Sisterhood Blog

IVF Babies Denied U.S. Citizenship

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

istock
Are those eggs USDA-approved?

For American-Israeli women like me, having a baby means a trip to the U.S. Embassy. Once you are home from the hospital, and once your newborn’s Israeli birth certificate is granted and health care benefits are in order, you head to the embassy to apply for U.S. citizenship on behalf of your infant.

With the U.S. passport (replete with a funny-looking newborn passport pic) in hand, you can relax knowing you won’t face visa headaches when it’s time to take your bundle of joy to America so the grandparents can kvell.

Convenience is, of course, only one of the reasons that American parents anywhere in the world want to quickly establish the automatic U.S. citizenship granted to kids with at least one parent who is a citizen. In a post-9/11 world, American citizenship and the ability to travel freely in and out of the U.S. is not something to be taken for granted.

When I went through the process for my three Israeli-born children, my biggest worries were getting the diaper bag through embassy security and filling out the forms coherently on very little sleep. But mothers who had their babies using assisted reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization, are now facing a much bigger and more serious problem: Many of these children are being denied citizenship altogether.

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On Segregated Buses, a Choice that Isn't

By Elana Sztokman

Wikimedia Commons
Limor Livnat, a Knesset member who heads the governmental committed to prevent women’s exclusion.

Dr. Hanna Kehat’s mother did not ride her local bus for three years. The 78-year-old lifelong resident of the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood Mea Shearim lost her bus because Haredi extremists would stone the bus every time it rode down her street. So Egged simply stopped the route, forcing her and many of her car-less neighbors to walk distances to find a different bus.

“Women in her community are being completely neglected – they are at the mercy of the sikrikim,” Kehat told The Sisterhood, referring to one of Israel’s the most extreme ultra-Orthodox sects.

Today, however, the bus has returned to its route, thanks to one change: Police intervention.

The question about what role the government plays in protecting Israeli citizens from Haredi violence came to the fore last week, when the Interministerial Committee to Prevent the Exclusion of Women, headed by Minister of Sport and Culture Limor Livnat, released its findings. Among the most controversial conclusions of its three-month long investigation is the committee’s recommendation to support a 2011 High Court ruling that deems gender segregation on public transport a matter of “choice.”

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Insisting on a Jewish Prenup

By Hannah Scholl, Estee Goldschmidt and Marc Herman

U.S. House of Representatives
Rep. Dave Camp

In her Sisterhood post “On Agunah Issue, Pressure Rabbis, Not Rep,” Dvora Meyers takes on a grassroots campaign to pressure Michigan Rep. Dave Camp to condemn what we consider to be abusive behavior by his staffer, Aharon Friedman. In the past, Camp has called Friedman’s refusal to grant his wife a Jewish divorce decree, or a get, “gossip.” It is time for Camp to recognize this error and do what is right.

The facts of this case are not under dispute. Friedman married Tamar Epstein in April 2006. The marriage failed, and Friedman and Epstein were civilly divorced in 2010, after being separated for two years. For Epstein, an Orthodox Jew, civil divorce is insufficient. Jewish law mandates a religious divorce decree, or get, which must be consented to by both parties. But Friedman has refused thus far to give Epstein a get, and that shows a basic disregard for human decency. He’s been banned from his synagogue, and a prominent rabbinical court has issued a public declaration condemning his intransigence.

In effect, Epstein is an agunah, or a “chained woman.” She cannot remarry in a religious ceremony. And because Epstein is an Orthodox Jew, that effectively means that Friedman (also Orthodox) is deliberately preventing her from remarrying.

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Seeing Beauty in 'Making Trouble'

By Elyssa Goodman

courtesy of jwa
Gail Reimer, founding director of the Jewish Women’s Archive, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Gloria Steinem at JWA luncheon.

By fourth grade, I was already a troublemaker — taking on any boy who dared to challenge, in the classroom or on the playground, girls’ equality or worth. I learned from the best of the troublemakers, women who refused to take no for an answer when going after what they want: my mother and my grandmother. And from iconic feminists like Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Letty Cottin Pogrebin.

The Jewish Women’s Archive annual luncheon, held March 18 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan, was a place where making trouble — and, in the process, making history — was cause for celebration. Steinem, who has Jewish roots, presented awards to the renowned Jewish feminist (and Sisterhood contributor) Cottin Pogrebin, to Elizabeth A. Sackler, the founder of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, and Rebecca Traister, the author of “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” about women’s role in the 2008 presidential election.

“Judaism…has informed who I am,” Pogrebin told The Sisterhood, to the extent that I think it contributed to what I have done. I was raised with a very, very clear and pressing sense of justice. If things are wrong, we’ve got to fix it. It’s up to the Jews.”

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Where an M.R.S. Degree Is a Course Requirement

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Avishai Teicher

Is marriage a legitimate prerequisite for a university course?

That is what some female students are asking at Bar-Ilan University.

The controversy surrounds a course in “marital communications,” which we told you about here. It requires those who enroll be married for at least one year. The course is intended for those who want to become “bridal counselors,” the women who explain ritual Jewish law related to marriage to Orthodox and non-Orthodox. The course is offered under the umbrella of the university’s “Midrasha” — an advanced Torah study program for women, one of several Bar-Ilan programs that merge academic and religious study.

The university justifies requirement by saying that since the course is meant for the women training to be bridal counselors, it makes sense that experience in marriage is necessary. The problem with that answer is that the class is also open to female Bar-Ilan students who are not in the bridal counseling program, but who wish to receive credit for it toward the university’s Jewish study requirements.

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Gendered Text Doesn't Spoil New Haggadah

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Shotview photographers/gettyimages
Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander conceived of the ‘New American Haggadah.’

Kathleen Peratis wrote in this Sisterhood post that she seriously considered taking her 24 copies of “New American Haggadah” back to the bookstore, after she realized that the Passover manual doesn’t use gender-inclusive language. I’m clearly expecting fewer seder guests than is Peratis. I own one copy of the aforementioned Haggadah, and have every intention of keeping and using mine.

I wonder whether the fact that it is titled “New American Haggadah” is what troubles Peratis and other feminists. After all, the United States gave rise to women’s lib; it’s where Title IX is the law of the land, and where the widespread rabbinical ordination of women took root.

But for me, it is precisely because of the fact that this new Haggadah, edited and translated by leading (male) literary luminaries Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander, was published here that the use of the traditional male-oriented text is totally acceptable.

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Why I'm Shopping Around My 'Ex-Frum' Memoir

By Leah Vincent

Courtesy of the author
Leah Vincent

Gavriella, I understand from this Sisterhood post that you don’t like the questions you’re getting in the wake of the publication of Deborah Feldman’s memoir and Pearlperry Reich’s television appearance about leaving the ultra-Orthodox world. I understand that you may feel attacked, when these women criticize their communities of origin.

But to me, a writer who has left Orthodoxy and is, indeed, “shopping around my ex-frum story,” your post got me wondering: Is your version of Orthodoxy significantly different than the one these women were raised with?

If the answer is yes, how can you possibly determine what kind of response they should have to their experiences? If your brand of Orthodox Judaism is close enough to ultra-Orthodoxy that you feel attacked by their going public, then we have a bigger problem on our hands.

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Prime Ribs: Missing Waitresses and 'Taliban Women'

By Gabrielle Birkner

Where are the … waitresses? Not at one popular Jerusalem eatery, at least not on Thursday evenings. That’s apparently when yeshiva boys descend on Heimische Essen to get their fill of kugel and kishka. In an effort to secure the über-strict Badatz kosher certification, Heimische Essen has agreed to employ an all-male wait staff on that night.


In related news, a teenager from Dimona, deep in Israel’s Negev desert, was expelled from her religious school for working at a fast food restaurant. The franchise was kosher, but the job required her to work alongside men, an apparent violation of her high school’s modesty code.


Nose jobs, and tired, old “shiksa goddess” stereotypes get the punk-rock treatment, courtesy of the Miami plastic surgeon Michael Salzhauer. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons is investigating the self-billed “Dr. Schnoz” for his new music video about a yarmulke-clad “beak like Jewcan Sam” keeps him from winning over the girl of his dreams. The music is courtesy of the Jewish punk band The Groggers.


Forget the Aspirin: Three years after winning FDA approval, the second-generation female condom has arrived in the Jewish state.

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Sandra Fluke and the Big Jewish Conspiracy

By Sarah Seltzer

getty images
Sandra Fluke

The latest salvo from the trenches of the extreme right against Georgetown Law student and contraception advocate Sandra Fluke is the most absurd yet, and matches the other slurs in offensiveness. Her latest crime is — wait for it — dating a Jew.

Yes, it’s not enough that Fluke had the gall to stand up for birth control coverage at her Catholic university. Based on a lot of online snooping, she’s apparently seeing (and, her detractors will immediately note, presumably using contraception with) Adam Mutterperl a member of the tribe, and therefore an adherent of, as blogger Brooks Bayne calls it, “the wealthy Mutterperl family’s long tradition of supporting the typical Jewish variant of socialism.”

Among Fluke’s sins in dating this seemingly nice Jewish boy are traveling with him to Europe and, um, the fact that his parents, despite being wealthy, are very liberal, and like many American Jews come from a nice long liberal tradition. In Bayne’s warped mind, there is a big Jewish conspiracy going on here, and it’s all muddled together with American progressive labor history, Barack Obama (of course), Brandeis, the Upper West Side, Karl Marx and more.

(video below)

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Second Edition Feminism

By Anita Diamant

This is the fourth entry of an ongoing series exploring Jewish feminism.

In the introduction to my first book, “The New Jewish Wedding,” I wrote, “References to the rabbi as him/or her do no more than acknowledge the decision to ordain women by the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements.”

That was 1985. When I revised the book in 2001, I couldn’t quite believe that I’d written those words. I suppose I felt the need to remind readers about what were, back then, relatively new facts on the ground. Even worse, I think I was worried about offending someone by telling a simple truth.

I left that sentence out in the second edition, as well as a few other apologetic asides that pointed out what has since become ubiquitous and obvious: Jewish women are leaders and teachers, rabbis and cantors, theologians and prophets.

For the first time in our history, women’s voices — not just singular and extraordinary characters, but a large and varied chorus — are part of the public discourse about everything: about God and halacha, about the governance of our synagogues, about marriage and how we educate our children, about our money, about the substance and fire of our lives.

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The Limits of Childhood

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Getty Images
A memorial to Tyler Clementi

When is a kid not a kid? Perhaps when he’s old enough to carefully set up his computer camera to spy on his roommate in the supposed privacy of their college dorm room, and use texts and Tweets inviting friends to watch a live feed of the roommate’s gay sexual encounter.

The roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge a few days later. Dharun Ravi, who has been charged with invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and evidence tampering, is on trial in New Jersey. In closing arguments, his attorney defended Ravi as “an 18-year-old boy, a kid, a college freshman [who] had an experience…that he wasn’t ready for.”

Reading The New York Times account illustrates a serious problem: that an 18-year-old who has intentionally done such represhensible things could be reasonably described as “a kid” who didn’t mean it.

“Overindulgent parenting” has become a trope in popular culture and in scholarship, as outlined in this Lisa Belkin piece on the Huffington Post. And if overindulgent parenting means raising a child who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong, and Ravi does not seem to, then he was overindulged.

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On Shopping Around Your 'Ex-Frum' Story

By Gavriella Lerner

Ben Lazar
Deborah Feldman

Hasidim, and even more “garden variety” Orthodox Jews such as myself, are a people apart, and we will always seem strange against the backdrop of 21st century America. With all the press coverage over the last few weeks, I can’t even count how many of my classmates have asked me if I have any hair under my hat or if I shave it off. For the record, I keep it long. Still my answer doesn’t do much for the weirdness factor. But I guess we’ve been the weird ones for 4,000 years or so; it’s nothing new.

My problem is that people like “Unorthodox” author Deborah Feldman and Pearlperry Reich feel the need to go to the news media and to publishing houses with their stories.

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I'll Take My Haggadah Without Fathers or Kings

By Kathleen Peratis

Little, Brown & Co.

I bought 24 copies of “The New American Haggadah” sight unseen, based on the recommendation of a friend and the yiches of its creators, writers Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander. The aesthetic of the books is very Zen, very Steve Jobs: It’s light — literally, the paper seems nearly weightless — and spare, with monochromatic flying Hebrew letters.

I loved it at first touch. Then I read the first line: “You are blessed, Lord God-of-Us, King of the Cosmos, who has set us apart with his mitzvot, and instituted us to eliminate all hametz.” “Lord”? “King”? “His”? Oh no.

And then page after page of more of the same: male pronouns for God, and other words referencing a male God: king, father, etc. And the story of the four sons was the four sons, not even the four children. Women and girls are totally absent from the greatest story ever told in “The New American Haggadah.” I considered taking the books back to the bookstore.

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Don't Let Preference Veto Justice

By Jay Michaelson

This is the third entry in an ongoing series exploring Jewish feminism.

I want to answer the question of “what Jewish feminism means to me” in two ways: First, about how I learn from it both substantively; and second, on a meta level, in terms of how all of us enrich the Jewish conversation through our differences.

First, I cannot imagine my concept of God, as it stands now, without the input of Jewish feminists. As a young gay man, it was all too easy for me to understand God as a (male) friend, as a (putatively male) spirit, and even, alas, as a (highly male) father or judge. I did not “naturally” experience God as wombful (rachamim), as immanent in the breezes, trees and flowers, or as the endlessly circling and spiraling cycles of the natural world. To be sure, I had some vague experiential inklings of these mysterious forces, but they always seemed apart from my Judaism.

It was only as I came to appreciate the egalitarian and progressive elements of Jewish feminism and, later, its radical earth-based and potentially revolutionary elements that I saw how incomplete my earlier understanding of God had been.

Jewish feminism also means, for me, refusing to give one’s own preferences, or even the mandates of tradition, a veto over justice. For example, I still resonate more with traditional liturgical language than with some gender-neutral revisions of it, but my preferential “resonance” is, I think, much less important than ensuring our theological discourse does not perpetuate oppression.

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Using Sexism to Our Advantage

By Naomi Zeveloff

The investigative news site ProPublica hosted a session Monday on women in the newsroom at the Tenement Museum, a Lower East Side institution dedicated to telling the story of immigrant life in New York.

Unfortunately, the venue wasn’t the only thing that felt retro about the event. The topics covered — the dearth of women in editor positions, the shabby family leave policies at most newspapers, the fact that women are pushed to cover “soft” news like education while their male colleagues get the investigative scoops — are things that women in media have talked about for decades upon decades upon decades. When will the American news media have its “come to Jesus moment,” as ProPublica writer Nikole Hanna-Jones termed it, and cover and employ women of color? Something tells me we’ll be having this same conversation for years to come.

The most refreshing thing to come out of the panel was a discussion of how female reporters can use sexism to their advantage.

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Bat Mitzvah Confessionals

By Elissa Strauss

istock

When we talk about bat mitzvahs, we tend to focus on the more absurdist elements of the day, like our regrettable sartorial choices and tales of general teenage awkwardness. We get so caught up in the puffy sleeved pink skirt suits and the fact that Ron Greenberg decided to do “Love Shack” in the karaoke booth with Jessica even though you asked him first, that we fail to consider how truly progressive this ceremony once was.

The bat mitzvah was a major achievement for early Jewish feminists who, caught up the fervor of the suffragette victory of 1922, decided to claim the right of passage as their own. Now, in light of bat mitzvah’s 90th anniversary, the JCC in Manhattan is hosting an exhibit about ceremony, as well as a concert and performance this Thursday night dedicated to the ceremony.

The show is headlined by Girls in Trouble, led by singer/songwriter Alicia Jo Rabins, and will feature performances by comedian Judy Gold, performance artist Glenn Marla, writer Deborah Feldman, and actress Sam Mozes.

The Sisterhood spoke with these women about their sometimes funny, sometimes boring, and sometimes empowering experiences up on the bima. Feel free to share your bat mitzvah story in the comments section below.

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On Flying Rockets and Missing Work

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Getty Images
An Israeli girl surveys the damage from a rocket that hit a Beer Sheva school.

We’ve become used to the gender roles in conventional war. The brave male soldiers march off to the battlefield, the women and children remain back at home, protected in their domestic routines. Or, in the alternative scenario, when the horror of war comes to civilian neighborhoods, life grinds to a halt, and the family huddles together for safety, fathers and mothers joining together to protect their children.

But this week, as the back-and-forth volleys between Israel and terror elements in Gaza stretched past the Purim holiday and the weekend into the work week, affecting more than a million citizens in southern Israel, there is a different reality. It is so different that Israel’s Homefront Command has coined a new term: “Emergency Routine” — a middle ground between a “State of Emergency” and business as usual.

In this so-called emergency routine situation, work goes on as usual – because the state doesn’t want the local economy to grind to a halt. However school is cancelled, because, even if a school is built with missile-proof materials, nobody wants to see a direct hit on a school full of children, and children are vulnerable as they walk or ride the bus to school. And so the question being asked in households across southern Israel, is ‘who’s going to stay home with the kids?’

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On Covering War — as a Young Mother

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

getty images
The besieged Syrian city of Homs, where Marie Colvin was killed.

I never met Marie Colvin, the intrepid war correspondent who was brutally murdered by Syrian army shelling. But I used to fantasize about being like her. Scratch the surface of any journalist and you’ll find someone who was once intrigued by the vision of living dangerously, moving from trouble spot to trouble spot, always in the middle of the action, bravely shining a light on injustices across the world. The classic foreign correspondent swashbuckler icon may be male, but since there have been numerous examples of women in battle zones. 



I have incredible respect and admiration for friends and colleagues who cover not only the Arab-Israeli conflict from the comfort of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv offices, but hop in and out of Egypt, Libya, Lebanon and Iraq, despite the ongoing dangers. I’m not one of them. It is a rare creature who has the ability to run towards danger and risk, and not away from it.

My friend Stephanie, a television correspondent who has been covering the Arab Spring across the Middle East is one of those brave people. I interviewed her long-distance — she is currently on the Lebanon-Syrian border, covering the bloody Syrian crackdown on anti-government protesters. We agreed that I would not fully identify her or the news organization she works for, in order to protect her safety and allow her to speak freely about her experiences.


Allison Kaplan Sommer: You knew Marie Colvin. What was she like? 



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'Feminist' Feels More Political Than I Am

By Abigail Pogrebin

This is the second entry in an ongoing series about Jewish feminism.

It’s difficult to be “for” something I have never lived without.

I don’t remember a bimah without women. When I was growing up, my mother was the cantor at our makeshift shul on Fire Island, so my Jewish practice always had a female face. I don’t remember learning Judaism without women because some of my most formative Jewish teachers — Miri Kubovy, Mychal Springer, Jennifer Krause and Angela Buchdahl — were strong, scholarly women. I have only known integrated, egalitarian Judaism, just as I have only known an egalitarian home — my parents’ and now my own.

Radical as it may sound, I never really experienced sexism, just as I didn’t encounter anti-Semitism. I know both still fester, and that they were once controlling and insidious, but thanks, in significant part, to the work of my mother and her compatriots, we live in a different world now.

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Why Is Clothing the Focus at JTS?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

istock

Coming this Sunday, to the intellectual and spiritual fountainhead of the Conservative movement, the best and brightest women (and men) in the movement will be talking about….clothing.

As Renee mentioned in this post, JTS will be hosting “What to Wear?” on March 11. It is an event billed as “An All-Day, Multifaceted Exploration of Women’s 
Clothing and Its Relationship to Religion and Culture.”

Much about the program sounds interesting: an interfaith panel, with Christian, Muslim and Jewish participants, on head covering and modesty; another panel, of female rabbis, looking at the messages sent by what they choose to wear; an examination of clothing in the Talmud, and an inter-generational session delving into the loaded topic of clothing and bat mitzvah.

Perhaps uniquely, JTS is able to bring together people from across the Jewish world, from Modern Orthodox to Reform, and from other faiths, and bring an intellectual perspective to bear on current cultural issues. And that’s great.

But something about this event seems more wrong than thrift store shoes on Carrie Bradshaw’s feet. My issue with “What to Wear?” isn’t the content, but that it’s happening at all.

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