Sisterhood Blog

Wigging Out Over the Sheitel Business

By Renee Ghert-Zand

courtesy Isadore Sternhill
Wig maven Isadore Sternhill

On Rosh Hashanah, Jewish liturgy tells us that we can avert the evil decree in the coming year through tefillah, teshuvah u’tzedakah (prayer, repentance and charity). However, after reading a recent article in the New York Post, I was left to wonder how some Orthodox women have any money left for tzedakah after they spend up to $1,600 a pop to have their wigs cut and styled.

The story, “Wigging Out,” is an account of how several of New York’s biggest name hair stylists are increasingly catering to sheitel-wearers.

I have never completely understood the whole business of married Jewish women wearing wigs to cover their natural hair, especially when the wigs far more attractive than one’s own hair. And now I understand it even less, as I am learning how expensive the whole business is. And it is indeed a business.

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If Jewish Women Were Scandalous as Men

By Hinda Mandell

AFP via Getty Images
Dominique Strauss-Kahn on French TV September 18, 2011.

What if Jewish women behaved as badly as their XY chromosomal counterparts?

What if we were to flip the genders of Eliot Spitzer, Bernie Madoff, Anthony Weiner and Dominique Strauss-Kahn so that it was a Jewish woman who paid for sex, who swindled billions, who sent nudie pics via Twitter and who assaulted a hotel worker?

Oh, sister.

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Sexy Wins Over Tragedy For Marilyn Monroe

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images
Marilyn Monroe

The New York Times recently confirmed what I had been starting to suspect. Marilyn is back.

In “A Marilyn Obsession,” Austin Considine writes about Marilyn Monroe’s new ubiquity, and points to a new movie, book, television shows and clothing lines that all revolve around the actress in time for the 50th anniversary of her death.

Despite the steady current of gorgeous and sultry actresses over the years, not one has yet to dethrone Monroe in popular culture as the sexiest of them all.

Her ditsy blonde persona continues to inspire and charm us, and young actresses still pay homage to her on the red carpet and in photo spreads. And I totally get it. Monroe’s allure is as powerful as it is ineffable, so much so that even I start to view her sad beginning and even sadder end as something otherworldly rather than gritty and tragic. Her fate easily becomes elevated above cause and effect, and she morphs into a saint of her own circumstances. Or, in short, an icon.

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Why Do Hasidim Live Like Saudi Women?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

iStock

It looked, this week, like there might be progress for women in Saudi Arabia.

King Abdullah granted women the right to vote, and to run for election to municipal councils and be appointed full voting members of the Majlis Al-Shura, a government advisory group. According to a New York Times editorial this week, however, women will still need the approval of a male family member.

And of course women are forbidden to drive in Saudi Arabia. As the Times opined:

The list of fundamental rights still denied to Saudi women is long and shameful. Men — their fathers or husbands — control whether they can travel, work, receive health care, attend school or start a business.

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Do We Care How Sarah Jessica Parker 'Does It'?

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Getty Images
SJP at a screening of ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It.’

The studio that made the movie “I Don’t Know How She Does It” knew they could bank on women like me to buy a ticket. When I read the novel after it first came out in 2002, I confess that I could relate: as the working mom, I chuckled in recognition at the heroine, Kate Reddy, in her kitchen exhausted late at night, busy “distressing” a pie so that it would look homemade at the school bake sale the next day.

And as a member of the “Sex in the City” generation, I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to view Sarah Jessica Parker no longer playing a young and single and carefree urbanite, but a middle-aged and harried suburban mom balancing career and family, just like me (only skinnier.) So despite the decidedly lukewarm reviews, I dutifully went to the theater like a predictable member of my demographic, grabbed my bucket of popcorn, and settled in.

As I walked out, all I could think about was how dated the film felt. Could so much have changed in the decade since between the book and the movie? Apparently it could.

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My Newborn Diet

By Melissa Langsam Braunstein

Getty Images
Penelope Cruz a month after giving birth

“Has your weight changed in the last six months? If so, please explain.” Oh life insurance companies, how I long to answer your intrusive questions as I apply for your services.

But since I would like life insurance to protect my daughter should the worst ever happen (puh, puh, Evil Eye!), yes, my weight has changed significantly over the past six months. I gained 36 pounds while pregnant, and since giving birth several months ago, I’ve been shedding them. Slooowly.

Before I became pregnant I don’t recall anyone telling me that losing baby weight would be so sluggish. Funny, that.

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Lesson from Elul: No One Should Dance Alone

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

Summer is hard to take seriously with nobody in the office, and everybody running around half-dressed. No wonder High Holidays fall when school resumes and the air grows brisk — when life starts taking itself seriously again.

In the 29-day lead up to cracking open the book of life for the first time this year, we Jews are commanded to study, to reflect, to repair. This focused period, called yeraḥ kallah — which can translate to “bridal month,” the bride being the object of study, the Torah — has spurred a modern response in the vein of story and self-help.

istock

Enter the Jewels of Elul, in its seventh and possibly final year. Musician Craig Taubman, whose projects have ranged in subject from Jewish to Disney, created the website, which features a daily snippet of wisdom throughout the study month.

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'Millionaire Matchmaker' Should Take Own Advice

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Getty Images
Patti Stanger, the “Millionaire Matchmaker”

Patti Stanger should take her own advice.

The “Millionaire Matchmaker” was on Bravo TV’s “Watch What Happens Live” Sunday night (unfortunately I can’t find a video version to share with you), talking with host Andy Cohen, who seemed by turns disgusted and perplexed by what Stanger had to say.

Now, unlike Ilana Angel from the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, I like watching “Millionaire Matchmaker.”

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American Soap Operas Taught Me Yiddish

By Dorothy Lipovenko

courtesy Dorothy Lipovenko
The author’s grandparents, Izzy and Mary Caplan, in 1976.

The language of soap operas is universal: vexing vixens, meddling matriachs and busy men with even busier zippers. When All My Children joined numerous cancelled soaps with its final episode on September 23, it prompted me to reflect on how the voices gone silent did more than entertain; they helped teach me Yiddish.

Like monarchies before a revolution, the kingdoms of daytime television ruled when coffee klatches and occasional babysitters had yet to be overthrown by power lunches and 24/7 nannies.

The demise of soaps draws the curtain on not just a fading era of pre-feminist entertainment, but what women now consider appropriate to do with their days, or at least their afternoons. Which brings me to my maternal grandmother, a woman who survived an immigrant’s ocean trek, a working mother who raised three sets of twins in the Depression.

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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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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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