Sisterhood Blog

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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What Sex Ed Should Really Teach

By Bat Sheva Marcus

Lo and behold, New York City has decided that sex education should be mandatory in public middle and high schools, and include instruction on condom use and guidance on the appropriate age for sexual activity.

According to The New York Times story about the change:

New York City’s new mandate goes beyond the state’s requirement that middle and high school students take one semester of health education classes. The city’s mandate calls for schools to teach a semester of sex education in 6th or 7th grade, and again in 9th or 10th grade.

Technically speaking it’s only formal sex education that is new in the public school system. Some schools already include some sex education in their health classes, though not all discuss how to prevent pregnancy and disease beyond HIV/AIDS, on which New York State began requiring classes in 1987. And informal sex education (that is, the sex education that happens between teens and in bathrooms) has been part of school life for years, as most parents in the know would confirm. You just can’t be a teenager who is let out of the confines of their home and not bump up against sex education of some kind, whether it is in the form of friends bragging, misinformation on bathroom walls or actually helpful information from your best friend.

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The Kittel as Maternal Love

By Jacqueline Nicholls

courtesy Jacqueline Nicolls
Jacqueline Nicholls’ ‘Maternal Kittel’

“She is not worried for her household because of the snow, for her whole household is dressed in scarlet. ” (from ‘Eshet Chayil’ - Proverbs 31:21)

This kittel explores the mother as dressmaker. When she clothes her children she is providing not just physical protection, but also nurturing and caring for them, even when she is absent.

Mothers have always done this. In the Bible’s Book of Samuel 1, Chapter 2, Hannah says goodbye to Shmuel and leaves him at the Mishkan with an ‘ephod’ a white linen garment. According to the midrash this garment grew as the boy grew older, keeping him constantly connected to his mother, who had prayed so desperately for a child. In Genesis, Rivka dresses her favorite son, Ya’acov, in his older brother’s clothing so they can fool his father into giving him the first-born son’s blessing. He then left and never saw his mother again. When Adam and Chava leave Gan Eden, God acts as their mother when clothing them to face the world.

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The Moral Dilemma of Pregnancy 'Reduction'

By Elissa Strauss

Reproductive rights have never come easy. This has been the case for every single advancement in a woman’s ability to control reproduction, all of which were initially painted as immoral and unnatural. And this is the case now, with the debate surrounding the abortion of one twin, often referred to as pregnancy reduction.

As explained in a recent article by Ruth Padawer in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, the aborting of one fetus while carrying twins is becoming a growing source of controversy in the medical community, while it can also be a lifesaver for the young mothers who elect to do it. Still though, many doctors refuse to perform the procedure, and many women who go through it are ashamed to discuss it even with close friends.

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Not Your Average Matchmaker

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

Areleh Harel is not your average matchmaker. The Orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem sets up marriages between Orthodox gay men and Orthodox lesbians. The goal is to allow Orthodox Jews to fulfill their desires to marry and have children with partners who understand what it’s like to be gay, and who can keep the secret.

Harel started the offbeat (some would use other words) service six years ago, and pretty soon he’ll have a website and a staff that does the work for him. For not many shekels (roughly $42) hopeful singles can post profiles.

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The Maternal Impact

By Leah Berkenwald

Postsecret
From Postsecret, an ongoing community art project, where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard

On Postsecret, someone recently sent in a postcard (pictured right) about mothers, daughters and body image. I think most can relate to the anonymous author of the Postsecret card. When mothers struggle with their own body image, their insecurities are often passed down to their daughters. In 2010, Peggy Orenstein tackled the difficult issue of food, weight and motherhood in The New York Times magazine. This is a universal issue, affecting a variety of ethnic groups and socio-economic classes.

But there is a distinctly Jewish element to the mother-daughter-body image issue. Jewish mothers, traditionally, (and stereotypically) aren’t shy about their own issues, or the issues they see for their daughters. Anonymous wondered what her mother would change about her body; a Jewish daughter would know.

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Woman Fired for Not Wearing Makeup

By Elana Sztokman

iStock
At What Price Beauty?

Melanie Stark was forced from her job in sales at Harrod’s in for refusing to wear make-up. After five years of employment at the British department store, the company confronted Stark with a “Ladies’ dress code” which included the following strict instructions: “Full makeup at all times: base, blusher, full eyes (not too heavy), lipstick, lip liner and gloss are worn at all times and maintained discreetly (please take into account the store display lighting which has a ‘washing out’ effect).”

Stark refused to comply. The 24-year-old told The Guardian, “I was appalled. It was insulting… It’s not like wearing black trousers, or a black shirt. This is my face. Make up can change your features completely, especially if I was to wear all of what they were asking. I would look like a different person to me. And I never chose to look like that.”

While Stark is considering her legal options, the blogosphere erupted with some surprising reactions. Liz Jones at The Mail wrote a scathing attack against Stark: “An unmade-up face tells me you find it hard to get up early enough to attend to your maquillage…Women who feel no compunction to improve what nature bestowed upon them are, in my experience, arrogant, lazy or deluded, and frequently all three.”

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Trio of Jewish Women Religious Leaders

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

The Huffington Post is out with its list of the top 10 women religious leaders, and one is a rabbi, another a Jewish activist and a third is a spiritual guru with Jewish roots.

Courtesy Ruth Messinger
Ruth Messinger in Haiti last August.

Coming in at No. 9 is Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum who leads the only LGBT synagogue in Manhattan, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah which was extremely outspoken about passing gay marriage in New York. She was a Sisterhood 50 pick, one of Newsweek’s most influential rabbis and was ordained by the Reconstructionist rabbinical college.

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Jewish Women's Groups for a New Age: A Proposal

By Dorothy Lipovenko

Time was, a Jewish woman’s legacy could be counted on to include, outside of family, two things: her recipe for sponge cake and membership in a synagogue sisterhood, or one of numerous women’s organizations dedicated to raising money and hope for Jewish children, the State of Israel, indigent elderly or anyone else life had been unkind to.

These groups satisfied Jewish women’s needs to keep everyone healthy, well fed and well read. Because nothing less than future generations of doctors and nurses, lawyers and teachers was at stake.

But these groups also played to another side: a need for friendship and, in what used to be “a man’s world,” an influential outlet for decision-making.

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What Waxing Really Reveals

By Hinda Mandell

Until recently, my relationship with waxing was unemotional. And then I went to a makeup boutique to buy some new foundation.

That’s when - during the application of a tint called “Blush Stone,” an incongruous elicitation if ever there was one - that the makeup artist said to me, “We gotta take care of those.”

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A Feminist Mohel Speaks Out

By Elissa Strauss

Courtesy Dr. Emily Blake
Feminist Mohel Dr. Emily Blake

The recent ballot initiative to ban circumcision in San Francisco, which was recently dropped, ignited a hair-raising and soul-searching debate on the topic between Jews and non-Jews, and Jews and Jews alike. For some of us at the Sisterhood, one of the more confounding elements of brit milah conversation was whether we should endorse a procedure that is limited to men.

The Sisterhood spoke with Emily Blake, an M.D., certified mohel and a feminist, about the ballot initiative and what it means to perform a brit milah from a women’s perspective.

Elissa Strauss: How did you decide to become a mohel?

Emily Blake: First, learning to do a circumcision was part of my training to become an OB/GYN. The next crucial factor was hearing from a friend, a gay black man, in a time before AIDS, his observation that black men’s’ circumcisions were more often more poorly done than white men’s. In the hospital I was at clinic babies were predominantly African American and the interns, who are just learning the procedure, were responsible for doing all of their circumcisions. So I took it upon myself to do as many of the hospital circumcisions as possible, giving each one the attention and respect it deserved. It was a social justice issue for me.

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Are Female Athletes Prone to Eating Disorders?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Are even the most physically accomplished young women vulnerable to eating disorders? And does not listing their weights on sports trading cards prevent it? Or contribute to the problem?

My 10-year-old daughter, Tae Kwon Do high purple belt and baseball fan, gets Sports Illustrated Kids. Before dispatching her new copy to camp, I took a look at the trading cards bound into the issue. Two of the nine cards, which feature young athletes, are about women: Eleven-time Olympic medal-winning swimmer Natalie Coughlin and college lacrosse player Shannon Smith.

The backs of the other cards, of male baseball, soccer, football and hockey players, listed their heights and weights, along with their athletic accomplishments. But on the young women’s cards? Just their heights. Not their weights.

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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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