Sisterhood Blog

Israeli Female Athletes Face Discrimination

By Elana Sztokman

Courtesy of Eden Gabay
Young Israeli Cyclist Nurit Engelmeyer

Nurit Engelmeyer is a champion bicyclist. Only 15 years old, she has already taken home a slew of medals and won this year’s National Road Bicycling championship and the Time Trial National championship, though with her shy modesty and gentle demeanor, she is the last person to let anyone know. She trains six days a week, can often be seen on the Modi’in roads with her gear, and she gives many of us – by us, I mean her Mom’s friends – a huge, vicarious thrill.

Yet it is hard for her to get the attention of the cycling establishment in Israel. Some of her teammates have received sponsorships to race in Europe this summer, but not Nurit. Why? Because she is a girl. There is no funding and no real support for girls’ cycling in Israel. So even though the boys who were are sponsored have less of a chance than she does of winning races, she is staying home while they advance in their cycling careers.

There is no attention, no understanding that ‘women’s cycling’ is even a field of its own. There is nothing for girls, not on the national level, not on the adult level, not on the girls’ level. No funding, no awareness, no statistics. Few other sports have organizations focused on competitive women, either, though there is a group for female triatheletes and a women’s basketball league.

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Ending Street Harrassment

By Chanel Dubofsky

Times Square: I walk up to the 2/3 subway stop at 42nd, and on a corner is a group of men in suits, smoking cigarettes. One asks if I have a light, and I shake my head no. The blond guy looks at me and jerks his pelvis up and down, licking his lips.

Upper West Side: Two people, a man and woman, are standing outside a club, presumably trying to get people to come in to see a show. “Hey, Slim Fast,” the man says as I walk past, “you want a ticket?”

Lincoln Center: I’m going back uptown from a doctor’s appointment, listening to music, when a man sidles up next to me. All I hear is “tits” before he continues walking. I turn around to see him watching me.

I think about street harassment for days after it happens, and lately, it feels like it happens every day. There’s a lot to process on a lot of levels. At first I’m shocked and not even sure it happened. Then I’m angry, and I want to do something like scream or punch the harasser. I think about what I’m wearing, evaluate whether or not I look particularly attractive that day. (Let the victim blaming begin.)

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Learning the Dance of Breast-Feeding

By Melissa Langsam Braunstein

No two babies have identical eating habits. My husband and I picked up this tidbit when we took a Breast-feeding Basics class late in my pregnancy, and it has certainly been applicable to our daughter.

I remembered this truism when reading this article in The New York Times. It says that a new study found that new mothers who pumped, or expressed, their breast milk by hand were more likely to still be breast-feeding two months later. Those who used electric pumps were more likely to stop. The writer posits that the difference between the two groups is related to embarrassment.

As a new mother who has recently adjusted to both breast-feeding and pumping, I have a different theory: it’s all about expectations. In pumping, as in all difficult things, if you expect less, you’re less likely to be discouraged. Breast-feeding may be natural, but doing it right takes practice. Unless she grew up on a farm, nursing is unlike anything else a new mother has ever done. And without proper guidance, things can quickly go haywire.

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Haredi Gender Segregation Spreading Dangerously

By Elana Sztokman

Just when we thought that gender segregation in Israel had become endemic, it spread further. In addition to the segregated business conference that my Sisterhood colleague Allison Kaplan Sommer reported on here, three new fronts for gender segregation have opened up in Israel, each one bringing a new version of extremism to life here.

The first is the Jerusalem light rail, which is slated to begin operating in the coming months. According to recent reports, the Haredi community has succeeded in winning gender-segregated cars. When the idea first reared its head last year, the (secular) managers of the project surprisingly expressed favor for segregation, citing the need to “serve everyone in the city.”

The idea that misogyny deserves to be accommodated by the municipality represents a frightening intrusion of warped religious thinking into public life.

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The Blessings of a Clothing Swap

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

Like much of what’s great about New York, I ended up at my first clothing swap completely by accident after passing it by on the street. The community space where the swap was being held was a block from my apartment and inside I saw the organizer and a clump of women laying out and trying on each others’ clothes. I said hi and that I’d be back, and dashed home to get the ready bags of stuff I had been meaning, for months, to give away.

This was selfish in part; my usual strategy for unwanted items is a semi-regular dump at a Salvation Army location. I figured this local clothing swap would spare me a car trip and I didn’t intend to stay long. I thought I’d relieve myself of these dresses that didn’t fit, shoes and tops I no longer had use for, and go on about my Saturday.

But then someone’s green dress caught my eye. I touched it. It wrapped and had an attractive pattern. It looked perfect for a warm summer day.

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Honeymooning at My Parents' House

By Hinda Mandell

Jake Mandell
Hinda and Her Husband, Matt, Getting Married

I am writing this while on my honeymoon. At my parents’ house in the Boston suburbs. Hardly the stuff of which dreams are made.

I married my husband on Cape Cod, so the event felt like a wedding and actual honeymoon wrapped into one. As we journey back to New York post-nuptials, a layover at my parents’ homestead was in order.

My mother is a vocal opponent of any boyfriend/girlfriend or fiance/fiancee sharing a bed with any of her grown children in her house. The rule was always unspoken but very clear: only married couples share a bed under my parents’ roof. Even at age 31, when I came home for a visit with my then-boyfriend, my father immediately whisked his suitcase to the spare bedroom. No questions asked.

Now, with a gold band on my left ring finger after standing under the chuppah, my parents still maintain an interest in where I sleep in their house. But they’ve flipped.

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Gwyneth Paltrow, Mikveh Maven?

By Dorothy Lipovenko

Getty Images
Gwyneth Paltrow

“Girls, how would you like a honeymoon every month?” A famous question tattooed on the brains of nearly any woman who attended Jewish day school. Who can forget the opening gambit of the mikveh pitch, courtesy of the local rebbetzin, to a class of nervous, giggling 13-year-olds?

It sure hooked me. I thought, “That cute guy doesn’t even know my name and we’re talking honeymoon already? Deal me in.” But experience has changed my perspective. Raise your hand if you’re a Jewish woman with mixed feelings about this whole mikveh business. I thought so. It’s complicated, cold, messy and wet. So imagine my surprise reading in this article in the U.K’s Daily Mail. It says that actress Gwyneth Paltrow is immersing herself in the questionable idea that dipping into natural water is a way to beat stress.

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The 'Friday Night Lights' Rabbi

By Gloria Feldt

courtesy of Rabbi Holly Cohn
Rabbi Holly Cohn

On the day I was to interview Rabbi Holly Cohn, the new spiritual leader at the lone congregation serving a 100-mile radius of West Texas, at Odessa’s tiny Temple Beth El, the television series “Friday Night Lights” was trending on Twitter. The story of the fictional town of Dillon, Tex., where high school football is a central cultural focus, was about to end its final season.

I could only hope that Rabbi Holly, as she calls herself, would not see this as a negative sign. As the show’s fans know, “Dillon” is actually Odessa, a town where I lived for 20 years and the football team is based on Odessa’s Permian High School Panthers.

Temple Beth El, which self-identifies as Conservo-Ortho-Reform since it must appeal to all denominational tastes, has just brought in its first full-time rabbi. Cohn, a 42-year-old, yarmulke-and-tallit-wearing female Reform rabbi, has been hired as its quarterback. The congregation hopes she will revitalize its shrinking community and attract the unaffiliated Jews scattered around the windswept area.

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Larry David, Feminist Hero?

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images
Larry David

Larry David is a feminist. There I said it. I know, I know, that jerk? Allow me to explain.

Yes he is arrogant and frequently offensive, but somewhere amid the solipsism and general buffoonery there is a man who treats women’s bodies and issues with a level of maturity, respect and a rather refreshing matter-of-factness rarely seen on television.

Women’s bodies, and the stuff they do, are usually portrayed on television as either sexy or yucky. It is pretty simple. Breasts, hot! Periods, not! Sex with a vagina? Super. The word vagina? Super gross. But for Larry, this isn’t the case. (For the record, I am referring to Larry David the main character of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” not real-life Larry David, assuming there is a difference.)

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Leave Hillary's Wardrobe Alone

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images via AFP
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in China in July.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, former First Lady, Senator, presidential candidate and current Secretary of State, is arguably one of the most powerful women in recent history, and yet she still comes under fire for her choice of clothing, from cleavage-gate to her pantsuits to her haircuts and figure and beyond.

Her most recent critic is television personality Tim Gunn, who stated during an appearance on the George Lopez show that due to Clinton’s choices, she seemed to have “gender” confusion and mocked her “cankles.”

This naturally enraged many a commentator, but perhaps the best comeback came from none other than reigning fashionista Lady Gaga, who guest-hosted The View on August 1. Gaga called Gunn “a bully” and said that she thought the Secretary of State has “more to worry about than her hemline.” (“I don’t,” she added self-deprecatingly and charmingly.)

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Bob Dylan and Strollers For Israeli Democracy

By Shari Eshet

Courtesy Shachar Laudon
Israeli Demonstrators in Tel Aviv

Some say it’s because Bob Dylan and Paul Simon performed in Israel this summer. Others say it all started with the Facebook message urging Israelis to stop buying cottage cheese — a daily staple in the Israeli diet that has become outrageously expensive. I prefer to see it as the culmination of many decades of work on the part of NGOs, here in Israel and abroad, which have helped to pave the path to a healthy democracy in Israel.

Some might question my depiction of Israel as a “healthy” democracy when only two weeks ago the Knesset passed legislation banning boycotts. It leaves people who organize or publicly endorse boycotts against Israel open to litigation. It was approved in the Knesset by 120 politicians who are clearly out of touch with the Israeli grassroots. It will undoubtedly be struck down by Israel’s Supreme Court when it hears the case.

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Torah and Toddlers: Parenting's Jewish Lessons

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat has written a new book, “Blessings and Baby Steps,” (Behrman House, 2011) which synthesizes insights into Torah and lessons learned from giving birth to, and parenting, her two young children.

Grinblat teaches Midrash at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, where she received ordination in 2001. She previously worked as a pulpit rabbi in two L.A.-area synagogues and has written about parenting for The Forward, the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles and the Washington Jewish Week.

She and her husband have two children. Jeremy is 7 and Hannah is 4.

Debra Nussbaum Cohen: What, specifically, gave you the idea for “Blessings and Baby Steps?”

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'Hush' Author Goes Public With Real Name

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

The Cover of ‘Hush’

The author of the hit young adult novel “Hush,” has revealed her identity in this essay in the Huffington Post.

The writer, who went by the pen name “Eishes Chayil” (or Woman of Valor), told the world that her real name is Judy Brown.

Ten months after publishing her debut novel, and several months after she began getting death threats through her book publisher for writing in the voice of a victim of sexual abuse, she is making her name public because she has been moved by the murder of Leiby Kletzky and wants to do what she can to change the Hasidic community’s secrecy and denial about the existence of pedophiles and other victimizers.

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Sister of Druze Miss Israel Contestant is Murdered

By Nathan Burstein

Courtesy Heymann Films
Angelina Duah Fares

The most famous Miss Israel contestant not to win the national pageant has returned to the headlines in Israel.

Duah Fares, a Druze Israeli who made waves before withdrawing from the 2007 Miss Israel pageant, is back in the news after the murder of her younger sister, Maya.

Jamila Fares, a 21-year-old who went by the name Maya, disappeared in mid-July. Her body was discovered July 15 in a forest and showing signs of physical violence that preceded her shooting. Maya’s husband, Said, was initially arrested, but was released after passing a polygraph test, and neither Duah nor her mother, Dalia, suspect him.

While the case remains open, the killing has refocused attention on the status of Israel’s non-Jewish women, who face discrimination within both their own communities and Israeli society at large. The elder Fares pulled out of the Miss Israel contest because of death threats from her own community.

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And Baby Makes Two (Bedrooms)

By Melissa Langsam Braunstein

Grandma always said “hate” was a strong word and that I shouldn’t use it. But sometimes it feels appropriate, like when describing my feelings about moving. I hate moving. I despise it. There are few things I like less, which should explain why I’ve lived in only two apartments in the last ten years.

As I gear up to move again, I realize that my apartments since college have been a proxy for my identity and stage in life. My first apartment was that of a singleton, the second that of a wife, and the next will be that of a mother.

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Lack of Passion Killed Israel's Civil Marriage Bill

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Israeli Jews whose choice of partner or form of ceremony doesn’t meet traditional Jewish legal requirements will have to continue to book a flight to Cyprus or Vegas to make their marriage legally valid in their own country, since marriage and divorce are going to remain in the hands of Israel’s Orthodox rabbinate for the foreseeable future.

A bill that would allow civil marriage in Israel went down in a crushing defeat in the Knesset on July 27. Only 17 Knesset members voted for it, with 40 members rejecting the bill that would have allowed Israelis to choose between civil marriage and religious marriage. The bill went down despite a vigorous public awareness campaign and lobbying effort launched in the spring stressing the importance of making it possible for all citizens to “Marry and divorce in Israel according to their choice, faith, and conscience.”

But public opinion was never really the problem. It has been clear for years that a majority of Israelis think civil marriage should be an option for those who have trouble with the rabbinate or who simply don’t want an Orthodox ceremony. The most recent poll, a Tel Aviv University survey released the very same day the bill went down in defeat, found that “63% support the option of civil marriage, 25% oppose it and 12% did not respond.”

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Will Israeli Court Decision on Surrogacy Bring Changes for Gay Couples?

By Renee Ghert-Zand

iStock

I’m in Israel for a month reporting on a number of different stories, including a magazine piece about the growing number of Israeli gay couples who are having children with the help of gestational surrogates and egg donors in foreign countries.

Although there is no law explicitly banning the use of surrogacy in Israel by gay couples, the country’s 1996 surrogacy law states that only married heterosexual couples may seek to have children by surrogacy in Israel. (Lesbians are not affected by the law since they can conceive children through artificial insemination.) It turns out that not only are gays excluded, but also many other couples by virtue of strict interpretations of the law by the Attorney General and Israel’s surrogacy approval committee overseeing applications and protocols. Among the very strict limitations has been the practice of almost always giving preferential treatment to applications from childless couples.

But now Israel’s High Court of Justice has ruled that a couple’s already having several children is not sufficient reason to reject their application for surrogacy. The decision was handed down in relation to a case brought by a woman who had to undergo a hysterectomy at the age of 30, following the birth of her third child. The woman, now 38, and her husband, who are religious Jews, wanted to have a fourth child by a surrogate, but their application was turned down on the basis of their already having three child

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Prime Ribs: Rapper Shyne on Jewish Modesty; Pregnant on Facebook

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images
Rapper Shyne

In music news, a posthumous Amy Winehouse album will be released reports the Daily Mail. Brooklyn rapper and Hasidic convert Shyne tells the Jewish Chronicle that he will no longer feature profanity or scantily clad women in his videos out of respect for Jewish modesty laws.


614 devotes its latest issue to Jewish women who have served in the military. The eZine features profiles on the first female rabbi to enlist as well as another who broke gender barriers, and likely also the sound barrier, as a combat pilot.


Victoria Pynchon explains “Why the National Debt Negotiations Matter to Women” at Forbes.com. In short, a whole lot of elderly women rely on Social Security.


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Criticizing 'Slutwalks' and Again Judging Women For What They Wear

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images via AFP
Women at a “Slutwalk” in London in June

As a loud defender of Slutwalks, I’ve been disturbed by the recent turn the critique of the new grassroots movement has taken, from within the feminist movement and here on our own Sisterhood blog.

I was actually pleasantly surprised, during the first wave of Slutwalks earlier this year, by how much the mainstream media seemed to be getting the message of the walks, which is, in essence, that “she was asking for it” is never an appropriate response to rape.

No, the message is not “we’re sluts and we’re proud!” No, not “it’s great to be a slut!” No, the message is not exclusively “we’re reclaiming sluthood.”

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Separate-Gender Jewish Activities: It's Good To Have Rooms of Our Own

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

I have to disagree with Chanel Dubofsky’s Sisterhood post in which she contends that new interest in Jewish men’s clubs reflects male anxiety about a supposed women’s takeover of Jewish organizations and life. I think it’s great that a non-Orthodox Jewish organization is making progress in engaging Jewish men. The goal is to have everyone involved.

As far as I can tell, there hasn’t actually been a women’s takeover of Jewish organizations. As illustrated in this New York Times article a few years ago, and this more recent article in the Forward, it is true that, among teenagers, programming in the non-Orthodox community has attracted more female participation than male. And the Reform movement, for one, has been working to achieve more parity.

As important as egalitarian access to Judaism is to me, we also need separate-gender spaces (as the title and subject matter of this blog reflect). It is not anti-feminist to recognize that there are differences beyond the physical between men and women, and that we tend to develop most close friendships with those of the same gender. There is something to be said for the safer space of being with others of the same gender.

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