Sisterhood Blog

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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'Dirty Dancing' Remake: Keep Baby Jewish

By Elissa Strauss

Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze having the time of their lives in the original “Dirty Dancing.”

A “Dirty Dancing” remake is officially in the works, with Kenny Ortega, who choreographed the original, set to direct.

The announcement of the new project quickly incited a chorus of complaints from those who think the idea is sacrilegious, as well as a flurry of speculation on who would play Baby and Johnny.

I, for one, would be happy to see a remake, as long as it is done right. And by right, I mean at least a little Jewish.

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Jewish Mothers On Babble List of World Changers

By Renee Ghert-Zand

The Babble parenting website has come out with its list of “100 Moms Who Are Changing The World” list, and as might be expected, there are Jewish women on it. After all, Jewish mothers can be quite formidable.

Jewish women did not make an appearance in all 10 categories on the list - activism, charity, creative, education, entrepreneurial, executive, green, health/science, inspirational, and politics – but they are disproportionately represented when taking into consideration the number of Jewish women in the general population. Perhaps we should even take it as a sign that the tribe was represented by exactly 12 Jews.

Fashion designer Donna Karan was on the list for her philanthropic work for cancer treatment through her Urban Zen Foundation, emergency housing in Haiti through Shelterbox, and cancer research and HIV/AIDS awareness through Seventh on Sale and Super Saturday.

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Are Women Being Left Behind in Israel Protests?

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Courtesy of Rafimich
Israel Protest Leader Daphne Leef

At the start of the summer, Israel’s social protest movement looked like it would represent a real turning point for women in the public sphere.

The face of the movement was indisputably female. The story began when a young filmmaker, 25-year-old Daphne Leef, pitched a tent in downtown Tel Aviv to protest the lack of affordable housing. The movement she kicked off lasted all summer and culminated in a massive countrywide march that drew 450,000 protesters demanding that the government take steps to ease the cost of living in Israel.

But over the course of the summer, it has seemed to some Israeli feminists that the women are being left behind.

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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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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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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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