Sisterhood Blog

A Simple Secret to a Happy Marriage

By Elana Sztokman

Courtesy of Elana Sztokman
The author and her husband, Jacob Sztokman.

My husband and I just marked our 20th anniversary. When you’re first getting married, or busy going through life, the idea of “20 years” just sounds like a lifetime. Can you imagine doing 20 years’ worth of anything? Twenty years in one job, 20 years wearing one hairstyle, 20 years with the same roommate. It sounds overwhelming.

The world has changed enormously since we got married. Certainly in the obvious ways — computers, email, Internet, cell phones. To wit, Jacob and I spent a year apart after we met, when he was home in Australia and I was home in Brooklyn, and we have tried to explain to our kids that there was no texting, no Skyping, and no emailing then. We wrote actual letters in actual handwriting that would take two weeks to arrive, and the big technology was that we would record ourselves speaking to each other on cassette tapes, which we would then mail to each other. And of course we had occasional long distance phone calls that increased in frequency as the year went by. These were the days before long-distance plans were introduced, and my father still recalls with a combination of fondness and horror The Great Phone Bill of August 1989, which he says, regretfully, was about as expensive as a plane ticket from New York to Melbourne. Ah, young love.

It’s not just technology that has changed. Ideas about marriage and relationships have changed as well.

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Putting a Price Tag on Gender Segregation

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Rahel Jaskow

When the Israel’s High Court ruled back in January that forcibly segregating men and women on so-called ‘mehadrin’ public buses was illegal, but that segregation could take place on a ‘voluntary’ basis, I was worried by what seemed to be to be a wishy-washy decision. At the time, I wrote:

One can’t help but worry about the reactions that women will encounter when they exercise their legal right to choose to ride in the front of such buses. It is hard to believe that the verbal and physical violence that has resulted from such situations in the past will miraculously evaporate as a result of a court ruling.

What I saw as the main bright spot of the ruling was Judge Elyakim Rubenstein’s clear-cut declaration that “a public transportation operator, like any other person, does not have the right to order, request or tell women where they may sit simply because they are women. They must sit wherever they like.”

In the year that has passed since the decision, my fears have been realized.

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Why I Published That Sex Column

By Simi Lampert

Creative Commons

When one of my editors at the YU Beacon sent me an essay she had received from a friend, I responded to the submission with two words: “Love ittt.” The nonfiction piece, submitted anonymously to the Beacon’s creative writing section, was written by a Stern College student about her first sexual experience, in a hotel room with a Yeshiva College student — an experience that ended with the writer feeling confused and ashamed.

Since that essay, titled “How Do I Even Begin to Explain This,” was published on December 5, it has caused quite a stir. The upshot: The Beacon and Yeshiva University parted ways, and we will no longer be receiving funding from the school.

I founded the Beacon 11 months ago with two other Stern students. The Beacon’s mission: to foster a platform for students at Yeshiva University to talk about what’s on their minds. We felt, at the time, that there was no place for writing on topics that are considered “taboo” — sex, drinking and drugs, among them — and we believed having a forum to discuss these types of issues was important. And so the Beacon was born. The first issue went online in January 2011.

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The Recognition Debbie Friedman Desired

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Courtesy of HUC

Something didn’t sound quite right to me at last week’s dedication of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, the cantorial school at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion.

Despite the love and sadness that suffused the event, which was born out of a desire to honor the singer-songwriter who died in January, hearing Debbie’s folky Jewish spirituals sung in multi-part choral harmony didn’t quite fit. And I wonder how she would have felt about the cantorial school being renamed in her honor. After all the school probably wouldn’t have accepted her, had she ever applied, because Debbie had absolutely no formal musical training.

Debbie’s innovative compositions changed the way many religiously liberal Jews approach prayer. Instead of the high-church operatic quality that characterized classical Reform worship (attended by a choir), Debbie used music to create a direct line of communication between congregant and God. Much as Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach did in Orthodox Judaism, Debbie took text and themes right from the prayer book and Bible, marrying them to melodies structurally simple enough for anyone to be able to quickly catch on. In time, as Debbie taught them to Reform-movement campers and youth group retreat-goers, and then groups of song leaders and Jewish educators, her work became transformative.

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Talking Infertility With Strangers

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

In her post “Why Infertility Breeds Silence,” my fellow Sisterhood blogger Elissa Strauss writes about the silence surrounding conception and infertility in her group of friends in the child-bearing stage of life. She observes that it:

feels as though we lack a vocabulary for how to discuss these things and as a result conversations are often awkward. I wish I would hear more first-person accounts about trying to conceive from friends. I want to hear about the pain and frustration and the fun and joy. I understand that for some trying to get pregnant is something they feel should be kept private, and I respect that, but sometimes privacy hurts more than it helps.

Having conceived and given birth to three kids, and suffering some all-too-common early miscarriages along the way, I would question Elissa’s assertion about privacy sometimes hurting more than it helps when it comes to the business of procreation. Granted, I live in Israel, where women have the opposite problem: Every woman’s uterus seems to be the whole country’s business and people don’t seem to stop talking about having babies.

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L'Chaim: Drunk on the B-Word

By Elissa Strauss

“OMG, you ARE a bitch! Be-atch! No, no, in a good way. Seriously, I love you. You are the best. Want a glass of wine? I bet you like wine. Bitches love wine!”

This, I suspect, is how marketers imagine women who imbibe speak to one another. Why else would they, as The New York Times reports, name their wines things like Sassy Bitch, Jealous Bitch, Tasty Bitch, Sweet Bitch or Royal Bitch?

The story explains that the wine “bitch” craze began in 2004 when “Dan Philips of the Grateful Palate,” got “the post-feminist ball rolling with a grenache named, simply, Bitch.”

Like a slap across the face, Bitch grabbed the attention of a certain type of consumer, primarily young women en route to a bachelorette or divorce party, or looking for a special way to say, “I love you” on Mother’s Day.

Post-feminist? I don’t think so.

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Under Pressure, YU Site Pulls Sex Column

By Gabrielle Birkner

UPDATE: December 8, 12 p.m.: Following a meeting with school administrators, YU Beacon has restored the column to its site. A Beacon editor is telling New Voices that the publication will no longer be subsidized by the university.

Sure, sex columns are staples in college newspapers — spaces where student scribes describe, often in lascivious detail, the bedroom (or dorm room) propensities of their peers.

A recent column published in Yeshiva University’s co-ed newspaper, YU Beacon, was relatively tame by comparison: The anonymous piece matter-of-factly describes a sexual encounter between two students, after which the writer comes to the conclusion that she “made a stupid mistake.”

But as of Wednesday afternoon, the Beacon’s editors-in chief, Simi Lampert and Toviah Moldwin, had pulled the piece at the request of university administrators, with whom they are planning to meet. Apparently some on campus, and in the wider Orthodox community, found the piece too racy for a publication that receives money from Modern Orthodoxy’s flagship institution.

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Why Infertility Breeds Silence

By Elissa Strauss

Redbook magazine recently teamed up with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association to launch “The Truth About Trying,” a new video campaign to get women talking openly about infertility.

The magazine produced a funny and touching video with stars like Sherri Shepherd and Padma Lakshmi speaking candidly about their struggles to conceive, and some 50 Redbook readers posted videos of their own. In the story accompanying the video, Norine Dworkin-McDaniel writes about how one in eight women have trouble becoming pregnant, yet few of them feel that they can discuss the issue. Dworkin-McDaniel says the problem with culture of secrecy surrounding matters of infertility is that it “has left so many women to cope alone, in pain, and often uninformed.”

I am 32 and married and so are most of my friends; we have officially entered the age of the procreation. Many in our social circle either have a baby, are pregnant or have hinted at wanting one. None of them, however, speak or have spoken openly about the process of getting pregnant. Yes, some of them might mention in passing that they are “trying,” or respond with a low-level groan when the subject comes up, but that is about as specific as they get.

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No Sympathy for Katsav

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Getty Images
Katsav: Prison-bound

For any woman who has been sexually abused by a powerful male figure, today is historic.

As the day began, a bitter, sullen and utterly unapologetic Moshe Katsav — a former president of Israel, who was convicted last year on two counts of rape — left his home and made his way to prison. En route, Katsav lashed out at the justice system for “executing and innocent man” and “burying alive” a man who had “never behaved with anything but gentleness” towards women. The images of him being hustled out of his home and entering the prison were broadcast live across the country at breakfast time.

As the country watched and listened, virtually no sympathy for Katsav was detectable in the Israeli public throughout the ordeal, despite the former president’s continued attempt to portray himself as the victim of an evil conspiracy.

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'Women Should Be Seen and Heard'

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

NIF

Hundreds of people are expected tomorrow in downtown Jerusalem to listen to female singers, including Noa, in a demonstration being called “A Song for Equality: A Demonstration of Women Singing.” On display at the event, which is being organized by an Israeli group called Be Free Israel, will be a large banner of photos of American men and women holding signs that say “Women Should be Seen and Heard.”

The banner was created by the New Israel Fund, which recently launched a campaign to counter the growing disappearance of women from public view in Israel’s capital city, where increasing Haredi influence has led to women being told to sit at the backs of public buses and advertisements that show only men — even when they are for a women’s product or service. There are also increasing efforts to bar women from singing in places where there are men in attendance even in the IDF.

More than 200 photos have been submitted to the “Women Should be Seen and Heard” campaign, said Naomi Paiss, the organization’s director of communications. Sixty of the photos were hastily assembled into the banner, and Paiss says the organization hopes to display some of the of the 6-foot-long banners in a public advertising campaign.

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The IDF Mikveh's American Benefactor

By Renee Ghert-Zand

The living waters are not officially flowing just yet on the Ovda Air Force base in the Negev. As The Sisterhood told you last week, the first ever mikveh on an IDF base was to have been opened last Thursday. However, Ynet is reporting that the ceremony to inaugurate the mikveh was called off a day before it was set to happen.

The Army claims that the postponement of the ceremony has nothing to do with the recent controversies about religious practice in the IDF. The IDF Spokesperson’s Office said it was all “due to technical issues in the coordination of the ceremony according to relevant orders and opposite the responsible elements in the IDF.”

But a source involved in the matter told Ynet, “That’s a lame excuse. The ceremony was planned weeks in advance and everyone knew about it. The army just doesn’t feel comfortable inaugurating the mikveh at this time.”

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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