Sisterhood Blog

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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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Supreme Court, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Discrimination, Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill

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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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Parenting, College, Adolescence

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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HERvotes Launches To Preserve Women's Rights

By Nancy K. Kaufman

Suffragettes at New York State Fair in 1915

It’s ironic that in the very same period that the East Coast is experiencing a hurricane and a rare strong earthquake, we commemorate two “earth shaking” historic events. On August 18, 1920, women won a years-long fight for suffrage with ratification of the 19th Amendment; and on August 28, 1963, hundreds of thousands of Americans spoke out for jobs and freedom at the March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

At both those moments, disenfranchised individuals stood up to demand that their voices be heard. 

To honor these victories for equality and justice, NCJW is proud to join several coalition partners to launch HERvotes, a voter education and mobilization effort for women and those who care about women’s Health and Economic Rights, leading up to the November 2012 elections.

The gains achieved between and beyond 1920 and 1963 paved the way for other landmark laws that have improved the health, well-being, economic security, and equality of women. Now many of these gains are at risk.

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DNC Chair on Abortion: 'This is Personal'

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

Anyone who has spent time arguing about politics–particularly hot-button issues like abortion–is familiar with “glazed-eyes, nodding syndrome” which is what happens when listeners (who may even agree with us) grow uncomfortable with the topic and hope to goodness we move on, soon, and yes, yes, women’s rights blah blah blah. It’s just politics, these expressions tell us; why act like it’s so personal? Or maybe it’s just too depressing and abstract to contemplate.

But when you’re a woman–or a person of color, or an immigrant, or someone dependent on government programs for health or retirement–in this current political climate of austerity and rollback, you don’t have the luxury of having your eyes glaze over or feeling like it’s depressingly abstract.

For you, the political is deeply personal; this is your life.

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Struggling to Maintain Normalcy Amid the Terror

By Faye Bittker

Menahem Kehana/AFP/Getty Images
Israelis take cover during rocket attack on Beersheva in March 2011.

I am suffering from Periodic Missile Stress Disorder (PMSD), which is being aggravated by the world’s indifference to my situation.

Once again sirens sounded last night in our sleepy town of Meitar and the non-stop booms of missiles falling in nearby Beersheva could clearly be heard and yet we are not at war or even worthy of mention in the international press.

Like PMS, this syndrome makes me unexpectedly irritable and short of patience in otherwise normal situations. But (thankfully) it isn’t quite Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as I have been so far lucky enough not to be in the actual vicinity of direct hit.

But my psyche has been hit time and time again. My PSMD is based in the well-founded knowledge that the end is nowhere in sight and more missiles are coming. As a resident of the south of Israel, I am on a first name basis with more people than I care to count who have had missiles fall in their living room, on their street/school/car, or who have been horribly wounded when they fell only a few feet away.

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Men To Sit Behind Women on Jerusalem Trains

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Getty Images
Protester in 2010 holds up sign “Jerusalem is not Tehran.”

For once it will be the men sitting behind women, rather than the other way around.

Unlike in Jerusalem buses passing through Haredi neighborhoods, in which women are required to sit at the back while men sit at the front, on the capital city’s new light rail system it will be men sitting in the last car of the trains.

While representatives of the ultra-Orthodox Edah Chareidit have protested the light rail through its years-long development, they now say they will use the last car for men only and coordinate prayers there in afternoons and evenings.

“The distance between the cars solves the halachic problem of sitting behind a woman, so we’ll have no problem sitting there and proving that our insistence on sitting in the front in buses does not stem from chauvinistic motives,” said Edah spokesman Yoelish Kroiz in an article on Ynet.

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Prime Ribs: GQ Says No Cool Women Athletes

By Elissa Strauss

It is a new age for Jewish actresses in Hollywood who no longer follow the frizzy-haired nasal-voiced stereotypes, writes Danielle Berrin at the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.

Over at the Family Inequality blog, Phillip N. Cohen looks at the sexism in the recent Smurf revival, and why he is happy his daughter’s didn’t get the Smurfette toy at McDonald’s.

A new study confirms that the portrayal of women in media has become increasingly sexualized over the past few decades.

Dave Zirin at the Nation points out how GQ’s 25 coolest athletes of all time included nary a woman.

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Settler Movement 'It Girl' Emily Amrusi Speaks

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Courtesy Emily Amrusi
Settler Movement ‘It Girl’ Emily Amrusi

In the eyes of many, Emily Amrusi is the Israeli settler movement’s “It Girl.” The fashionable 32-year-old former spokeswoman for the Yesha Council is now working as a journalist and author. Amrusi writes for Israel HaYom a widely circulated free right-wing newspaper, including a regular column for the political supplement of its weekend edition.

Her loosely autobiographical first novel, “Tris,” published in 2009, is about a young settler woman who develops thyroid deficiency after childbirth. When she discovers that the condition also afflicts not only other mothers in the settlement, but also women in the neighboring Palestinian village, she befriends one of those Arab women and forms an alliance to change the environmental conditions causing the medical problem. “It’s a book that allows a peek into a small settlement in Samaria,” Amrusi said. “I presented a very authentic picture…I wanted to sketch a truthful portrait of our lives – the good things and the less good things. Some people didn’t like how they came out looking. It was like having a hidden camera filming us.”

Amrusi was born and raised in Jerusalem in a Sephardic family which has lived there for twelve generations. Her entire family became religious when she was in 6th grade. Amrusi now lives in Talmon, a 200-family settlement on a hilltop in Samaria, with her husband and three young children.

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What Sex Ed Should Really Teach

By Bat Sheva Marcus

Lo and behold, New York City has decided that sex education should be mandatory in public middle and high schools, and include instruction on condom use and guidance on the appropriate age for sexual activity.

According to The New York Times story about the change:

New York City’s new mandate goes beyond the state’s requirement that middle and high school students take one semester of health education classes. The city’s mandate calls for schools to teach a semester of sex education in 6th or 7th grade, and again in 9th or 10th grade.

Technically speaking it’s only formal sex education that is new in the public school system. Some schools already include some sex education in their health classes, though not all discuss how to prevent pregnancy and disease beyond HIV/AIDS, on which New York State began requiring classes in 1987. And informal sex education (that is, the sex education that happens between teens and in bathrooms) has been part of school life for years, as most parents in the know would confirm. You just can’t be a teenager who is let out of the confines of their home and not bump up against sex education of some kind, whether it is in the form of friends bragging, misinformation on bathroom walls or actually helpful information from your best friend.

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The Kittel as Maternal Love

By Jacqueline Nicholls

courtesy Jacqueline Nicolls
Jacqueline Nicholls’ ‘Maternal Kittel’

“She is not worried for her household because of the snow, for her whole household is dressed in scarlet. ” (from ‘Eshet Chayil’ - Proverbs 31:21)

This kittel explores the mother as dressmaker. When she clothes her children she is providing not just physical protection, but also nurturing and caring for them, even when she is absent.

Mothers have always done this. In the Bible’s Book of Samuel 1, Chapter 2, Hannah says goodbye to Shmuel and leaves him at the Mishkan with an ‘ephod’ a white linen garment. According to the midrash this garment grew as the boy grew older, keeping him constantly connected to his mother, who had prayed so desperately for a child. In Genesis, Rivka dresses her favorite son, Ya’acov, in his older brother’s clothing so they can fool his father into giving him the first-born son’s blessing. He then left and never saw his mother again. When Adam and Chava leave Gan Eden, God acts as their mother when clothing them to face the world.

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The Moral Dilemma of Pregnancy 'Reduction'

By Elissa Strauss

Reproductive rights have never come easy. This has been the case for every single advancement in a woman’s ability to control reproduction, all of which were initially painted as immoral and unnatural. And this is the case now, with the debate surrounding the abortion of one twin, often referred to as pregnancy reduction.

As explained in a recent article by Ruth Padawer in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, the aborting of one fetus while carrying twins is becoming a growing source of controversy in the medical community, while it can also be a lifesaver for the young mothers who elect to do it. Still though, many doctors refuse to perform the procedure, and many women who go through it are ashamed to discuss it even with close friends.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: pregnancy reduction, birth control, abortion, Ruth Padawer, New York Times Magazine

Not Your Average Matchmaker

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

Areleh Harel is not your average matchmaker. The Orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem sets up marriages between Orthodox gay men and Orthodox lesbians. The goal is to allow Orthodox Jews to fulfill their desires to marry and have children with partners who understand what it’s like to be gay, and who can keep the secret.

Harel started the offbeat (some would use other words) service six years ago, and pretty soon he’ll have a website and a staff that does the work for him. For not many shekels (roughly $42) hopeful singles can post profiles.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Orthodox lesbian, Orthodox gay, Areleh Harel, Time

The Maternal Impact

By Leah Berkenwald

Postsecret
From Postsecret, an ongoing community art project, where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard

On Postsecret, someone recently sent in a postcard (pictured right) about mothers, daughters and body image. I think most can relate to the anonymous author of the Postsecret card. When mothers struggle with their own body image, their insecurities are often passed down to their daughters. In 2010, Peggy Orenstein tackled the difficult issue of food, weight and motherhood in The New York Times magazine. This is a universal issue, affecting a variety of ethnic groups and socio-economic classes.

But there is a distinctly Jewish element to the mother-daughter-body image issue. Jewish mothers, traditionally, (and stereotypically) aren’t shy about their own issues, or the issues they see for their daughters. Anonymous wondered what her mother would change about her body; a Jewish daughter would know.

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Woman Fired for Not Wearing Makeup

By Elana Sztokman

iStock
At What Price Beauty?

Melanie Stark was forced from her job in sales at Harrod’s in for refusing to wear make-up. After five years of employment at the British department store, the company confronted Stark with a “Ladies’ dress code” which included the following strict instructions: “Full makeup at all times: base, blusher, full eyes (not too heavy), lipstick, lip liner and gloss are worn at all times and maintained discreetly (please take into account the store display lighting which has a ‘washing out’ effect).”

Stark refused to comply. The 24-year-old told The Guardian, “I was appalled. It was insulting… It’s not like wearing black trousers, or a black shirt. This is my face. Make up can change your features completely, especially if I was to wear all of what they were asking. I would look like a different person to me. And I never chose to look like that.”

While Stark is considering her legal options, the blogosphere erupted with some surprising reactions. Liz Jones at The Mail wrote a scathing attack against Stark: “An unmade-up face tells me you find it hard to get up early enough to attend to your maquillage…Women who feel no compunction to improve what nature bestowed upon them are, in my experience, arrogant, lazy or deluded, and frequently all three.”

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Trio of Jewish Women Religious Leaders

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

The Huffington Post is out with its list of the top 10 women religious leaders, and one is a rabbi, another a Jewish activist and a third is a spiritual guru with Jewish roots.

Courtesy Ruth Messinger
Ruth Messinger in Haiti last August.

Coming in at No. 9 is Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum who leads the only LGBT synagogue in Manhattan, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah which was extremely outspoken about passing gay marriage in New York. She was a Sisterhood 50 pick, one of Newsweek’s most influential rabbis and was ordained by the Reconstructionist rabbinical college.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Women, Religious leaders, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum

Jewish Women's Groups for a New Age: A Proposal

By Dorothy Lipovenko

Time was, a Jewish woman’s legacy could be counted on to include, outside of family, two things: her recipe for sponge cake and membership in a synagogue sisterhood, or one of numerous women’s organizations dedicated to raising money and hope for Jewish children, the State of Israel, indigent elderly or anyone else life had been unkind to.

These groups satisfied Jewish women’s needs to keep everyone healthy, well fed and well read. Because nothing less than future generations of doctors and nurses, lawyers and teachers was at stake.

But these groups also played to another side: a need for friendship and, in what used to be “a man’s world,” an influential outlet for decision-making.

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What Waxing Really Reveals

By Hinda Mandell

Until recently, my relationship with waxing was unemotional. And then I went to a makeup boutique to buy some new foundation.

That’s when - during the application of a tint called “Blush Stone,” an incongruous elicitation if ever there was one - that the makeup artist said to me, “We gotta take care of those.”

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