Sisterhood Blog

The Women of Jerusalem Find Their Heads

By Renee Ghert-Zand

courtesy Yerushalmim
An “Uncensored” campaign poster.

When Sandy Bar lost her head, many Jerusalem residents decided that enough was enough. The actress and model, who is featured in Israeli fashion company Honigman’s ads for its new winter line, was suddenly reduced to a hand holding a purse. The public could see Bar’s face, framed by her long dark hair and adorned with large sunglasses, in the ads posted in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. But in Jerusalem, she was represented by a disembodied appendage.

This head chopping has prompted two kinds of responses among Jerusalemites. Some have taken to social media to circulate photos showing the difference between the two ads. One has even made up a “missing” poster for Bar’s head. “Lost: Sandy Bar’s head. Last seen at the entrance to Jerusalem. Finder should call the following phone number immediately,” it says.

Activists with the Yerushalmim civic non-profit organization, who have been tracking the disappearance of women’s images from Jerusalem’s public spaces for the past several months are taking a different tack. As part of its “Uncensored” campaign, they are inviting women to be photographed for posters that Yerushalmim members have begun hanging from balconies in the center of the city.

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Let Girls Enjoy Their 'Midrash Manicures'

By Elissa Strauss

Rabbi Yael Buechler
Manicure Midrash for Torah portion Lech Lecha.

The New York Times recently wrote about a Jewish day school program for pre-teen girls which combines Torah study and nail painting.

In a response to the piece, Sisterhood contributor Renee Zhert-Gand wrote that she feels torn about the club, which is called “Midrash Manicures.” She explains that while she is always open to new ways of engaging students in Torah, she feels women fought too hard to study like men to now do something so gender-specific, and that this endorsement of manicures might make young girls think they need to have one in order to feel attractive. Well, I am all for Midrash Manicures, and here’s why.

I understand the instinct to think that young girls doing something “girly” like nail painting while also doing something serious like studying Torah somehow trivializes the latter. But I also think it is important for us to challenge that instinct.

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Ms. Magazine's Legacy: Q&A with Abigail Pogrebin

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Abigail Pogrebin
Letty Cottin Pogrebin marches for feminism in lower Manhattan circa 1973 with twin daughters Robin (l) and Abigail (r), then age 8.

New York Magazine’s cover story this week is an oral history of Ms. Magazine in honor of the 40th anniversary of its first issue. The article is written by journalist Abigail Pogrebin, the 46-year-old daughter of Letty Cottin Pogrebin, one of the founding editors of the magazine, which was the first exclusively written and published by women for women. Through her extensive research and interviews of both supporters and critics of the magazine, Pogrebin brings the momentous early days, months and years of the history-changing publication to life. One of the people she was unable to interview was Miriam Wosk, the artist who designed the inaugural issue’s cover, and died last year from breast cancer.

Renee Ghert-Zand: How many people did you interview for the oral history and who were they?

Abigail Pogrebin: I interviewed 35 to 40 people. It was anyone who was involved with Ms. over the 40 years, primarily in the first decade and really focusing on the first five years…I pretty much interviewed every living major participant in Ms., save a very few. Every interview was done individually by phone or in person, or both, and some by email. These are the major players, the people whose names come up over and over again. Since I grew up around Ms., I remember many of them.

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Israeli Feminist Pioneer: Q&A With Alice Shalvi

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Debbie Cooper
Alice Shalvi.

Alice Shalvi, 85, is one of Israeli feminism’s founding mothers. She has been a Hebrew University faculty member, head of the modern Orthodox girl’s school Pelech, co-founder of the Israel Women’s Network, and recipient of dozens of awards and honorary degrees. In 2007, she was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and contributions to Israeli society.

On Nov. 2nd, she will be honored by The New Israel Fund in New York. Shalvi’s “life work towards a more just, equal and pluralistic Israel is … the embodiment of that vision in her work as a leader in social activism,” said Bruce Temkin, the NIF’s New York director.

Shalvi was raised in England after her family fled Hitler’s Germany, where she was born. She made aliyah in 1949 and soon met Moshe Shalvi (then Shelkowitz). They live in Jerusalem, have been married for 61 years and have six children, 21 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. While visiting New York before being honored, Shalvi spoke with The Sisterhood.

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Midrash Manicures Are Not Good Jewish Education

By Renee Ghert-Zand

I had heard about “Midrash Manicures” before, but it didn’t really catch my attention until it hit the big time with this recent article in The New York Times.

The story was about Rabbi Yael Buechler’s weekly Manicures Midrash club for middle school students at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester. Kids can opt to paint their nails instead of taking one of the other electives, like the glee club, a sports writing seminar or the math club. Rabbi Buechler teaches the girls — and they are not surprisingly all girls — the finer techniques of nail polishing, as well as Jewish texts and commentaries to inspire their midrashic designs.

Never have I been so torn about an innovative educational approach. As an experienced Jewish educator, I am always appreciative of new and creative ways to engage students in Torah study. It is clear that the nail painting in Rabbi Buechler’s class is a means to an important educational end. At the same time, I am somewhat uneasy with the manicure piece of this.

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Jill Sobule's Anti-Floozy Halloween Song

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Folkie singer Jill Sobule has come out with a new anti-slutty-Halloween-costume song, which can be heard here.

Sobule, who is Jewish, composed the song about adults wearing all-too-revealing costumes. Her sentiments are all the more apt in connection with young girls wearing similarly revealing getups. This evening I saw a pair of 13-year-olds wearing shorty spandex-type shorts (the kind that usually go under cheerleaders’ skirts) with not-oversized football jerseys, and posing like they were ready for their close-ups on some “Girls of the NFL” calendar.

The mothers of some trick-or-treaters clearly ought to be doing more than looking over their candy.


Rabbinical Court Declares Woman a Witch

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

If only this could be billed as a spooky Halloween story or something from a medieval archive or from American colonial history. But no, it’s a real news story in modern-day Israel: A state court punished a woman for practicing witchcraft. The alleged hocus-pocus cost her a cool $25,000 in alimony when the value of her wedding contract, or ketubah, was reduced by half in her divorce trial. A Haifa rabbinical court recently handed down the ruling.

Some of the charges and counter-charges sound like standard divorce material. The wife claimed that her husband was having an affair. The husband said that he started seeing another woman only after his wife said that she was taking him to divorce court. In an argument that apparently holds water with some rabbis, the husband complained that his wife was derelict in her matrimonial duties because she refused to cook for him. But the rabbis forgave her for her culinary abandonment because of his affair. (Indeed, it is wise to excuse women from getting near an adulterous husband with pots, pans and an open flame. Far too dangerous.)

They weren’t as forgiving when it came to the alleged witchcraft. Although the woman denied being a witch, a failed polygraph test (which is not admissible in civil Israeli courts) led the to the conclusion that indeed she was practicing the dark arts.

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Are More Women Really on Slingshot Fund List?

By Chanel Dubofsky

iStock

The Slingshot Fund’s list of 2011-12 nominees is out. Slingshot’s mission is to strengthen innovation in Jewish life by developing next-generation funders and providing resources to leverage their impact in the Jewish community. It puts out an annual list of the community’s most innovative, up-and-coming organizations. Let’s have a look at where women land on it.

Out of the 60 organizations on the list this year, 30 are headed by women, including Rabbis for Human Rights, Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community,Be’chol Lashon, the Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists, the Jewish Teen Funders Network, and Seeds of Peace.

For those of you playing the “Where are the Women in Leadership in the Jewish Community” Game, this is good news. Women are heading organizations that are changing the landscape of the Jewish world, and funders are noticing.

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Singing Across Israel for Women's Dignity

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Adi Elkin and Mayrav Goldberg
“Don’t Stop Singing.”

Good news — Israeli women are fighting back against those who would hide and silence them.

Recent developments for women in Israel have been worrisome and depressing, as readers of this blog are well aware. There has been increasing gender separation on buses and on public streets, harassment of young Beit Shemesh girls whose only crime is attending their school, trouble in the Israel Defense Forces with religious officers walking out of ceremonies in which women are singing, as well as the disappearance of women from Jerusalem billboards.

For Hila Bunyovich-Hoffman, a Tel Aviv woman who has a master’s degree in gender studies, works as a technical writer and blogs about women’s issues, it has all become too much. She decided that someone had to take action. On her Hebrew-language blog and on a Facebook event page she created, she announced a Tel Aviv street protest in which a group of women would stand in public and sing, to make their voices heard.

The tidal wave of response to her initiative has been “unexpected and overwhelming,” she told The Sisterhood in an interview.

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Brooklyn Bus Owner Denies Segregating Women

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Adam E. Moreira
Yacov Marmurstein’s B110 bus.

Yacov “Jacob” Marmurstein, owner of the company that runs the quasi-public B110 bus between Williamsburg and Boro Park, is denying that patrons are segregated by gender onboard, though he appears to be the only person unclear about the longstanding practice.

The B110 bus has long required women to sit in the back while men are up front during the trips the bus makes roughly every 20 minutes, from early in the morning until after midnight, between the neighborhoods which much of the Hasidic community in Brooklyn calls home. The buses look different from MTA buses, with dark-tinted side windows, among the distinctions. They don’t accept MetroCards but do have bus stops like any other city bus.

New York’s Department of Transportation wrote to Marmurstein on October 19th, during the Sukkot holiday, enjoining his company from continuing the practice after the story was reported by the Columbia Journalism School publication The New York World.

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Crisis Pregnancy Centers Try Converting Jews

By Sarah Seltzer

iStock

Crisis Pregnancy Centers, or CPCs, are problematic for many reasons. These centers, which are designed as sneaky alternatives to abortion clinics, have been shown time and again to give women misleading, medically inaccurate information and to almost always have a conservative Christian agenda. The number of CPCs far outweighs the number of places where women can go to terminate their pregnancies in this country.

They position themselves as offering “options” for women at a time of need, and parade out sonogram machines and staff in white coats. But they don’t disclose the fact that none of their options include abortion, and that women who want abortions will receive no help from them — and are likely to be stalled or dissuaded.

They have been known to shame and humiliate pregnant women who come to them in the most desperate situations. This cartoon by Susie Cagle was a result of her own undercover investigation of local CPCs. Her project is an excellent primer on CPCs for those unfamiliar with the topic.

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Jews Help African Nobel Winner Aid Women

By Elana Sztokman

courtesy AJWS
Leymah Gbowee with Ruth Messinger.

When the announcement was made that the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize would be given to three women, including Leymah Gbowee (pronounced LAY-muh BO-wee), some Jews were particularly proud.

Gbowee, an extraordinary Liberian activist and founder of Women Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN), who has been influential in mobilizing women for peace and bringing democracy to Liberia, has credited the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) with being one of the first organizations to believe in and to provide financial support for her work.

“AJWS is a name I will remember”, she said recently at an AJWS event. “It is an organization with a heart and a soul. I mean it – and I don’t take my words lightly.”

Ruth Messinger, AJWS’s president and CEO, says she first met Gbowee in 2003 at a breakfast in Ethiopia.

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'Wild Flag' Jewesses Keep Rockin' Hard

By Sarah Seltzer

courtesy Wild Flag
Carrie Brownstein rocks out with Wild Flag.

I recently went down to the Bowery Ballroom to see the rock band Wild Flag perform. They’re a fairly new all-female rock group consisting of two of Sleater-Kinney’s Jewish former members, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, and two other pioneering female rockers, Rebecca Cole and Mary Timony.

I’d been listening to their new album, “Wild Flag,” on repeat and was excited for show because their stage antics and energy are already legendary. But I didn’t know how much just seeing them launch into an aggressive rock set in person would resonate and feel like a call to arms.

After all, this is a moment when notions of power and pushing back against the status quo are at the forefront of my mind, in light of the “Occupy” movement that has seized the national spotlight and wrapped progressives up in revolutionary fervor.

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Stink Bomb Welcomes Girls Back to School

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Facebook photo
Haredi demonstrators outside Orot Banot.

The end of the long string of Jewish holidays in the fall is normally a time for relief and celebration for Israeli parents who are weary of entertaining their children during the long weeks of school vacation.

But for the parents of girls at the Orot Banot school in Beit Shemesh, back to school marks a stressful and unpleasant return to battle. Extremist ultra-Orthodox elements have resumed their campaign to harass them into moving the school from its location on the border of their neighborhood. Earlier posts on the struggle in The Sisterhood can be found here and here.

The war over the school for Modern Orthodox girls has been taking place since the beginning of the school year. There was a period of respite from the men in black shouting curses and insults over the holidays, both because of school vacation, and because the demonstrators were busy celebrating the holiday. Hope emerged that dialogue between representatives of the school and rabbinic leaders in the ultra-Orthodox communities might bear fruit.

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Women Disappearing from Jerusalem Ads

By Renee Ghert-Zand

courtesy Uri Ayalon
Rabbi Uri Ayalon of Yerushalmim

As I recently reported, Jerusalem City Councilmember Rachel Azaria lost her job and membership in the governing coalition for having gone to the High Court of Justice to oppose gender segregation in that city and to protect the equal rights of women.

An online petition has begun circulating to pressure Mayor Nir Barkat into giving Azaria back her city council responsibilities overseeing early childhood programs and local councils administration.

But the story is not just about what has happened to Azaria. “We are dealing with all kinds of exclusion of women in the public sphere in Jerusalem,” Conservative Rabbi Uri Ayalon told The Sisterhood. Ayalon, the founder and leader of Kehilat (Congregation) Yotzer Or, is on the board of Yerushalmim (Jerusalemites), a non-profit civic organization working to build an inclusive, pluralistic city. He and others in the organization have been tracking what they call the “disappearance of women from public life” over the past couple of years.

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Female Soldiers Forced Away From Torah Dancing

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

courtesy IDF
IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz

Simchat Torah wasn’t much of a celebration this year for a group of angry female Israeli soldiers who were furious over being segregated far from their male counterparts, and completely out of their sight line when it came time for the traditional round of dancing with the Torah that ends the holiday, known as Hakafot Shniyot.

According to Haaretz, the incident occurred at the IDF’s main Simchat Torah celebration where there were approximately 400 male soldiers and 100 female soldiers in attendance. The men were dancing, and the women were dancing at the side of the room and completely separated by a long table, but within sight.

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Jerusalem's Mayor Bending to Haredi Pressure?

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

Israeli blogger Hanna Beit Halachmi asks in the title of her most recent post whether Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is good for Jewish women. For her the question is rhetorical, as she is outraged as what she perceives as the many signs that Barkat is capitulating to Haredi political pressure, especially when it comes to the elimination of women from the public sphere.

Barkat’s punishing of City Council member Rachel Azaria earlier this week for petitioning the High Court of Justice to enforce a prior ruling prohibiting the segregation of men and women on the streets of Haredi neighborhoods, is just the latest example. The Sisterhood broke that news in this post.

While liberal and pluralistic Jerusalemites are railing against Azaria’s firing from her job overseeing early childhood education and local councils administration, Barkat maintains that his actions have absolutely nothing to do with religious pluralism and civil rights, and everything to do with procedural matters. He maintains that just as a government minister cannot sue the prime minister, neither can a city council member submit a legal complaint against the municipality.

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Brooklyn Bus Flouts Discrimination Law

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Adam E. Moreira
Brooklyn’s B110 bus.

Every day sex-segregated buses for Hasidim roll right past my corner, ferrying people between Williamsburg and Boro Park. It never occurred to me to write about it.

I’ve been writing and editing lots of Sisterhood stories about the sex segregation problems in Jerusalem and its environs, but I assumed that the bus line that I see six days a week (not on Shabbos or holidays of course, when we often see men in shtreimels and frock coats making the trek by foot) was private. It is painted different colors, has a different kind of bus-route display on its front, the long windows on the side are tinted dark gray so you can’t see in, and the buses are festooned with Yiddish ads for everything from kosher vitamins to holy books.

Why on earth would it have anything to do with the New York City public transit system?

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Gilad Shalit's Vulnerability, and Ours

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Getty Images
Gilad and Noam Shalit the day of Gilad’s release.

If Israel could choose a single day to live over and over again, then Tuesday, October 18, 2011 would be a leading contender. The days preceding Gilad Shalit’s homecoming were full of stress, worry and controversy regarding the price the country would have to pay for his return, the release of more than one thousand Palestinian prisoners. Future days will, in all likelihood, be full of the same.

But the day of Gilad’s release was an oasis of unadulterated celebration and joy. It felt like a spontaneous national holiday. All over the country, people dubbed it “Gilad Day” “Chag Gilad” and “Gilad Fest.” It was certainly the happiest day in recent memory.

The entire nation focused on one pale, painfully thin young man, deprived of light, love and care for so many years, stepping out into the sunshine, embracing his father, saluting the Prime Minister and the IDF chief of staff, and finally returning to the warmth of his family, and his first home-cooked meal (reportedly pasta, prepared by his mother Aviva).

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Taking Down Gilad Shalit's Flag

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Joel Zand
The flag honoring Gilad Shalit that hung in the author’s yard.

On Tuesday we lowered the flag. To be exact, we completely removed it with the prayer that it will never need to be raised again.

I am speaking of the foam and plastic Israeli flag that has been tied by a blue ribbon to a tree in our yard since Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas on June 25, 2006. We vowed not to remove it until Shalit was safely at home in the loving embrace of his family. My husband has had a Gilad Shalit sticker on his car all this time, and my boys have worn Gilad Shalit dog tags, bracelets and t-shirts off and on over these long five years and four months, but that flag has been the most enduring symbol of our solidarity with the kidnapped soldier and all those who have worked to free him.

The flag, one of hundreds I had ordered for Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations at the school I used to run in New York, moved with us to California, and then from one house to another. We carefully removed it from a tree at our first house, and carried it by hand to our new one. We chose to affix it to an orange tree in our new yard. Ours are not Jaffa oranges, but they are close enough.

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