Sisterhood Blog

How 'Sh— Girls Say' Changed My Life

By Elissa Strauss

Earlier this month a humor video called “Shit Girls Say” hit the web. I found it mildly amusing, but not necessarily funny or cutting enough to deserve the over 7 million hits it would get in a few weeks. But then it kind of changed my life.

The shtick with “Shit Girls Say,” which began as popular Twitter handle, is calling attention to how relentlessly careful “girls” can be. In the video a woman — played by a man which adds some pop to the humor, but not as much as you’d think — delivers a series of non-sequiturs of typical things girls say.

“Can you read this and make sure it makes sense?”

“Do you know anything about computers?”

“Can you do me a huge favor?” (Repeated more than once.)

“Do I look like a doily?“

“I know, right?”

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'Shiksa Appeal' Leans on Outmoded Stereotypes

By Renee Ghert-Zand

msavitheyenta.com
The author of ‘Secrets of Shiksa Appeal’ goes by the pen name Avi Roseman.

I really did want to put down “Secrets of Shiksa Appeal: Eight Steps to Attract Your Shul-Mate,” a new self-help guide, which begins with the cringe-worthy lines, “I once drove a boyfriend into the arms of a shiksa. The following pages are my attempt to make up for that.” But before I knew it I was through the 117-page book.

The premise of “Secrets,” written by a 20-something author who goes by the pen name Avi Roseman, is that Jewish women would be able to get Jewish men to marry them if only they would act more like non-Jewish women (a premise that Details and Complex magazines would surely take issue with — even if for the wrong reasons). Only she freely calls these non-Jewish women “shiksas,” with apparently no concern that she might come off sounding like a huge bigot. As difficult as it was for me, I let my late bubbe get away with bandying “shiksa” about; but I can’t allow the young Roseman to feign ignorance of the derogatory nature of the term.

The essence of Roseman’s approach is that Jewish women just aren’t good enough.

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In Defense of the 'Hot Jewish Women' List

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images
Singer and pianist Regina Spektor made the Complex list.

In her post on Complex.com’s year-end list of the 50 hottest Jewish women, Naomi Zeveloff warns against the persistent lust-ridden fascination with Jewish women.

Me, on the other hand — well, I am still kind of digging it.

Are men’s magazines crude and often misogynistic? Yep. Are ethnic fetishes, as Zeveloff point out, incredibly reductive? Of course. But still, I see a silver lining here.

Instead of Jewish women, broadly speaking, adapting to notions of what is hot — blond, demure, coquettish — men, as represented by these mainstream publications, have adapted to us — brunette, opinionated, funny. And I am well-aware that I am speaking in stereotypes here, but considering how much we still trade in stereotypes I believe it is sometimes worthwhile to consider how they function and evolve instead of just outright rejecting them.

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Was Yesterday's Rally Really About Gender?

By Elana Sztokman

Getty Images
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni at Tuesday’s rally.

Last night, Israel’s first mass demonstration in protest of the increasing waves of Haredi violence against women took place in Beit Shemesh. It was a remarkable event, in its strength and diversity. There were speakers representing a range of organizations, Knesset members from five different political parties — including three women, two of whom are heads of their respective parties — and citizens religious and secular who have become symbols of the struggle against the removal of women from the public sphere. Yet, while history was being made, the event also raised some difficult questions, such as who the demonstrators are, what are they protesting, and to whom are they addressing their demands?

Part of the demonstration was undoubtedly local. Throughout the event, there were ongoing calls from the crowd for the Haredi Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul to resign. “You destroyed this city,” protesters called out during a speech he made about his intentions to put violent citizens behind bars. Several speakers and many signs referred to the current plans to build 30,000 new housing units exclusively for Haredim. There is no obvious gender issue in the housing plans, and the fact that this was a theme of the event suggests that many people came to protest the seeming Haredi take-over of the city, and blamed local and national politicians for that.

Another major theme of the event was a protest of religious extremism in Israel generally.

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'Hot Jews' and the Peril of Ethnic Fetishism

By Naomi Zeveloff

complex.com
Comedian Sarah Silverman made the sleazy list.

‘Tis the season for year-end lists, and the pop culture web site Complex.com has come out with one that places them squarely in skeez territory: the 50 hottest Jewish women, a catalog of actresses, porn stars, and models with Semitic heritage.

“As a flame dancing atop a candle gives off heat, so do many of the Jewish women who’ve made their mark on pop culture over the years,” reads the web site. “No matter your faith or creed, after reading this list you’ll agree that the sexy ladies of the Tribe of Judah play second fiddler on the roof to none.”

Bad puns aside, there’s something very unsavory about the compilation, in that it’s the most recent instance of what seems to be a growing media fixation on Jewish women.

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Take Back the Discourse

By Elana Sztokman

Wikimedia Commons
Limor Livnat

Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat was doing well for a while in her efforts to combat gender segregation. But then she, like others before her, fell into an all-too familiar trap: religious politics.

Livnat, a leading Israeli legislator recently decided to take a vocal lead protesting gender segregation in the public sphere. It was an exciting development when, during a weekly cabinet meeting mid-December, she proposed a series of governmental actions to fight such segregation. Her proposals included setting up an inter-ministerial committee to enforce equality, having the Civil Service Authority publish clear guidelines for several bureaucratic bodies, and opening up special government hotlines to field complaints about coerced gender segregation on buses and elsewhere.

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The 8-Year-Old Girl Who Woke Up Israel

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Israel has a new and unlikely national heroine. She is a small, blond, bespectacled Orthodox 8-year-old girl, the daughter of American immigrants who live in Beit Shemesh. Her name is Na’ama Margolese and she was featured in a news broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2 about the ongoing Haredi harassment of the girls who attend the Orot Banot School, and about the problem of extreme Haredi control in Beit Shemesh in general.

Naama spoke on camera of her fears while walking the short distance from her home to her school, after numerous occasions when she was cursed at and even once spit on by the Haredi demonstrators. Israeli viewers watched as her mother, Hadassah, holding her hand, tried to convince her to make the short walk as she cried, whined and protested; it’s a ritual they go through every school day.

To the residents of Beit Shemesh (and to readers of The Sisterhood) the story of Beit Shemesh and the intimidation of Orot Banot girls is nothing new.

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The Soulful Kittel: Lit From Within

By Jacqueline Nicholls

The Kittel Collection is a series of clothing pieces that explores the different ways clothing is used as a vehicle for meaning and identity within our tradition and literature. The kittel is a simple, white, garment used as a burial shroud, and customarily worn by men on various Jewish holy days. Each month, The Sisterhood showcases, and looks at the meaning behind, a kittel from my collection. View images of this month’s kittel, the Soulful Kittel, after the jump.

It’s Hanukkah, the festival of light, and this kittel focuses on the metaphorical use of light.

When God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, God clothed them in “garments of skin” to replace the fig leaves that they had used to cover their nakedness. A midrash in Genesis changes the letter ayin in the word or to an alef. With an ayin the word or means skin; with an alef it means light. And so skin is transformed into the evocative “garments of light.”

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Hasidic Woman Channels Rosa Parks

By Tamar Rotem

National Archives
Role Model: Rosa Parks

Crossposted from Haaretz

On a sunny afternoon early this week, an ultra-Orthodox woman boarded a bus in the enclave of the Gur Hasidic community in Ashdod and took a seat in the second row. The bus, Egged line 451, was headed for Jerusalem. It quickly became clear that this simple, everyday act — choosing a seat to her liking — was enough to transform her presence on the bus into a palpable challenge to the rest of the passengers. I sat down across from the woman, fearing the worst.

Not only did the woman, whose name is Yocheved Horowitz, blatantly ignore the tacit agreement among the bus’ riders to adhere to the most stringent religious practices — in this case, an unwritten rule that men sit in the front and women in the back. And not only did she not conform to the seating arrangements dictated by men — that is, those in authority. This was also a woman who, judging by her appearance, seemed to come from within the community.

A young girl who boarded the bus at one of the stops in the Zayyin quarter, where the Gur compound is situated, apparently couldn’t have imagined that an ultra-Orthodox woman would relate dismissively to the highest social stricture of segregation by sex. Even as she saw Horowitz heading for the second row, she whispered to her, as if trying to save her before it was too late, “Mehadrin, mehadrin” — a term usually employed in connection with food, but which in this case referred to the adherence on the bus to the strictest religious principles; the girl also gestured to her to sit in the back.

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The Gold Lining of Israel’s ‘Housewives’

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

nana10.co.il
The cast of ‘HaMeusharot

Let’s get something straight: I believe that the world would be a far better place, and women would be far better off, if Bravo had never invented the “Real Housewives” television reality show genre. But unfortunately for women — especially those of Orange County, Beverly Hills, New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey and Washington, DC — there is obviously some deep human need for a glimpse of the lives of the rich and ostentatious, and what better, albeit sexist, prism than the lives of the privileged women? And so the endless viewing of luxury living and staged catfighting, where men are either non-existent, or as interesting than the furniture, became a staple of American television.

Then just as nearly every successful reality series from “Survivor” to “The Voice” has made aliyah to Israel, so came the “Housewives” concept. The staged reality series about wealthy Israeli women, “HaMeusharot,” (“Wealthy Women”) and the timing couldn’t have been more unfortunate. Right around its premiere last summer, Israeli social protesters pitched their tents on Rothschild Street and the ‘tycoons’ become public enemy number one. It was as if the series premiere of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” coincided with the emergence of Occupy Wall Street.

You’d think people wouldn’t have been in the mood for the rich and famous. But the show quickly drew an audience and received relatively strong ratings for the financially struggling television channel that airs it.

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My Jewish Daughter’s First Christmas

By Melissa Langsam Braunstein

What makes this Christmas different from all other Christmases? For the first time, I have had to explain my typically unspoken understanding that this all-encompassing holiday is not ours.

Whenever my 7-month-old daughter, Lila, and I take walks, I name and explain everything we see. In recent weeks, that has included the pretty Christmas lights adorning our neighborhood stores. My daughter is dazzled by the decorations, especially our building’s Christmas tree. It’s ironic, since Lila’s musical taste skews incredibly Jewish, from “Tree of Life” to “Oseh Shalom.” Then again, perhaps it’s logical. Lila is enthralled by shiny objects, and she’s always loved lights. She’s never seen a Christmas tree before, and it must be confusing that all trees live outside, except the one in our apartment building’s lobby. So, I do my best to explain everything in terms an infant can understand. This tree is pretty, and we can admire it, but it’s not our tradition.

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Prime Ribs: Zarin v. Babs; Marc Jacobs v. His Mom

By Elissa Strauss

Some not-so-endearing news from our favorite Jewish fashion designers: Marc Jacobs tells Vogue that he hasn’t spoken to his mother in over 20 years (my mom launches a re-unification campaign if we don’t speak for two days), and Donna Karan gets in trouble for her new ad campaign set in Haiti. Hat tip to Jezebel.


Jewish mother Jill Zarin may have dealt with her share of divas on the “Real Housewives of New York,” but she still wasn’t prepared for Queen Bee Barbra Streisand. Radar reports that shortly after Zarin posted a video online of Streisand performing at a recent benefit for the Israeli Defense Forces, she was contacted by Streisand’s lawyers to take down immediately. “Someone from Barbra Streisand’s company just called my store to tell me to take down my YouTube video or they will sue me. Is that nuts? Sorry guys. I took it down!” Zarin wrote.


The Jewish Women’s Repertory Company, which produces work with all-female casts for the Los Angeles Orthodox community, is out with a new show, “Me and My Girl.” As The Los Angeles Times notes, this is one play where the actresses get the good parts.

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Egyptian Women: Brave in Brutal Times

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Getty Images
Egyptian women protest in Cairo, December 20, 2011.

Before, during and after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, women have been the focus of the protracted conflict in Egypt between grassroots protesters and the military regime. First it was the attack on CBS reporter Lara Logan, then the so-called ‘virginity checks’ on women protesters detained by the Egyptian army. And this past week the world was shocked by to the horrific photographs of female demonstrators being beaten with metal poles, kicked and stepped on and then discarded like garbage. What galvanized world opinion was one photograph that will become iconic, of the demonstrator whose black robe was ripped from her body, laid prostrate on the ground with her blue bra exposed. Max Fisher wrote in The Atlantic that:

there is something especially barbaric about this photo. The taboo of violence against unarmed women is unusually strong in the Arab world. But to watch three soldiers beat a defenseless woman with batons, their fists, and for one extraordinarily cruel soldier with his boot, is not even the most provocative part. For these men to pull her black abaya above her head and expose her midriff and chest is, for Egypt, a profound and sexually charged humiliation. And there is a certain awful irony of using that abaya, a symbol of modesty and piety, to cover her face and drag her on the street.

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What Christopher Hitchens' Writing Left Out

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
Christopher Hitchens

For several days now, the Internet and print’s finest journalists have been reflecting on the life and death of one of their own, Christopher Hitchens.

Whenever someone famous dies, it’s nigh impossible not to be compelled by the eulogizing process, as those who knew the deceased try to process their grief and memories so immediately, so publicly. But with Hitchens, there’s another element at play in addition. Writers, particularly journalists who have a seemingly limitless platform, obsess regularly over the importance of other writers.

This habit on the part of the writing class was particularly evident when it came to Hitchens, whose talent for crafting sentences has been posited as an innate good, one that canceled out some of the morally questionable to morally abhorrent things he advocated with his pen. (He was anti-abortion, pro-Iraq war, Islamophobic and more). His erudite zingers were masterful, so their aim at the wrong targets was deemed acceptable, even fascinating.

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In YU Sex Column, a Missed Opportunity

By Gavriella Lerner

yubeacon.com

As a Stern College alumna, I feel the need to explain why the recent Beacon sex essay that described a premarital sexual encounter was received negatively by many Yeshiva University students and alumni.

Despite what the media seems to believe, YU students and alums are not afraid to discuss important and uncomfortable topics; we know full well that some Orthodox college students have premarital sex. However, Yeshiva University is a place where — unlike most American colleges campuses — this is not the norm. Many students and alumni have chosen YU, over schools widely deemed more prestigious, because they value a religious educational environment.

That some students personally violate Jewish law, or halacha, does not ruin this ideal. But a student publication publicizing someone’s decision to do so in order to represent the voice of all those who act similarly does great damage.

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Noa: We're Headed Toward a 'Taliban State'

By L. Ariella Zeller and Elana Sztokman

Eyal Yassky Weiss
Achinoam Nini, a.k.a. Noa.

Achinoam Nini, the recording artist better known as Noa,” was among the performers who took the stage recently at Jerusalem’s “Singing for Equality.” The gathering protested the increasing gender segregation in Israel, and the exclusion of women’s images and voices from public spaces. It was organized in all of five days, but was filled with 500 people and a stage set with colorful and elaborate posters declaring, “Good morning Israel, the time has come to wake up and get back the Israel we lost.”

Following her performance, Nini spoke with The Sisterhood:

Why I’m here: [E]verything that I’ve learned about Judaism, learning in yeshiva in the States — first in SAR Academy and then in Ramaz, where I had wonderful experiences — everything that I know to be important to Judaism is being destroyed by some radicals. They’ve interpreted the Judaism that I know and love in a way that I feel is erroneous and unintelligent, and I’m here to fight against that.

What I sang onstage: I sang three songs, one of which, “Mishaela,” is one of my older songs about a girl who looks at a desert and sees water flowing and trees growing. But actually all of this is only happening in her mind — in the eyes of her soul. I chose it because it describes the transformative powers of the human spirit, and I think only through these inner powers that we have to change our situation will we be able to actually change it.

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Interfaith Mom Is Wrong About Chrismukkah

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Fox Broadcasting
A still from “The O.C.” — the show that popularized the term “Chrismukkah.”

Dear Susan Katz Miller:

Most of the points you make in your recent HuffPo piece, “8 Reasons My Interfaith Family Celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas,” make so little sense, from where I sit as a Jewish mother, that I feel compelled to respond. I am aware that by doing so I am wading into the roiling waters of touchy issues around intermarriage and the choices interfaith families make.

1). You write that you see “no theological conflict between Judaism and acknowledging the birth of a Jewish spiritual seeker who stood up for the poor and oppressed and changed the course of history (that would be Jesus).”

Perhaps you ought to brush up on some of what distinguishes Christianity from Judaism. Where to begin? All of mainstream Judaism says that there is a conflict between Judaism and accepting Jesus as the redeemer. Jesus and his disciples departed from Judaism so radically, in their rejection of Judaism’s basic tenets, that they birthed an entire new religion. How does that not count as a theological conflict?

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Confessions of a Bake Sale 'Fraud'

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Stephanie Rausser
Ayelet Waldman

I have committed an act that is apparently unforgivable. Worse, I am a repeat offender. I had no idea at the time that my behavior was deeply offensive to some, and that I may have been repeatedly condemned and sneered at behind my back. I was oblivious. But ignorance, I’ve heard, is a poor defense.

So now that I know better, I will confess: On multiple occasions, I have brought store-bought goods to a bake sale. There, I’ve said it. And on the rare occasions when I possessed the time and energy to actually use my oven to create a dessert, I’ve done it with help from boxes of Pillsbury and Duncan Hines mixes I happened to have in the cabinet. I may never have taken action as drastic as distressing a purchased pie to make it look homemade, à la the heroine in “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” but I have gone so far as transferring brownies from a package to my own plate so that it’s store-boughtness was less obvious. A crime and a cover-up.

I would like to personally thank New York Times contributor Jennifer Steinhauer for showing me the error of my ways. I became aware of her piece “‘Store Bought’Spoils the Pot Luck Spirit” over the weekend, while making my usual Facebook rounds. While checking Ayelet Waldman’s author page, my eye was quickly drawn to two status updates which had drawn more than 100 “likes” and as many comments.

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Jeffrey Goldberg, Walmart and The Atlantic

By Elissa Strauss

theatlantic.com
On newsstands: The Atlantic

Dear Jeffrey Goldberg:

You recently wrote a piece for Bloomberg in which you call Crystal Bridges, the new museum built by Walmart heiress Alice Walton, a moral blight. Your column notes that “many of the paintings in Crystal Bridges hang in eloquent rebuke to the values of the company that has made the Waltons so very wealthy.”

Among these paintings is Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter,” which, you report, is described at the museum as a “transcendent symbol” of the “capabilities, strength and determination” of American women.

You write:

This is the sort of description that should give Alice Walton pause. After all, Wal-Mart’s female employees are not nearly so celebrated. In fact, one study shows that Wal-Mart’s female employees are paid less on average than their male counterparts, and are less likely to be promoted to management.

I am writing to remind you that The Atlantic magazine, where you are a staff writer, has not been entirely hospitable to women either.

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After Plagiarism Suit, Standing by Naomi Ragen

By Elana Sztokman

St. Martin's Griffin
The book at issue: Ragen’s 1992 novel, “Sotah.”

The news that Naomi Ragen was found guilty of plagiarism came as quite a blow to those of us who deeply admire her work. Ragen is more than a bestselling author; she’s an activist by writing, and in some circles, I would go so far as to say she’s an icon. The devastating verdict creates a real conflict for some of us, torn between protection of artists’ rights and the need for strong female religious leadership. It’s a tough call, but I have decided that I’m going to continue to support Naomi Ragen.

This is why: Ragen has been a courageous writer on behalf of Jewish women since before it became popular, before Orthodox women’s activism had a name or a movement. Back when the only type of writing we had about Orthodoxy came from the Faye Kellerman-style of idealizing Orthodoxy, in which all is beautiful and sweet in the Orthodox home and all women are happy cooking and looking pretty and covered while their husbands do all the grungy work in the outside world of blood and guts, Ragen was out there. She was willing to take an honest look and tell the truth despite the denial and outrage her words engendered. She had the courage to expose so much of what is kept systematically hidden in the religious world — painful abuse, power-wielding, social hierarchies — and for that we all need to be grateful.

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