Sisterhood Blog

Sex Manual for Orthodox Newlyweds Is Too Modest

By Bat Sheva Marcus

courtesy Gefen Publishing

The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy, a new book published in Jerusalem and authored by Jennie Rosenfeld and David Ribner, leaves me feeling conflicted.

As someone whose patient base includes a not-insignificant number of ultra-Orthodox Jews (I don’t particularly like that title for the right wing of the Orthodox community, but it’s a shorthand I can live with so let’s just go with it), I am thrilled that someone created a clear, concise and accurate book on sex for this population.

Mind you, sex for this population is not fundamentally different from sex with any other population. Slightly more limited, perhaps, but the fundamental principals remain the same for most of us.

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City Council Member Making Change for Women

By Renee Ghert-Zand

courtesy Rachel Azaria
Jerusalem City Councilwoman Rachel Azaria

It seemed as though Rachel Azaria, then a 30-year-old mother of two, came out of nowhere to run on a grassroots, independent party ticket and win a seat on the 31-member Jerusalem City Council in 2008.

Although this was her first foray into politics, she was already a recognized figure in the world of Israeli social change organizations. For the decade prior to her election, she had worked for environmental causes, and then as the director of Mavoi Satum, an organization that works on behalf of women whose husbands refuse to grant them a Jewish divorce.

Since joining Jerusalem’s City Council, Azaria has assumed the Early Childhood and Community Councils portfolios, helped establish the new civic non-profit organization called Yerushalmim (Jerusalemites), and given birth to a third child.

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Woman Heading Labor Has New Vision for Israel

By Renee Ghert-Zand

“Shelly Yachimovich is the woman for this Israeli moment. Yachimovich is the one and only promise of contemporary politics,” wrote Ari Shavit in Haaretz earlier this month. Not everyone agrees with Shavit, but we all get to see just how Yachimovich will do now that she has been elected leader of Israel’s Labor Party.

Yachimovich, 51, represents a more moderate Labor outlook, one looking a return to the ideals of the welfare state while at the same time not disavowing the party’s historical role in the establishment and proliferation of the settlements. “I certainly do not see the settlement project as a sin and a crime,” she said in an interview published in Haaretz Magazine,” outraging Laborites further to the left, who accuse her of being a sell out to the right when it comes to peace with the Palestinians.

I, for one, am relieved to hear an Israeli politician who doesn’t speak in absolutes.

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Bucking Tradition in a Bikini

By Elana Sztokman

For Huda Naccache, Israel’s 2011 representative in the Miss Earth beauty pageant, wearing a bikini is important for career advancement.

The 21-year old Christian Arab from Haifa has modeling ambitions, and in order to get noticed, she posed in a bikini for the cover of the Arab Israeli women’s magazine Lilac.

This may not sound like a big deal in a world where everyone from rock stars to child television icons seems to be willing to pose nearly nude for some photo or another. But in Huda’s community, such exposure for women is still taboo.

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The Kittel as a Garment of Majestic Leadership

By Jacqueline Nicholls

This kittel explores leadership. Specifically, the responsiblity of leading, and the leaders’ complex relationships to followers and to themselves. On Rosh Hashana our prayer leaders stand before God and together we crown God as King.

There are three different leadership archetypes in the Tanach: kings, prophets and priests. It is interesting to note that clothing plays an important symbolic role in each of their narratives, and thus clothing seems to be inherently connected with the concept of leadership.

There are many examples of the physical expression of the mantle of leadership in Tanach. The priestly garments are detailed in the books of Shemot and Vayikra.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Kittel, The Kittel Collection, Jewish Leadership, Esther, Cohen HaGadol

Raising Jewish Daughters in Germany

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Myriam Halberstam had very personal reasons for establishing Ariella Books, the first post-Holocaust Jewish children’s book publishing company in Germany, in the spring of 2010. The German-American documentary filmmaker and children’s book author and editor simply could not find any decent German-language Jewish children’s books for her two young daughters, who are growing up in Berlin.

“A Horse for Hanukkah,” the company’s first title, came out in German and English versions for the German market in time for the winter holiday season last year, and it sold very well.

Written by Halberstam and illustrated by American book artist Nancy Cote, it is a story about a girl who wants a horse for Hanukkah but comes to regret her wish when the Hebrew-speaking horse creates havoc during her family’s holiday celebrations. The book will be available this fall in both Germany and the U.S. A second title, a German translation of Leah Goldberg’s Israeli children’s classic “Dirah L’haskir” (Apartment For Rent) is due out in October in time for the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth.

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Leah Shakdiel: Still Making Waves for Women & Peace

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Courtesy Leah Shakdiel
Leah Shakdiel protesting against the privatization of Israeli prisons in 2007.

Leah Shakdiel is a modern Orthodox Jew, feminist and peace activist who first became widely known in 1988, when she won an Israel Supreme Court case that allowed her to become the first woman to be allowed to sit on a local religious council. Those councils supervise and dole out funding to local synagogues, cemeteries, kosher slaughterhouses and mikvahs.

Now Shakdiel, 60, has become a leader of the social protest movements that took place in Israel this summer, and is chairing the “Vision Committee” charged with creating a policy paper charting the future course of the protests and the changes those involved hope to effect.

“Summer is over, the weather is less inviting to camp out in the streets and the social protests needs to move into its next phase. We need to take the discourse indoors and translate it from spontaneous direct democracy models in the streets to more organized public debates in various halls, hold public hearings, that sort of thing,” she told The Sisterhood in an interview while she was in the U.S. speaking to progressive Jewish groups about the effort.

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What the HPV Vaccine Flap Is Really About

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
Author Ayelet Waldman Tweeted About Having HPV
Thanks to a heated debate between GOP Presidential Candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry over his 2007 executive order mandating that girls in Texas receive the HPV vaccine (though the state legislature later overturned his order), it’s been a topic of much conversation. But much of the buzz has been based on innuendo and rumor, not fact.

In trying to get the truth about the virus’s reach and danger out by using her own story, novelist Ayelet Waldman found herself in the middle of a minor media fray.

At the Tea Party-hosted debate, Bachmann and others questioned Texas Governor Perry’s questionable decision to mandate the HPV vaccine Gardasil, given the huge donations he received from its corporate creator, Merck. Perry, who has overseen a huge series of setbacks for women’s rights, seemed to be acting out of corporate cronyism here, not genuine concern.

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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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