Newsweek recently put out an issue dedicated to the status of women in the world. In it was a ranking of the 20 best and worst countries for women with the usual suspects at the top, including Scandinavian countries, and the usual suspects at the bottom, including Saudi Arabia and countries in Western Africa.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) did a similar ranking last year in which they determined which countries had the highest level of equality between men and women. While the two lists largely overlap there are some interesting discrepancies.
In the Newsweek rankings the United States is number eight, Canada is number three, Australia is number nine, and France is number 12. But the WEF’s “Global Gender Gap” report has the United States as 19, Canada as 20, Australia as 23 and France as 46, below the former Soviet Union.
I didn’t go to synagogue for Yom Kippur’s concluding services on Saturday afternoon. Instead, I went to Steve Jobs’ house.
I got out of my skirt, put on some sweatpants and biked over to his house, just a few blocks away from mine in Palo Alto, California. There, I joined the crowd that had come to pay their respects to the late technology visionary who birthed and led Apple.
It was strange to see his familiar house, with its rustic brick walls and low-hanging slate roof reminiscent of the Elizabethan-era countryside, turned into a memorial. A corner which I had passed so many times on foot, on bike and by car, was now filled with flower bouquets, cards, posters and other personal offerings like sweatshirts with the Apple logo and used iPods inscribed in Sharpie marker with words of thanks to Jobs. Most poignant were the many apples with bites taken out of them lined up on the low wooden fence surrounding the small apple orchard that stands in front of the house.
On the Friday night immediately after Rosh Hashanna, my son Dan called for Shabbat dinner at Occupy Wall Street. There were about 25-30 of us who made kiddush, ate cholent (which translates these days into vegetarian chili), had tuna fish instead of gefilte fish and drank lots of juice while eating home-made challah.
When a CBS reporter found us under the sculpture on the northwest corner of Cedar and Broadway, he didn’t want to know why we made Shabbat in Zuccotti Park. He didn’t care that there were ethical, principled reasons to have Shabbat at a protest, to sanctify a day by speaking out for justice. This guy wanted us to be hippies having pot luck dinner. Sorry we didn’t fit his stereotype. “I only have 10 seconds, no time for this Shabbat thing,” he said.
I was the senior in the bunch, and David Peel, a real hippie who hung with John and Yoko back in the day (and was singing Tevye’s greatest hits), was one person who asked me why I was there, as did a struggling freelance journalist. They both looked pointedly at my gray hair and my grandmotherly physique.
In a Hasidic community, where ritual life is separate for men and for women, there is lots of ‘women’s space,’ like their section at synagogue and at the mikvah. But recently there has been a new kind of space for women, one created by Bronya Shaffer. Bronya, a life-long adherent of the Lubavitcher rebbe and his teachings, is a renown teacher of brides-to-be and counselor to couples. I am lucky to be able to also call her my friend.
On the second night of Rosh Hashana this year she had a holiday meal dinner party bringing together an ever-changing group of her friends who are single. They range in age from their 40s to their 90s. Some are divorced or widowed, while others haven’t married. Some are frum (Orthodox) from birth, while others are ba’alei teshuva, or people who adopted observant life but weren’t raised that way. Some are professionals, others artists.
They are as eclectic a group as Bronya’s entire circle. She began the holiday meals in 2008, about a year after her husband, Gedalia, was killed by a drunk driver.
The recent controversy surrounding Madonna and the Kabbalah Center’s charity work in Malawi seems to not have had any lasting effect on her relationship with the organization. The singer was spotted taking her kids to the Kabbalah Center in New York to observe the days of repentance according to Ynet.
Zehavit Cohen, who is one of the most powerful businesswomen in Israel and was a frequent target of the social protest movement, has temporarily stepped down from her role as Chairperson of Tnuva Food industries, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Mother Jones reports that Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the leading breast cancer foundation in the United States, is denying a link between BPAs – a chemical compound found in some plastics that studies have determined as cancer-causing – and breast cancer. Critics say Komen receives large donations from companies who continue to use BPAs.
I plug her name into the Facebook search engine and there she is: my former friend, Bea. The years have been kind to her: She’s not looking too much older, I see essentially the same face that was smiling next to me in my wedding photos when she served in the role of unofficial maid of honor. We were that close — until we weren’t. I remember the fateful phone call more than a decade, ago, when she was disappointed and angry that I wasn’t willing to leave my two small children and drive more than an hour to visit her. She told me angrily that if I wasn’t willing to make that much of an effort to see her, she wasn’t interested in being my friend anymore.
It was traumatic — the first, and only, time a close female friend had formally “broken up” with me. I was shocked and hurt. I called her and apologized for my behavior. I became upset that she was willing to let our friendship end over what seemed to be such a trivial matter. But she wasn’t interested. I grew tired of reaching out to her, and stopped. We haven’t spoken since. I look at her picture on my computer screen and wonder: Is she still angry with me? Should I still be angry with her? Or is it time to try again?
Yom Kippur is about reconciliation and forgiveness of past transgressions. We’re supposed to not only ask forgiveness from God for our sins, but also apologize and reconcile with those who have sinned against us, or those to whom we have done wrong. I believe that in our new wired age, we now have vastly increased opportunities to do this. And no, I’m not simply using religion as an excuse to spend more time on Facebook.
“Modesty” is again holding back women in the Haredi community. Although I don’t agree with it, I can sort of understand how the prohibition against women sitting in the front of a bus, walking on a certain side of the street or talking on cell phones in public can relate to tsnius, or modesty, and guard against the mixing of the sexes. But now comes a case where I just cannot see the logic, no matter how hard I try.
The New York Post recently reported that dozens of Orthodox women trained as emergency medical technicians are asking to join Hatzalah, the all-Jewish, Brooklyn-based volunteer ambulance corps.
The women are being represented by lawyer and community activist Ruchie Freier, who says she has the endorsement of prominent rabbis in Brooklyn and New Square (where Orthodox women reportedly serve as EMTs). She also claims that Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents Boro Park, thinks that having women join Hatzalah is an idea worth considering.
Are the practice of forcing young girls to walk around draped in black sheets, denying them formal education and coercing them into early marriage the markings of a cult? Should such communities that do these things be illegal, and should girls whose parents join such a community be removed from their custody?
Israelis are now waiting to hear a Jerusalem family court’s decision on the matter. The ruling is expected to come next week, when the court must determine the fate of two girls whose parents joined the Israeli branch of a Haredi sect called Lev Tahor (Pure Heart). Israelis have taken to calling the group part of the “Jewish Taliban” trend, because women and girls in the group have adopted the custom of wearing burkalike veils covering their faces, and multiple layers of clothing on their bodies.
The girls in the midst of the firestorm, ages 13 and 15, are the daughters of two secular Israelis who became ultra-Orthodox and joined the sect. Their grandmother and great-uncle, concerned for the girls’ well-being, petitioned the court after the girls’ parents put them on a plane headed to Canada, to an isolated village outside Montreal that comprises 45 families from Lev Tahor.
A few weeks before Rosh Hashanah, my older sister invited me to join her family and our mother in New Jersey for the holiday. “Is it a three day Yom Tov?” I asked, referring to when a holiday is followed immediately by Shabbat. “I don’t think I can handle that,” I said. My sister, though she feels the same way, would observe regardless of holiday fatigue. She couldn’t entertain a different possibility.
But for me, “can’t” is no longer a four-letter word. Sometimes Orthodox Jews appear to be only what they can’t do. They can’t eat pork and they can’t go to the movies on the Sabbath.
As a Jewish woman, there seemed to be even more Thou Shalt Nots than there were for my male counterparts. The guys were ordered to actually do things — whether it was to lead services or study Torah — while the girls were constantly warned away from things, like immodest dress and participation in communal life. If only I had lived in the Temple times then I at least could’ve brought a sacrifice to at the altar after giving birth. That would’ve been one for the “can” column.
Hanne Blank’s books include the forthcoming “Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality” (Beacon Press, 2012) and “Virgin: The Untouched History” (Bloomsbury, 2007).
She has been an advisor and editor at Scarleteen, a sexuality education and support organization and website, where she offered advice on kosher sex.
Blank’s classic sex and body-acceptance book, ”Big Big Love: A Sex and Relationships Guide for People of Size (and Those Who Love Them)” (Celestial Arts, 2011), originally began as a now-defunct ‘zine called “Zaftig,” a collaboration between Blank and illustrator Liz Tammy.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.