Sisterhood Blog

What Hillary Got Right About Israel

By Elana Sztokman

Getty Images
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has made some important people in Israel angry. But she has made a whole bunch of other people, especially women, really happy. I, for one, am grateful to Clinton.

I’m referring, of course, to her now viral comments that she is “worried” about Israel democracy, and about the status of women. Both issues should give all of us pause, and she gets a special kudos for linking the two issues, something no public figure had effectively done until now.

Clinton’s democracy concern stems from a series of troubling legislation that has recently been discussed and in some cases passed in the Knesset, led by several key Likud and Yisrael Beitenu parliamentarians. The bills that have been tabled over the past few months include: the Defamation Bill that, as the Forward explains here, would make life difficult for journalists reporting on activities of Knesset members; the Supreme Court Justice Appointment Bill, which gives Knesset Members increased powers in the process of appointing Supreme Court justices; the NGO Bill, which prohibits “foreign governmental bodies” from donating to “political” NGOs in Israel — followed by the tax bill that also proposes enormous taxes on foreign donations, and the Basic Law — The Judiciary, which aims to restrain NGOs from bringing lawsuits to the High Court of Justice.

Read more


Salon Preview: Awaiting the Female Steve Jobs

By Gabrielle Birkner

The Salon celebrates its 15th episode this month, with panelists discussing New York City’s gender-segregated buses; the prospect that the ‘next Steve Jobs’ will be a woman, and Beverly Siegel’s documentary about the plight of Orthodox women ‘chained’ to unwanted marriages. Siegel, technology writer Joanna Stern, and communications strategist Jo-Ann Mort join the hosts, Forward Editor Jane Eisner and Mediaite.com’s Editor-at-Large Rachel Sklar:

Here’s a preview:


Abortion's Voices & Peeking at Emerging Life

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

courtesy thevisualmd.com
Peeking inside the womb

There has been recent news of a curious quirk of the Apple iPhone 4s. If you have one of these phones you can ask Siri, its anthropomorphized virtual assistant, a question and “she” will give you an answer in her robotic voice. Where’s the nearest Thai restaurant? Siri knows. What’s the weather today? Siri will tell you. Siri seems practically omniscient. The one question Siri seems not to comprehend is, “where is the nearest abortion clinic?” Siri couldn’t come up with an answer, leading some pro-choice organizations and bloggers to wonder if Siri (and her creators) intentionally bollixed it up for ideological reasons.

An Apple spokeswoman has since said, however, that it is a glitch in the iPhone 4s beta program rather than a deliberate omission, and one they are working to rectify.

At new website Project Voice, poet Maya Pindyck and her friend Sarah Bruner have gathered together the stories of nearly 250 women who have had abortions.

Read more


Women Barred From Funerals in Israel

By Elana Sztokman

Getty Images
Women are segregated at growing number of Israeli funerals.

The troubling phenomenon of excluding women from cemeteries in Israel appears to be getting worse. Last week, Tal Yehezkeli of the IDF radio station Galei Tzahal broke the story of Rosie Davidian, who was not allowed to deliver a eulogy at her father’s funeral. Yehezkeli then reportedly received dozens of calls and emails from women around the country who have had similar experiences. In Jerusalem, women have been prevented from delivering eulogies. ‫ ‬ In Yerucham, Yavneh, and Elyachin, women were not allowed to accompany the deceased to the burial. In Petach Tivka, Nahariya and Tiberias, the crowd was forced into gender segregation despite the protestations of the families. All of these incidents are against the law, specifically the High Court (Bagatz) 2007 ruling that prohibits the exclusion of women from any aspect of funerals and burials. No less than eight cities are breaking the law, according to Yehezkeli, and women are furious.

Susan Ayad, one of the women who shared her story with Galei Tzahal, said that she was at a funeral in Netanya for her best friend’s husband in which there was enforced gender segregation despite the family’s wishes. She is suing the Hevra Kadisha in Netanya, aided by the Progressive Judaism Movement’s legal aid services (IRAC). According to IRAC:

Read more


Impact on Women of Israel's Violence Problem

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Kursat Bayhan
Photojournalist Lynsey Addario

Discussion of the exclusion of women from public spaces in Israel — its manifestations, its dangers and its possible remedies — has increased in recent weeks, with a different variation on the theme catching the media spotlight every few days.

Recently there has been increased focus on the issue of violence against women. First, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat (who also heads the Ministerial Committee on the Status of Women) exclaimed during a heated cabinet debate, “Where there’s an exclusion of women, violence against women eventually grows.”

Walla published a related opinion piece by attorney Anat Tahon-Ashkenazi titled, “The Exclusion of Women From Security Issues Influences Their Security.” While much of the concern recently has been about gender segregation and the disappearance of women from advertising and signage, as well as on the paucity of women journalists (especially on television) presenting and analyzing news, she zeroed in on political leadership and decision-making.

Read more


Nose Piercing & The Jewish Mother

By Judy Bolton-Fasman

This is not the author’s daughter

The day my 17-year-old daughter got her nose pierced, I spent the morning reading up on body piercing with regard to Jewish law. My daughter was about to get a small hole on the left side of her sweet nose and I wanted to understand if she was adorning her face or mutilating it.

The rabbis have been historically divided on the issue of body piercing. Some sages liken piercing, even the earlobes, to inflicting a wound on a body that belongs first and foremost to G-d. Others see it as an act of beauty because one can prettify the body with jewelry. Almost all of the sources I read were uncomfortable about piercings that drew blood.

My husband was unequivocal on the subject. He told me that, “if you had had a nose piercing when we met we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.” Okay, so obviously Dad had to be convinced that a small stud in the nose was in vogue rather than disgusting. As for me, I bought my girl’s argument that piercing her nose has been the only notable rebellious thing she’s wanted to do as a teenager. And she’d been lobbying for two years. “I have the perfect nose for it,” was one of her key points. “This is your face,” her father shot back.

Read more


Parenting Like People, Not Animals

By Renee Ghert-Zand

We’re almost at the end of 2011.

So can we be done now with the “animal” parents thing? There is no way you can pretend like you don’t know what I am talking about, what with the Oxford English Dictionary having just voted “tiger mother” a runner up for word of the year (the winner was “squeezed middle” aka the 99%).

For much of the year, we have had to endure the nonstop and still ongoing hype over Amy Chua’s “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” But the animal parenting has not been limited to large cats. Lisa Belkin reminded us in her Parentlode blog (for those of you who missed the memo, she recently ended her Motherlode gig at the New York Times and jumped over to HuffPo and gave her blog a more egalitarian name) that there are also “panda dads,” “hippo parents” (not a weight reference), “koala moms,” “pussycat moms,” “free range parents” (as in chickens, and the parenting style advocated by Forward contributor Lenore Skenazy), and “chameleon parents.” Belkin does a nice job explaining what all these different parenting styles are in a slideshow that accompanies her post.

Read more


Mikveh on Military Base a First

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Amid all the recent news about religion and the IDF — especially how it affects women in Israel’s military — comes news that the IDF was planning to open its first ever mikveh on Thursday.

The mikveh, which cost $100,000 to build, is located at the Ovda Air Force base in the southern Negev. Ynet reports that the mikveh was built in response to complaints by women living on the base. They said it was too far for them to drive 37 miles from the remote base to the nearest mikveh, in the city of Eilat, each time they needed to immerse. Women living on other military bases around the country live in closer proximity to communities with mikvehs.

The mikveh at Ovda was to be officially opened in a ceremony to be attended by the anonymous donor who funded the mikveh’s construction budget, senior military rabbinate members, and officers from the base.

Read more


Prime Ribs: Kat Dennings Is My Homegirl

By Elissa Strauss

getty images
Actress Kat Dennings

Actress and my new favorite Jewess Kat Dennings tweets: “Every time a magazine Photoshops my nose, a Nazi gets its wings.”

Israeli couples are looking to create more egalitarian wedding ceremonies while still staying within the confines of Jewish law, but it isn’t easy, reports JTA. Some rabbis make the women take mandatory “bride classes” in which they “are told that if they don’t observe the laws of family purity and go to the mikvah regularly, they or their children will be plagued by disease.” You would think they would save that one for “new mom” classes. You would also think they would say things that are, ahem, true.

At Huffington Post, via Heeb, Jayson Littman writes about his experience with a Jewish organization that helps men rid themselves of “unwanted same-sex” attraction and how it actually helped him build up the confidence to come out.

Read more


Adina Bar Shalom: Courageous Haredi Leader

By Elana Sztokman

courtesy ashoka
Adina Bar Shalom

Adina Bar Shalom is often introduced as a rabbi’s daughter or a rabbi’s wife, but it’s really her own mind that makes her so extraordinary. A pioneering leader within Israel’s tight-knit Haredi community, the 66-year-old Bar Shalom has been making headlines by espousing courageous views about religion and state in Israel. She is emerging as a woman to be reckoned with, one who is not afraid to speak her mind and who promotes a powerful vision with a determined will in the face of some difficult realities in Israel.

Bar Shalom’s most recent news story involves the growing gender segregation in Israel’s public spaces. At an economic conference this week, titled “Women Talking Women,” she criticized the gender segregation of buses as an attempt to “exclude women from the public domain,” and said that it “violates Torah.” Bar Shalom, who is the eldest daughter of Ovadia Yosef, former Sephardic chief rabbi, said that she understand Halacha as a system that “treats women with the utmost respect.”

Significantly, Bar Shalom, who founded the Jerusalem Haredi College, the first college for ultra-Orthodox women and later men, also made some very pro-feminist statements, arguing that although Haredi women tend to be “afraid of feminism,” she thinks that Halacha actually favors gender equity.

Read more


Israel's Gender Segregation Fight Gains Key Allies

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Getty Images
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

The State of Israel was established on the basis of equality between the sexes. I oppose discrimination of any kind against women. We are a single island in a much larger area, a single island in which the status of women is ensured by law. But this is insufficient. We still have much to do in order to ensure gender equality and I say that the first thing is to provide for strong enforcement by the legal establishment of the laws designed to ensure that same gender equality.

Can you guess who uttered these words?

The answer: none other than Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, speaking at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, as part of a discussion marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. His statement was part of the official record of the meeting. A newspaper report has him further declaring that the exclusion of women and their images from public space and women singing in public ceremonies are issues that the secular public “won’t back down from.”

Read more


Rachel Azaria on Israel's Gender Segregation

By Rachel Azaria

courtesy Rachel Azaria
Jerusalem City Council member Rachel Azaria.

Every area pertaining to religion and state has been defined in recent years as a battle between secular and Haredi Jews. That has been the accepted view in Israeli society: Ultra-Orthodox and secular are the two camps, and they fight. Shabbat, kashrut, the so-called hametz and pork laws: All the battles have been portrayed in black and white, with everything seen as clear-cut.

But Israeli society is more complex than that. There are a lot more shades of gray, and many more people who define themselves in a more nuanced manner, whether they affiliate themselves with religious Zionism, are traditionally observant or formerly Orthodox, or identify with one of the other Jewish streams — Conservatism or Reform, among others. This complexity began to find expression in the last municipal elections in Jerusalem, when essentially all of the non-Haredim found themselves aligned in one camp, opposite the ultra-Orthodox. We called ourselves “pluralists.”

This past month, the main front in relations between religion and state in Israel has centered around the exclusion of women from the public domain.

Read more


Miriam Perez, Radical Doula

By Chanel Dubofsky

emily goodstein
Miriam Perez

Miriam Zoila Perez has worked in the reproductive justice movement for more than seven years, She is the founder of Radical Doula, a blog that covers the intersections of birth activism and social justice from a doula’s perspective. You might also know her from her work at Feministing.com, where she is an editor. Her writing has also appeared in The Nation, RH Reality Check, Alternet, The American Prospect and she is a frequent contributor to Colorlines.com. She was chosen as a 2010 Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging LGBT Voice in Non-Fiction. She received a 2009 Young Woman of Achievement Award from the Women’s Information Network and a 2010 Barbara Seaman Award for Activism in Women’s Health from the National Women’s Health Network.

Chanel Dubofsky: For the folks who don’t know, what’s a “radical doula?”

Miriam Perez: There is no official definition of a radical doula. To start, a doula is a person who provides emotional support to people during childbirth. Different than a midwife or an obstetrician, a doula is kind of like a birth coach. They work with the person in labor, and their partners or support people, to make the experience as good as possible. Things like massage, position suggestions, as well as other physical support techniques and emotional support. It’s a role that has been popularized in recent decades to deal with the realities of hospital birth. 



Read more


Holiness and Sex Ed

By Bat Sheva Marcus

“His main premise is that young people will tune out educators if their real concerns are left in the shadows.” In the end, that perhaps was the most important line of all in the recent New York Times Magazine article, “Teaching Good Sex,” by Laurie Abraham.

The article described a course given by a beloved teacher in the Friends’ Central school in Philadelphia. What was unique about his curriculum (and for those of us in the field of sexuality it is a bit horrifying that it is unique, but really it is), is that his curriculum is not solely focused on safety — how not to get pregnant and what is a bad idea sex-wise — but also on how to incorporate sexual pleasure into one’s life. He also makes a point to answer the various complicated and messy questions the students have as honestly as possible.

So I’m a fan.

I would guess, though, that educators from institutions that consider themselves value-based (Jewish day school teachers for instance) may have had a knee-jerk, negative reaction to the article. Many probably feel that classes that focus on the joy and the pleasure, as well as the concerns and dangers, of sex might “send the wrong message.” The fear is that if you focus on pleasure and give out too much specific information, you are tacitly suggesting that teenagers run out and have indiscriminate sex.

Read more


Millionaire Matchmaker Rachel Federoff

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

courtesy rachel federoff
Rachel Federoff

It’s hard to take your eyes off of matchmaking maven Patti Stanger on her show Millionaire Matchmaker. As she selects women to date her millionaires (or occasionally men to meet a female millionaire, or men for a gay millionaire), zinging critiques of their hair color, weight or attire, she is usually bracketed by Rachel Federoff, the company’s eclectically-styled VP of matching and her new husband, coo Destin Pfaff. Federoff and Pfaff have a young son, Sin Halo.

The Forward spoke with Federoff about what it’s like to work at Stanger’s side, and how being Jewish is part of her life.

Debra Nussbaum Cohen: How and when did you develop your fabulous personal style?

Rachel Federoff: It has always been inside me but came out in junior high school. That was such a metamorphosis period. I was always trying to be like the trendy cookie cutter friends of mine but it wasn’t working and wasn’t me. I finally realized that I needed to be myself and express myself in my own way. I don’t like to label my style but I would call it a cross between Rockabilly/Vintage and Punk, it’s usually called Psychobilly.

Read more


When Women Are Attacked for Speaking Out

By Renee Ghert-Zand

courtesy laurie penny
British writer Laurie Penny.

“A Woman’s Opinion is the Miniskirt of the Internet.” That is the title of an op-ed piece in Britain’s “The Independent” that a friend of mine recently sent me. It is by Laurie Penny, a 25-year-old writer known by many for her blog, “Penny Red,” and is about the horrific hate mail she receives on a daily basis for speaking her mind on political matters.

My friend thought I would be interested in reading the piece after she had seen that I had posted on my Facebook wall the following quote from Winston Churchill: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something in your life.” I had added the comment that I would try to remember these words every time I got hate mail in response to something I wrote.

While I have not been attacked in ways as vicious and vitriolic as Penny has, I have been labeled a racist (for examining the growing phenomenon of Asian women marrying Jewish men), a Haredi-phobe for shedding light on misogynistic practices among some ultra-Orthodox, and a child rapist for defending parents’ rights to have their infant sons circumcised. In addition, one crazy read something I wrote as a memorial to Steve Jobs and concluded (erroneously) that I am super-rich. H e felt it necessary to use that as a reason to cast nasty aspersions on everything I published in the Forward for the several weeks following.

Read more


Journalist Mona Eltahawy Assaulted in Egypt

By Renee Ghert-Zand

courtesy mona eltahawy
Mona Eltahawy in the hospital.

American-Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy has been freed after being beaten, arrested and interrogated by security forces in Cairo. Eltahawy, 44, has reported that she was also sexually assaulted during her 12-hour detention. She is in Egypt covering the violent protests in Tahrir Square and its environs. Eltahawy is the first Egyptian journalist to have lived and worked for a western news agency in Israel, and she continues to be a columnist for The Jerusalem Report.

Early Thursday morning Cairo time, Eltahawy tweeted that in Tahrir Square it was “Pitch black, only flashing ambulance lights and air thick with gas.” Three hours later, she tweeted, “Beaten arrested in interior ministry.” She was able to do so because, although her own phone had been lost during her beating, an activist lent her his phone so she could get the tweet out. His phone battery apparently died right after that.

It was only after Eltahawy tweeted, with what turned out to be a broken left arm and a broken right hand, “I AM FREE” around 2:00 PM Cairo time, that she was able to get out more about what had happened to her. She tweeted that she had been detained by riot police of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (who have control over Egypt’s political transition) and sexually assaulted. “Five or 6 surrounded me, groped and prodded my breasts, grabbed my genital area and I lost count how many hands tried to get into my trousers,” she wrote.

Read more


Q&A With Author Yona Zeldis McDonough

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Keith Price
Author Yona Zeldis McDonough

Yona Zeldis McDonough is a Brooklyn-based award-winning children’s author who also has a successful career as a fiction writer for adults. Many know her by the picture books she has created together with her mother, the celebrated self-taught artist Malcah Zeldis. This month, her newest children’s chapter book, “The Cats In The Doll Shop” has been published. It is a sequel to “The Doll Shop Downstairs,” the fictional story of a Russian Jewish immigrant family with three young daughters living above their doll shop on the Lower East Side of Manhattan during WWI.

Zeldis McDonough spoke with The Sisterhood about writing for different audiences, her identity as a Jewish writer, and the new book and how it goes against the grain of current popular children’s literature.

Renee Ghert-Zand: Not many authors write for adults and children. How did you end up writing successfully for both audiences?

Read more


Don't Judge Women Sitting at Back of Buses

By Dorothy Lipovenko

courtesy ncjw
NCJW CEO Nancy Kaufman

To walk a mile in another woman’s shoes, Nancy Kaufman of New York recently boarded a gender-segregated public bus in Jerusalem.

The CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women took a “freedom ride” with a group of colleagues while recently visiting Israel to experience what it’s like to be a woman and assume that one must move to the rear of the bus on designated routes, while men sit up front.

Kaufman took a front seat, netting what she says were “very dirty looks” from men who boarded. She also recounted the comment of a female passenger (in Hebrew) to a woman in the Council entourage: “You should be ashamed of yourselves. Why don’t you take care of your own prostitutes and drugs and do not worry about us.”

Read more


Back-Room Rabbinical Court Deal Bars Women

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

courtesy hiddush
Rabbi Uri Regev

For the first time in 12 years there is no woman on the committee responsible for appointing judges to Israel’s rabbinical courts, after the Israel Bar Association failed to elect a woman as its members’ representative. This is being viewed as a tremendous blow to promoting the rights of women who must face these courts in divorce cases.

The 12 religious courts across Israel are desperately in need of reform on critical family law issues, most importantly, divorce. Such reform won’t happen with the election of the two new members of the committee, Asher Axelrod and Mordechai Eisenberg. Not only are both of the new members male, but Eisenberg is Haredi, and both are closely associated with, and have received the endorsement of, Haredi political parties.

Women’s advocacy and religious rights groups are furious at Bar Association leaders for the political wheeling and dealing with ultra-Orthodox parties that led to this development. The two Bar Association representatives join Israel’s two chief rabbis, two senior rabbinical judges, two government ministers and two Knesset members on the committee, all of whom are presently male.

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.