, skipping past the page four in-depth reporting on new evidence about Trotsky’s 1934 assassination, beneath a short article on the United Nation’s troops being sent to Korea—one would read of the long of secret session held that past Saturday by the Federal Grand Jury where they heard testimony leading to Moskowitz’s arrest. Clearly impatient and perhaps even desperate to learn more, the Forverts set out to talk to the suspect’s neighbors.

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Helena Rubenstein, Me and the Beauty Paradox

By Susan Reimer-Torn

Helena Rubinstein by Paul César Helleu, image via wikicommons

Beauty is power and Madame Helena Rubinstein knew just what she was dispensing. Like all enchantments, beauty stirs up passions, its secrets can emancipate or enslave. Like power, beauty can be corrupting or creative; in the hands of an alchemist like Madame, it might even be both.

Admirers of Rubinstein, or Madame as she was called, credit her with liberating women to shape their own aesthetic image. Her critics accuse her of enslaving women to a concern for glamour – and this for the sake of her own wealth and ambition.

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Pregnancy Has Only Made Her More Pro-Choice

By Sarah Breger

On the new episode of The Jewish Channel series “The Salon,” co-hosts Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner and TheLi.st founder Rachel Sklar discuss some exciting news: Sklar’s recently announced pregnancy. In the clip, Sklar talks of the joys and challenges in being 41, single and pregnant.

Unexpectedly, Sklar says her pregnancy has only increased her support of reproductive rights:

“I was always pro-choice — but now I am even so much more pro-choice. Just because in addition to the fact that there are all these things happening to my body — they are welcome to me — but I cannot imagine them being foisted on someone else.”

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Mussolini’s Jewish Lover Who Helped Launch Fascism

By Saviona Mane

Margherita Sarfatti, Photograph via Wikicommons

(Haaretz) On November 14, 1938, shortly after the Italian Racial Laws were passed, Margherita Sarfatti slipped out of her home near Lake Como, got into her car and asked her chauffeur to drive her to the nearby Swiss border.

Among the few belongings the Jewish socialite and art critic had stuck in her two suitcases were 1,272 letters she had received from Benito Mussolini over their 20-year romantic and ideological relationship — a sort of insurance policy. Sarfatti, 58 at the time, would return to Italy only in 1947 after living in exile in France, Argentina and Uruguay.

In addition to art essays she wrote for local newspapers during her exile, Sarfatti published in 1945, shortly after Mussolini’s death, a series of articles in the Argentine paper Crítica in which she revealed details about her relationship with Il Duce. Scholars believe she waited until he no longer had the chance to harm the family members she had left behind in Rome.

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'A Woman of Valor, Who Will Find?' Check Her Hair

By Sarah Zell Young

Photograph courtesy of Sarah Zell Young

After college, I became traditionally observant for the first time, taking on a chunk of religious obligations without really understanding them. Newly relocated to New York, I was new to graduate school and new to the study of Torah. I found a rabbi to teach me the ins and outs of halachic observance and soon after we started studying, he invited me for Shabbos dinner. I was drawn to the family’s recitation of the traditional Friday night table song, “Eishes Chayil” or “Woman of Valor” to the rebbeitzen, their wife and mother.

On the surface, the 22-verse poem taken from Proverbs describes a woman being praised for her character in the framework of serving her husband and household. To mark the end of our time together and remind me of the obligations I was taking on, the rabbi gave me an illuminated plaque of “Eishes Chayil.” Once I found an apartment, I hung it in my tiny bedroom. Mounted directly across from my bed, it was the first thing I saw when I woke up and the last thing I saw before I went to sleep.

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Reinserting Women into the Holocaust Narrative

By Brian Schaefer

Jewish women in Budapest, October 1944. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons

(Haaretz) – On October 7, 1944, Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz blew up a crematorium in an attempted revolt that, while ultimately futile, has become a powerful rebuttal to the claim that Jews succumbed to the Nazis without a fight. Many know this story but few know the names Roza Robota, Estera Wajcblum, Regina Szafirsztajn and Ala Gertner, four women who smuggled gunpowder under their fingernails and stitched it into the seams of their clothes to make the uprising possible.

Their role has been diminished in historical accounts of the event, if mentioned at all, but a new exhibition by the American Jewish Historical Society in Manhattan, called “October 7, 1944,” seeks to reinsert them into the narrative. The exhibition, which opened last month on the 70th anniversary of the revolt and runs through December 30, makes its case in a most unorthodox way: It merges contemporary dance and archival material.

“Holocaust and dance are not common bedfellows,” choreographer Jonah Bokaer told Haaretz. Bokaer, an internationally renowned artist, was commissioned by the historical society to make a 30-minute dance film inspired by the story that is projected on a wall of the exhibition.

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