Sisterhood Blog

First Woman in Her Job, Toronto Rabbi Yael Splansky Has Big Plans

By Michael Kaminer

Copyright Mark Blinch

The Toronto Star headline seemed almost comically anachronistic: “Holy Blossom Temple official appoints a female as senior rabbi”.

But that was the news in Toronto last month as Canada’s largest reform temple named Rabbi Yael Splansky, 43, as its spiritual leader — a first for a major congregation in Canada’s largest city.

“While there are many female rabbis leading smaller congregations or working as associates at large temples,” The Star noted, “the larger synagogues with the bigger congregations and incomes were out of reach.” Holy Blossom serves 2,000 families.

The announcement from Holy Blossom makes official a role Splansky had occupied for more than a year; she’s been employed by the temple since 1998. Splansky will inherit a synagogue in transition. A major renovation is set for its 1938 building in north Toronto, and Splansky plans to expand programming to embrace all life stages, almost literally from cradle to grave.

The Forward’s Michael Kaminer caught up with Splansky, a mother of three boys, from Toronto.

**Michael Kaminer: How have you felt about the news coverage around your appointment? That Toronto Star headline caught my eye. **

Yael Splansky: They say, “All press is good press.” I am grateful for any invitation to call attention to synagogue life in general and to my synagogue in particular. The headline caught my eye, too, of course. I would like to be known by more than my gender, but in a traditional Jewish community like Toronto, the decision to appoint a woman to this senior position is newsworthy.

Read more


Hobby Lobby Puts Women in Second Class Status

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images

Today’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods’ right to deny employees contraception coverage is a disaster both for women and religious minorities. Essentially the decision says that “closely-held” corporations – 90% of American businesses – can choose to exempt employees from contraception coverage, and only contraception coverage. The decision created an illogical barrier between women’s reproductive health care and other kinds of care, adding stigma to contraception and essentially reducing women to second class citizens.

As Ruth Bader Ginsburg writes in a blistering dissent, “the Court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood… invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith,” adding later that, ”working for Hobby Lobby or Conestoga, in other words, should not deprive employees of the preventive care available to workers at the shop next door.”

Ultimately, there were several issues at play.

Whose religious freedom supersedes whose. Employers or their employees? A Jewish or atheist or Muslim woman who is allowed by her own faith and conscience to use hormonal contraception should be free to both do so, and be insured for it without being stopped by her employer who thinks, against scientific fact, that emergency contraception is abortion (it’s not). The uses of contraception are many, from simple birth control to severe pain management and more, and reasons a woman chooses to take the pill or another method should be private, not subject to interrogation by her employer.

Whether health insurance is salary. In America we include health insurance as a benefit that comes with salary, like vacation time and 401(k). This means the employer should be no more able to limit what health insurance covers than whether salary goes to kosher or non-kosher beef, whether a 401(k) is saved or squandered, or whether vacation is spent in Israel, Istanbul or Ibiza.

Read more


Why Cheaper Weddings Are Often More Fun

By Elissa Strauss

The fact that I absolutely love weddings often comes as a surprise to those who know me. This is very likely due to the fact that I have very little interest in wedding planning.

To be blunt, I don’t think most of what usually woman, but increasingly men, occupy themselves with during the planning process really matters. Should you use succulents or flowers for the centerpieces? Should she wear a strapless gown or cap sleeves? Should they walk down the aisle to classical music or classic rock? Should they have a signature cocktail, and if so, what should it be?

Brides and grooms of summer 2014, it’s time to hear the hard truth. Nobody really remembers these things. What they do remember, if all goes well, is the good feeling of watching two people in love declare their commitment to one another in front of family.

Unfortunately, now that weddings have transformed from a party to performance art, brides and grooms are all too often distracted by the line at the photo-booth, the rapidly melting ice sculpture or the fact that the canapés are a little soggy, or whatever other minor detail they have been spent the last year obsessing over. Meanwhile, their guests are just happy to be together, talking, eating, drinking and dancing and really don’t worry about such things – unless of course the clearly preoccupied couple gets in their way. We don’t go to weddings for a great meal or to gawk at the centerpieces, we go to celebrate people we love, and if they don’t look like they are having a good time then it is hard for us guests to have one too.

Read more


Does Buffer Zone Ruling Protect Sidewalk Speech or Harassment?

By Sarah Seltzer

Pro-life demonstrators outside the US Supreme Court following oral arguments in the case of McCullen v. Coakley, in Washington, DC, January 15, 2014 // SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

This week’s Supreme Court decision in McCullen vs. Coakley struck down the fixed-distance “buffer zone” around abortion clinics in Massachusetts. Irin Carmon wrote “The ruling disappointed abortion rights advocates, but it did not surprise them,” noting that when the court agreed to take the case in the first place, pro-choicers were worried.

The law that has been struck down originated after a gruesome, fatal clinic shooting in Brookline. On Twitter, the hashtag #protectthezonebegan to swell with stories from clinic escorts and former patients, detailing menacing, violent harassment they and visitors to clinics had experienced, justifying why a buffer zone was necessary. All this evidence — much of which can be found in Erin Matson’s [wrenching Storify(]https://storify.com/erintothemax/experiences-with-clinic-defense-and-clinic-escorti) — is important. It’s true that harassment of abortion patients is both frightening and out of control.

Read more


Pepi Littman, Yiddish Drag King

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.

The image of early 20th century itinerant member of the Broder Singers (and Yiddish drag king) Pepi ‘Peshe Khane’ Littman (1874-1930) seen here as ‘the griner bucher’ (the inexperienced bachelor) calls to mind the bawdy Yiddish saying: es zol dir dunern in boykh un blitsn in di hoyzn (may you have thunder in your belly and, — more importantly perhaps — lightning in your pants.)

Electricity was precisely what Pepi brought to the then nascent field of Yiddish women performers: either in drag as a young hasidic man costumed in a long black satin coat, high peaked silk yarmulka, white knee-socks and breeches, or as a dandy bachelor, sumptuously filling out a handsomely tailored three piece suit. Pepi was a charming transgressive star delivering original Yiddish lyrics and drawing fans from literary circles, including those based around the “grandfather” of Yiddish literature, Mendele Moykher Sforim.

Read more


Are 'No Body Talk' Summer Camps Good for Girls?

By Elissa Strauss

At Eden Village, a Jewish organic farm summer camp in Putnam Valley, New York, there is a firm house rule against body talk. Campers are to refrain from talking about their appearances or the appearances of others, and this includes commenting on clothing too, so no telling Rachel her flip-flops are cute.

As described in a recent New York Times article about the rise of “no body talk” summer camps, the boys and girls who attend Eden Village are encouraged to welcome the Shabbat by complementing one another’s shining souls rather than the way they look. The bathroom mirrors are adorned with sayings like “don’t check your appearance, check your soul.”

The camp directors said that adopting the rule felt obvious. “This is good,” Vivian Stadlin, who founded the camp with her husband Yoni six years ago, told the Times, “This is powerful. This is magical.” She spoke about how free the kids feel to explore their identities, including how they dress, in this judgement-free setting.

Eden Village camper Rachel Steinig, a 14-year-old high school freshman from Mount Airy, Pa., who is returning for her third season this summer, said that she feels like the body talk ban pushes her fellow campers to pay more attention to who she is as a person. “Your dress isn’t really you, it’s just something you bought. But whether you are a good friend, that’s truly you,” she told the Times.

Read more


The Dead Mothers Club

By Chanel Dubofsky

Molly Shannon in ‘The Dead Mothers Club’

This morning on the train, I started reading “The Goldfinch,” Donna Tart’s enormous novel that won the Pulitzer this year. Five pages in, you learn that Theo, the protagonist, has a life that’s been separated by the “dividing mark” of his mother’s death, Before and after. This would ring familiar to anyone with a dead mother, or a dead parent, or a sick parent or friend. The moment before the death, in hindsight, seems like it was lived by an entirely different person, someone who’s now unrecognizable.

Read more


Goodbye, Dov Charney

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images // Dov Charney

Goodbye, Dov Charney. Last week, trendy t-shirt and legging manufacturer American Apparel said genug to the antics of its “controversial” (and Jewish) CEO Dov Charney, known for being the sleaziest head honcho in an industry hardly known for its puritanism. I’ll never forget reading the profile of him in my favorite lady-magazine that included the detail of him masturbating in front of the reporter. Gross. Combine his rumored and non-rumored antics with the porn-resembling, discomfort-producing exploitation of his company’s ad campaigns and brand and you get a pretty big disincentive from shopping at American Apparel.

Read more


Debating My Boyfriend Over Israel's Orthodox Rule

By Noga Gur Arieh

Noga and her boyfriend

When I imagined my wedding day as an Israeli Jew, I envisioned choosing one of the alternatives to the Orthodox process. It would be a non-religious or a Reform ceremony, in which my partner and I would be treated as equal, a ceremony in I could express my love, and not stand as an empty, smiling vassal. To my disappointment, I recently learned that my partner does not share this wedding-day vision of mine.

Not long ago, we attended a wedding, and during the ceremony, I spelled out my dream to him. Then, in what turned out to be a part discussion/part argument, he told me he was not willing to skip the traditional Jewish Orthodox wedding. I explained the humiliation I feel just by thinking about all the processes I would have to go through as a Jewish woman. He said he was sorry I feel this way, but that he must put his foot down: tradition is important to him, and he was raised to respect it. The thought of this matter threatening to break us up sometime in the future was unsettling, but I just couldn’t see myself choosing his path.

Read more


When Fanny Brice Made the Follies

By Chana Pollack

Forward Association

Fanny Brice (born Fania Borach) of Forsyth Street, and later on, further uptown and even New Jersey, opened her career-making act as the Yiddish “Salome” with this line: “I’ve been a bad woman, but such good company, Nu?”

Read more


Hey, Are You Proud of Raunchy Comic Kid?

By Frimet Goldberger

America’s Got Talent

Dear Tina Orlian (Former Sword-Swallower),

I would like to begin my letter by thanking you for allowing your son, Josh Orlian, to entertain us on America’s Got Talent the other night.

As every good Jew, I watched your 12-year-old son, whom your family has embraced as Naughty Josh in these cute Instagram photos, shock the judges and audience with lewd jokes about the size of his penis and his parent’s sex lives.

One of the better lines came when Josh related that he came back from circus camp and asked to learn the trick of sword swallowing, which you immediately dismissed. “So I was upset and went to talk to my dad about this. He said ‘I’m not surprised; your mother has not been interested in sword swallowing since we got engaged.”’

I watched you calm his nerves before the show, assuring him that tatty and mommy will laugh, even if no else does. I watched you shep Yiddish nachas while sitting in the audience, and gloat when the four naughty judges voted him through to Vegas, where I am sure he will perform more brilliant vulgar jokes related to his man parts and his parents’ sex lives. I particularly enjoyed your second blurb before he went onstage, in which you said that your little schmekel has never done anything public before, but you always laugh at his jokes, because, you know, you’re his mother.

Read more


Why Vaccination is a Jewish Thing To Do

By Elissa Strauss

Thinkstock

A recent report out of California informs us that a Whooping Cough epidemic continues to grow in the state, with more than 3.400 reported cases so far this year, already topping 2013’s totals.

The health department reports that two-thirds of the people hospitalized have been children four months or younger, and two infant deaths have been reported. Infants, who are too young to be immunized, are most vulnerable to the highly infectious bacterial disease.

Read more


Why I Broke Up With JDate

By Jen Glantz

Jen Glantz on JDate

“It’s not you, it’s me,” I said, waving my mouse over the “delete you profile” button on my JDate account. Like all cheesy and overused break up lines, that often serve as our first strike of defense when we’re eager to avoid the real reason why we’re picking up and running in the opposite direction, this one had a whole lot of truth to it.

JDate was the very first online dating site that I joined. I had been living in New York City for a year and found that meeting quality guys was not as easy as finding a quality slice of pizza in this city.

Read more


It's Time for a #Balebuste Revolution

By Frimet Goldberger

When I am asked to write a bio of myself and my very short career as a writer, I am always tempted to add “balebuste” next to “writer” and “mother.” But instead of using a word that connotes housewife, I settle for “baker,” because, let’s face it, bakers can be learned and cultured, whereas balebustes are stereotypically standing over a pot of soup while the challah dough is rising and the baby is latching onto the hem of their frumpy punjelos (Hungarian Yiddish for a housecoat or robe).

Read more


#FreetheNipple for the Win

By Elissa Strauss

Thinkstock

Ladies and gentleman, the nipples have been freed. A few weeks ago Facebook quietly changed its policy on allowing pictures of breastfeeding moms.

A Facebook representative told CNET: “We have always allowed breast-feeding photos — it is natural and beautiful and we know that it’s important for mothers to share their experiences with others on Facebook.”

Read more


Daughters of Russ and Daughters

By Elissa Strauss

The new documentary “The Sturgeon Queens” explores the history and legacy of Russ and Daughters, the Lower East Side’s famed purveyor of smoked fish which has been appetizing its way into our mouths and hearts for one-hundred years now. The Sisterhood’s Elissa Strauss spoke with writer and producer Julie Cohen about why she decided to tell this story, the shops unusual and proto-feminist name and how she got the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Mario Batali to get really personal about smoked salmon.

Read more


A Son for Ayelet's Parents

By Uriel Heilman

Akiva Galena

(JTA) — In January 2012, Hindy Poupko and Seth Galena shared the tragic news with tens of thousands of readers that they had lost their 2-year-old daughter, Ayelet Galena, to a rare bone disease.

For months, the couple had chronicled their daughter’s struggle with the disease on a Tumblr blog, amassing tens of thousands of followers in the process.

Now the couple has a reason to rejoice: a new baby, Akiva Max Galena, named yesterday at his bris. Like the story of their daughter, they shared news of Akiva’s birth on their blog, Ayelet Nation.

Here’s some of what Seth Galena said in his bris speech:

So for our Akiva, I know you are in a little pain now, but we want you to know your big sister Ayelet will always be looking out for you. She has given us and everyone here a life affirming strength and now you have provided the ultimate comfort of knowing that our prayers, that everyone’s prayers, were not left unanswered.

”Akiva Nechamtanu, Akiva Nechamtanu”

On behalf of Hindy and myself, I just want to thank everyone for being with us, now and for the past few years. You kept us standing…

And special thanks to the NIH, who told us to give them 5-10 years to find the genetic mutation, and finding it in less than 2 – for making our dreams come true.

What father’s day gift. Hashem has truly blessed us.

Ayelet Galena


I Fainted at My Nephew's Bris

By Zachary Thacher

Zachary Thacher

My father and I arrived late to the synagogue in the Bronx. It was the morning of my brother’s son’s bris, the Jewish ritual circumcision. There were 60 people crammed in an annex meant for half that many. We took the only two chairs left, in the first row. When I sat down I realized why they had been empty. We were inches from the table where the mohel would slice the foreskin from my newborn nephew.

We were late due to the fact that I had come down with the flu, and also because my father, Fred, had made the trip from Boston starting at 4 am in his beater car.

The day was cold and sharp but inside the air was thick with the heat of bodies.

Read more


To The Father Who Raised Us — My Husband

By Frimet Goldberger

Frimet Goldberger’s children, Shloimy, age 9 and Rachel, age 7.

While the daughters and sons of America are celebrating their fathers, I am spending my Father’s Day celebrating my husband, the man who raised us — our family — and stood by me through the tumultuous journey to help me build a new foundation from the ground up.

My husband, for those of you who don’t know him, is an unlikely match for a woman like me. Where I am loud and willing to share deeply-personal stories, he is a fiercely private man who loathes publicity. (He asked not to have a photo of him appear with this blog post.) Where I am the gregarious half interested in meeting others, he is the homebody who prefers to spend time with his loved ones.

Read more


Q&A With the Co-Creator of Feminist Phone Intervention

By Sarah Seltzer

bell hooks

Aggressive men in bars, get ready to have your minds opened by feminist texts. An anonymous radical activist pair has started a project called the “feminist phone intervention.” How it works? Essentially, it’s a hotline that’s also a fake number. If someone asks for a woman’s digits too aggressively, she can offer this number instead, and any texts or calls sent to the number will receive a randomly-generated quote from feminist thinker bell hooks in response. As the site says, “protect your privacy while dropping some feminist knowledge when your unwanted ‘suitor’ calls or texts.“

The Sisterhood’s Sarah Seltzer conducted a Q+A with one of the two Jewish feminists who set up the hotline, which is soon to go open-source so it can be used internationally. She refers to herself as a “Bronx-born Latina activist researching the history of the US radical press, especially the Yiddish anarchist newspapers” and is thrilled with the response her project is getting. “I hope that this rather modest project will offer another simple option for talking back to the sexism of everyday life,” she said.

Read more


Would you like to receive updates about new stories?






















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.