Sisterhood Blog

Throwing Eggs and Jeers at Little Girls

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

It’s not right that the denim-skirted young girls of the Orot Banot school in Beit Shemesh should be the front-line soldiers in the battle for religious tolerance and co-existence in their city. But as they face jeering men and hurled eggs, and tomatoes as they walk to and from their classrooms, that’s exactly what they are.

Back on Sept. 1, I wrote here at The Sisterhood about the national religious girls school Orot Banot winning an important battle merely because it was able to open its doors for the school year.

The opening of the school took place in spite of opposition from a group of extreme Haredi neighbors who zealously opposed the girl’s schools’ location on the seam between national-religious neighborhoods and a Haredi neighborhood. Their campaign to prevent the school from opening won the support of the city’s mayor, who was subsequently overruled by the Ministry of Education.

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Interfaith Caravan Is Full of Female Rabbis

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Courtesy Rev. Steven Martin
Rabbi Amy Eilberg speaking at UNC Charlotte as part of the Reconciliation Caravan.

As the first woman to be ordained a Conservative rabbi, Amy Eilberg occupies a major place in the annals of Jewish women’s history. She has recently been squeezing her self into a very small space in the hopes of making another kind of history.

Since September 11, she and seven other interfaith clergy have been crammed into a specially decorated van traveling a large swatch of the eastern and central parts of the country. They are on the “Religious Leaders for Reconciliation Caravan,” a literal and figurative drive to “re-knit the torn fabric of American society,” as Eilberg put it in a phone interview with The Sisterhood.

The Caravan is a project of Clergy Beyond Borders, a Maryland-based conflict resolution and interfaith education organization founded two years ago by Imam Yahya Hendi, the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, and Rabbi Gerald Serotta, founding chair of the organization Rabbis for Human Rights.

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Rebbetzins Blog About Changing Role

By Chanel Dubofsky

courtesy Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez
Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez

Jessica Cavanagh-Melhado and Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez are the authors of Redefining Rebbetzin.com, a blog featuring the perspectives and experiences of both women as they make the journey “from wives to rabbis’ wives.”

In the blog, they are confronting the stereotypes and expecations that come with the title of rebbetzins, and they write on a variety of Jewish subjects, especially issues surrounding feminism and women’s issues. Scholten-Gutierrez is a social worker, educator, writer, mentor and mikveh advocate. Cavanagh-Melhado is currently pursuing a double master’s in non-profit and public administration and Jewish studies at New York University.

Chanel Dubofsky: What concept of rebbetzin are you interested in exploring/dispelling?

Melissa: There is this old stereotype of a rebbetzin being a frumpy woman who stays at home, cooking with kids hanging from her skirt — and one look at our blog will tell you that that is far from who we are! A big part of what we’re exploring is how people view contemporary rebbetzins and contrast that with this Old World sterotype. I don’t think we could have dreamed it would be in the place it is not just a year and a half into it!

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The New York Times and Gendered Editing

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Getty Images
New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson

I used to roll my eyes when my mother would point to someone on television and say, “He’s Jewish!” or, “She’s Jewish!” Now I’m that person, thrilling to the news of a Jewish woman’s rise to a position of prominence and influence, like when Elena Kagan was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, or when Jill Abramson was named the new executive editor of The New York Times.

So I joined Forward Editor Jane Eisner and countless others in reading with particular interest Abramson’s interview with Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane in last Sunday’s issue of the paper.

Brisbane’s first question in that interview is whether Times readers would notice a difference “because a woman is now in charge.”

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A 'Rosa Parksenstein' Moment for New Israeli

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

courtesy Rachel Levin Weinstein
Rachel Levin Weinstein

Rachel Levin Weinstein, a social worker who made aliyah to Israel from Chicago just two months ago, has faced her share of challenges recently, as does every new immigrant – everything from learning how to pay her bills in a new language, to getting her four kids settled in school, to figuring out how to find the brand of yogurt her family likes at the supermarket.

The last experience that Weinstein expected to find challenging was simply riding a bus. But she did so this week, in a truly heroic fashion, when she resisted pressure to sit on the back of the bus because she was a woman.

It all began when she and her husband innocently boarded a local bus in their adopted city of Beit Shemesh on Monday, without knowing that it was a bus line that was “mehadrin” – meaning that genders were separated and women were supposed to proceed to the back, out of men’s range of vision.

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'Dirty Dancing' Remake and Female Hollywood

By Sarah Seltzer

courtesy Lions Gate
Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in “Dirty Dancing.”

Elissa Strauss hopes that a new remake of the movie “Dirty Dancing” keeps our beloved heroine, Baby, Jewish. In addition to preserving Baby and her family’s ethnic authenticity, which is important in grounding the film in a real milieu, I should add that I hope the remake keeps the essential, devastating abortion plotline, which is vital both to the film’s plot and its politics.

Without Penny’s abortion appointment, Baby wouldn’t have entered the dance performance, of course. But more than that, without the botched illegal abortion, Baby wouldn’t have had her eyes truly opened to the physically and socially dangerous predicament experienced by the employees at her idyllic summer retreat, and the hierarchy of gender and class that permeates everything.

Like Elissa, I’ve been perturbed by the prospect of a remake myself. Not just for what this remake does to Baby or even the abortion, but what the fact that it’s even happening says about the sorry state of films by and about women in Hollywood.

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A Jew, a Muslim and a Christian Woman Dialogue

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Just before the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I noticed that a new blog called “SheAnswersAbraham” went live on the Web. The timing was not coincidental, as it is a deliberate effort by a group of three women – a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim – to put an interfaith conversation about sacred texts out into the world with positive energy.

Each Friday, a different sacred text will be the subject of commentary and personal reflection from each of the three faith perspectives. The sources of the texts will follow a rotation through the different traditions. The first text discussed was “And God said, ‘Let us make a human in our image, according to our likeness….’”from Genesis 1:26.

The authors of the blog want to be known only by the pseudonyms “Tziporah,” “Grace,” and “Yasmina.” Readers can glean some basic information about their backgrounds from the short bios posted on the blog.

A little sleuthing led me to the Jewish member of the trio, who is currently the one taking care of the blog’s publishing logistics. She told me that the three women met through local interfaith programming in their Southern state, but that at this point they all feel strongly about keeping their identities anonymous.

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Prime Ribs: More Jewish Docs Perform Abortions

By Elissa Strauss

Only a small fraction of obstetrician-gynecologists provide abortions, reports Reuters, but among those Jews are more likely to perform the service than doctors from other religious groups.

Anna Solomon writes about Jewish women pioneers and mail-order brides in the Old West at Tablet.

Rachel Held Evans, an evangelical blogger, is spending a year following all of the bible’s instructions for women with the goal of making the Christian movement more egalitarian, writes Ruth Graham at Slate.

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9/11: A Mother's Memories

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Getty Images
Lower Manhattan on 9/11.

I didn’t lose anyone I personally knew in the terrorist attack on New York City on September 11th, 2001. But it changed my family nonetheless.

My oldest child, now a college freshman, was a new 3rd grader in a Jewish day school in downtown Brooklyn just around the corner from Atlantic Avenue, which was then the heart of the Arab community here. When the planes hit the World Trade Center towers no one at first was sure what was going on. The audio recordings of airline and military officials that morning, newly released by The New York Times, makes the confusion and disbelief abundantly clear.

One thing was clear to me that morning: I had to get my son safely away from Atlantic Avenue.

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Celebrating a Birthday in the Shadow of 9/11

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

I was busy blowing up balloons, hanging streamers and assembling goody bags when I heard about the September 11 attacks.

September 11, 2001 was my son Eitan’s fifth birthday. Just a few weeks earlier, I had returned to my home in Israel from a year-long sabbatical in Connecticut, and, with the house full of unpacked boxes, I had decided that I would pull together a celebration for him anyway. I had invited three of my close friends – all American immigrants to Ra’anana and their children, had hurriedly set up some climbing toys and put out arts and crafts materials. It was supposed to be a relaxed afternoon for moms and kids, with some low-key activities and then a cake and candles. Little did I know that this party was going to be one that I would never forget.

The phone rang. It was my mother-in-law calling from the car on her way to my house, asking if I’d heard about some kind of attack in the U.S. I switched on CNN and then froze in disbelief. I had no breath available for the balloons.

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Men Protest Panels Excluding Women

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

It’s nice to see influential men increasingly protest the absence of women presenting at major Jewish events.

In the publication eJewishPhilanthropy.com, Shaul Kelner writes a powerful essay about his pledge to refrain from participating in any all-male panel discussions, and to make his involvement conditional on the inclusion of women.

Kelner, an assistant professor of sociology and Jewish studies at Vanderbilt University, was asked to take that pledge a couple of years ago by Rabbi Joanna Samuels, the director of strategic initiatives at the organization Advancing Women Professionals.

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LGBT Heroes Posters: An Outdated Approach?

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Keshet, an organization that works for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews in Jewish life, has issued its first three “Jewish LGBT Change Makers” posters through its Hineini Education Project. When I took a look at them online, I was immediately reminded of the Jewish Women’s Archive’s “History Makers” (formerly “Women of Valor”) posters.

The similarity is both good and bad. It’s a good thing because I have always loved the JWA posters. They began being published when I was early in my teaching career, and were a great educational resource. “What an attractive and attention-grabbing way to introduce students to historical figures like Glikl of Hameln, Rebecca Gratz, Molly Picon and Emma Lazarus,” I thought.

Indeed, some people agreed with me. I have seen the posters hanging, laminated or framed, in a number of Jewish community and educational institutions. But for the most part, when I have seen them, they were not so well taken care of. And therein lies the bad thing.

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'Dirty Dancing' Remake: Keep Baby Jewish

By Elissa Strauss

Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze having the time of their lives in the original “Dirty Dancing.”

A “Dirty Dancing” remake is officially in the works, with Kenny Ortega, who choreographed the original, set to direct.

The announcement of the new project quickly incited a chorus of complaints from those who think the idea is sacrilegious, as well as a flurry of speculation on who would play Baby and Johnny.

I, for one, would be happy to see a remake, as long as it is done right. And by right, I mean at least a little Jewish.

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Jewish Mothers On Babble List of World Changers

By Renee Ghert-Zand

The Babble parenting website has come out with its list of “100 Moms Who Are Changing The World” list, and as might be expected, there are Jewish women on it. After all, Jewish mothers can be quite formidable.

Jewish women did not make an appearance in all 10 categories on the list - activism, charity, creative, education, entrepreneurial, executive, green, health/science, inspirational, and politics – but they are disproportionately represented when taking into consideration the number of Jewish women in the general population. Perhaps we should even take it as a sign that the tribe was represented by exactly 12 Jews.

Fashion designer Donna Karan was on the list for her philanthropic work for cancer treatment through her Urban Zen Foundation, emergency housing in Haiti through Shelterbox, and cancer research and HIV/AIDS awareness through Seventh on Sale and Super Saturday.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Supreme Court, Jewish mothers, Fashion, Education, Cancer, Athletes, lists

Are Women Being Left Behind in Israel Protests?

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Courtesy of Rafimich
Israel Protest Leader Daphne Leef

At the start of the summer, Israel’s social protest movement looked like it would represent a real turning point for women in the public sphere.

The face of the movement was indisputably female. The story began when a young filmmaker, 25-year-old Daphne Leef, pitched a tent in downtown Tel Aviv to protest the lack of affordable housing. The movement she kicked off lasted all summer and culminated in a massive countrywide march that drew 450,000 protesters demanding that the government take steps to ease the cost of living in Israel.

But over the course of the summer, it has seemed to some Israeli feminists that the women are being left behind.

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Jewish Women Organize Conference on Anita Hill

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Getty Images
The legacy of Anita Hill’s testimony will be the focus of an October conference.

Who remembers where they were during Anita Hill’s testimony in Senate confirmation hearings for her former boss, Justice Clarence Thomas? I recall being riveted by her 1991 testimony and thinking that surely it would jettison Thomas’ nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hill testified that when Thomas was her boss at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he repeatedly made graphic sexual comments to her. Thomas denied it, saying Hill’s allegations amounted to no more than “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.”

Her detailed testimony failed to derail Thomas’ nomination, of course, and while Hill was vilified by conservatives, Thomas was confirmed. She came to represent a paradigm of injustice and powerlessness in the face of sexual harassment. He continues to be a controversial figure. In February, the New York Times reported that he had gone far longer than any other justice, at that point five years, without asking a single question of any attorney presenting a case to the Supreme Court. Last year his wife, Ginni Thomas, left a message on Hill’s voicemail asking her to apologize to her husband for the Senate testimony. Thomas has also attracted criticism for his ethically questionable relationship with a funder of conservative causes.

Now two Jewish women, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Kathleen Peratis, have organized a conference honoring Hill and the 20th anniversary of her testimony.

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Tense Return to School for Beit Shemesh Girls

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Parents across Israel collectively breathed a huge sigh of relief today as their children packed up their books and headed off to the first day of school. But a group of residents in the city of Beit Shemesh were especially relieved. Over the past few days, it looked as if their daughters’ school, Orot Banot, might not open at all.

The school has been targeted by extremist groups from the Haredi neighborhood it borders, who, in the weeks leading up to the opening of school threatened to keep it closed. Their reason: that the girls would be an “immodest presence” threatening the “character” of their neighborhood.

The surprising part of the story is the fact that the Haredim weren’t protesting a school where young secular girls run around in halter tops or cut-off shorts. Their problem was with a modern Orthodox, in Israel known as national religious, girls’ elementary school located on the outskirts of their neighborhood. The school, Orot, has had an adjacent religious boys school, Orot Banim, which the Haredim have lived next to comfortably for the past two years. But the girls’ school has been specifically targeted because, they say, modestly-clad religious girls age six to eleven playing in their field of vision is inappropriate.

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The Sisterhood's Real Housewives of the Bible

By Angela Himsel

Web-based Christian evangelist and author Ty Adams knows that no housewives were more real than those in the Bible.

Infertility, adultery, loneliness, general skankiness – you name it, Biblical women suffered or did it. As an antidote to the “Real Housewives” franchise currently on television, Adams has created “The Real Housewives of the Bible,” a re-telling of stories from the Bible. The series is slated to soon be released on DVD.

If it were a Sisterhood series, I imagine the episodes would go something like this:

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Blessing a Child Leaving for College

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Courtesy Princeton University Office of Communications
College students studying on campus.

Friday we bring Boychik to college for the first time. My friends have taken to asking me how I’m doing in a way usually reserved for inquiring about a serious medical condition.

I say that we are happy and excited. Boychik is going to an amazing school that will undoubtedly help him grow intellectually, emotionally and even spiritually. It looks like it will be a great fit.

And he’ll be just over an hour away — far enough for him and close enough for us. There’s also texting and videochatting and all that stuff that makes me think that apron strings are a lot stretchier today than they were when I first left home.

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The Cultural Implications of Our Book Choices

By Sarah Seltzer

Hurricane Irene forced President Obama and his family to cut their vacation on Martha’s Vineyard short, sending them back to Washington a few days earlier than they had planned.

But even a forecast of bad weather hadn’t stopped criticism of President Obama’s vacation reading list. When it began circulating on blogs, I was incensed. How dare they slam him for reading serious, acclaimed, nuanced and politically-tinged fiction on his vacation? How nitpicky and snotty, I thought. Let the man read what he wants.

Furthermore, as a lover and student of literature, I believe we can access truth just as easily via fiction as through non-fiction, and in fact that those barriers are overemphasized in our culture.

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