Sisterhood Blog

Women's Exclusion, Closer to Home

By Gabrielle Birkner

Loyal readers of The Sisterhood know well about the battle over women’s exclusion that is pulling Israeli society apart at its seams. But the problem extends beyond Israel, as our editor, Jane Eisner, wrote in her recent editorial, “Where Are the Women?” Here in the American Jewish community, the issue isn’t just about pay and promotion, Eisner explains. “Too many public discussions, events and programs hosted by the Jewish community have few or no women participating,” she writes.

In an effort to upend the status quo, she enlists Forward readers, writing:

To more fully address this issue, the Forward is reaching out to you, our readers, to send examples of the absence of women in your own communities to feedback@forward.com, which we will publish for further debate. And we will hold ourselves and our colleagues accountable, too.

Eisner discusses the effort in the most recent episode of “The Salon,” The Jewish Channel show she hosts with Change the Ratio founder Rachel Sklar. Panelists, this month, are The Israel Project’s Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, The National Council of Jewish Women’s Nancy Kaufman, and New York Times Magazine columnist Gaby Dunn.

Watch a video clip below:

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Super Bowl Team To Honor Its 'Jewish Mother'

By Leah Berkenwald

jwa.org
The program from Myra Hiatt Kraft’s funeral.

According to tradition, football players wear a patch with the Roman numerals of the Super Bowl — this year is Super Bowl 46, or XLVI — on the left side of their chests. This year, the Patriots will be wearing it on the right side; the left is already occupied by a patch honoring Myra Hiatt Kraft, the wife of team owner Robert Kraft; she died of cancer at age 68 last July.

The daughter of one successful businessman, Jacob Hiatt, and the wife of another, Robert Kraft, Myra Kraft was a dedicated and inspired philanthropist. The Krafts were generous benefactors of Israeli institutions and of Brandeis University, her alma mater, but they also endowed a professorship of comparative religion at the College of the Holy Cross. From 1983 to 2011, Myra Hiatt Kraft served on the board of the Boston Boys and Girls Club and, in 1995, became the first woman to chair that board. She also ran the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation.

After Myra Kraft’s death, the Patriots dedicated the season to her memory. They have been wearing patches with her initials, MHK, over their hearts ever since. A piece on the Boston NPR affiliate WBUR, called Myra Kraft a “Jewish mother” to the team. Pats defensive lineman Vince Wilfork told WBUR that Myra befriended many of the players, asking about their families and making sure they were feeling okay. “We both enjoyed each other,” Wilfork said. “My friends were so different. Lot of guys want to talk about football, but with her it really wasn’t about football. She wanted to know how you are as a person.”

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Leah Berkenwald is the online communications specialist at the Jewish Women’s Archive, and a contributor to its Jewesses With Attitude blog, which cross-posts regularly with the Sisterhood.


Komen Folds, but the Race Isn't Over

By Jane Eisner

Getty Images
Thousands take part in Komen’s Race for the Cure.

We just heard that the Susan G. Komen board of directors reversed course and will continue funding Planned Parenthood after all. “We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives,” Founder and CEO Nancy G. Brinker said in a statement released from Komen’s Dallas headquarters.

It was a stunning admission by an organization that was bombarded with angry complaints over the move to drop Planned Parenthood — supposedly because of a change in Komen’s grant-making criteria. But the political motives were just below the surface, and it was difficult not to come to the conclusion that Komen cut off Planned Parenthood because it is the women’s health organization that the right now loves to demonize.

This abrupt turn-around was surely caused by the fury unleashed on the Internet, and that is both a civic wonder and a scary thought. Since I was one of the ones infuriated by Komen’s initial decision — expressed in this editorial — I’m relieved and proud that the voices with whom I agreed had this kind of impact.

But will I feel so thrilled if the subject was something I abhorred? If the fury was unleashed in a less inviting direction?

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How Planned Parenthood Became a Liability

By Sarah Seltzer

It’s been quite a week (yet again) for the politicization of women’s health. As Debra Nussbaum Cohen and a Forward editorial noted, the Susan G. Komen foundation pulled its money form Planned Parenthood.

The money, of course, is not the issue. Planned Parenthood has already raised a chunk of what it lost from Komen from outraged supporters, and Komen’s reputation will tumble with many of its own former supporters after this. What was lost here, instead, was a sense of trust. This was a betrayal of the the idea that women’s breast cancer screenings need not be politicized.

But that ship had already had sailed with Komen, a case study in the danger of letting nonprofits get too entangled with corporate interests. “Big Pink” as many call the world of breast cancer awareness behemoths like Komen, has entrenched interests and they sadly don’t always line up with women’s. As Mara Einstein writes at the Ms. Magazine blog:

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David Cross, Arrested Forgiveness

By Jane Eisner

Getty Images
David Cross

Is there a statute of limitations for how long a grown man should hold a grudge against his father?

I have asked myself that over and over ever since I read the Talk of the Town in the Jan. 23 issue of the New Yorker — the one entitled “Moving Day,” about the actor and comedian David Cross and his move from the passé (in his eyes) East Village to a spacious apartment in Brooklyn with a “ridiculously big” walk-in closet and a dead-on view of Ellis Island.

“My dad went there with his family when he came over from England, shortly after World War Two, I think,” he’s quoted as saying.

All true. His father was a young boy when he left England with his mother to join his older brothers and his sister in New York. I know this because that sister was my mother.

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Komen's Vexing Decision

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Nancy Goodman Brinker, the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Women who have long supported the breast cancer fundraising organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure are today taking off their pink ribbons (metaphorically, at least) to protest the news that it has cut off funding to Planned Parenthood because the health provider it is under investigation by a right-wing Republican member of the House of Representatives, Cliff Stearns.

Komen, which was started by its namesake’s sister, former U.S. ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker, who was interviewed by The Sisterhood here, funds breast cancer research, screening and treatment programs. Brinker is Jewish and today is the group’s CEO.

Komen last year provided $680,000 to 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates for breast health screening exams. While Planned Parenthood has been targeted for years by anti-choice protesters and politicians who have pledged to defund it because it provides abortions, the organization, which has nearly 800 clinics, is probably also one of the nation’s largest providers of affordable women’s (and men’s) health services. The organization says that “more than 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s healthcare is preventative,” including contraception, testing for STDs and screening for cancer, along with general reproductive health care.

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On Rav Bina, and What Passes for 'Love'

By Elana Sztokman

The most surprising part of the story about Rav Aharon Bina’s alleged emotional abuse of his students at Netiv Aryeh comes from the reactions: It is astounding to see how many people apparently knew this has been going on but continue to sing his praises. This entire episode raises some difficult questions about what is really going on in the yeshiva world.

The Jewish Week article, written by Jewish media veteran Gary Rosenblatt in collaboration with courageous young Yeshiva University journalist Yedidya Gorsetman, catalogues a series of abusive behaviors that Bina allegedly carried out for decades against his students at Netiv Aryeh and before that at Yeshivat Hakotel. (Bina left Hakotel when he was fired by his successor — none other than Rabbi Motti Elon, who was recently indicted for indecent acts against his male students).

Bina reportedly yelled, mocked and systematically disparaged students — some students more than others — as part of his approach of psychological manipulation to gain obedience. Parents, students, and former students describe traumas incurred, and even violence at his hands, which in some cases turned the boys away from Judaism altogether.

Reading the comments on the story and blog posts about it this week, I have found that Bina’s defenders fall into one of two categories: those who deny that this happened, and those who knew but claim that it is part of Bina’s special “methodology” that is based on his love.

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Mourning Ayelet Galena

By Gabrielle Birkner

ayeletgalena.tumblr.com
Ayelet Galena

“With unstoppable tears and broken hearts we regret to announce that last night around 5AM, after hours of fighting and holding on, our precious Ayelet - the heart of our world, the light and strength for so many, could not fight any more.”

With those words, Seth and Hindy Poupko Galena shared the news of the January 31 death of their 2-year-old daughter, Ayelet Yakira. The little girl, suffering from a rare bone marrow disease, had received a transplant 154 days earlier.

Many of the thousands of those mourning Ayelet today knew her only through the Tumblr blog where her parents chronicled, with remarkable compassion, eloquence and humor, the toddler’s courageous fight.

It is, perhaps, no surprise that were able to laugh through their tears; Ayelet’s dad runs the popular “kosher comedy” website Bang It Out.

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In Beit Shemesh, Even Purim Is Politicized

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

While Purim is still more than a month away, Israeli bakeries are already full of hamentashen and newspapers and magazines are full of advertising campaigns for children’s costumes.

In the charged atmosphere of Beit Shemesh, even Purim has now become a battleground in the escalating ‘exclusion of women’ in the ultra-Orthodox community.

But the moral of this particular story is that fighting the trend can be successful when fought quickly and effectively, and using the buying power of the non Haredi-extremist community as a key weapon in the battle.

It all began when Hadassah Margolese — mother of the now famous eight-year-old Naama — was appalled to find that the circulars in her mailbox running advertisements for Purim costumes with the faces of the little girls dressed as fairies and princesses were blurred into obscurity.

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Matronita: Religious Women, Feminist Artwork

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Helène Aylon
Helène Aylon’s ‘My Marriage Bed/My Clean Days’ is featured in Matronita.

“Matronita” — from the Latin matrona, a woman of high social and moral status — is a term appearing dozens of times in the Talmud to refer to a woman who engages in discussions with the rabbinic sages. The word, which can also mean a queen or a partner of a king, is the title given to the first major exhibition in Israel of feminist art by women from an observant Jewish background.

With the endless headlines out of Israel about women being excluded from the public sphere, this show could not be more timely. Matronita: Jewish Feminist Art opened January 27 at the Mishkan Le’Omanut/Museum of Art in Ein Harod.

Curated by Dvora Liss and David Sperber, Matronita engages familiar feminist subjects, like power and oppression, body image and menstruation. Interwoven in the artwork are themes unique to the Jewish experience: niddah and ritual immersion, hair covering, agunot, women’s study and Jewish legal issues surrounding infertility.

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Updated: The Jewess of 'Downton Abbey'?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

pbs.org
Lady Cora, played by Elizabeth McGovern.

Update:
Shirley Maclaine has just been cast as Martha Levinson, Lady Cora’s mother — and the Dowager Countess’ rival.

This is delicious news! Still, I’d have rather have seen Barbra or Goldie Hawn, an actual Jewess, play the part of a Jewish American wanna-be-princess, though I doubt Goldie would be able to overcome her tremendous Americanness.

Can’t you just imagine Babs playing one of her smart-yet-slightly ditzy roles, coming into the castle and spilling something on one of the heirloom estate-sized Oriental carpets, and then breaking into song, glorious song?

I loved Maclaine in the big screen version of Jennifer Weiner’s “In Her Shoes,” a movie that didn’t get the credit it deserved. She played the tough-as-nails grandmother character which, come to think of it, may be what got her this new gig.

And after all, Babs wouldn’t likely have gotten past the first round of negotiations because she in all likelihood would refuse to accede to the requirement, for the sake of historical accuracy, that her famous long fingernails go unlaquered.

Tip of the sheitel: Fiona Sharpe


Could Lady Cora Grantham be — gasp — Jewish? According to this piece on Tablet she may indeed be. A reader spied the fact that on PBS’ website for its hit Masterpiece Theater Classic series “Downton Abbey,” Lady Cora is described as the daughter of “Isidore Levinson, a dry goods multi millionaire from Cincinnati.”

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Why My Husband Doesn't Babysit

By Gavriella Lerner

Joe Shlabotnik

My husband never babysits — and it doesn’t bother me one bit.

Allow me to explain: Following an extended maternity leave, I’m about to return to graduate school to complete my master’s degree in English literature. Naturally, people have been asking me about what I’m going to do for childcare. But since I was able to schedule all of my classes in the evening, my husband will be home by the time I leave for school.

“Great, so hubby is babysitting!” comes the usual reply. No he isn’t. He’s parenting. And calling him a “babysitter” insults this hard and important work that he does.

It is true that the vast majority of our baby’s care and other household duties fall to me, and I think that’s perfectly fair — given that I am home while my husband is working. Though he may not have the privilege of spending as much time with our son as I do, when he is home, he does everything that I do with the baby (minus the nursing).

Jewish law and tradition support an active role for fathers.

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Missing Voices of the 'Modesty Crisis'

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

A Los Angeles-based filmmaker and acting teacher named Robin Garbose recent published this essay in Haaretz, explaining why she became Orthodox as an adult. In her piece, Garbose laments that with the current criticism of Haredi values like gender separation, “the baby is being thrown out with the dirty bathwater.”

Garbose writes about why she was attracted to Haredi life; her desire “to transcend this toxic cultural climate” in which images of women are digitally altered to become thinner, more “perfect,” in advertising of all sorts purveying products “in the hope of remedying our gross inadequacies.”

She argues:

I had an opportunity to step into the mysterious and remote world of Haredi Jews. I appreciated that tzniut (Jewish laws of modesty) shifted focus from the body to the person, from objectifying and sexualizing women to valuing inner beauty. Though I didn’t own a long skirt, I saw these ancient concepts as a refreshingly counterculture expression of female dignity.

I don’t understand how Garbose can willfully ignore the plentiful evidence that the obsession with women’s external “modesty” is not about the dignity of women, but rather its perversion: the control of women in every possible form. It even included, not long ago, spray painting out the face of the “woman” on this poster of Adam Sandler dressed in drag for his latest movie.

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Prime Ribs, Israel — Beit Shemesh Attack

By Renee Ghert-Zand

A 27-year-old woman was attacked last week while she was hanging posters on behalf of her employer. Natali Mashiah was in the Ramat Beit Shemesh neighborhood when she alleges that a group of Haredi men called her a “slut,” a “shiksa,” and smashed her car’s windshield and windows while she was inside of it. They also threw a rock at her head, punctured the tires and poured bleach inside the vehicle, she said. Police arrested three suspects at the scene.


The financial newspaper Globes is asking why social justice protest leader Stav Shaffir, recently profiled in the Forward, reportedly accepted VIP perks, such as accommodations at a 5-star hotel and an chauffeured Audi, while recently in Munich for a conference.


Knesset State Control Committee chairman Ronnie Bar-On is calling for broader implementation by rabbinical courts of a law that allows rabbinical judges to impose punitive sanctions on men who refuse to give their wife a Jewish divorce document, or a get.

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Of Hasids, Hipsters and Hipster Hasids

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Creative Commons
Crown Heights

In Crown Heights, a neighborhood that has recently seen lots of change in its population, an article on the Lubavitch website COLLive has sparked a bonfire of reaction. An anonymous “open letter,” titled “Take Back Our Neighborhoods,” urges Jewish landlords in the heavily Lubavitch and West Indian neighborhood not to rent to non-Jews, as it describes their immodest ways:

Friends, we pay a premium to live in this neighborhood, and we strive to create an atmosphere of holiness and kedusha for our children and teens. These yuppies bring pritzus [Sisterhood translation: immodesty, with overtones of whorishness] to our neighborhood. They come out at night to our restaurants and act inappropriately while waiting on line etc.



We would hope that landlords, especially the Crown Heights landlords, would put a priority on our values, but sadly the need to make money is taking precedence for them. Some young agents and landlords will specifically rent to these goyim instead of a fellow Jewish family. Sadly, some homeowners have gone so far as bringing these yuppies as tenants in their home in prime locations.

The article author points to things like suntanning gatherings on the rooftops of local buildings, at least one of which was visible to students at a Lubavitch school, and recommends forming a committee, as the Satmars have in nearby Williamsburg, “to curb this issue.”

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'Scribbling Women' Get Less Respect, More Pay

By Elissa Strauss

jenniferweiner.com
Jennifer Weiner

Female novelists might not be getting the respect they deserve, but they sure can get rich trying. This, in short, is novelist (and, disclaimer, my friend) Teddy Wayne’s response to Jennifer Weiner’s recent post about the New York Times’ persistent bias towards male novelists — an issue that The Sisterhood has been following.

Weiner found that while the Times showed some improvement in 2011, women still got only 41% of all reviews, and were far less likely to get profiled in addition to getting reviewed.

Wayne acknowledged the preference among critics for male authors, but points out that, apart from the “literary 1%,” it is much harder for male novelists to make a living than female ones.

He writes:

For the majority of male literary authors — excluding the upper echelon of [Jonathan] Franzen, Jeffrey Eugenides, Don DeLillo and their ilk, plus a few younger writers like Chad Harbach who have scored much-ballyhooed advances — it’s actually harder than it is for women to carve out a financially stable writing career.

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Why We Should Care That Newt Cheated

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich.

It’s become practically a given that public figures who espouse a strict vision of morality will likely be revealed to have participated in behavior that they now want banned. The more vehement and damning the preaching, it so often seems, the less stringent the practicing.

In this election, the allegations of hypocrisy are already becoming a major story. Rick Santorum, who may be one of the most anti-abortion politicians in history, is married to a woman who lived in a May–December relationship for years with a known abortion provider. The tale of Karen Santorum makes it sound like she lived quite the wild life in those years before marrying her now-husband, who has gone on the record saying rape victims who are pregnant should “make the best of a bad situation.”

Just this weekend Rand Paul, oblivious to the implications, refused a TSA airport pat-down as being invasive of his bodily autonomy on his way to an anti-abortion rally.

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Losing My Appetite for Orthodoxy

By Dorothy Lipovenko

Two warring factions, my head and heart, have tussled for decades over the inequality and hurt on the women’s side of the mechitzah. Always, if sometimes reluctantly, my heart wins, and I cling to the curtain folds of observant Judaism.

But events in Israel these last few months — segregated buses, ultra-Orthodox extremists jeering at little girls on their way to school, the soundproofing of the public sphere against women’s voices — have led to a tipping point. There is no more slack for me to cut.

This is certainly not the Judaism of my Young IsraelBnei AkivaNCSY years, back when I was growing up in the 1960s.

I’m demoralized, and it’s gotten to the point where my husband has asked me, nicely, to refrain from any more tales of woe at the breakfast table. When I showed this easygoing son of Holocaust survivors the recent images of Haredi protesters dressed in concentration camp garb, a darkness rarely seen crossed his face.

In my despair, I’m not about to eat a cheeseburger; however, I am rapidly losing my appetite for identifying with Orthodoxy.

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Who Is Gingrich-Backer Miriam Adelson?

By Gabrielle Birkner

Getty Images
Sheldon and Miriam Adelson

Miriam Adelson, the Israeli-born wife of multibillionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, will donate $5 million to a “super PAC” backing Newt Gingrich for the Republican presidential nomination, The New York Times reported Monday. Her gift to Winning Our Future — the group behind the 28-minute video takedown of Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital — comes two weeks after her husband gave $5 million to the super PAC, and days before the Florida GOP primary.

Just what do we know about the wife of one of the world’s wealthiest men?

She’s a Doctor: She studied internal medicine at Tel Aviv University and worked at Tel Aviv’s Hadassah Hospital before moving to New York, in 1986, to study the biology of addiction. Through her research, she became an advocate for prescribing methadone to drug addicts who have failed to stay clean. “As a physician I opted to help them, because I have a weakness for weak people,” Miriam Adelson told Haaretz in 2008. “In medicine one also considers what is less harmful: If we do not give them methadone, they will continue to inject heroin with dirty needles, and will become infected and infect others with AIDS and hepatitis, and the hospitals will be flooded.”

She’s a Mother: Miriam Adelson has four children. She and her former husband, physician Ariel Ochshorn, have two grown daughters: Yasmin Lukatz, a casino executive with Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corporation, and Sivan Ochshorn, whom a website that tracks campaign contributions (yes, she backs Republican candidates) identifies alternately as a homemaker and a senior analyst for Las Vegas Sands. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have two younger sons together, Adam and Matan.

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Why I Cover Up

By Gavriella Lerner

Courtesy of the author
Gavriella Lerner

There’s been a lot of talk lately about tsnius, or modesty, lately — with all of the news coming out of Israel. I recently came across this cartoon, showing a woman in a bikini and a woman in a burqa, each judging harshly how the other is dressed. The cartoon got me thinking how both sides pictured get it wrong.

As someone who covers her hair, and dresses modestly in the name of tsnuis, and who finds doing so to be empowering, I object to the perception that I am subject to male domination because I cover up. I also reject the notion that modesty is about keeping myself silent and making myself invisible, lest I somehow lead men astray.

While there is most certainly a sexual component — which is why you wont see me walking around in a bikini, and why I deplore advertisements depicting scantily clad women — it’s not all about sex. Yes, the sex drive is powerful, which is why Jewish laws and customs dictate that a man and woman who are not related cannot be alone together or have physical contact, and they set forth basic parameters of modest dress.

But the rest is about dignity.

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