Nicolò Barabino’s 1884 mural “Faith with Representations,” at the National Museum of Women in the Arts
An exhibit about the Virgin Mary, which is curated by a Florentine priest, makes the case that the mother of Jesus must be understood, at least in part, as a Jewish woman.
That the Christian messiah’s mother was born in a Jewish home is one of several seeming contradictions with which the Gospel of James wrestles, wrote Miri Rubin, a history professor at London’s Queen Mary University, in the “Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea” exhibit catalog.
Speaking at a press preview of the exhibit, on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts until April 12, curator, Msgnr. Timothy Verdon, a priest and director of Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, reminded reporters that Mary is also relevant to Jews and Muslims. (“If anything,” he said, Mary has “a more fascinating place in the Koran than her son does.”)
“Mary is, after all, a daughter of her people,” he said. “The way the Christian gospels describe her, she is the fullness of all that the Jewish scriptures propose as significant and courageous and noble in womanhood.”
Both religious and non-religious viewers can benefit from seeing the exhibit, according to Verdon; religious people “certainly will remain deeply moved by these images,” and secular viewers can relate to “our universal experiences as daughters and sons of women.”
Not much is known of Mary’s life, but, according to apocryphal texts, she was raised in the Jewish temple, where she later married, and was thus aware of Jewish rituals. She and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the temple and offered a sacrifice “in obedience to Jewish ritual law,” Verdon writes in the catalog. And in his woodcut of Jesus’ circumcision, which foreshadows the crucifixion, Albrecht Dürer “counts on his public to know that she [Mary] was brought up in the temple and understands its rites,” Verdon wrote.
Photograph via Flickr/Creative Commons
As an Orthodox Jew who believes in the world to come while participating pretty fully in the world at large, I will admit that there are certain things I like about Christmas aka “the holiday season.” I like the festive spirit, the Starbucks sweet and spicy Christmas blend coffee, and the colorful lights illuminating the short, dark December days.
Most of all, I appreciate that, at this time of year, people feel called on to practice random or even willful acts of kindness and generosity such as donating money and toys to the needy or allowing someone with fewer items to go ahead of them in the supermarket.
Yet I didn’t always feel this way. As a Jewy little girl Jewish girl growing up in less-than-Jewy Wilmington, Delaware, I wasn’t very happy with Christmas. I dreaded having strangers on city buses ask me what I wanted Santa to bring me, I was embarrassed that we were one of only two houses on the block with a wreathless door, but most of all, I hated having to stand up in front of my non-Jewish elementary school classmates and talk about Chanukah.
How could our waxy-candled menorahs and our measly little chocolate gelt and dreidels, compare with their large evergreens, lawn reindeers, and big, important gifts?
Photograph via flickr
Merav Michaeli, the Israeli journalist and women’s rights activist-turned-Knesset member for the Labor Party, is a sign of hope for a progressive future in Israel. Last Tuesday, she tried to convince an exclusive crowd of worried Jewish leftists gathered in an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that there was hope for the upcoming elections and for the future of a democratic Israel. The talk was sponsored by the progressive Zionist organization Ameinu, and also included journalists, professors, high-ranking members of the New Israel Fund and Encounter, along with representatives from Hillel, Habonim Dror, and others. What followed was a passionate, sometimes heated, and surprisingly optimistic discussion of the future of the Jewish State and the role American Jews can play.
*The first question asked was about the nationality bill, the controversial proposed law to officially declare Israel the “Nation-State of the Jewish People.” This question proved an easy one—since there is no Knesset, there will be no nationality bill. When there is a new Knesset, its makeup will likely be so different that it won’t even be proposed again.
Photograph via Flash90
Orit Struck may be a leading figure in the Tekuma [Revival] bloc of the Bayit Ha-Yehudi [Jewish Home] party in Israel, but it appears feminism “struck out” in its latest turn at electoral bat. This week, the ultra-hawkish faction of the right-wing party withdrew its threat to abandon Natfali Bennett for a new ultra-Orthodox Zionist movement. Struck celebrated the decision as a victory for feminism, since she would have been forbidden as a woman to run in the new party. Yet, more likely, this was yet another backroom deal amongst male politicians.
Struck is an unlikely feminist heroine in recent Israeli political history. A sabra, she grew up in Jerusalem and became a “baalat teshuva” as a teenager, gravitating toward religious Zionism. For the past 30 years she has lived in the Jewish enclave in Hebron, where the 54-year-old mother of 11 made her reputation as a firebrand extra-parliamentary political activist. In 2013, she was elected to the 19th Knesset in the tenth spot (of 12) of the Jewish Home list, joining female colleagues Ayelet Shaked and Shuli Mualem.
“The prognosis is very poor,” she told me that night over the phone.
Joan, my therapist at the time, had keeled over while painting in an art class. “If she lives,” Barbara explained to me, as she’d been explaining and would continue to explain over the phone to Joan’s patients all night, “she won’t ever be able to practice therapy again.”
Disbelieving, I asked Barbara if I could see her for a session to discuss my sudden loss of Joan. During the week, waiting for my session with Barbara, I kept clutching my stomach as if I’d been kicked there. A part of me felt that I couldn’t go on without Joan in my life. I’d been seeing and working with her for 20 years on a weekly basis. I often referred to her as “my good mother,” as opposed to my own mother, who wasn’t actually “bad,” no evil Queen trying to goad me into eating the poisoned apple—just distant and depressed.
Courtesy of Jessie Kornberg
If you haven’t yet heard of the public interest law firm Bet Tzedek — the time has come.
On December 1, Los Angeles attorney Jessie Kornberg was appointed as the organization’s next president and CEO. The San Francisco Bay Area native was chosen after a four-month search and will be the first woman to hold that position. Bet Tzedek (Hebrew for “home of justice”) was founded 40 years ago to give legal assistance to Holocaust survivors and other seniors. Today, Bet Tzedek has about 60 employees and almost 2,000 pro bono volunteers providing legal support to the needy of all backgrounds in Los Angeles. In 2013 alone, the organization contributed more 53,000 hours to about 15,000 people.
On a national and global level, Bet Tzedek’s Holocaust Survivors Justice Network has trained attorneys around the world in how to aid survivors, helping thousands obtain reparations.
The Forward’s Julie Sugar spoke with Kornberg, 32, about Bet Tzedek’s work and Kornberg’s own pursuit of justice throughout her career.
Julie Sugar: Was there a moment during the interview process when you thought, “This is the organization for me”?
Jessica Kornberg: I very much felt that way going into it. I never thought I would get it! I’ve always been a huge supporter of Bet Tzedek and have been connected to the organization for many years, as a peer and a donor and as an admiring observer.
Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.
On Saturday night December 14, 1929, the Forverts announced, Malke Locker was scheduled to give a performance of Yiddish, Hebrew, Italian and German folk songs—plus a few Hasidic nigunim.
Born in 1887 in Kuty, to a Hasidic family in the Carpathian mountain range of Galicia (currently Ukraine), Malke’s formal education ended at 12, but having an innate interest in languages, and a talent for music and literary studies, Locker continued to read German and Yiddish literature on her own. She was to become a published Yiddish poet, multi-lingual essayist and writer who though committed to Zionist ideals, chose to remain rooted in Yiddish.
Attending local Socialist-Zionist circles while still in Kuty, she deepened her knowledge of political and social science and met her future husband, fellow Galician native and cousin, Berl Locker. He was a Yiddish journalist, noted Zionist leader and future head of the Zionist Labor Party. They married in 1910 began journeying between various capital cities, moving from Lvov/Lemberg to Vienna, the Hague, Bern, Stockholm,Tel Aviv and eventually New York City. They were sent by Israel’s provisional government to live out the Nazi blitz of World War II in London—and returned to the newly founded State of Israel only in 1948.
Naftali Bennett wants you to know he is a man. Really The Man.
Naftali Bennett — leader of the nationalist HaBayit HaYehudi [Jewish Home] party and current Minister of the Economy — kicked off the Israeli election tradition of outlandish and attention grabbing ads this week with a two-minute video clip. In it we see the stereotypical Tel Aviv hipster — he wears flannel! he reads Haaretz! he even has a sweater-clad pug! — in his natural habitat.
A waitress spills coffee on him, a (mysteriously dark-skinned) man rear ends him, a woman steals his bike rental — but he never gets angry. Quite the contrary — he profusely apologizes despite not being at fault. In fact, that is all Mr. Hipster says to everyone he encounters—“Sorry, Sorry.” Finally, he whips off his plastic framed glasses and beard a la Clark Kent to reveal Alpha Male Bennett (complete with chest hair). Bennett promises us that, unlike these Tel Aviv weaklings, he will stop apologizing. Support HaBayit HaYehudi, he tells us, for a Zionism that does not apologize.
When the ultrasound technician told us that we were expecting a boy, I was in complete shock.
After two daughters, it had never occurred to me that I could have a son. I teased my sister-in-law that if the baby was a boy, I would send him to her house to be raised with my three nephews. When people asked me if I knew what to do with a boy, I’d retort, “Give him to you!”
As I reclined in the medical chair and watched the technician move the wand over my protruding belly so that we could see his hands, his feet, his eyes, his heartbeat, I looked at the screen in a state of total disbelief.
I remembered that feeling again this week as I sat in a room with over one hundred other women and a few men. My hands rested protectively on my even-more protruding belly, feeling my yet-to-be-born son roll around and stretch his limbs, as I listened to mothers who described other feelings at learning that they would have a son: fear, anxiety, even regret.
Illustration by Lior Zaltzman
Some Grandmas play bridge, mahjong, or golf. I play eHarmony, JDate, and Match.com. In the past two years, I’ve corresponded with shrinks, rabbis, and a man who mentioned he has to be catheterized three times a day, but was very loving.
It used to be women of a certain age, the sweet spot between AARP and shiva, had to be formally invited on a date. They’d hope their friends would set them up with Harold the ancient widower or good old always available Uncle Joe. What a lame system.
As a woman approaching the biblical threescore and ten, oops just did that, I’m not a newbie in life. I work at a great bookstore, write books, even do review segments on radio and TV. And I can be found predawn at the gym lifting weights and catching up on the latest news. Full disclosure, my favorite thing to say there is “good-bye”.
Clockwise from top left, Rabbi Lori Shapiro of Open Temple, Rabbi Lizzie Heydemann of Mishkan Chicago, Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar, Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum of the Kavana Cooperative, Rabbi Noa Kushner of the Kitchen and Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva. (Photos courtesy of the congregations)
(JTA) — A decade ago in Los Angeles, two organizations opened their doors with a call to prayer — or they would have if they had any doors to open.
Ikar, led by Rabbi Sharon Brous, and Nashuva, led by Rabbi Naomi Levy, were conceived separately. But when they launched in 2004, both offered a novel, and in many ways similar, approach to Jewish spirituality and community — regularly scheduled, rabbi-led services that were not affiliated with any movement or institution, that met in rented space, and that were avowedly not synagogues.
“We were trying to walk into the conversation about Jewish identity and community and ritual without preconceived ideas about where we would land,” Brous told JTA, describing the beginnings of Ikar. “What we were trying to do didn’t follow any model that already existed.”
Since then, however, the format pioneered by Nashuva and Ikar has become its own recognizable model, and similar spiritual communities with a noticeably common style have sprung up in a number of other cities across the country.
Prayer is designed to be heartfelt and arouse the spirit. Often there is clapping, dancing and singing without words. Worshipers tend to skew young, informal and hip. The groups don’t own buildings; typically they meet in up-and-coming or already desirable neighborhoods.
The communities are led by charismatic rabbis who stress innovation and outreach to Jews who feel alienated from existing Jewish institutions. They are nondenominational. They often don’t know exactly how to describe themselves.
And most, but not all, have one more common element: They were founded, and are still being led by, female rabbis.
In 2006, Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum launched The Kavana Cooperative in Seattle. In 2011, Rabbi Noa Kushner opened The Kitchen in San Francisco and Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann initiated Mishkan Chicago in the Windy City. In 2012, Rabbi Lori Shapiro started Open Temple in the West Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice.
Bratz dolls. Courtesy: MGA Entertainment
(Haaretz) — We modern parents do our best to empower our little girls. We assure our daughters that they are strong, smart, capable and can be anything they want to be - doctors, lawyers, athletes, scientists or world leaders. At the same time, we try to teach our boys to be kind, sensitive and nurturing as well as tough - and make sure they understand it isn’t unmanly to know their way around a sink full of dishes and a pile of laundry.
But then they open their Hanukkah or Christmas gifts, and what do they get? The girls received tea sets, fluffy stuffed animals, Barbie dolls, and arts and crafts materials - while their brothers receive cars and trucks, Legos, dinosaurs, trains, model airplanes and science kits. The gifts are often given by well-meaning relatives who are directed to such items in toy stores that delineate the aisles by gender - toys for girls, and toys for boys. A world neatly divided into blue and pink.
A new effort underway this holiday season, called “No Gender December” is making waves in Australia. The push is sponsored by a non-profit group and spearheaded by a senator in the Greens Party named Larissa Waters. The campaign’s web site declares that children “should be free to decide which toys interest them, without being informed by gendered marketing that something is ‘for them’ or ‘not for them.’”
The messages, the campaign claims, give early societal reinforcement to bullies who harass peers who dare to buck the stereotypes - girls who dig science or boys who like to cook. We are encouraged to take a “pledge” against gender-stereotype toy-buying” this holiday season because “gender stereotypes limit children’s imagination and development.”
So far, fairly par for the course. The part of the campaign that grabbed national attention and engendered controversy was the claim by Waters and the campaign that gender-defined toys can have some alarming consequences in the long haul.
Watters asserted that “setting such stark gender roles at such an early age can have a long-term impacts on our children, including impacting self-perception and career choices later in life… Out-dated stereotypes about girls and boys and men and women, perpetuate gender inequality, which can feed into very serious problems such as domestic violence and the gender pay gap.”
Illustration by Lior Zaltzman
When I was eight, my mother gave me a little yellow book of Jewish folk sayings: “If Grandma had Wheels.” A strange gift for a Black child, but that didn’t stop me from reading and reciting the wise and witty one-liners. I ate and slept with the tome. So at 35, I’m not surprised that I’m addicted to the Jewish queen of smart and biting remarks, Judge Judith Sheindlin.
A New York prosecutor and judge with over 20 years in the courtroom, she has dominated the Nielsen charts since her daily court show “Judge Judy” debuted in September 1996. The Emmy Award-winning show remains in the top ten today, famous for her ability to sift through litigants’ dirt and root out the truth, but not before silencing a babbling defendant with a stern, “Don’t tell me what the judge said. I just read what the judge said. Sit down,” or warning a plaintiff, “If you’re winning, keep your mouth shut.”
Judge Judy doesn’t just dole it out from the bench. She’s the producer of the new show “Hot Bench” and author of four bestsellers including “Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining.”
“It was a shock to come into a prominent leadership position in the Jewish community and realize that the Jewish community was behind all of those other systems,” remembers Ruth Messinger who was named to lead American Jewish World Service in 1998.
I interviewed Messinger about gender equality in Jewish not-for-profits and contrasted her voice with the insights of two younger women who had just become CEOs this year: Naomi Adler who is heading the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and Stosh Cotler, who was recently named head of the social justice organization Bend the Arc.
All three women believe the Jewish community is still lagging behind the general population when it comes to gender equality in the workplace, despite paying lip service to equal treatment.
Illustration by Lior Zaltzman
When a grown woman and her seventy-something mother engage in yearly debates about the existence of Santa, I think we can agree: there’s a problem. Of course, my mother believes the problem is mine, while I tag her as the source of the annual angst. But who’s telling this story?
My mother, a bookish only child, grew up yearning for a house full of kids and a big, old-fashioned Christmas, like the ones Louisa May Alcott wrote about. My father, who had ditched his nominal Judaism by the time he married my mom, was willing to comply with her yuletide agenda.
And so began my mother’s strictly secular, Euro-inspired holiday extravaganza. It started early in December each year, with the cookie baking. Buttery Swedish stars; Viennese crescents, rolled warm in vanilla-scented powdered sugar; gingerbread men; Swiss chocolate crisps; linzer cookies, each with its shiny pocket of raspberry jam. Over a three-week period, with her three children as floury assistants, my mother rolled out as many as fifteen different varieties at our Formica kitchen table, carefully packing the finished batches between layers of waxed paper in tins to be stowed in the basement freezer. By my mother’s decree, the cookies would emerge for the first time on Christmas Eve; sampling them before that date was verboten.
Later in the month, we adorned the house with simple pine cone decorations (no tacky plastic Santas in my mother’s home), and we kids fashioned homemade gifts to stash in secret hiding places. The holiday rituals continued with the tree selection (December 20, not a day earlier) and, on the evening of the 23rd, the decoration: while classical music played softly on WQXR, we took out the ornaments while my mother related the story behind every wooden Waldorf gnome, vintage glass ball, or lumpy, pre-school-made button string. The next night, we ate fondue in front of the fireplace, dunking warm pieces of baguette into the melted Gruyere, before hanging our stockings. Finally, there was the ceremonial, dramatic reading of A Visit From St. Nicholas (that’s The Night Before Christmas for you non-literary sticklers).
Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.
If Socialists borrowed more from Jewish dynastic traditions, and had been in the habit of producing a yikhes briv charting one’s pedigree, Gertude Weil Klein’s would be pretty impressive. Her father, Joseph Weil created the emblem for New York’s Socialist Party. It featured an arm holding a torch symbolizing liberty, and can be still seen on the original Forward building at 175 East Broadway here in the city, and on our early mastheads.
A committed multi-tasking labor lawyer, Joseph Weill was known as someone willing to perform any task necessary, from sweeping meeting halls to writing and lecturing on socialism. Reportedly, when Forverts founding editor Ab Cahan gave his first outdoor address, he did standing on a platform constructed by Weil. Her mother, similarly, taught political science at Columbia University, the New School for Social Research and the Rand School for Social Science. To support the 1912 tailor strike, Weil was instrumental in organizing what was considered the largest emergency kitchen, at the Brooklyn Labor Lyceum, where the entire Weil family worked.
Oszmiana, Poland. Still from Polish home movie c. 1920s-30s. From the Archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
Most of the figures who appear in Péter Forgács’ collages of films, which American Jews took in the 1920s and 1930s of family and friends in Poland, are men. They don and remove hats; they horse around during family photo shoots; they drive horse-drawn buggies down streets; they juggle; they smoke; they look thoughtfully at books.
Women appear less prominently in the films, which are on view in “Letters to Afar” (through March 22, 2015) at the Museum of the City of New York. In some instances, they literally circumventing male counterparts who (seemingly unintentionally) obstruct the camera’s view of them. The women blow kisses here and wave there, and, as a catalog essay notes, “cast seductive glances … an elderly woman turns away her wig-covered head.”
Of the former group, one film’s male narrator adds in a description of Lodz: “It’s exciting to swim through this teeming crowd. These women in furs. Their heads drawn in between their shoulders. Their hats in their faces. The slender girls with a touch of perversity. Big dangling earrings. Heavy overshoes. Black gazes. They are starting to dress up their faces.”
Photograph via wikicommons
(JTA) — As I lay in the hospital bed with my new daughter Sonya’s slippery skin pressed to mine, I knew this would be the scariest day of my life. It was the first day in 25 years that I ever willingly skipped prayers.
I’d been in treatment for severe obsessive-compulsive disorder for most of my 34 years. I’ve cut myself, starved myself and scrubbed my hands raw. I kiss our apartment mezuzah one, two, sometimes 50 times, and our family is hardly observant. But daily prayer is the one healthy practice I’ve kept the longest, and it’s grounded me when I feel most unmoored. It’s also been the hardest to explain.
Growing up, we belonged to a Reform synagogue and had chicken soup and challah for Shabbat every week. My mom taught my brother, sister and me to say the Shema prayer before bed each night. It gave closure to each day and made my mom smile, and that was all I needed.
But soon one Shema wasn’t enough for me. When I was 11, my aunt and father died in short succession. I was sure it was my fault, and I had to atone before I struck again. After my mother would tuck me in, I added five, 10, 20 recitations, a song of thanks and a list of sick people I needed to heal. I remember nights when I woke up frantic and hot, furious that I’d fallen asleep despite more prayers to say, kisses to blow to the heavens.
In high school I snuck into dark closets not to kiss boys but to chant Psalms. I went on medication briefly in college, but took myself off fearing it was blasphemous and my mom would die next. When I moved in with my future husband, Jay, he watched me kiss my mezuzah urgently.
“I just wish you felt like you had to kiss me 250 times when you walked through that door,” he said, his sadness palpable.
Now in the hospital with a newborn crying for milk, I had someone I could actually take care of with my hands instead of my prayers. I looked through the hospital window and smiled shyly at the sky: I wanted Him to know I was so wildly grateful for this child that no words could suffice. I held Sonya tightly and babbled at her to fill the empty space that was my fear.
Those first 24 hours were a terrifying relief. No one died.
Illustration by Lior Zaltzman
In last week’s editorial, Jane Eisner once again fretted about the state of contemporary American Judaism, most pointedly about the purported declining fertility rate amongst non-Orthodox Jews as touted by the infamous (and frankly overplayed) 2013 Pew survey. While she proposed no actual, feasible solution to this problem (or rather, this set of statistics presented as a problem), she exhibited a paranoia about the extinction of American non-Orthodox Jewry mainly due to her arbitrary rubric of what an appropriate Jew can and should be.
Eisner severely delineates between Orthodox Jewry and non-Orthodox Jewry, the latter characterized as “progressive Jews,” ostensibly Jews that are a part of the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements as well as the unaffiliated. In her piece, she points to comparisons of fertility rates between American Orthodox Jewry and the aforementioned subgroups of non-Orthodox Jewish strains, citing one analysis that “there are 5,000 more Orthodox Jews and 10,000 fewer non-Orthodox ones in America, every year.”
What Eisner fails to illustrate is the significance of how or why this is problematic.
Lot And His Daughters by Joachim Antonisz Wtewael (c.1600)
If you ever wonder why a movie got the rating it did, there’s a box at the bottom of every movie poster that explains not only what the rating is, but also its reason. So, if you object to violence but not sex, or drugs but not foul language, you can know whether that movie is likely to offend your sensibilities. These little boxes allow us to selectively choose our vices, while avoiding those we find unappealing.
The Torah has no such warning labels. The holiness of standing at Mount Sinai is juxtaposed with the plague of idolatry, and the sordid tales of the sexual escapades of the Israelites and Midianites immediately follow the blessings of Bilaam. Genesis is especially diverse, interspersing stories of blessings given and covenants fulfilled, with war, murder, and sex both permissible and illicit.
These juxtapositions are especially clear in Genesis 34, where Jacob’s daughter Dinah is taken and raped by a foreign prince. Upon hearing of the violation of his daughter, Jacob remains silent, leaving the response to his sons. And two of those sons, Simeon and Levi, use the rape as an excuse to commit genocide against the city of Shechem, killing all of the men and reaping the city’s spoils. Surely, this is not a story for children.