Anti-Semitism In My Own Back Yard
Being A Mom in the Midst of War
Hanukkah's Hottest Hebrew Hotties
Jews Far More Promiscuous Than Muslims
What Makes A Family?
Why I Screened Myself for Breast Cancer Markers
Police Shackle Anat Hoffman
Defending Michelle Obama's Arms
Why I'm Nostalgic for Hasidim
What's Wrong With Modern Dating?
The Case for Premarital Sex
When DIY Was More Than DIY
Sisters in Skivvies: A Graphic Review of 'Unterzakhn'
Chabad 'Likes' Facebook, But Not for Girls
Meet the 'First Lady of Fleet Street'
Video: Meet Chaya Mushka, Yet Again
'Raising a Bilingual Kid Is Harder Than I Expected'
Nir Hod's Anguished 'Mother'
Attachment Parenting's Star Evangelist
A Male-to-Female Jewish Journey
How Men Cornered the Baby Manual Market
Bubbe Cuisine Goes Local
Editorial: Defending Contraception
Should You Be Blogging Your Baby's Illness?
Video: Where Fashion Is Frum, Not Frumpy
The Case for Jewish Daycare
Saying Farewell to Filene's
The Bintel Brief Takes Comic Form
Editorial: Where Are the Women?
Video: Mah Jongg's Jewish Journey
Podcast: Adrienne Cooper's Musical Life
America's Most Influential Women Rabbis
Gabi’s post was my first exposure to the “menstrual slap.” But now I’m kind of wishing that I’d been thwacked by my mother, too. It’s not actually the slap I’m after, rather, at 12 or 13 I would have benefited from making a direct connection between being a woman and being a Jew.
Rather than the minhag, my mother gave me a big, teary hug. This was a gift, (lately much has been made of touches), and how much they mean) and in her embrace, I felt drawn to something long-established and greater than myself. At that moment, womanhood seemed to trump Jewishness.
I’ve never been the kind of mom willing, or able, to sew artfully constructed costumes with complicated details. When I was in Boro Park once the Sunday before Purim, I was excited to go to one of the Purim stores that pop up before the holiday there, thinking we’d find all sorts of cool get-ups. But the store had only a range of bride-like Queen Esther costumes for the girls, a range so limited that it was perhaps as predictable as it was disappointing. Usually, when my kidlets start wondering aloud what they’ll be for Purim, they’re most likely to hear “go check what’s in the dress up box,” where they choose from clown, hippie, Rasta and Hasidic garb to put on.
The Jewish community rightly holds its leaders responsible for managing complex organizational tasks. Yet when it comes to creating workplaces that routinely hire, advance and retain women in positions of authority and visibility, many leaders throw up their hands. So here’s a thought: Let’s all of us, leaders and constituents, stop acting like the advancement of women in Jewish communal life is impossibly complicated. If communal leaders follow these three easy steps, and all of the rest of us hold them accountable to committing themselves to concrete change, we will together improve Jewish organizations for women — and for men.
1. Leaders Should Conduct Internal Salary Audits
A 2004 study by Professor Steven M. Cohen and Judith Schor for the Rabbinical Assembly found that female rabbis earn $10,000 to $21,000 less than their male colleagues, even controlling for the size of congregation, the years of experience of the rabbi, and the hours worked per week. And a recent study, done by the Forward, found that female executives at Jewish organizations earn $0.61 for every dollar earned by their male colleagues. The lay and professional leaders of such organizations would be well advised to follow the lead of the Rabbinical Assembly:Conduct a comprehensive salary audit within your organization. Then publicize, rather than obfuscate, the result, and and begin to remedy any inequities uncovered. This might not be a particularly pleasant organizational exercise, but think about it this way: Do you really want to be the executive director or board chair who routinely underpays your female employees?
For Sisterhood contributor Elissa Strauss, a recent panel discussion on marketing embarrassing products to women brought to mind an episode of the 1990s sitcom “Blossom,” in which the title character gets her period for the first time — and celebrates the occasion with her family, over Chinese food. For me, the discussion recalled the so-called “menstrual slap” — the Jewish minhag, or custom, of slapping your daughter across the face on the occasion of her first period.
My parents weren’t ones for corporal punishment, but my mom did deliver a swift slap when I told her news — and proceeded to plead with her not to tell dad, because that would be way … too … embarrassing. When I asked her what I did to deserve the slap, she said something to the effect of “That’s what nanny did when it happened to me. That’s just what Jewish mothers do.”
The perils of tampon advertisements was the topic of conversation Monday evening, when DoubleX co-editor (and Bintel Brief guest columnist) Hanna Rosin, former “Colbert Report” executive producer Allison Silverman, Sarah Haskins of Current TV and Susan Kim, author of the new book “Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009) came together in New York for “That Not-So-Fresh Feeling: Marketing Embarrassing Products to Women.”
The panelists were incisive — and hilarious — in their dissection of fem-care product advertising; they pointed to tampon and maxi pad ad tropes, such as the beachy and nautical imagery, white dresses and bathing suits, and stylish urbanites in bold reds hats.
Their collective thesis seemed to be that these advertisements send the message to women that they should be ashamed of their bodily functions; after all, the ads never actually address menstruation head on, but instead focus on endorsing a carefree lifestyle — a not-so-logical supposed byproduct of using their goods. (The definition of carefree, as we learned in slide shows presented, changes from one decade to the next, from wealthy socialites and hard-bodied athletes of decades past to the cosmopolitan fashionistas of today.)
You can learn an incredible amount about different people from language. There are, for example, 27 words for “moustache” in Albanian – including a word for what English-speakers would call “no moustache.” It seems that in Albania, moustaches are pretty important. Similarly, the Inuit are famous for having 30 words for snow – clearly they see things in the snow that most of us don’t.
Unique linguistic forms abound, and provide intriguing insights into cultures. According to this book,” Pascuense in Easter Island has a word for a slight inflammation of the throat caused by screaming too much (“ngaobera”) and and Brazilian Portuguese has a word for the practice of putting a live cricket into a box of newly faked documents until the insect’s excrement makes the paper look convincingly old (“grigalem”). So what’s Hebrew’s he claim to fame?
I would have liked to find a word, perhaps, for that hand gesture of squeezing thumb and middle finger in order to indicate to the viewer, “wait.” But no, we Jews are not quite that lucky. Instead, what distinguishes our culture is that ours is the only language in the world that has the word “agunah.”
The world’s grooviest lactation consultant – Freda Rosenfeld – who also happens to be a religious Jew, was profiled in this story by former Forward staffer Elissa Gootman in Sunday’s New York Times.
The story, titled “The Breast Whisperer,” is a nice, ahem, soft feature about the woman who is a godsend to many new moms in New York City, when she arrives at their post-partum side to advise about that most basic, and yet oft-times trickiest, of maternal duties: breastfeeding.
I worked with Freda myself almost exactly 16 years ago when, quite unexpectedly, I had no milk just after my first child was born. I’d never heard of anyone not producing milk after childbirth, and it is no exaggeration to say that when we called her, I was desperate for help.
Just when I thought nothing more from the haredi world could shock me, after all that has transpired in the last year or so (women in a Jerusalem neighborhood being forced to walk on the opposite side of the street from men, rabbis issuing a new edict that women in Israel are supposed to ride only in the back of public buses), this recent took my breath away: A major decisor of Jewish law, Rabbi Yosef Elyashiv, has ruled that women with braces on their teeth may not use the mikveh.
Now, to those who don’t observe the commandment to immerse in the mikveh, it may not seem like a big deal. Observant women immerse in the spiritually purifying ritual bath each month one week after their period has ended. But, as a liberal Jewish woman who has been observing the ritual — religiously, you might say, but with great ambivalence as well — it seems like a major development.
Not because I have braces, but because of the heartbreaking callousness and continued march toward radicalism at the expense of women’s wellbeing that this decision represents.
It’s been an intense week for me as a parent. I’m torn between using this space to address my daughter’s experience of being verbally attacked by haredim, while she was praying at the Western Wall (and her writing about the experience on The Sisterhood) versus addressing Rabbi Mordechai Elon’s alleged sexual abuse of his students. Both stories fill me with dread at sending my children out there into the wide world, where evil lurks in the very places that goodness is meant to be. I’m confounded about how to provide my children with tools to distinguish good from bad and right from wrong. And I’m deeply troubled about raising young people to be part of a religious society that seems like it is drenched with iniquity at its very foundations.
The story of Motti Elon is at once shocking and expected. Shocking because of his squeaky-clean public image, but expected because his alleged misdeeds make for a familiar story: Powerful religious leader, vulnerable youth, sexual assault – been there, done that. There was Zeev Kopelevich of Netiv Meir, Baruch Lanner of NCSY, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Byalik Rabbi Aminadav Krispin, Stanley Z. Levitt of the Maimonides School, and countless more. Many cases go unreported because of a “conspiracy of silence.” I can’t even count how many friends I have who have been sexually attacked by rabbis but ended up not reporting: my college flatmate was molested by a rabbi; another friend groped by her rabbi, while she was ill; a friend’s older brother raped by his Chabad teacher; a colleague harassed by her dean at rabbinical school. And on and on.
Najla Said, daughter of famed literary scholar and Palestine advocate Edward Said, has a new one-woman show about growing up in-between cultures. “Palestine,” the play’s title, explores the tension between her growing up as a Christian Arab on Manhattan’s heavily Jewish Upper West Side.
“Until September 11, 2001, if you asked anyone to spend five minutes with me and try to guess my background, they’d tell you I was a Jew,” she begins the play. “This may sound rather bizarre coming from a Palestinian-Lebanese-American Christian woman, but in the standard, stereotypical, cultural sense of the word, I grew up as a Jew in New York City.”
In the show, Said, 35, discusses her oscillating feelings of displacement and belonging: She recalls her horrifying visit to Gaza Strip, her eye-opening journey to her to father’s childhood house in Jerusalem (which had become the headquarters for a right-wing Christian organization), and her glamorous vacations in Lebanon. Said jests about her essentially Jewish American Princess upbringing, and her inclination to sprinkle her language with Yiddish. It wasn’t until after September 11 that she began to contemplate her identity as as an Arab American.
My mother-in-law just sent me an article entitled “When is your chubby baby too chubby” I wouldn’t take it so personally if I wasn’t already a little worried about my four-month-old daughter.
When I took Mika in to the doctor for her most recent check-up, the nurse started chuckling when she looked down at the scale. “Sixteen pounds, eight ounces! Wooweee!” “Um, doesn’t that actually say ‘five ounces’” I asked demurely. The point five indicated half a pound, or eight ounces. And it was at that moment that I realized I had become totally crazy. I was worried about what my adorable baby weighed. I was worried that if she was too chubby now (she’s in the 95th percentile for weight), she would spend her life obsessing over her thighs and rear end.
As a two-time breast cancer survivor, I’ve been on the receiving end of the Jewish community’s response to serious illness for almost 10 years. We are an incredibly charitable people; over the years, I have been inspired by the lengths to which we will go to encourage Jewish men, women and children to help the sick. We train our rabbis on sensitivity in speaking with ill congregants. We teach our young ones the mitzvah of bikur cholim, or visiting the sick. We encourage our community members to set up prayer groups to recite tehillim (psalms) and chesed organizations to prepare meals and offer childcare. I am grateful for all that the community has done for me, and for all those facing serious illnesses. But I think we can be doing so much more for ourselves.
Here’s an idea: Let’s use Jewish ritual and tradition to empower the thousands of Jews facing serious illnesses. I envision an annual “Day of Empowerment” — in the model of Limmud — during which organizations of all types, and Jews of all professional and personal backgrounds, come together for a series of interactive workshops.
I bristled when I read Debra Nussbaum Cohen’s recent Sisterhood post suggesting that 25 is the right age for marriage. The fact that I’m 34 and unmarried and very much wanting to be on the path to marriage and children contributed to my feelings of discomfort, of course. But another development in my life has got me thinking about age and marriage. My sister, five years my junior, recently got engaged, and she will be married this fall. When I first heard the news I’ll admit I felt a bit uneasy. Other people might classify my reaction as a mini-meltdown, but who’s keeping track?
Don’t get me wrong: I am filled with overwhelming joy and love at the prospect of my sister taking this next step in her life. The problem here isn’t her; the problem is me. Isn’t it odd and even unnatural, I have found myself thinking more than once, that the youngest is getting married first? (A few relatives and friends have also been, um, kind enough to bring this question to my attention.)
In Biblical times, the eldest daughter in a family was to be married off before her younger sisters could enter matrimony. Many are familiar with the story of Jacob: He was madly in love with Rachel and worked seven years for her hand in marriage, but was tricked by her father, Laban, and ended up marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah, first. (Of course Jacob also ended up marrying Rachel, in exchange for additional seven years of work.)
As someone who writes about reproductive rights and gets frustrated with the frequently encountered “abortion for me, but not for thee” syndrome, this all sounds very familiar. Some women think: I’m a good girl; she’s a slut. I took precautions; she was careless. We blame each other even when, as Amanda Marcotte points out sheer bad luck is the primary determining factor which leads women to end up in the path of a rapist, with an unintended pregnancy, or as a victim of harassment.
This kind of statistic leads me to think about the title of this blog, and the Jewish women’s organizations it’s named after. “Sisterhood” presumes that women, just by virtue of being ourselves, can find value in socializing and working together. The truth is I’ve been feeling a bit of soft nostalgia for the principles behind an old-school sisterhood version of feminism, the kind that we third-wave, ironic young feminists sometimes distance ourselves from.
• A group of religious Israeli women, many of whom live in West Bank settlements, are touting a new approach to raising children that has five-year-olds doing dishes and sweeping floors. “Based on the psychological theories of Alfred Adler and borrowing from traditional Jewish sources, [these women] aim to fight what they see as a worrisome trend in the Western world that is producing spoiled, maladjusted children who are unable to cope with the challenges of being adults,” The Jerusalem Post reports.
• As Sisterhood contributor Elana Sztokman recently wrote, juggling work and parenting is just the reality for most women. But the juggle seems to be harder on American working parents — regardless of income bracket — than on parents elsewhere in the developing world, according to a new study from the Center for American Progress. The study found that 90% of American mothers and 95% of American fathers report work-family conflict. What’s behind those numbers? Well, the researchers say that it’s because America lacks the family-friendly policies that other countries have adopted and formalized. “Only the United States lacks paid maternity-leave laws among the 30 industrialized democracies in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development,” the report states. “… Discrimination against workers with family responsibilities, illegal throughout Europe, is forbidden only indirectly here. Americans also lack paid sick days, limits on mandatory overtime, the right to request work-time flexibility without retaliation, and proportional wages for part-time work. All exist elsewhere in the developed world.”
I have a cousin with three adult sons, the eldest of whom is now in his 30s. Though the oldest recently came close, none of them is married. Now, I don’t know the inside scoop about why the oldest son and his fiancée broke up. But I do know that his parents are hungry for grandchildren while they are young enough to be active grandparents.
I don’t blame them. My children are still too young (at the moment, 16, 10 and 9) to be thinking much about marriage, but my husband and I talk about it with them. I treat it the way I treat in-marriage, as something we regard as a priority. We talk about it much the same way we talk about reading and education and helping other people, in a matter-of-fact manner threaded through relevant conversation.
I suspect that talking with our children about what makes a good time to get married, and about marrying other Jews, puts us in the minority among the non-Orthodox.
The Wailing Wall. It’s considered a very spiritual place where you’re supposed to pray/wail (as the name implies) to God. It’s supposed to be a very moving experience — I mean, people come from all over the globe to see the Wall’s wonders. But after praying there with Women of the Wall, I now have a whole new side to this “experience” (not to mention a whole new side to the term “wail.”) Before I went on Monday morning for Rosh Chodesh Adar, I had a vague sense of what might happen. I heard about people tossing words and other things at the group. But I’m not sure I really understood what that might feel like.
When we arrived, we were met by cameras and television crews, as well as by police. There was a male policeman in the women’s section and I was wondering why people weren’t telling him off for that — you know, for being on the wrong side of the mechitza and hearing women’s voices. Anyway, I went with two other girls to get siddurim, and then one religious girl walked up to my friend, who was wearing a tallit under her clothes, and said, “Homo!” I knew it was a very offensive and politically incorrect thing to say, but it still made me want to laugh. I tried to keep a straight face when the first haredi guy started screaming and ranting from the other side of the mehitza, making such obviously false points that made me feel like I was in some alternate universe.
It has taken Lori Gottlieb many years of dating to figure out what’s really important to look for in a husband, and after talking with matchmakers, marriage researchers and a dating coach, she’s figured out that it isn’t a guy’s height or how he dresses.
In her new book, “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” (Dutton, 2010), Gottlieb advises women not to wait too long before walking down the aisle, even if it’s with a man who isn’t the man of what they thought their dreams should be.
Gottlieb is 43 and the single mother of a 4-year-old son, with whom she attends Tot Shabbat at a local Reform temple. From her home in Los Angeles, Gottlieb spoke recently with The Sisterhood about the mistakes women make in their quest to find a mate, the Jewish notion of soul mates and why she no longer has a “list.”
Fourteen years after its first performance, “The Vagina Monologues” has become a February tradition. Eve Ensler’s award-winning play is a series of monologues drawn from interviews with hundreds of women of all ages and nationalities about that most intimate part of themselves — their vaginas. The resulting monologues are funny, angry, triumphant and painful. They represent a wide range of experience including pleasure, shame, abuse and empowerment. Performances are staged around the country, and many Americans find meaning in celebrating V-Day instead its commercialized counterpart, Valentine’s Day.
Eve Ensler, featured in “Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution,” created V-Day to address a number of global issues including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation, and sexual slavery. The money raised from V-Day events is distributed to anti-violence organizations around the world. Since its inception in 1998, V-Day has raised more than $50 million. In 2001, a performance of The Vagina Monologues at New York City’s Madison Square Garden raised $1 million.
But every year, V-Day faces opposition from conservative and religious groups that think it’s vulgar to talk about vaginas.
Before leaving for Israel, where she will take part in the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations’ annual mission to the Jewish state, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld reflects on the recent debacle over women’s prayer at the Western Wall — responding both as the Rabbinical Assembly’s executive vice president and as the mother of two young boys. What follows are excerpts from her essay:
What will happen when my sons are old enough to accompany me to Israel, where I will attend the Conference of Presidents’ annual Mission next week? A highlight of every trip to Israel is a visit to the Kotel, the symbolic site of Jewish yearning for centuries. My boys are young enough to stand with me in the women’s section, where they would expect me to don the tallis and tefillin they are accustomed to seeing on their mom. How long until the heckling and threats of the ultra-Orthodox begin? How long until the police come to intervene and in front of the horrified gaze of my children do what is only done with “bad guys,” — to arrest me. This is what Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum has tragically coined, hatradah datit — religious harassment.
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