Sisterhood Blog

How I Learned My Opinions Matter

By Frimet Goldberger

Frimet Goldberger and her children at her graduation from Sarah Lawrence College

Three weeks ago, I learned that Barbara Walters gets her gumption from my alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College.

The legendary female doyen of American media made a surprise appearance to rousing applause before Fareed Zakaria’s keynote address.

In her two-minute speech, Walters quoted Joseph Campbell, her professor at Sarah Lawrence College all those decades ago, who exhorted his students to follow their “bliss.” “If you’re like me [at graduation],” she said, “and you have no idea what your bliss is, get a job. I promise you that bliss will come.” Then she mentioned her famous interview with Vladimir Putin in 2001 in which she asked, rather boldly, if Putin ever killed anyone during his tenure at the KGB.

He said: “No, that was not my department.”

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Take Your Sons to the Dishwasher Day

By Elissa Strauss

Thinkstock

I’m part of the first generation to have experienced “Take Our Daughters to Work Day,” founded by Gloria Steinem and the Ms. Foundation in 1992. We were taken to (mostly) our Dad’s offices, allowed to scribble on yellow legal pads with a bevy of ballpoint pens and highlighters, and then later taken for tuna sandwiches at the local lunch spot. Somewhere during all those truly fun activities, we were supposed to absorb the message that we could one day work at an office too.

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Queen for a Day at My Daughter's Wedding

By Dotty Brown

Dotty Brown and her husband walk their daughter down the aisle.

Transitions… I feel as if I’m moving through a new one I hadn’t considered before.

Recently, my “baby” — the youngest of my three daughters — got married, following in her sisters’ footsteps. It was a moment we had long anticipated, encouraged, hoped for, and — finally — celebrated.

Yay! And yet….

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Jenny Slate Takes on Abortion in 'Obvious Child'

By Sarah Seltzer

In the new romantic comedy “Obvious Child” Jenny Slate’s character, Donna, is a self-described “menorah on top of the [Christmas] tree that burns it down.” She’s referring to her prospects with a nice goyishe boy from Vermont, with whom she proceeds to have a wacky one night stand resulting in an unintended pregnancy. Indeed, Donna, recently dumped by her boyfriend (or “dumped up with” as she calls it), crashes and burns through her young life, cracking jokes along the way, until an unlikely event — an abortion, a moment of truth-telling about her abortion — signals that she’s taken charge in a new way. The menorah ends up back on top, or at least, it’s allowing the Christmas tree to comfort it. This is progress.

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Teaching Horror of Shoah Rape With Crochet

By Elissa Strauss

Gil Yefman’s TumTum

For nearly six months last year, Dr. Rochelle Saidel, founder and executive director of Remember the Women Institute, and artist Gil Yefman met weekly to talk about a topic deemed untouchable by many in their respective communities of academia and art: rape during the Holocaust. Saidel, who along with Dr. Sonja Hedgepeth, edited a book on the topic, initially met Yefman at a panel discussion on forced prostitution at Auschwitz. “I wondered why there was a young man in the front row who was crocheting as he sat and listened,” Saidel said.

The weekly meetings eventually fed into the work Yefman created for his new show “TO ME YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL {BAY MIR BISTU SHEYN},” now at Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York City. His first solo exhibition in New York, the show takes a sharp look at gender identity, sexuality and violence through the soft touch of traditionally feminine formats methods like crochet, soap-making and glamour shots. While walking through the exhibit I found myself seduced into believing I was safe amidst these mediums often associated with domestic crafts, and then would soon feel ripped open by the subject matter of rape, trans-identity, and prostitution. To Yefman’s credit, the power of pieces lies in their intimate, rather than political, approach to the subject matter.

The Sisterhood spoke with Yefman about the new exhibit, which is up through June 14.

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Robocall To Orthodox Women: Keep Wigs Short

By Frimet Goldberger

Nate Lavey

Two weeks ago, the rabbis of Lakewood, N.J. called a gathering of female educators to provide words of encouragement in the area of — what else — tznius, or modesty.

Among the many dire tznius issues discussed, the rabbis suggested that women cut their wigs shorter to make them less provocative to — whom else — men.

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Before the 'Big Bang' With Mayim Bialik

By Dorri Olds

Getty Images

Mayim Bialik, 38, is part neuroscientist, part actress, part superhero and 100% Jewish Renaissance woman. Known for her starring role on the CBS comedy “The Big Bang Theory,” she’s been nominated for Emmy and Screen Actors Guild awards. What fans may not know is that her experience as a neurobiologist is not limited to TV; she earned a doctorate from University of California, Los Angeles after majoring in neuroscience with a minor in Jewish studies and Hebrew. Bialik was also a leader at UCLA Hillel.

This wonder woman grew up in Southern California. At 12 she played sassy, cigarette-smoking younger CC Bloom, Bette Midler’s character in the 1988 movie “Beaches,” then landed a starring role in the popular ’90s sitcom “Blossom.” She’s written two books, is the mother of two children, writes for the Jewish parenting blog Kveller and takes being a role model for young girls very seriously. The Forward’s Dorri Olds caught up with Bialik to talk about her acting, tzniut [Jewish laws of modesty] and her work to empower young girls.

Dorri Olds: Can you tell me about your new book?

Mayim Bialik: It’s a cookbook, “Mayim’s Vegan Table: More than 100 Great-Tasting and Healthy Recipes From My Family to Yours,” which actually started with me sharing recipes on the Jewish blog that I write for, titled Kveller. I wrote the book with Dr. Jay Gordon, a pediatric nutritionist. It’s basically the 100 recipes that I make most often for my kids.

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Sheryl Sandberg Leans Out of Hotel Worker Meeting

By Elissa Strauss

UNITEHERE Local 26

Earlier this week, a group of housekeepers, nightclub servers and other employees from a Hilton DoubleTree hotel in Cambridge, which is on a property owned by Harvard, gathered outside the gates of the university while Sheryl Sandberg delivered a speech to this year’s graduates. It was a last ditch attempt by these workers to score a meeting with the Facebook COO, who had already declined their invitation to meet with them and host a “Lean In circle,” saying she didn’t have the time.

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Maya Angelou, My Sister and Me

By Erika Davis

Getty Images

“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot — it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that, I try to make sure my experiences are positive.” — Maya Angelou

My first experience of Maya Angelou, who died this week at the age of 86, happened in high school. We weren’t required to read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” in a literature class and my all-girl’s private Catholic school definitely didn’t have a Black History course. No, the first time I heard Maya Angelou’s words was out of the mouth of young black women about my age performing “Phenomenal Woman” at an event for the black social organization I was a member of, Jack and Jill. I’d definitely heard poems read and recited aloud, but this was the first time I felt the words of a poet come to life. We were in our teens, so the material was a bit mature, but the fact that the artist put her own spin on Ms. Angelou’s timeless words of black female empowerment and an awareness and pride of the female body left an impression on me.

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Susan Reimer-Torn on Coming Back To Jewish Life

By Elissa Strauss

Joan Roth

In her new memoir “Maybe Not Such a Good Girl: Reflections on Rupture and Return,” Susan Reimer-Torn chronicles her return to Jewish life in New York after years of living as a formerly-Orthodox woman in France.

Elissa Strauss spoke with Reimer-Torn about freedom, healing and what the current generation of formerly-religious writers like Deborah Feldman and Leah Vincent can learn from her experience.

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On Jewish Women and Facial Hair

By Chanel Dubofsky

Thinkstock

The first time I thought about facial hair was in high school, when a boy, whom I considered a friend, informed me that I had more hair on my upper lip than he did. I didn’t do anything about it then — it had been enough of a fight with my mother to let me shave my legs, and even when I was allowed to, going above the knee was still always out of the question.

When I mentioned this to my friend Julia, whose family is Sicilian, she told me that her mother wouldn’t let her do anything about her facial hair, either. (She was once referred to as “Chia Pet” by the boys in her middle school.) “The people from the hairiest cultures don’t want you to shave,” she said, shaking her head.

By college, I had become a tyrant about getting rid of mine. I burned the hair on my chin with a chemical in an attempt to eradicate it and it had left a weird scab. At a gynecologist appointment at Student Health Services, my doctor said, “If someone’s hurting you, you can tell me.”

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Fashion For a Cause in Tel Aviv

By Ben Sales

Courtesy of Reuth // A model at the Tel Aviv show

(JTA) — Israel is known for many things — startups, falafel, an often intractable territorial conflict — but fashion has never been one of them. A T-shirt, jeans and sandals is considered proper attire both at the workplace and at weddings. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gained notice early in his tenure simply for wearing a tie in public. At the Knesset, at least, lawmakers aren’t allowed to wear Crocs… unless they’re navy or black.

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Why Santa Barbara Rampage Is Terror Against Women

By Sarah Seltzer

University of California students at a vigil for the shooting victims. Getty Images

I spent the holiday weekend at my alma mater in Vermont at a writer’s retreat. On our last night in town we were reminded to walk home in numbers, especially if we were women.

Independent in my comings and goings, you’d think that I would scoff at such recommendations, but not this weekend. Not after the mass shooting in Santa Barbara reminded me that there are people out there who hate women enough to inflict random violence on us.

There are misogynist terrorists. There are those who would hurt me because I am Jewish — as tragic incidents in Belgium and Kansas this year show — but the truth is it’s far more likely I’d be targeted because of my gender.

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Avoid Bad Rabbi? There's an App for That

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

An Israeli couple at their wedding

(Haaretz) — When Israelis want to be warned of traffic jams ahead they check Waze, the popular crowd-sourced GPS. When they are planning their vacation, they look at hotel ratings and reviews on Tripadvisor to make sure their trip is smooth. So why shouldn’t they have the benefit of crowd-sourcing when it comes to planning their journey into matrimony? That’s what Rabbi Seth Farber — and Rate the Rabbinate was born.

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'Preeminent' Jerusalem Educator Deborah Kallen

By Chana Pollack

Forward Association

Deborah “Devora” Kallen was Jerusalem’s preeminent progressive educator. Raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in Boston, Massachusetts with seven siblings (including her brother, philosopher Horace Kallen) Kallen chose to reside in Palestine in 1920 with the goal of establishing the Parents Educational Association School there.

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Where Do Trigger Warnings Belong?

By Sarah Seltzer

Thinkstock

Trigger warnings in academia, the idea that professors should flag, in advance, potentially traumatizing content for students, are a subject of hot debate this week after a series of articles on the topic showed up big venues. Content that might provoke a trigger warning include rape, violence, and historical atrocities like lynchings, slavery, even the Holocaust. Of course, it would be hard to conduct many history, film, literature and other classes without lingering on such topics now and then.

Trigger warnings originated on the web, where social justice-y folks as well as rape and abuse survivors used them to tip each other off to content that might set each other off.

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New York Tabloids Shame Mayor's Wife

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images

Earlier this week the New York Post ran a cover featuring Chirlane McCray, the First Lady of New York City next to the banner headline: “I WAS A BAD MOM.” I am so glad they did this.

The Post article was a summary of the profile of McCray by Lisa Miller in New York Magazine, which they saw as something that was “bound to horrify most moms” and “shatters the carefully crafted image of de Blasio’s close-knit family, which helped vault him into office.”

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The Perils of Working Out While Hasidic

By Frimet Goldberger

Thinkstock

One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, after we had returned from our Passover getaway in Orlando, we had a family weigh-in in the master bedroom of our rented ranch. After all the matzos and steak and gooey potato starch and almond meal based cookies we consumed, the digital scale was guaranteed to be unpleasantly surprised. No, I will not divulge the very personal and mortifyingly high number that appeared on the little screen when it was my turn, but I will say that I immediately dusted off the pitiful juicer tucked away in the kitchen and made a resolution to work out at least five days a week.

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Get Out of Our Beds, Shmuley Boteach!

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

(Haaretz) — As everyone in show biz knows, if you want attention, you’ve got to have a gimmick, and more than a decade ago, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach came up with a great one.

In 1999, Boteach published Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy. It wasn’t the first time sex advice was offered from an unlikely source. He figured correctly that if people were willing to talk sex with a little old Jewish lady named Dr. Ruth Westheimer, they would surely go for sexy marriage advice from an ultra-Orthodox rabbi dressed in black - Dr. Ruth with a yarmulke.

He’d already test-run the concept with success in Great Britain - when he published a similar book a few years earlier provocatively titled “The Jewish Guide to Adultery: How to Turn Your Marriage into an Illicit Affair.”

The “Kosher Sex” concept was a hit, Boteach became a media favorite and dubbed “Dr. Ruth with kippa” - the book was excerpted in Playboy Magazine. Using the Bible and the Talmud for examples, Boteach argued, in a world of one-night stands, that committed relationships could be sexy and that “passionate love making” leads to marital bliss. It was an age-old message that many people, mostly women, wanted to hear, and got Boteach on the sofas of Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil, behind the microphone of his own radio show and ultimately his own series, Shalom in the Home.

Beyond the sex and relationship talk, Boteach never missed an opportunity to get his name in the headlines by rubbing shoulders with celebrities. He told The Guardian “God gave 10 commandments at Sinai, and the 11th commandment, which they expunged but which has come down orally, is ‘Thou shalt do anything for publicity and recognition’.”

As an early profile related, Boteach argued about pornography with Penthouse publisher Larry Flynt, fixed up Roseanne Barr’s daughter with a nice Jewish boy, and befriended Deepak Chopra. More recently, he escorted TV medical guru Dr. Oz on a trip to Israel. Most famous, of course, was his stint as Michael Jackson’s “spiritual adviser.”

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There's No Such Thing as 'Acting Like a Man'

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images

Much of the conversation surrounding the dismissal of Jill Abramson from her post as editor of the New York Times is about how she was punished for “acting like a man.” We really need to stop saying that.

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