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Why I'm Nostalgic for Hasidim
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The Case for Premarital Sex
When DIY Was More Than DIY
Sisters in Skivvies: A Graphic Review of 'Unterzakhn'
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Meet the 'First Lady of Fleet Street'
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A Male-to-Female Jewish Journey
How Men Cornered the Baby Manual Market
Bubbe Cuisine Goes Local
Editorial: Defending Contraception
Should You Be Blogging Your Baby's Illness?
Video: Where Fashion Is Frum, Not Frumpy
The Case for Jewish Daycare
Saying Farewell to Filene's
The Bintel Brief Takes Comic Form
Editorial: Where Are the Women?
Video: Mah Jongg's Jewish Journey
Podcast: Adrienne Cooper's Musical Life
America's Most Influential Women Rabbis
Asking if religion is good for women, as Moment magazine recently did, is like asking if music is good for men. There are no clear answers when asking about the relationship between an incredibly fluid concept with a rather broad category of living beings. Still, this doesn’t stop many of the contributors to the symposium from tossing off easy conclusions on whether or not religion is in fact good for women.
The three basic categories of answers are: no, it is inherently oppressive; yes, it’s always been good; and, the most common one, it used to be oppressive but is no longer.
In the first category we have novelist and philosopher Rebecca Goldstein, who calls religion “dreadful” for women due to its association between disgust and the female body. Also, writer and director Soraya Mire, who explains that in Muslim Somalia a camel has more rights than women. And Eve Ensler explains that until we have a religion where women are truly front-and-center, “there isn’t going to be a manifestation of true spirituality.”
As I listened to friends and family begrudgingly make decisions about Hebrew school for their kids this year, I started a conversation on my personal blog about alternatives to the typical after-school programs. As I mentioned, I was not asking on behalf of my own family.
My kids go to a non-Orthodox day school, attend shul every week and live in a home that I’ve described elsewhere as “Reformadox”. I was asking for new ideas on behalf of my friends and as a concerned member of the larger Jewish community. I felt that, with so many disgruntled customers out there, there had to be some newer, experimental models to try.
I heard from families in various cities who belong to Reform or Conservative synagogues, but send their kids to a Chabad-run religious/Hebrew school program on Sundays, meeting the call of Jews who want their kids to experience a Jewish education, but not at the expense of the taking over the family’s schedule for the week.
Some families in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago said they dropped out of their synagogue’s Hebrew school for a newer organization run by an Orthodox couple called Jewish Family Experience. Rabbi Yehuda Polstein and his wife, Mashi Polstein, run their own school which, like Chabad’s supplemental school, meets on Sundays. JFE, as the group’s members call it, is based on another popular program in Cleveland called Jewish Family Experience, commonly referred to as JFX. At JFX in Cleveland, entire families meet on Sundays for Jewish education. I heard from parents in both cities who raved about the passion for Judaism their kids felt and the depth of knowledge the kids and parents learned during the once-a-week sessions.
Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri made headlines this past week — not just for taking the crown on Sunday night, but also because of a racist backlash that occurred after she won. The American-born Indian woman representing New York was accused of being “Miss Al Qaeda,” a terrorist, Arab, Egyptian and everything in between. Davuluri rose above the controversy, embracing her platform issue: “Celebrating diversity through cultural competency.”
But if Miss America is really about embracing diversity, why hold the Pageant during the High Holy Days?
In its 92 years, Miss America has had one Jewish Miss America, Bess Myerson. Myerson, who was also Miss New York, was Miss America 1945. New York is known for firsts; it not only had the first Jewish Miss America and the first Indian Miss America but also the first African-American Miss America, Vanessa Williams, in 1983. Clearly the Pageant isn’t opposed to non-Christian contestants (Davuluri is Hindu), or winners for that matter. But the 20/20 special that aired before the live contest showed contestants praying to Jesus for an injured Miss Florida. Meanwhile, recent Miss Americas, like 2011’s Teresa Scanlan, have been outspoken about their evangelical faith.
In the 2011 box-office hit “Bridesmaids,” Kristen Wiig’s character Annie has an alcohol and Xanax induced meltdown on the plane to Las Vegas. After the flight attendant asks her to return to coach, she responds with, “Oooo. This is a very strict plane that I’m on. Welcome to Germany.” She then puts her index and middle finger under her nose, making a blatant reference to Hitler. She finishes up by saying, “Auf Wiedersehen Asshole.”
The scene was likely funny for many viewers. But there is an inherent problem here: Why does an otherwise amusing, female-driven comedy that succeeds with its humor and plotline bring Hitler and Nazi Germany into the film?
What makes all of this more problematic is that, off screen, Hitler references are not taken lightly. Megan Fox was fired by Steven Spielberg from the Transformers series for comparing director Michael Bay’s, work ethic to Hitler. If an actress can lose her job for doing it in the real world, why is it okay for an actress to do it on screen?
Slate recently ran an excerpt of Hanna Rosin’s book “The End of Men” under the purposefully provocative headline “Feminists, Accept It: The Patriarchy is Dead.” The article suggests that professional women, even professional feminists, have access to living the “good life” in a way they never had before. They’ve won! Certainly, this may be true for a select group of well-educated white ladies, but on the other hand, ask any professional feminist about the rape threats in her inbox and in her answer you’ll find the patriarchy, alive and kicking.
At the Nation, Bryce Covert takes Rosin seriously and debunks her thesis, using actual statistical information about the pay gap, lack of humane work-life policies, treatment of nurses and domestic workers, and “the fact that when men enter jobs crowded with women, they can command higher wages.” At the Cut, Kat Stoeffel offers a funny listicle of things she’ll miss now that the patriarchy is gone. Note that none of the things listed are truly no longer with us. The hashtag #RIPPatriarchy is offers social media irony of a similar tenor. At The New Republic, another serious response to Rosin posits that she’s “mansplaining,” or telling women what to think about their lot, and contributing to patriarchy’s perpetuation.
These rebuttals are all fair. What I find particularly amusing is this: Rosin could literally have penned this piece any week of the year and there would be newsworthy, current stories that contradicted her thesis.
The High Holidays are a beautiful but complicated time for me. Besides Passover and Hanukkah, which I pretty much celebrate the same way each year, the Days of Awe are the only time when I get “the itch” to observe, the only time when I feel like if I don’t do something Jewish and highly ritualized, a piece of me is missing.
This is complicated by the fact that my husband is ideologically opposed to shul but very devoted to having a holiday meal with challah and apples and honey, and my parents have fled the New York City synagogue scene to attend services at a hippie congregation upstate, which sometimes makes it hard for me to pray with them.
This year, my job at a Jewish organization means I have real days off, time I can use to do personal writing, not for money — which is my own form of secular devotion. Furthermore a close friend got married under the Brooklyn Bridge as the gates of repentance closed on Yom Kippur, and my humanist values, not to mention my affection for my friend, gave me zero pause in attending her wedding instead of Neilah and break fast.
All this is to say that my values as a humanist, as an observer of Jewish ritual, as a daughter wife and friend, and as a writer often come into conflict with each other during the High Holidays. And it’s up to me to sort through the threads.
Comic and writer Katie Halper says that “she wouldn’t be alive without Camp Kinderland,” the 90-year-old leftist, secular Jewish summer camp in the Berkshires. When Kinderland came under attack by right-wingers following their discovery that an Obama nominee for the Department of Labor had sent her kids, Halper realized that she had set the story straight. The Sisterhood spoke with Halper about how she ended up at Kinderland, her movie “Commie Camp” and why she believes children should be taught about social justice.
THE SISTERHOOD: Commie Camp, huh? Katie, are you a communist?
HALPER: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of The Communist Party. The title is tongue and cheek, but in all seriousness, I definitely have ideas and values that are socialist. I think lots of people do. They just don’t realize it.
In late August, The Sisterhood launched a series examining the role of women in Jewish mourning traditions. Grieving for a loved one is fiercely personal; doing so as a woman, guided by Jewish laws and rituals, can be comforting or restricting, depending on one’s experience. We asked you, Sisterhood readers, to share your stories. Many people responded. Some women felt marginalized, even alienated, by their limited roles in the mourning process. Others felt invigorated and strengthened, and found deep comfort in community. What resulted was a portrait of Jewish female mourning. This series, which includes essays from writers and submissions from readers, will appear on The Sisterhood blog this week. —Abigail Jones
The following stories from Sisterhood readers are just a sample of the many we received. They have been edited for style and length.
I stand on the other side of the mechitza. I have no desire to do otherwise. So when my father passed away a few years ago, I would have been more than happy to shed my tears out of view and among the company of just other women — steadied by their collective strength, strengthened by the knowledge that afterward they would be there for me, bringing a hot meal and a solacing word.
But it was not to be.
A Reform clergyman was going to officiate at the funeral. I knew what that meant. During the eulogy, he would talk mostly about how my father loved ice cream and poker — which was true, but not the point. A Jewish hesped (eulogy) is a time to speak about the good deeds that the deceased has done — the mitzvos, the charitable causes they believed in and supported, the simple acts of kindness they did in a way that was uniquely their own.
I felt that someone needed to speak about that. So I did give a hesped. But inside — behind my inner mechitza — I was crying, both for my father and our traditions, whose wisdom and beauty have become buried under so many layers of misunderstanding and neglect.
—Libi Astaire, 59 years old
This is the third post in a series by Johnna Kaplan exploring aspects of Jewish life outside of her own experience.
I have always felt compelled to fast on Yom Kippur — just not compelled enough. Usually I either forget what day it is until it’s too late or simply give up at the first hint of dizziness. This year, I determined to fast properly. Well, almost.
6:00 a.m. I begin by cheating and drink some water. Water is not allowed on Yom Kippur. But Yom Kippur, as I’ve always understood it, is pretty good about recognizing the spirit rather than the letter of its laws. It’s clear that you do not have to fast if, for example, you are sick. I am not sick, but I know I will not be able to last 25 hours without a sip of water. (Come to think of it I might be sick. I could have some horrible disease that just hasn’t been diagnosed yet.)
8:30 a.m. There really isn’t any point in getting out of bed if you can’t have coffee, is there?
9:00 a.m. I realize I’ve been conflating fasting with all sorts of other Yom Kippur observances, such as praying and not showering. I feel much better when I remind myself that it’s acceptable to pick and choose. In fact it’s possible that Judaism and Jewishness in any form might not have survived if some picking and choosing was not inherent the start.
This summer journalist Amy Klein, a former Forward reporter, began chronicling her fertility journey in weekly posts for the New York Times’ Motherlode blog. Klein spoke to the Sisterhood on why she decided to write about what was long a private struggle, the negative feedback she has received and the support she is, and isn’t, getting from the Jewish community.
THE SISTERHOOD: Why did you decide to write about your journey to conceive?
AMY KLEIN: Since I was young, I’ve been journaling my life privately to help work through what I’m going through as well as to catalog what’s happening in my life.
I’m a memoirist as well as a journalist, so I often publish stories about my life — I had a singles column about my dating life, I wrote about having a stem-cell facelift, and had a Modern Love story chronicling my visit to a Jerusalem rabbi who predicted exactly when I’d eventually meet my husband.
Regarding our journey to have a baby, the Times actually approached me about writing a weekly IVF column after I submitted “Baby Envy” to the “Motherlode” blog.
I think there’s so much that people don’t know about fertility — that I didn’t know about before I started this. Things like freezing your eggs to having trouble conceiving, to ovulation to IVF and miscarriage. It all seems so shrouded in mystery.
I hope that by sharing my story it will shed light for others who are contemplating having children later in life, or help people of all ages going through what I am, showing them that they’re not alone.
A year and a half ago, when I found out the man who caused my brother’s death had died, heavy emotion flooded my body. Not because it made me miss my brother, Josh, who was hit by this man’s car and killed in October 2002. Not because it made me envision the rendition of the accident I’d constructed by hearsay: a teenager’s illegal U-Turn prompted this man — described in his obituary as “ethical to his core” — to swerve. And not because it made my grief suffocate my throat.
This elderly man, although responsible for this tragic accident, had oddly become, at least for me, one of my brother’s many legacies.
It was as if the man’s being alive meant part of Josh was still breathing. He was the last person to engage with Josh before his head hit the side of a building. He sustained a traumatic brain injury and became unconscious; his heart stopped the next morning. It’s almost like this man had the last conscious communication with Josh. And now he, too, was gone.
In late August, The Sisterhood launched a series examining the role of women in Jewish mourning traditions. Grieving for a loved one is fiercely personal; doing so as a woman, guided by Jewish laws and rituals, can be comforting or restricting, depending on one’s experience. We asked you, Sisterhood readers, to share your stories. Many people responded. Some women felt marginalized, even alienated, by their limited roles in the mourning process. Others felt invigorated and strengthened, and found deep comfort in community. What resulted was a portrait of Jewish female mourning. This series — comprised of essays from writers and submissions from readers — will appear on The Sisterhood blog this week. This is the fourth and final post in that series. —Abigail Jones
The night before my father’s funeral, I found a tattered prayer book from my Yeshiva days. It was small and square, the kind of prayer book I’ve seen women praying with at the kotel. Its filo-thin pages suggested a false modesty that diminishes a woman’s place in the Jewish world. That siddur was also thick with line after line of tiny Hebrew letters. I lay down on my bed and read through the Kaddish prayer for my father, something that was unheard of for a woman to do 50 years ago.
Saying the Kaddish for a loved one used to be an all boys club. No son, no Kaddish — unless you paid a man (yes, there is still such a thing) to recite the Kaddish for the 11 months a child mourns a parent. Recently, there was a case of gender segregation and Kaddish discrimination at an ultra-Orthodox cemetery in Israel. A woman named Rosie Davidian was denied the right to eulogize her father at his funeral. Ms. Davidian took her case to the Knesset to campaign for women to grieve as they see fit. An invitation quickly followed, asking her to read her father’s eulogy on a popular radio show where millions heard her words.
My father was buried on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and I had the honor of eulogizing him. The next day I was part of the overflow crowd — the common folk who didn’t pay for the pricier sanctuary tickets across the hall. One of the rabbis met my eye from the bima. She nodded in sympathy as I said the Kaddish in front of 800 people, so nakedly, so publicly for the first time.
If you could encapsulates women’s progress in one small object it would be, yes, the pill. With birth control we were given the keys to the car, a Eurorail pass to the stars — with our bodies (and therefore our lives) under control, we could go whatever we wanted. (Okay, not whatever, but much, much more than before.)
Because the birth control pill is so tangled up with our relationship to both our bodies and sense of empowerment, it’s not totally surprising that a backlash has emerged.
In late August, The Sisterhood launched a series examining the role of women in Jewish mourning traditions. Grieving for a loved one is fiercely personal; doing so as a woman, guided by Jewish laws and rituals, can be comforting or restricting, depending on one’s experience. We asked you, Sisterhood readers, to share your stories. Many people responded. Some women felt marginalized, even alienated, by their limited roles in the mourning process. Others felt invigorated and strengthened, and found deep comfort in community. What resulted was a portrait of Jewish female mourning. This series — comprised of essays from writers and submissions from readers — will appear on The Sisterhood blog this week. This is the third post in that series. —Abigail Jones
Many of the essays in this moving series about Jewish women and mourning are about exclusion. I have a story about inclusion.
It begins in early February 2005. Just two weeks earlier, our family had celebrated the bar mitzvah of my nephew, the youngest grandchild on that side of my family. My parents were both quite ill by then, but still with us, and our small tribe of relatives gathered close in the way that lingers inside for sometime afterward.
Which is why the call from my cousin was so jarring. I can’t recall the exact words, only the horrifying message: R. was dead.
In late August, The Sisterhood launched a series examining the role of women in Jewish mourning traditions. Grieving for a loved one is fiercely personal; doing so as a woman, guided by Jewish laws and rituals, can be comforting or restricting, depending on one’s experience. We asked you, Sisterhood readers, to share your stories. Many people responded. Some women felt marginalized, even alienated, by their limited roles in the mourning process. Others felt invigorated and strengthened, and found deep comfort in community. What resulted was a portrait of Jewish female mourning. This series — comprised of essays from writers and submissions from readers — will appear on The Sisterhood blog this week. This is the second post in that series. —Abigail Jones
I lost a friend a few months ago. Cheryl was only 52 years old. Cancer ripped her from us. It is all so unfair. She had so many years to go. In the intervening months, I have thought a lot about female friendships and loss. I watched myself from a distance speak at her funeral, an out-of-body experience where a small voice kept saying, “Sit down. This cannot be happening.”
I had a hard time taking Cheryl off my speed-dial. It was like ripping off a band-aid really quickly, but inside where it really hurts — a bruise to the soul that stubbornly won’t heal. We did carpool together, ate Shabbat and holiday meals together, raised our kids together. So often, I find myself just about to call and tell her something and then I remember, once again, that she is no longer here. That momentary re-living of loss becomes another small stab at the heart. As the writer Anais Nin once observed, “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it’s only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
Cheryl lost a close friend and neighbor a few years before we moved to the area. At the time, she said, ‘How come there is no shiva for friends?” And now I am asking myself that same question for her.
In late August, The Sisterhood launched a series examining the role of women in Jewish mourning traditions. Grieving for a loved one is fiercely personal; doing so as a woman, guided by Jewish laws and rituals, can be comforting or restricting, depending on one’s experience. We asked you, Sisterhood readers, to share your stories. Many people responded. Some women felt marginalized, even alienated, by their limited roles in the mourning process. Others felt invigorated and strengthened, and found deep comfort in community. What resulted was a portrait of Jewish female mourning. This series — comprised of essays from writers and submissions from readers — will appear on The Sisterhood blog this week. This is the first post in that series. —Abigail Jones
When in the fall of 2003, I stood between my father and stepmother and recited what is, perhaps, the Days of Awe’s most haunting reading, Unetaneh Tokef — better known as the “who shall live and who shall die prayer” — I didn’t give much thought to the meaning of the words as they passed through my lips.
The coming days, the liturgical poem tells us, would determine who among us would live out another year, and who would die and how. Fire, water, sword and wild beast are among the terrifying options read aloud at High Holy Days services. Only repentance, prayer and charity could avert (or temper, depending on your reading) “the severe decree.”
By the time I stood for the prayer the following Rosh Hashanah my father and stepmother were dead. Murdered, during a home invasion, in a manner that the prosecutors called “especially heinous, cruel or depraved.”
Hey American women, you are a bunch of greedy little piggies. With all your “having it all” talk, you are no better than now-disgraced politician Anthony Weiner who just couldn’t balance his political ambitions with his need to Tweet photos of his penis. Or so says Delia Ephron in her essay “You Can’t Have It All, but You Can Have Cake,” in the New York Times Sunday Review.
Having it all seems to breed wanting more. And since we can’t have it all because it is statistically impossible, and since there is no such thing as more than all, the whole notion seems, I’m sorry to say, depressingly American.
In many countries, having it all is learning to read. Having it all is getting to choose whom you love. Having it all is walking to school without worrying that you might get raped on the way.
She goes on to explain that part of the problem is that in America, the female version of “having it all” tends to be managing, simultaneously, a marriage, children and a career. She encourages women to define “it all” for themselves — and it should be “the magical time when what you want and what you have match up.” It is, “not particularly American, unquantifiable, unidentifiable, different for everyone, but you know it when you have it.”
Well Delia, I think your definition of “it all,” with its highly individualistic approach to well-being and lack of concern for those who live outside the bakery-lined pre-war streets of the West Village is, to quote you, I’m sorry to say, depressingly American. (And we all know that there is nothing worse than being called American — ew! — among a certain type of New York intellectual.)
This is the second post in a series by Johnna Kaplan exploring aspects of Jewish life outside of her own experience.
I have always been wary of Gefilte fish. It’s fish, but not quite. It lurks in jars in the supermarket, looking deceptively like delicious matzoh balls, only it isn’t. I have seen it defined as “the pescatarian’s meatloaf,” which is not exactly appealing, and “poached fish dumplings,” which is even worse. But unlike schmaltz or gribenes, which I am content to leave in the past, I felt as if I should at least try to make — and like — this dish that’s practically a byword for Jewish cuisine. So I decided to make gefilte fish as part of my quest to do more Jewish activities.
I should point out that my aversion to gefilte fish stems from nowhere. I like fish. The other ingredients, like eggs and matzoh meal, are at worst inoffensive. But for some reason, gefilte fish turns me into the little boy in the kreplach joke. Do you know the kreplach joke?
There’s this little boy and he’s terrified of kreplach. Whenever his mother serves it, he looks in the bowl and screams “AAAHHH!! KREPLACH!!” So his mother decides the boy should be shown each individual element of kreplach to prove how un-scary it truly is. She rolls out the dough (“See? Just like pancakes!”) and the boy nods happily. Then she assembles the meat (“See? Just like meatballs!”) and he nods happily. Then she folds it all together (“See? Like a little hat!”) and he nods happily. He is similarly unafraid of soup. But when the entire dish is finally placed before him, he takes one look and screams “AAAHHH!! KREPLACH!!”
A study just came out showing that, as popular culture puts it, “haters are gonna hate.”
According to research presented in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people who tend to dislike things they already know about are more likely to dislike things they have not yet to come in contact with. (h/t Wonkblog.)
The study asked a group of people their opinions about things like taxidermy, Japan and vaccines, and then asked them to read reviews of a new microwave that the researchers made up. The group that had said they hated the others things were more likely to hate the microwave, based upon the fabricated mixed reviews.
This is the time of the year when us Jews are supposed to think about teshuvah, or repenting for our sins. Teshuvah, which some translate to “review,” “return,” or “renewal,” is a way to take stock of our shortcomings and begin the year anew, or “returned” to our better selves.
I read about this study the same day I read over some of my answers to 10Q questions from previous years. (For those of you that don’t know, 10Q is high holidays-themed personal questionnaire from Reboot.) I was struck by how similar my answers would be this year to the last few years about what I regret and what I want to achieve. While I am not a “hater,” I certainly do have my fair share of not so positive behavioral tics that seem to come all too naturally to me, tics that I apparently am not too good at shedding.
So, can the haters ever stop hating? Can I ever learn to make better use of my time and be less judgmental of others?
Can people change? Really change?
There was something a little bit different about a “Vows” column that showed up in last weekend’s New York Times.
One chapter in a long, hurdle-filled, but ultimately fruitful story of love between athletes Faith Rein and Udonis Haslem was the termination of a pregnancy — an abortion that led to the blossoming of a deeper love.
Their first challenge took place the following spring when she became pregnant. It was her junior and his senior year, and he had begun training for the N.B.A. draft. Despite the pregnancy, she was busy with track meets and helping him complete homework. The timing was bad.
“I am not a huge fan of abortion, but we both had sports careers, plus we could not financially handle a baby,” said Mr. Haslem, noting how he struggled with supporting Kedonis, the son he had in high school, who is now 14 and who lives with his mother.
“Udonis appreciated that I was willing to have an abortion,” Ms. Rein said. “I found him caring, supportive, nurturing and all over me to be sure I was O.K. I saw another side of him during that difficult time and fell deeply in love. He had a big heart and was the whole package.”
Rein was raised by a Jewish father and black Baptist mother in the suburbs of Virginia. Haslem grew up in a gritty Miami neighborhood.
Statistics tell us that other happy marriages have an abortion as part of their trajectory into happily ever after — including many marriages that have been listed and feted in the New York Times and other similar society pages.
And that makes sense. Each choice we make in life closes some doors but opens others. And abortion is a choice no different from the rest.
For this particularly committed couple, it was the choice that gave them a chance at love. Ending a pregnancy can strengthen bonds that already exist–between mother and child she already has, between a young couple, between a woman and her family. It probably harms some relationships too, because it is a part of the human journey and always has been.
But acknowledging the truth of the procedure’s positive role in many lives can only help as we struggle to keep it legal. We can credit Americans’ growing acceptance of the LGBT community in part to the phenomenon of individuals “coming out” and forcing their loved ones to confront stigma and bias. I hope that more couples and individuals who have experienced abortion are willing to “come out of the closet” and point publicly to abortion as just one part of a long life story, and in some cases maybe even a love story.
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