Achinoam Nini, the recording artist better known as Noa,” was among the performers who took the stage recently at Jerusalem’s “Singing for Equality.” The gathering protested the increasing gender segregation in Israel, and the exclusion of women’s images and voices from public spaces. It was organized in all of five days, but was filled with 500 people and a stage set with colorful and elaborate posters declaring, “Good morning Israel, the time has come to wake up and get back the Israel we lost.”
Following her performance, Nini spoke with The Sisterhood:
Why I’m here: [E]verything that I’ve learned about Judaism, learning in yeshiva in the States — first in SAR Academy and then in Ramaz, where I had wonderful experiences — everything that I know to be important to Judaism is being destroyed by some radicals. They’ve interpreted the Judaism that I know and love in a way that I feel is erroneous and unintelligent, and I’m here to fight against that.
What I sang onstage: I sang three songs, one of which, “Mishaela,” is one of my older songs about a girl who looks at a desert and sees water flowing and trees growing. But actually all of this is only happening in her mind — in the eyes of her soul. I chose it because it describes the transformative powers of the human spirit, and I think only through these inner powers that we have to change our situation will we be able to actually change it.
Dear Susan Katz Miller:
Most of the points you make in your recent HuffPo piece, “8 Reasons My Interfaith Family Celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas,” make so little sense, from where I sit as a Jewish mother, that I feel compelled to respond. I am aware that by doing so I am wading into the roiling waters of touchy issues around intermarriage and the choices interfaith families make.
1). You write that you see “no theological conflict between Judaism and acknowledging the birth of a Jewish spiritual seeker who stood up for the poor and oppressed and changed the course of history (that would be Jesus).”
Perhaps you ought to brush up on some of what distinguishes Christianity from Judaism. Where to begin? All of mainstream Judaism says that there is a conflict between Judaism and accepting Jesus as the redeemer. Jesus and his disciples departed from Judaism so radically, in their rejection of Judaism’s basic tenets, that they birthed an entire new religion. How does that not count as a theological conflict?
I have committed an act that is apparently unforgivable. Worse, I am a repeat offender. I had no idea at the time that my behavior was deeply offensive to some, and that I may have been repeatedly condemned and sneered at behind my back. I was oblivious. But ignorance, I’ve heard, is a poor defense.
So now that I know better, I will confess: On multiple occasions, I have brought store-bought goods to a bake sale. There, I’ve said it. And on the rare occasions when I possessed the time and energy to actually use my oven to create a dessert, I’ve done it with help from boxes of Pillsbury and Duncan Hines mixes I happened to have in the cabinet. I may never have taken action as drastic as distressing a purchased pie to make it look homemade, à la the heroine in “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” but I have gone so far as transferring brownies from a package to my own plate so that it’s store-boughtness was less obvious. A crime and a cover-up.
I would like to personally thank New York Times contributor Jennifer Steinhauer for showing me the error of my ways. I became aware of her piece “‘Store Bought’Spoils the Pot Luck Spirit” over the weekend, while making my usual Facebook rounds. While checking Ayelet Waldman’s author page, my eye was quickly drawn to two status updates which had drawn more than 100 “likes” and as many comments.
Dear Jeffrey Goldberg:
You recently wrote a piece for Bloomberg in which you call Crystal Bridges, the new museum built by Walmart heiress Alice Walton, a moral blight. Your column notes that “many of the paintings in Crystal Bridges hang in eloquent rebuke to the values of the company that has made the Waltons so very wealthy.”
Among these paintings is Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter,” which, you report, is described at the museum as a “transcendent symbol” of the “capabilities, strength and determination” of American women.
This is the sort of description that should give Alice Walton pause. After all, Wal-Mart’s female employees are not nearly so celebrated. In fact, one study shows that Wal-Mart’s female employees are paid less on average than their male counterparts, and are less likely to be promoted to management.
I am writing to remind you that The Atlantic magazine, where you are a staff writer, has not been entirely hospitable to women either.
The news that Naomi Ragen was found guilty of plagiarism came as quite a blow to those of us who deeply admire her work. Ragen is more than a bestselling author; she’s an activist by writing, and in some circles, I would go so far as to say she’s an icon. The devastating verdict creates a real conflict for some of us, torn between protection of artists’ rights and the need for strong female religious leadership. It’s a tough call, but I have decided that I’m going to continue to support Naomi Ragen.
This is why: Ragen has been a courageous writer on behalf of Jewish women since before it became popular, before Orthodox women’s activism had a name or a movement. Back when the only type of writing we had about Orthodoxy came from the Faye Kellerman-style of idealizing Orthodoxy, in which all is beautiful and sweet in the Orthodox home and all women are happy cooking and looking pretty and covered while their husbands do all the grungy work in the outside world of blood and guts, Ragen was out there. She was willing to take an honest look and tell the truth despite the denial and outrage her words engendered. She had the courage to expose so much of what is kept systematically hidden in the religious world — painful abuse, power-wielding, social hierarchies — and for that we all need to be grateful.
Things were starting to look up earlier this week when both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres spoke out against the exclusion of women. It was also announced that the Knesset task force was meeting to discuss sanctions against businesses that discriminate against women.
…But then only one government minister, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, bothered to show up at the meeting.
At the meeting, the IDF’s human resources chief Major-General Orna Barbivai told attending Knesset members that “halachic considerations cannot override the considerations of army commanders,” in reference to recent demands to excuse religious male soldiers from military ceremonies in which women would be singing.
On the “modesty” front, 20 shops and businesses in Sderot, including some national chain stores, have signed a modesty agreement. Businesses making sure that their employees dress according to religious modesty standards get a “kashrut” certificate from the Torah-oriented Mimaamakim organization.
One would like to think that there are red lines of offensive bad taste that one doesn’t cross, even in a heated ideological argument, and especially when such an argument is taking place between Jews. But the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman has chosen to cross such a line, by publishing a stomach-turning argument in a piece defending the practice of gender segregation.
According to the website News1, the opinion piece, written by an editor at the paper named Yisrael Wurtzel, was attacking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s criticism of the trend of gender segregation in Israel as a threat to democracy. In his list of arguments supporting the practice, he offered the following bizarre and sickening example:
Mrs. Clinton, let me remind you … during the time of the Holocaust, the Germans … kept the Jews in sex-segregated cell blocks in the death camps. Even these human beasts saw gender segregation as a natural practice. Men were sent to all-male sections and women to women’s sections.
Last week I was happily monitoring the news and reading all sorts of positive stories about how the FDA was poised to approve Plan B, one-step emergency contraception, for unrestricted over-the-counter use.
Imagine a system in which terrified young women who had experienced a condom breaking, a failed sexual negotiation, or any other contraceptive mishap could buy Plan B without hearing from a condescending pharmacist.
Finally, I thought, some good news that will lead to fewer pregnancies, fewer abortions and a saner culture. But a few hours later, came the announcement that even though the FDA sought this change and thought it was sound science, the Obama administration had shot it down.
My husband and I just marked our 20th anniversary. When you’re first getting married, or busy going through life, the idea of “20 years” just sounds like a lifetime. Can you imagine doing 20 years’ worth of anything? Twenty years in one job, 20 years wearing one hairstyle, 20 years with the same roommate. It sounds overwhelming.
The world has changed enormously since we got married. Certainly in the obvious ways — computers, email, Internet, cell phones. To wit, Jacob and I spent a year apart after we met, when he was home in Australia and I was home in Brooklyn, and we have tried to explain to our kids that there was no texting, no Skyping, and no emailing then. We wrote actual letters in actual handwriting that would take two weeks to arrive, and the big technology was that we would record ourselves speaking to each other on cassette tapes, which we would then mail to each other. And of course we had occasional long distance phone calls that increased in frequency as the year went by. These were the days before long-distance plans were introduced, and my father still recalls with a combination of fondness and horror The Great Phone Bill of August 1989, which he says, regretfully, was about as expensive as a plane ticket from New York to Melbourne. Ah, young love.
It’s not just technology that has changed. Ideas about marriage and relationships have changed as well.
When the Israel’s High Court ruled back in January that forcibly segregating men and women on so-called ‘mehadrin’ public buses was illegal, but that segregation could take place on a ‘voluntary’ basis, I was worried by what seemed to be to be a wishy-washy decision. At the time, I wrote:
One can’t help but worry about the reactions that women will encounter when they exercise their legal right to choose to ride in the front of such buses. It is hard to believe that the verbal and physical violence that has resulted from such situations in the past will miraculously evaporate as a result of a court ruling.
What I saw as the main bright spot of the ruling was Judge Elyakim Rubenstein’s clear-cut declaration that “a public transportation operator, like any other person, does not have the right to order, request or tell women where they may sit simply because they are women. They must sit wherever they like.”
In the year that has passed since the decision, my fears have been realized.
When one of my editors at the YU Beacon sent me an essay she had received from a friend, I responded to the submission with two words: “Love ittt.” The nonfiction piece, submitted anonymously to the Beacon’s creative writing section, was written by a Stern College student about her first sexual experience, in a hotel room with a Yeshiva College student — an experience that ended with the writer feeling confused and ashamed.
Since that essay, titled “How Do I Even Begin to Explain This,” was published on December 5, it has caused quite a stir. The upshot: The Beacon and Yeshiva University parted ways, and we will no longer be receiving funding from the school.
I founded the Beacon 11 months ago with two other Stern students. The Beacon’s mission: to foster a platform for students at Yeshiva University to talk about what’s on their minds. We felt, at the time, that there was no place for writing on topics that are considered “taboo” — sex, drinking and drugs, among them — and we believed having a forum to discuss these types of issues was important. And so the Beacon was born. The first issue went online in January 2011.
Something didn’t sound quite right to me at last week’s dedication of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, the cantorial school at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion.
Despite the love and sadness that suffused the event, which was born out of a desire to honor the singer-songwriter who died in January, hearing Debbie’s folky Jewish spirituals sung in multi-part choral harmony didn’t quite fit. And I wonder how she would have felt about the cantorial school being renamed in her honor. After all the school probably wouldn’t have accepted her, had she ever applied, because Debbie had absolutely no formal musical training.
Debbie’s innovative compositions changed the way many religiously liberal Jews approach prayer. Instead of the high-church operatic quality that characterized classical Reform worship (attended by a choir), Debbie used music to create a direct line of communication between congregant and God. Much as Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach did in Orthodox Judaism, Debbie took text and themes right from the prayer book and Bible, marrying them to melodies structurally simple enough for anyone to be able to quickly catch on. In time, as Debbie taught them to Reform-movement campers and youth group retreat-goers, and then groups of song leaders and Jewish educators, her work became transformative.
In her post “Why Infertility Breeds Silence,” my fellow Sisterhood blogger Elissa Strauss writes about the silence surrounding conception and infertility in her group of friends in the child-bearing stage of life. She observes that it:
feels as though we lack a vocabulary for how to discuss these things and as a result conversations are often awkward. I wish I would hear more first-person accounts about trying to conceive from friends. I want to hear about the pain and frustration and the fun and joy. I understand that for some trying to get pregnant is something they feel should be kept private, and I respect that, but sometimes privacy hurts more than it helps.
Having conceived and given birth to three kids, and suffering some all-too-common early miscarriages along the way, I would question Elissa’s assertion about privacy sometimes hurting more than it helps when it comes to the business of procreation. Granted, I live in Israel, where women have the opposite problem: Every woman’s uterus seems to be the whole country’s business and people don’t seem to stop talking about having babies.
“OMG, you ARE a bitch! Be-atch! No, no, in a good way. Seriously, I love you. You are the best. Want a glass of wine? I bet you like wine. Bitches love wine!”
This, I suspect, is how marketers imagine women who imbibe speak to one another. Why else would they, as The New York Times reports, name their wines things like Sassy Bitch, Jealous Bitch, Tasty Bitch, Sweet Bitch or Royal Bitch?
The story explains that the wine “bitch” craze began in 2004 when “Dan Philips of the Grateful Palate,” got “the post-feminist ball rolling with a grenache named, simply, Bitch.”
Like a slap across the face, Bitch grabbed the attention of a certain type of consumer, primarily young women en route to a bachelorette or divorce party, or looking for a special way to say, “I love you” on Mother’s Day.
Post-feminist? I don’t think so.
UPDATE: December 8, 12 p.m.: Following a meeting with school administrators, YU Beacon has restored the column to its site. A Beacon editor is telling New Voices that the publication will no longer be subsidized by the university.
Sure, sex columns are staples in college newspapers — spaces where student scribes describe, often in lascivious detail, the bedroom (or dorm room) propensities of their peers.
A recent column published in Yeshiva University’s co-ed newspaper, YU Beacon, was relatively tame by comparison: The anonymous piece matter-of-factly describes a sexual encounter between two students, after which the writer comes to the conclusion that she “made a stupid mistake.”
But as of Wednesday afternoon, the Beacon’s editors-in chief, Simi Lampert and Toviah Moldwin, had pulled the piece at the request of university administrators, with whom they are planning to meet. Apparently some on campus, and in the wider Orthodox community, found the piece too racy for a publication that receives money from Modern Orthodoxy’s flagship institution.
The magazine produced a funny and touching video with stars like Sherri Shepherd and Padma Lakshmi speaking candidly about their struggles to conceive, and some 50 Redbook readers posted videos of their own. In the story accompanying the video, Norine Dworkin-McDaniel writes about how one in eight women have trouble becoming pregnant, yet few of them feel that they can discuss the issue. Dworkin-McDaniel says the problem with culture of secrecy surrounding matters of infertility is that it “has left so many women to cope alone, in pain, and often uninformed.”
I am 32 and married and so are most of my friends; we have officially entered the age of the procreation. Many in our social circle either have a baby, are pregnant or have hinted at wanting one. None of them, however, speak or have spoken openly about the process of getting pregnant. Yes, some of them might mention in passing that they are “trying,” or respond with a low-level groan when the subject comes up, but that is about as specific as they get.
For any woman who has been sexually abused by a powerful male figure, today is historic.
As the day began, a bitter, sullen and utterly unapologetic Moshe Katsav — a former president of Israel, who was convicted last year on two counts of rape — left his home and made his way to prison. En route, Katsav lashed out at the justice system for “executing and innocent man” and “burying alive” a man who had “never behaved with anything but gentleness” towards women. The images of him being hustled out of his home and entering the prison were broadcast live across the country at breakfast time.
As the country watched and listened, virtually no sympathy for Katsav was detectable in the Israeli public throughout the ordeal, despite the former president’s continued attempt to portray himself as the victim of an evil conspiracy.
Hundreds of people are expected tomorrow in downtown Jerusalem to listen to female singers, including Noa, in a demonstration being called “A Song for Equality: A Demonstration of Women Singing.” On display at the event, which is being organized by an Israeli group called Be Free Israel, will be a large banner of photos of American men and women holding signs that say “Women Should be Seen and Heard.”
The banner was created by the New Israel Fund, which recently launched a campaign to counter the growing disappearance of women from public view in Israel’s capital city, where increasing Haredi influence has led to women being told to sit at the backs of public buses and advertisements that show only men — even when they are for a women’s product or service. There are also increasing efforts to bar women from singing in places where there are men in attendance even in the IDF.
More than 200 photos have been submitted to the “Women Should be Seen and Heard” campaign, said Naomi Paiss, the organization’s director of communications. Sixty of the photos were hastily assembled into the banner, and Paiss says the organization hopes to display some of the of the 6-foot-long banners in a public advertising campaign.
The living waters are not officially flowing just yet on the Ovda Air Force base in the Negev. As The Sisterhood told you last week, the first ever mikveh on an IDF base was to have been opened last Thursday. However, Ynet is reporting that the ceremony to inaugurate the mikveh was called off a day before it was set to happen.
The Army claims that the postponement of the ceremony has nothing to do with the recent controversies about religious practice in the IDF. The IDF Spokesperson’s Office said it was all “due to technical issues in the coordination of the ceremony according to relevant orders and opposite the responsible elements in the IDF.”
But a source involved in the matter told Ynet, “That’s a lame excuse. The ceremony was planned weeks in advance and everyone knew about it. The army just doesn’t feel comfortable inaugurating the mikveh at this time.”
Hillary Clinton has made some important people in Israel angry. But she has made a whole bunch of other people, especially women, really happy. I, for one, am grateful to Clinton.
I’m referring, of course, to her now viral comments that she is “worried” about Israel democracy, and about the status of women. Both issues should give all of us pause, and she gets a special kudos for linking the two issues, something no public figure had effectively done until now.
Clinton’s democracy concern stems from a series of troubling legislation that has recently been discussed and in some cases passed in the Knesset, led by several key Likud and Yisrael Beitenu parliamentarians. The bills that have been tabled over the past few months include: the Defamation Bill that, as the Forward explains here, would make life difficult for journalists reporting on activities of Knesset members; the Supreme Court Justice Appointment Bill, which gives Knesset Members increased powers in the process of appointing Supreme Court justices; the NGO Bill, which prohibits “foreign governmental bodies” from donating to “political” NGOs in Israel — followed by the tax bill that also proposes enormous taxes on foreign donations, and the Basic Law — The Judiciary, which aims to restrain NGOs from bringing lawsuits to the High Court of Justice.