Sisterhood Blog

Shabbat at Planned Parenthood

By Chanel Dubofsky

The people awake at 7:15 a.m., when I left the house this past Saturday morning, were walking their dogs, washing off the streets in front of their stores and picking up a bite to eat. Usually, I’m never awake before 10 a.m. on Saturdays, so even if I pretend I’m going to make it to shul, it never works. On this day, though, I was on the train at 7:30 a.m.; an hour later, I was at a Planned Parenthood clinic, wearing a blue smock labeled “volunteer.”

The protestors showed up by 9 a.m., which apparently they do on the first Saturday of every month. There were probably 45 of them, with crosses and rosaries and a bullhorn — even a violin — chanting the Catholic “Hail Mary” prayer over and over.

There were also some men from Bikers for Life, walking around with flyers. The whole point of an escort is to get people who need to get into the clinic into the clinic. Sometimes, that means going over to the person telling a woman she’s about to murder her baby and helping her extract herself from the lecture; other times, it just means making eye contact and opening the door.

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With Yom Haatzmaut Festivities, a Gender Barrier Is Broken

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

As Israel’s first female commercial pilot, Smadar Schechter is the only female captain at El Al. This year, she was chosen as one of the pilots to fly four El Al planes over Israel as part of today’s national Independence Day (Yom Haatzmaut) festivities.

Schechter, 40, flew a Boeing 767 that is dedicated to Israel’s missing soldiers and was called, “We are all with Ron Arad” — a reference to the Israeli Air Force Captain, captured in 1986 during a mission in Lebanon. Another one of the four planes will be called “We are all with Gilad Shalit.” Shalit is the young Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas in 2006, and is being held hostage in the Gaza Strip.

This is the first time a female pilot has taken part in these annual festivities. “I received a text message from the head of the El Al fleet asking me if I want to take part in the flyover,” Schechter told Yediot Aharonot. “I didn’t have to think even for a second before I answered ‘yes.’”

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All Abortion Legislation, All the Time?

By Sarah Seltzer

For a brief while, it seemed like the unending cascade of legislation that together comprise what many of us have been calling the “GOP War on Women” had slowed down from a torrent to a trickle.

But then the House brought back and passed H.R. 3, the bill that was the opening salvo in this assault, with its “forcible rape” and “let women die” clauses and its essential guarantee that insurance of all kinds, public or private, will stop covering abortion. Some may remember the bill as the one vehemently opposed by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the new (and Jewish) Democratic National Committee chair.

While the Senate is unlikely to pass the bill, and President Obama has even threatened a veto, the cumulative effect of these assaults and retreats is a gradual siphoning away of abortion rights, until they’re basically rights in name only. Washington, D.C. and South Dakota’s women have both suffered major blows in the last few months.

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Tweeting the Encyclopedia of Jewish Women

By Renee Ghert-Zand

“Big Hats and bigger opinions, she knew ‘This woman’s place is in the House—the House of Representatives,’” Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder tweeted on May 2, the launch day for Jewish Women’s Archive’s “#jwapedia: Tweeting the Encyclopedia” project. By doing so, she sent a link to the article about Bella Abzug in the online “Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia” hurtling out into cyberspace to be clicked on, opened and read by her many Twitter followers.

The rabbi (and occasional Sisterhood contributor), together with 25 other prolific tweeters in the Jewish community, will be tweeting a significant portion of the encyclopedia’s 1,700 biographies, 300 thematic essays, and 1,400 photographs as an experiment throughout May in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month.

Although they were asked to commit to tweeting just one article a week, many of the partners have immediately embraced the project and have been tweeting multiple articles a day. Three days into the effort, 58 articles had already been tweeted — and retweeted many times over.

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On the Photoshopping of a Tsnius Hillary Clinton

By Leah Berkenwald

Pete Souza
In Der Tzitung, Hillary Clinton was cropped out of this image. (click to enlarge)

The ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish newspaper Der Tzitung has decided to rewrite history by photoshopping Hillary Clinton out of the photo of U.S. leaders receiving an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden. Why? Because the idea of a woman in the Situation Room was “too scandalous.”

Apparently Der Tzitung’s policy is to never publish a photo of a woman because it could be taken as “suggestive.” So is this image of Hillary Clinton in long sleeves and a high neckline suggestive? Or, as Rabbi Jason Miller wrote in The Jewish Week, “Perhaps they just don’t like the idea of a woman with that much political power.” Jezebel points out that Audrey Thomason, the counterterrorism analyst way in the back, was also photoshopped out of Der Tzitung’s version of the image.

This “photoshop of horrors” is wrong on so many levels. First and foremost, it’s untruthful and goes against every principle of journalism, which is not only about being “fair and balanced,” but about being accurate. Rabbi Jason Miller explains that it is also a violation of the Jewish legal principle of g’neivat da’at, or deceit. Additionally, it violates the White House’s copyright permissions which explicitly state “The photograph may not be manipulated in any way” in the caption on Flickr.

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Leah Berkenwald is the online communications specialist at the Jewish Women’s Archive, and a contributor to its Jewesses With Attitude blog, which cross-posts regularly with the Sisterhood.


Sisterhood Extra: Read the late Stanley Siegelman’s poem, from 2008, about the newspaper Hamodia refusing to publish photos of women.


'Jewish Hair' Meets 'The Amazing Race'

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

When people talk about “Jewish hair,” they’re usually referring to the curly, thick, frizz-prone locks that are the lot of many Jewish women. Having “Jewish hair” doesn’t usually refer to guys, but in the case of Justin Kanew and Zev Glassenberg, best pals and teammates on of “The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business,” having “Jewish hair” took on a whole new meaning.

Sunday’s episode was set in Rio de Janiero, and featured all things Brazilian, including “Brazilian body waxing.” Part of the race through the city involved getting waxed — not a terrible ordeal for the other three pairs of contestants, none of whom seemed to be burdened with tons of body hair. But when it came to the hirsute Hebrews, who are blessed with bearish thickets of chest and leg hair, it was another story altogether.

You can watch their experience getting all that hair ripped out by its roots on this video. Brace yourself. The scene makes my own visits to a local waxing establishment look like veritable pleasure jaunts.


Q&A: Nancy Abramson, JTS's New Cantorial School Director

By Chanel Dubofsky

In July, Cantor Nancy Abramson will assume duties as Director of the H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Her appointment comes more than a year after JTS announced that it would be eliminating the position of dean of its cantorial school — and that longtime dean Henry Rosenblum would be leaving.

Abramson is currently serving as one of two cantors at the Park Avenue Synagogue, her professional home for the past 14 years. And this month, she will become Senior Vice President of the Cantors Assembly — making her the first woman to hold that position since the inception of the Assembly in 1947. Abramson, who says she’s looking forward to working with the dean of JTS’s rabbinical school — “not for him” — spoke recently with The Sisterhood about her vision for cantorial education, and the advice she’d give to women interested in working in the Jewish community.

Chanel Dubofsky: What are your hopes for shaping cantorial education?

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Brit-Lit's 'Magical Jewess'

By Sarah Seltzer

As a devoted fan of BBC period dramas and a rabid consumer of British literary culture, the period between January and May when PBS airs “Masterpiece” classic is my favorite TV season. Just last week PBS finished broadcasting the brand-new relaunch of the beloved series “Upstairs Downstairs.” The new series was basically a long pilot — only three episodes long — but it was jam-packed the requisite secrets, lies, intrigue and blatant sentimentality. It also provided an unwavering look at the attraction of the British aristocracy to Nazi ideals as well as the tension in the streets during the brief rise of fascist demagogue Oswald Mosley.

As royal wedding mania descended upon us, I was happy to see the BBC acknowledging that beneath the glamour and glitz that we love about the British gentry, there are some very unpleasant strains of racism and xenophobia (and I never forget that British literary culture gave us Shylock, Fagin and Melmotte as well as Hamlet, David Copperfield and Lizzy Bennet.

“Upstairs Downstairs” also had a Jewish character, named Rachel, a beautiful and kind woman who fled Hitler’s Germany and her formerly comfortable life to go “into service” in England; there, she may be degraded, but at least she’s free.

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Thirteen Motherless Mother's Days

By Chanel Dubofsky

I imagine, probably foolheartedly, that at some point in the future, that I will be able to recognize Mother’s Day for what it actually is — a call for women to act politically, instead of a day of flowers and resentment.

For me, the holiday brings up memories of my mother, her death — and its aftermath, in which I’m finally beginning to realize what it means to raise myself.

On a Friday morning during my sophomore year of college, I checked my voicemail from the library at my university. On the machine, there was a nurse’s voice. Her name was Robin. “You should get here as soon as possible,” she said. I had spent the entire previous night and that morning thinking that, in spite of what was clear, my mother was not going to die this week.

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There Was No Real 'Jewish Angle' to Lara Logan's Story

By Shannon Sarna

I disagree completely with the thesis of Elana Maryles Sztokman’s recent post, “Jewish Angle Missing From ‘60 Minutes’ Piece on Lara Logan”: Jews are not the new women, as she declares. Women are women.

The coverage of Lara Logan’s sexual assault in Egypt was troubling and sad for anyone watching. But it was not a “Jewish story,” as Ms. Sztokman contends.

It is disgusting that the Egyptians shouted “Jew” and “Israeli” at Logan during her ordeal. But if we are being truthful, this is hardly out of the ordinary in the Arab-speaking world, where “Jew,” “Zionist,” and “Israeli” are, in some circles, socially acceptable and frequently used insults.

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Are 'Birth Plans' Just 'Birth Fantasies'?

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Melissa Langsam Braunstein’s post, “The Epidural Dilemma,” in which she agonizes over whether to ease the pain of labor with medication, took me back to the anxious months when I was a first-time mother-to-be.

There are many parallels between one’s wedding and that first experience of childbirth. Both experiences are so important, that we do our best to make them as perfect and wonderful as possible, attempting to plan them down to the smallest detail.

In both cases, we often should be paying more attention to what will come afterward. We can spend so much time focusing on the details of their wedding day, and not enough time preparing for the married life that comes afterwards. Similarly, a lot of energy is expended on preparing for the birth of the baby, and less on preparing for the superhuman demands of motherhood – and, for the couple, parenthood.

But let’s talk about birth planning and the so-called ‘epidural dilemma’ for a minute.

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Jewish Angle Missing From '60 Minutes' Piece on Lara Logan

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Getty Images
Lara Logan

Some days I think, Jews are the new women. Jews are like the woman in a room full of men, the ones who are supposed to stay quiet and nice and not talk too loud or even at all, not appear in any way strong or assertive, and never make any waves. Just as society prefers women when they are passive and submissive, the world at large prefers Jews that way, too.

I thought of this as I watched the “60 Minutes” interview with CBS correspondent Lara Logan as she described being sexually assaulted on February 11 amid the uprising in Egypt’s Tahrir Square. Her graphic descriptions of hands and nails everywhere on her body — groping, grabbing, pulling and scratching — are a woman’s worst nightmare. She was the only woman on the CBS team that night, and she was isolated from her crew and throngs of Egyptian men had their way with every inch of her body, inside and out. It was a harrowing account, and most definitively a woman’s story, in the sense that it was her womanhood that made her a victim.

But it is also a Jewish story — and, actually, an Israeli one.

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Teaching the Holocaust to Children, Without Giving Them Nightmares

By Michele Chabin

Getty Images
A Holocaust survivor gets help laying a wreath at a Yom HaShoah ceremony at Yad Vashem, May 2, 2011.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is an annual event in Israel. As in previous years, Yad Vashem held a moving ceremony honoring those who died in the Holocaust and those who survived through luck, a miracle and the help of neighbors and strangers.

At 10 a.m., the siren wailed — a mournful cry heard throughout the country. Jews around the country stood still, literally. Drivers stopped their cars in the middle of the street, opened the door and stood at attention.

For me, the one departure this year was my kids’ sudden curiosity about the Holocaust. Almost nine, our twins wanted to know exactly who in our families died during the Shoah.

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Increasingly, the Remaining Shoah Witnesses Are Women

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

It sounds terrible to say that you have a Holocaust Remembrance Day routine, but in Israel, it’s generally true.

Normally, if one of my children is part of a school ceremony, I’ll go watch it. (For a few years, one of the kids had a terrible fear of the loud noise of the siren that sounds for the moment of silence at 10 a.m. on Holocaust Day and needed me there for reassurance, so I showed up at the school anyway.) But normally, the eve of the memorial day, my family tends to gather on the sofa and watch the national ceremony at Yad VaShem. The rest of the evening and the next day is spent quietly at home, watching in the numerous quality documentaries and movies that are shown on television, and discussing the Holocaust with the kids, helping them process the enormity of it in a private, intimate way.

Everyone talks about how you rediscover the joys of life through your children; it’s rarer to discuss how difficult it is to see your 6-year-old daughter learn about mass murder of millions of innocent men, women and children for the first time. I’ve complained before about the way in which Israeli children are confronted with such horrors at such a young age, but there isn’t much one can do about it other than be there to comfort and reassure them.

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The Epidural Dilemma

By Melissa Langsam Braunstein

To have, or not to have, the epidural? That is the question. More precisely, in the ninth month of a woman’s pregnancy, it is the only question that matters.

In the fourth and fifth months, I was unsure if I wanted an epidural. How would I know? Women say that labor is intensely painful, but for those of us who have never experienced it before, what exactly does that mean? How does it compare to the pains of pregnancy, or any other pain we might have suffered through in the past? Unsure, I registered for the general childbirth class that covered all bases — natural birth and drug-assisted birth. I figured my choice would become clear as I learned more about both options.

As part of the class, my husband and I viewed two women’s birth stories. One woman opted for a natural birth, while the other took advantage of all the narcotics and epidurals modern medicine offers our gender. That video might as well have been “Rashomon,” as my husband and I had polar opposite reactions. He focused on the mother-baby bonding after birth and found it quite “moving,” while I thought only of the delivery and left class alarmed.

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Dissecting the Princess Fantasy

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Getty Images
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, helps Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, out of a carriage — upon their arrival at Buckingham Palace.

I have to admit, I can see the temptation. Watching Kate Middleton go from regular person to princess, perfectly gorgeous as she is fawned over by the entire world, I understand girlhood fantasies. When the prince said, in his vows, “and all my belongings,” I could not control that involuntary pang of jealousy. To have access to that kind of wealth and power means to be able to truly change the world. Whatever Princess Kate wants to do, she can. The world is at her disposal. All her dreams…

Well, unless she dreams about having a bit of privacy. Cameras at her every blink. Tabloids measuring the size of her waist — talk about body commentary. I even saw one article discussing whether she should have been wearing nipple pads (!). Sure, now she can do anything, but within certain rules. Every word out of her mouth will be scrutinized and analyzed. Every gesture, every expression blogged to death. Not to mention big decisions. Imagine trying to start a family, or having a regular job. She is no longer just Kate, and she never will be again.

So I ask myself, would I do it? If I had an option of gaining access to enormous power, wealth and status in exchange for relinquishing a private life, would I do it? Loving gazes from the prince aside, I’m sure she had this discussion in her own mind as well. Marry the prince and become a princess, with all that it comes with, or live a normal life. I don’t think it’s as simple a decision as it seems.

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A Royal Wedding, An Unscripted Moment

By Lillian Swanson

Lillian Swanson
Princess Diana and Prince Charles, on the way back from St. Paul’s Cathedral, 1981

As I watched the royal wedding unfold on television today, I was flooded with memories of the day I covered the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana nearly 30 years ago. I thought, as I so often have, of the one tender, unscripted moment I saw amid all the pomp and the pageantry of that riveting day in July 1981.

I was a reporter for the Associated Press in Pittsburgh and had a burning desire to cover the royal nuptials. I called the AP’s foreign editor and told him that I would be in London on vacation in late July, and offered to help with the reporting. (I remember ambition!) He said yes, and so I got on the phone again and booked a flight to London.

I was given what I thought was a plumb assignment, to do a feature story on Americans who had travelled to the wedding. But my first job was to stand on the Queen Victoria Memorial and watch the carriages leave Buckingham Palace, directly across the street. Should anything untoward happen, I was to find a phone and call the bureau.

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Q&A: Meg Wolitzer on Sex, Suburbs — and the Workmen's Circle

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

Lisa Barlow
Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer writes in spaces where women’s emotions run high: She has tackled wives overshadowed by their husbands, as well as career woman who became stay-at-home moms. In her new novel, “The Uncoupling” (Riverhead), she investigates sex by creating characters who stop having it altogether when a spell enchants their suburb. The magic begins — or ends, depending on how you see it — when a drama teacher produces the Aristophanes comedy “Lysistrata,” in which women withhold sex from men to protest war. Wolitzer spoke recently with The Sisterhood about mobile devices as sex objects, loud, Second Wave feminist Jewesses and not writing chick lit.

Allison Gaudet Yarrow: When you were writing the novel, did you see it as a commentary about how American women are sexualized?

Meg Wolitzer: I think everybody is completely weird about sex. We are marinating in sexual imagery constantly. It’s almost a radical position to say there are vicissitudes.

The post-Freudian idea that sex means you are filled with vigor and therefore if you are not sexual for some period of your life, you are weak — that isn’t true.

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Don't Let Your Daughters Watch the Royal Wedding

By Jordana Horn

Getty Images
Princess-to-be Kate Middleton waves to crowds of royal-watchers on the day before her wedding to Prince William. (click to enlarge)

In all likelihood, I’ll be up early Friday, watching the royal wedding with my daughter from my East Coast U.S. residence. That’s largely because my daughter’s manners, after 30 weeks of residence in my uterus, are still somewhat unpolished. She hasn’t been born yet, and the odds are that she’ll have kicked me awake well in time for the sounding of the bells at Westminster Abbey. In the event that I had an already-born daughter, however, I’d strongly prefer that she sleep in this Friday morning.

Is it really so important to get our bleary-eyed little American girls out of bed to show them that princesses are “real” and that “fairy tales can come true”? Not only would I say “no,” but I’ll go even further and say that it’s actually kind of creepy. Disney’s Princess industry is a golem of a marketing tool, aptly skewered by Peggy Orenstein’s “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” as well as by others. Yes, girls can be heroines, too. Hooray. But Mulan — a kick-butt Chinese warrior — is surely preferable to Cinderella, the girl who can’t find her way out of her own problems without a fairy-godmother bestowed dress, pair of shoes and prince. It’s important to note that Kate Middleton, whom I’m sure is a perfectly nice person, is going to have the world’s attention on Friday not because she’s cured cancer, but rather, because she’s done the best job of “marrying up” of anyone on the entire planet. And I’m sure she’ll look stunningly beautiful doing it.

Read more on kveller.com


Prime Ribs: A Second 'Rabba'; Birth and Infant Mortality Rates

By Elissa Strauss

Another “rabba” is slated to be ordained next month by the Academy of Jewish Religion, The Jewish Week reports. (The Sisterhood will have more on this shortly.)


Chabad.org has a story about “The Heart That Sings,” a movie with an all-female cast. The film was screened in 11 cities during the Passover holiday; audiences were all women, and mostly Haredi.


Over at Double X, Amanda Schaffer writes about the potential risks of taking too much folic acid — a vitamin that has been shown to reduce the incident of some birth defects.


On the blog Family Inequality, sociologist Phillip Cohen writes about the new National Center for Health Statistics’ findings showing that the recession has driven birth rates down.


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