On the day I was to interview Rabbi Holly Cohn, the new spiritual leader at the lone congregation serving a 100-mile radius of West Texas, at Odessa’s tiny Temple Beth El, the television series “Friday Night Lights” was trending on Twitter. The story of the fictional town of Dillon, Tex., where high school football is a central cultural focus, was about to end its final season.
I could only hope that Rabbi Holly, as she calls herself, would not see this as a negative sign. As the show’s fans know, “Dillon” is actually Odessa, a town where I lived for 20 years and the football team is based on Odessa’s Permian High School Panthers.
Temple Beth El, which self-identifies as Conservo-Ortho-Reform since it must appeal to all denominational tastes, has just brought in its first full-time rabbi. Cohn, a 42-year-old, yarmulke-and-tallit-wearing female Reform rabbi, has been hired as its quarterback. The congregation hopes she will revitalize its shrinking community and attract the unaffiliated Jews scattered around the windswept area.
Larry David is a feminist. There I said it. I know, I know, that jerk? Allow me to explain.
Yes he is arrogant and frequently offensive, but somewhere amid the solipsism and general buffoonery there is a man who treats women’s bodies and issues with a level of maturity, respect and a rather refreshing matter-of-factness rarely seen on television.
Women’s bodies, and the stuff they do, are usually portrayed on television as either sexy or yucky. It is pretty simple. Breasts, hot! Periods, not! Sex with a vagina? Super. The word vagina? Super gross. But for Larry, this isn’t the case. (For the record, I am referring to Larry David the main character of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” not real-life Larry David, assuming there is a difference.)
Hillary Rodham Clinton, former First Lady, Senator, presidential candidate and current Secretary of State, is arguably one of the most powerful women in recent history, and yet she still comes under fire for her choice of clothing, from cleavage-gate to her pantsuits to her haircuts and figure and beyond.
Her most recent critic is television personality Tim Gunn, who stated during an appearance on the George Lopez show that due to Clinton’s choices, she seemed to have “gender” confusion and mocked her “cankles.”
This naturally enraged many a commentator, but perhaps the best comeback came from none other than reigning fashionista Lady Gaga, who guest-hosted The View on August 1. Gaga called Gunn “a bully” and said that she thought the Secretary of State has “more to worry about than her hemline.” (“I don’t,” she added self-deprecatingly and charmingly.)
Some say it’s because Bob Dylan and Paul Simon performed in Israel this summer. Others say it all started with the Facebook message urging Israelis to stop buying cottage cheese — a daily staple in the Israeli diet that has become outrageously expensive. I prefer to see it as the culmination of many decades of work on the part of NGOs, here in Israel and abroad, which have helped to pave the path to a healthy democracy in Israel.
Some might question my depiction of Israel as a “healthy” democracy when only two weeks ago the Knesset passed legislation banning boycotts. It leaves people who organize or publicly endorse boycotts against Israel open to litigation. It was approved in the Knesset by 120 politicians who are clearly out of touch with the Israeli grassroots. It will undoubtedly be struck down by Israel’s Supreme Court when it hears the case.
Rabbi Ilana Grinblat has written a new book, “Blessings and Baby Steps,” (Behrman House, 2011) which synthesizes insights into Torah and lessons learned from giving birth to, and parenting, her two young children.
Grinblat teaches Midrash at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, where she received ordination in 2001. She previously worked as a pulpit rabbi in two L.A.-area synagogues and has written about parenting for The Forward, the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles and the Washington Jewish Week.
She and her husband have two children. Jeremy is 7 and Hannah is 4.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen: What, specifically, gave you the idea for “Blessings and Baby Steps?”
The writer, who went by the pen name “Eishes Chayil” (or Woman of Valor), told the world that her real name is Judy Brown.
Ten months after publishing her debut novel, and several months after she began getting death threats through her book publisher for writing in the voice of a victim of sexual abuse, she is making her name public because she has been moved by the murder of Leiby Kletzky and wants to do what she can to change the Hasidic community’s secrecy and denial about the existence of pedophiles and other victimizers.
The most famous Miss Israel contestant not to win the national pageant has returned to the headlines in Israel.
Jamila Fares, a 21-year-old who went by the name Maya, disappeared in mid-July. Her body was discovered July 15 in a forest and showing signs of physical violence that preceded her shooting. Maya’s husband, Said, was initially arrested, but was released after passing a polygraph test, and neither Duah nor her mother, Dalia, suspect him.
While the case remains open, the killing has refocused attention on the status of Israel’s non-Jewish women, who face discrimination within both their own communities and Israeli society at large. The elder Fares pulled out of the Miss Israel contest because of death threats from her own community.
Grandma always said “hate” was a strong word and that I shouldn’t use it. But sometimes it feels appropriate, like when describing my feelings about moving. I hate moving. I despise it. There are few things I like less, which should explain why I’ve lived in only two apartments in the last ten years.
As I gear up to move again, I realize that my apartments since college have been a proxy for my identity and stage in life. My first apartment was that of a singleton, the second that of a wife, and the next will be that of a mother.
Israeli Jews whose choice of partner or form of ceremony doesn’t meet traditional Jewish legal requirements will have to continue to book a flight to Cyprus or Vegas to make their marriage legally valid in their own country, since marriage and divorce are going to remain in the hands of Israel’s Orthodox rabbinate for the foreseeable future.
A bill that would allow civil marriage in Israel went down in a crushing defeat in the Knesset on July 27. Only 17 Knesset members voted for it, with 40 members rejecting the bill that would have allowed Israelis to choose between civil marriage and religious marriage. The bill went down despite a vigorous public awareness campaign and lobbying effort launched in the spring stressing the importance of making it possible for all citizens to “Marry and divorce in Israel according to their choice, faith, and conscience.”
But public opinion was never really the problem. It has been clear for years that a majority of Israelis think civil marriage should be an option for those who have trouble with the rabbinate or who simply don’t want an Orthodox ceremony. The most recent poll, a Tel Aviv University survey released the very same day the bill went down in defeat, found that “63% support the option of civil marriage, 25% oppose it and 12% did not respond.”
I’m in Israel for a month reporting on a number of different stories, including a magazine piece about the growing number of Israeli gay couples who are having children with the help of gestational surrogates and egg donors in foreign countries.
Although there is no law explicitly banning the use of surrogacy in Israel by gay couples, the country’s 1996 surrogacy law states that only married heterosexual couples may seek to have children by surrogacy in Israel. (Lesbians are not affected by the law since they can conceive children through artificial insemination.) It turns out that not only are gays excluded, but also many other couples by virtue of strict interpretations of the law by the Attorney General and Israel’s surrogacy approval committee overseeing applications and protocols. Among the very strict limitations has been the practice of almost always giving preferential treatment to applications from childless couples.
But now Israel’s High Court of Justice has ruled that a couple’s already having several children is not sufficient reason to reject their application for surrogacy. The decision was handed down in relation to a case brought by a woman who had to undergo a hysterectomy at the age of 30, following the birth of her third child. The woman, now 38, and her husband, who are religious Jews, wanted to have a fourth child by a surrogate, but their application was turned down on the basis of their already having three child
In music news, a posthumous Amy Winehouse album will be released reports the Daily Mail. Brooklyn rapper and Hasidic convert Shyne tells the Jewish Chronicle that he will no longer feature profanity or scantily clad women in his videos out of respect for Jewish modesty laws.
614 devotes its latest issue to Jewish women who have served in the military. The eZine features profiles on the first female rabbi to enlist as well as another who broke gender barriers, and likely also the sound barrier, as a combat pilot.
Victoria Pynchon explains “Why the National Debt Negotiations Matter to Women” at Forbes.com. In short, a whole lot of elderly women rely on Social Security.
As a loud defender of Slutwalks, I’ve been disturbed by the recent turn the critique of the new grassroots movement has taken, from within the feminist movement and here on our own Sisterhood blog.
I was actually pleasantly surprised, during the first wave of Slutwalks earlier this year, by how much the mainstream media seemed to be getting the message of the walks, which is, in essence, that “she was asking for it” is never an appropriate response to rape.
No, the message is not “we’re sluts and we’re proud!” No, not “it’s great to be a slut!” No, the message is not exclusively “we’re reclaiming sluthood.”
I have to disagree with Chanel Dubofsky’s Sisterhood post in which she contends that new interest in Jewish men’s clubs reflects male anxiety about a supposed women’s takeover of Jewish organizations and life. I think it’s great that a non-Orthodox Jewish organization is making progress in engaging Jewish men. The goal is to have everyone involved.
As far as I can tell, there hasn’t actually been a women’s takeover of Jewish organizations. As illustrated in this New York Times article a few years ago, and this more recent article in the Forward, it is true that, among teenagers, programming in the non-Orthodox community has attracted more female participation than male. And the Reform movement, for one, has been working to achieve more parity.
As important as egalitarian access to Judaism is to me, we also need separate-gender spaces (as the title and subject matter of this blog reflect). It is not anti-feminist to recognize that there are differences beyond the physical between men and women, and that we tend to develop most close friendships with those of the same gender. There is something to be said for the safer space of being with others of the same gender.
Last year, after the horrible mass murder targeting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, I wrote about the misogyny and obsession with masculinity that underlies this and other such violent acts. Later, more information was revealed about shooter Jared Lee Loughner and his pervasive fear of women in power.
The same sort of thing seems to have influenced the alleged killer in Norway, Anders Breivik. As Michelle Goldberg writes at The Daily Beast in a really thorough article parsing the mass-muderer’s manifesto to find the hatred of women right on the surface of his ideology.
Rarely has the connection between sexual anxiety and right-wing nationalism been made quite so clear. Indeed, Breivik’s hatred of women rivals his hatred of Islam, and is intimately linked to it. Some reports have suggested that during his rampage on Utoya, he targeted the most beautiful girl first. This was about sex even more than religion.
Let’s talk about Jewish men, shall we? Let’s talk about them as though they were a singular entity, a borg, if you will. Let’s erase individual proclivities-emotions, sexualities, demonstrations of what it means to be a man. And while we’re at it, let’s do the same to women, and we’ll make everyone nervous about how much space women are taking up in Jewish communities, even if it’s not actually true.
People who believe in the myth of the Jewish Lady Takeover will now proceed to name a handful of Jewish women who have reached senior status in their organizations. They’ll say that liberal denominations are ordaining the ladies like nobody’s business, and that this means the men are being crowded out. Go ahead, insist that I’m wrong. It doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t mean that women who graduate from the rabbinical schools of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Theological Seminary are getting jobs, or if they get those jobs, that they’re going to be able to keep them, because of issues of pay and child care.
Slutwalks — the organized marches of mostly women to combat “slut-shaming” and sex crime “victim-blaming” — are happening all over the world.
Sparked by the comment of a Toronto police officer at a York University campus safety information event in January, who mouthed off that a woman was raped because of her clothes, the Slutwalks are finally receiving a deserved measure of scrutiny. Rebecca Traister’s uncertainty and discomfort about these rallies, which she shares in this week’s New York Times magazine, resonated with me, but I don’t believe her critique of the walks goes far enough.
According to this story in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the rabbinate there has threatened to jail a 59-year-old woman if she continues to refuse to accept a religious divorce, known as a get, from her husband.
The news report says:
The woman, who lives in the center of the country, is refusing to accept the divorce from her husband because of an ongoing property dispute between the two. “I won’t take the get under any circumstances, even if they take me to jail,” the woman told Haaretz Monday. “I’m made of steel, you can’t break me.”
Usually the shoe is on the other foot, and we read about men refusing to grant their wives a divorce or extorting a payoff in order to do so. The power to grant a divorce, according to an Orthodox reading of Jewish law, rests only in the hands of the man. But the woman must accept the divorce, as much as she must accept the marriage contract handed to her under the wedding canopy.
Amy Winehouse embodied every Jewish mother’s greatest fear.
We Jewish parents are, after all, obsessed with our children living up to their potential. We accept our offspring’s God-given limitations. But when there is a child with seemingly limitless possibilities for creativity and success, as Winehouse’s tremendous musical talent offered her, it is particularly achingly painful to watch them follow the well-worn celebrity path to self-destruction and death.
And so it was with Winehouse, almost from the very beginning. A first listen to the edgy jazz featured in her iconic album “Back to Black,” with her enchantingly world-weary voice, convinced us we were listening to an updated recording of an African-American legend like Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday. But no – that voice belonged to a painfully skinny Jewish London waif with a retro beehive hairdo and sailor tattoos. We were fascinated, and unreasonably proud that she was Jewish and grew up with Friday night dinners at her grandmother’s London home. Let’s face it – we’re suckers for members of the tribe who are both successful and cool. Even when they are clearly addicted to drugs and alcohol. Jewish websites and blogs which fancied themselves young and hip faithfully chronicled every Winehouse foible – every arrest and on-stage collapse, every inappropriate relationship – and of course, every award and hit record.
She was a hot mess, and she was our hot mess.
This year’s conference of Kolech, Israel’s Orthodox feminist forum, grappled with cutting-edge issues around homosexuality, the place of transgender women in Orthodoxy and the shared lifestyles of Muslim and Jewish religious women.
At the conference, which took place in Jerusalem earlier this month, the panel on homosexuality included an Israeli lesbian who was raised Orthodox, a woman who was born male into an Orthodox family and an Orthodox woman whose son is gay. Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner David, who has written extensively about her family’s journey with her gay brother, said “I was pleasantly surprised to see that this session was included in the conference and was afraid because of its relatively radical nature that it would not be well attended. I was even more pleasantly surprised to see that the room was packed when I got there and that the audience was supportive, sympathetic, and respectful to the panelists.”
It seems that the community is working to put an end to issues that have been silenced in the past.
In light of an email tirade in which Tea Party congressman Allen West called Democratic National Committee chairwoman (and proud Jewess) Debbie Wasserman Schultz “vile,” and wrote that she has proved that she is “not a Lady,” The Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg pulls back the curtain on what she sees as West’s history of misogynistic behavior.
As much as journalist Rebecca Traister wants to embrace the new phenomenon known as the SlutWalk — in which scantily clad women take to the streets in hopes of taking the sting out of the moniker “slut” — she writes, in this New York Times magazine piece, that the gatherings seem “less like victory than capitulation (linguistic and sartorial) to what society already expects of its young women.” (Listen to a recent Yid Lit podcast featuring Traister here.)
JTA’s Sue Fishkoff — who in September will become editor of the Bay Area Jewish newsweekly j. (Mazel tov, Sue!) — writes about the unforeseen complications of non-Jewish mothers raising Jewish children.
Our Sisterhood bloggers have long mulled the appeal of having “Big Love”-style “sister wives.” In this recent New York Times op-ed, law professor Jonathan Turley defends the polygamous marriage of the Utah family that stars in the reality series “Sister Wives,” and calls state laws banning plural marriage examples of “unacceptable government intrusion.”