Pressure against the Pu’ah to abstain from holding a conference for men only on fertility and Jewish law seems to be working. As of this morning, 9 out of 10 Israeli doctors scheduled to speak had withdrawn. In addition, the Ethics Board of the Physicians’ Union announced that from now on doctors will not be allowed to participate in medical events or conferences in which women are excluded, either as speakers or patients. This is an enormous victory by any social activism standards.
A roundtable of 30 social justice organizations convened by the New Israel Fund over the past few months to address the exclusion of women seems to be largely responsible for this success. Dr. Hanna Kehat, founder of the religious women’s forum Kolech, brought the Pu’ah conference to the attention of the other members of the roundtable — and several member organizations helped activate pressure. (Full disclosure: I also sit on the roundtable, representing The Center for Women’s Justice. Everything reported here is with permission).
Lili Ben Ami and Limor Levy Osemi, of the Lobby for Equality Between the Sexes, have been particularly influential in achieving the support of the physicians’ Ethics’ Board, and have been speaking to doctors, Knesset members and members of the media. Mickey Gitzin, director of Be Free Israel, which promotes civil equality, has also been encouraging doctors not to cave into Haredi pressure.
It is worth noting that for the the majority of my childhood and adolescence, I did not have a vagina. I had what my mother referred to as “front of me. ” (as in,”You shouldn’t wear underwear to sleep so you can air out the front of you.”) I spent a lot of time being confused about what “the front of me” was, how it worked, what it could do. Clarification around what my lady parts were was something I brought to myself, but it was accompanied by fear and shame. It was not the introduction to living in a body that I would wish for a girl, or anyone, for that matter.
Matthue Roth’s piece, ‘The C-Word,’ was published recently on Kveller, and it has kept my brain addled ever since. First, there’s the issue of the word cunt, which Roth hopes his “baby proto-feminist girl” will use. It’s not just that the word makes me want to hide under the bed; for me, it has always been a word I associate with violence and misogyny. While there are words and institutions that as feminists we can reclaim, “cunt” seems entirely too far gone for me.
Ultimately, teaching your kids to use the correct words to refer to their body and bodily functions is something that every parent should do, regardless of the gender identity of the parent. We need feminist men (like Roth, who owns the label) to do this because of the power that men hold in society, and this especially needs to be modeled inside religious communities. My concern is that whenever a man does this, he’s regaled as being the best father and the best human being ever, instead of doing what he should be doing. The standard for parenting remains incredibly low for men, and impossibly high for women.
Who can blame the women of Beit Shemesh for wanting to cut loose? Times have been tough: They’ve been in crisis mode since the opening of school and ultra-Orthodox extremists began harassing the girls at the Orot Banot school. Not to mention the ongoing issues of increased gender segregation on buses, separate sidewalks in parts of town and harassment in the streets of Haredi areas if their dress is deemed insufficiently modest.
And ever since the story of the harassment of school girl Na’ama Margolese hit Israeli television, they’ve also had to cope with the glare of the media spotlight on their community.
So with the goal of generating positive energy and showing the world that they are unbowed in the face of religious extremism, a group of Beit Shemesh women, primarily from the Modern Orthodox community, began a campaign on Facebook to create a female “flash mob” in their community. On the morning January 6, 250 women came together in the center of town to dance joyously in unison to the triumphant upbeat lyrics of “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen.
Jennifer Bleyer’s recent Sisterhood piece about the unexpected pleasures of her so-called “mama furlough” reminds me how much I have enjoyed my annual week, alone in my house, when my husband takes our kids camping.
I recently took the next step toward remembering who I used to be. For the first time in nearly 18 years of parenting, I took a pleasure trip — by myself.
My New York Torah study group, which has been meeting for about 15 years but I joined just this year, has a sister group in Jerusalem. There is a joint annual retreat to focus, in depth, on whatever we are studying, which this year is the work of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. When it became clear that the retreat would be in Israel, I thought the answer was simple. I wouldn’t go. For so many reasons.
Financial, for one. We are preparing for Girlchik’s bat mitzvah, and putting away each available shekel to finance what I hope will be a lovely afternoon party.
There is also the serious challenge of being visually impaired.
Pornhub.com wants Melissa Rivers to star in an adult film, and the XXX site believes it would be the first-ever adult film to feature “a sexy Jewish American Princess,” TMZ reports. Apparently Pornhub missed Complex.com’s list of the “50 Hottest Jewish Women,” which featured its share of adult actresses.
Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, of West Virginia, tells Forbes that she doesn’t think being nice is a feminine weakness, and that it can actually help you get ahead.
Two prominent Haredi women are boldly, and publicly, speaking out against ultra-Orthodox extremists, who advocate extreme gender segregation, and who, in recent days, have rioted against police in Beit Shemesh and protested in Jerusalem the “exclusion of Haredim” by donning yellow stars and concentration camp uniforms.
Ruth Lichtenstein, publisher of New York’s Haredi daily Hamodia on Wednesday wrote and signed a strongly worded editorial titled “It’s Time To Act.” In it, she describes coincidentally visiting Jerusalem during the protest, and being horrified by “pre-meditated cynicism, the fringe group to which he [a father who dressed his son to look like the boy with the yellow star and upraised arms in an iconic photo from the Warsaw Ghetto] belongs has desecrated an iconic symbol for their own ends.”
She goes on to warn against the serious dangers of dismissing these protesters as crazy people, writing:
Imagine a medical conference dedicated to women’s bodies in which no women are allowed to speak or even sit in the audience. No, this is not a Victorian novel or the back room of an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club. This is Israel 2012.
For the fourth year in a row, Pu’ah, a publicly funded organization dealing with gynecology, fertility and Jewish law, or halacha, is set to hold their annual medical conference on January 11 in a setting completely devoid of actual women.
Women are excluded as conference presenters on fertility, medicine, or Jewish law, and barred from even sitting in the crowd. Over the past three years, Kolech has written petitions, gone to the media, and turned to medical professionals asking them not to participate “This year, for the first time, people are taking an interest, and maybe something will happen,” Kolech’s founder, Hanna Kehat, said.
About a month ago, I was nursing my son in the waiting room at the pediatrician’s office. A young girl who looked to be about 10 or 11 noticed a pair of little feet sticking out from under my blue floral nursing cover and innocently asked me what I was doing, and I responded that I was feeding my baby. Her eyes widened incredulously as she asked, “How do you feed a baby without a bottle?” Now, her mother was right there, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the 8.5 months that I’ve been a parent, it’s that “backseat parenting” is just not cool, so I quickly mumbled something about asking her (mortified looking) mother and left it at that.
The incident got me thinking. I felt sad for that little girl that nobody had thought to explain to her one of life’s most beautiful biological processes; I also felt dejected about the prospects of raising this country’s appallingly low breastfeeding rates.
Whenever these kinds of conversations come up, someone inevitably remarks that feeding babies is about choice, and we should not shame mothers who choose to bottle-feed. I agree. The problem is: How often does it truly come down to choice — and not a “cultural booby trap”?
Equality for Jewish women is not a 20th century invention. A siddur, or prayerbook, from the year 1471 contains an alternative text to the much abhorred “shelo asani isha” blessing that thanks God for “not making me a woman,” a text that is not only misogynistic in content but assumes that the person holding the prayerbook is male. In this 15th century book, the text reads, “Baruch she’asani isha v’lo ish,” “Thank God for making me a woman and not a man.”
According to Professor David Kramer, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the “siddur was produced by the scribe and rabbi Abraham Farissol for a groom to give to his bride in 1471.” Farissol lived in Italy from 1451–1525. The siddur, housed in JTS’ library archives, can be viewed here.
This is a significant discovery for several reasons.
Tracey Gold played a significant role in my childhood. I found most of “Growing Pains” terribly boring and annoying, but Carol Seaver, the fictional family’s perfectly nerdy teenage daughter, fascinated me. When I saw pictures of an emaciated Gold on the cover of magazines in the supermarket, I thought they seemed completely incongruous with Carol’s sensibilities. I was terrified by her skinny arms and protruding clavicle. (At one point in 1992, Gold reportedly weighed 80 lbs.) But I didn’t understand what was happening to her — until many years later, when it was happening to women in my family and several of my friends.
If you tune in to Lifetime (you know, the so-called network for women) every Friday night at the peculiar hour of 11 p.m., you can see Gold again, older and earnest, in a new reality show called “Starving Secrets.” Each week, Gold goes on a mission to “help others battle their own eating disorders and to get them the treatment they need to save their lives.”
The opening sequence of the show is a litany of the emaciated, wasted bodies of folks with eating disorders. I feel like I’m about to watch a Holocaust documentary.
There she went, waving over her father’s shoulder. My husband pushed a loaded luggage cart outside the departure level sidewalk at JFK with one hand and carried our daughter with the other. I stood beside the car blowing kisses and watching her shout, “Bye, Mama!” until they were swallowed by the automatic doors and had disappeared into the terminal. Then, alone at the wheel, I had a Ferris Bueller moment:
When my husband suggested taking our 2-year-old daughter to Los Angeles for nine days, where he had to travel for work and his parents had offered to take care of her, the prospect seemed bizarre. I hadn’t been apart from her for more than a couple days since she was born, and in those cases, it was she who stayed home with my parents as my husband and I ventured off for a quick weekend away. I thought about going along for the trip, but entering my eighth month of pregnancy, the thought of a cross-country flight seemed as appealing as hiking the Andes in six-inch heels.
So I agreed. I was still a bit tepid about the idea, but was warming up to it as their day of departure approached. Then it came. And it was glorious.
I would like to take a moment to consider provocative women. After all, those of us who are following events in Beit Shemesh have heard a lot about this subject. A woman trying to hail a taxi in Beit Shemesh and then spat upon was called “provocative” by Haredi men around her. Tanya Rosenblit, who sat in the front seat of a segregated bus from Ashdod to Jerusalem, was accused of being “provocative” by those men who stopped the bus from proceeding on its route. Even 8-year-old Na’ama Margolese was accused of being “provocative.”
In my doctoral research, in which I spent three years in a state religious girls’ high school in Israel working on decoding girls’ identities, I came upon accusations of “provocative” in some telling moments.
One day, the school held a special “Tzniut Day” in which there was an assembly and special classes on the issue of “modesty.” (It was actually about girls’ clothing and I do wish that people would stop calling that “modesty,” as if there is anything remotely connected between body cover and humility before God.) The rabbi speaking to the class framed the issue around teaching the girls not to be “provocative” by, for example, revealing one’s upper arms.
In Jerusalem and Ramat Gan Sunday, women and men boarded buses to protest gender segregation on public transportation, and the exclusion of women from public spaces throughout Israel.
Settler “It Girl” and Israel Hayom columnist Emily Amrusi appeared on Israeli TV playing down the exclusion of women, saying that it is merely “separation” between men and women, and that the secular media has no right to tell religious women how to live.
Satirist Itamar Rose released a video showing how easily some Israeli women agreed to be hidden from view while singing Hanukkah songs for a (fake) filmed greeting to soldiers.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.