Sisterhood Blog

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.

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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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The Politics of 'Bad Shoes'

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images

Elissa Strauss’s post on high heels and power opened a proverbial shoebox of worms for me on this fraught subject — a topic that writer Leora Tannenbaum wrote an entire book about: “Bad Shoes and the Women Who Love Them.”

It’s true that high heels are fun and flattering, and like anyone else, I stop and stare at the windows of my favorite shoe stores. But like Elissa, my biggest beef with heels is that they’re seen on so many television shows and on the feet of politicians and cultural stars as thoroughly necessary accessories for power and beauty. Whenever I see Julianna Margulies’ “Good Wife” character, Alicia Florrick, strutting across her office floor in a pair of sky-high pumps, I have two thoughts 1) she has great legs and 2) Why do her heels have to be that high? Is it part of the allure of Alicia’s character — a survivor, a great mom and someone who has no issues with plantar fasciitis? Would Alicia still be the idol of many female TV viewers if she showed up in an occasional pair of flats to complement her power suits?

The problem, of course, is not limited to fictional characters. Last year, Jezebel’s Irin Carmon published an email from a female politician in Maine complaining about the double-standard of footwear and how it feeds into other double standards:

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What To Do With Your Leftover Farfel: Make Mom's Granola

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

My personal Jewish holiday observance is usually acknowledged through the cooking of holiday-specific food: Hamantaschen for Purim, latkes for Hanukkah.

While chametz abounds in my cupboard, I have a non-traditional Passover recipe for granola that I regularly make at this time of year. It doesn’t have a place on the Seder table; it is a breakfast food or snack, at best. But I make it each year to get into the holiday spirit, and because matzo farfel is easy to find on grocery store shelves right about now.

Passover granola is seriously delicious — as good or better than regular granola varieties. And it’s incredibly simple to make. You will not long for oats. In their place is farfel, along with dried fruit and nuts smothered in oil and butter and baked crispy brown. Though we’re fast approaching the end of the Passover holiday, this granola is good anytime of year. In fact, what a perfect use for that leftover farfel. Or I suppose you could pulse your remaining matzo in the food processor to use that as a base.

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On Fashion's Abiding Love Affair With the Stiletto Strut

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images
A close-up of the heels that Sarah Jessica Parker wore to the 2010 premiere of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

Yesterday’s New York Times featured an interview with Glamour magazine’s editor in chief Cindi Leive about what she wore last weekend. The title of the piece was “… And Heels, of Course.” “I always wear heels to work. Once I had a bum ankle and was ordered to wear flats; I felt as if I was walking into the office naked,” Leive explains.

High heels, yes, what else would a successful woman wear? Flats? Meh! Too low-to-the-ground, too accommodating of movement.

It’s been seven years since the last episode of “Sex and the City,” but high heels remain the key symbol of powerful femininity in the eyes of fashion editors, costume designers and Madison Avenue.

Bravo just debuted a new show called “Pregnant in Heels,” about a “maternity concierge” who walks affluent and high-achieving ladies through the very grounding experience of child-rearing, and the Style network ran a reality show called “Running in Heels” about interns at Marie Claire. Advertisements for “lady” products like razors, yogurt and sanitary napkins often include the power-women-in-heels trope, and Hollywood loves a good stiletto strut — usually done by the Type-A female lead in romantic comedies. Case in point: Sarah Jessica Parker’s revival of her famous heel-trot in the upcoming “I Don’t Know How She Does It.”

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Should Young, Unmarried and Sexually Active Women Frequent the Mikveh?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Creative Commons
Is the mikveh for marrieds only?

This Forward article about Yeshivat Hadar and its attempt to lead students toward a sexual ethic based on classical Jewish texts omits one central question: What about mikveh?

Hadar Dean Rabbi Ethan Tucker says, in the piece, that he and his colleagues are trying to create a community “that discusses current sexual norms while taking rabbinic concepts of sanctity seriously — all within a gender-egalitarian environment. Necessarily, this involves wrestling with traditional texts and with members’ own lives.”

The piece opens with an anecdote about two current Hadar fellows who live together in Manhattan but, during a Hadar retreat, are forced to sleep separately because Hadar’s students (all recent college graduates) are required to sleep in gender-segregated quarters at the retreats.

The most relevant question here is how do you take rabbinic concepts of sexual sanctity seriously outside the context of marriage? Would the rules be the same as those for married couples? Should they be? If so, would it not involve setting aside part of the month for abstinence, and separating the non-sexual part of the month from the time of sexual engagement by mikveh immersion?

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On Passover's Role in Fostering Female Friendships

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

I hadn’t realized how significant Passover has been in forming friendships in my life. Two different friends reminded me this week about how the holiday was significant in the creation of our relationships. They both bave had such big influences on me that I thought it is worth talking about them both.

Dr. Chaya Gorsetman started as a virtual friend. It was March 2003; I was pregnant and living in Melbourne, Australia, and Chaya was living in New York and working on the JOFA Bible curriculum. She contacted me by email to discuss issues of feminism and Jewish education, but before long we were talking about pretty much everything else — motherhood, community, work, family.

At a certain point, we were writing several times a day, sharing struggles and challenges, and looking to one another as kindred spirits, for camaraderie and counsel in the journey. For that first month, as we discovered our bond, our conversations seemed to revolve around Passover, which was imminent. The family Haggadah that I made that year, inspired by her ideas and worldview, has remained one of our greatest Passover projects. We talked about the challenges of making the holiday about education rather than about cleaning, and of not falling into the trap of becoming a woman defined by the efficiency of completing household chores. Our dialogue became a pillar of support for me, and it continues today. Although it was nearly a year before we met in-person, when we did, I felt like we’d known each other forever.

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Even Atheists Love Passover

By Sarah Seltzer

I have been reading Passover reflections on womanhood, liberation and the holiday’s meaning by Elana Sztokman here at the Sisterhood and by Elyssa Cohen at Jewesses with Attitude. It seems that for so many of us, Passover serves as a time of reflection and rebirth, a call to free ourselves from dismal patterns of indifference and habit.

Although I’m still recovering from a food, wine and company coma after two Seders, Passover always gives that a charge of new energy, an urge to shake off winter sloth. I have dozens of recollections of Passovers past inspiring me to seek out new opportunities, to volunteer, to rededicate myself to activism or self-improvement, to make my own meaning out of the holiday.

But why does a holiday in which we extol a God I don’t believe in and glorify, with qualification, some troubling events (the slaying of the first born, and the “drowning of our oppressors”) mean so much to me, and so many Jews from a wide range of backgrounds?

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Wild and Crazy Hats for Women Battling Cancer

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand
Some of the designs on display at ‘The Hat Show.’

These are not pity-party hats. From the looks of these colorful and whimsical head coverings, it would appear that the pity party is over and that the empty ice cream containers and cried-into tissues have been thrown away. Whoever is wearing these cloches, chapeaux, bonnets and berets is holding her head high in the face of adversity.

On display at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif. through April 27 are 25 hats made by the members Plexus Art Group for one of their own— Roni Mentzer, who is battling a recurrence of breast cancer. “I’m going to lose my hair again when the chemotherapy starts,” Mentzer told her 12 fellow artists. “Those hats and uncomfortable wigs are so boring. Let’s create works of art. Let’s show the world beauty!”

The members (twelve women and one man) of this San Francisco Bay Area artists’ group embraced the challenge, as they have other projects that address social and political concerns that affect them and their community. Their exhibitions aim to raise awareness, as well as funds to support like-minded organizations.

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On Passover, Rethinking Liberation

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Passover always makes me wonder whether life is meant to be hard. This thought starts rearing its head often before Purim, when those who take seriously the mission of spring cleaning are already on schedules of windows, curtain, light fixtures, and the drawers in the corner of the closet that have not been touched since last year. The call of disciplined labor continues in increasing volume until the days immediately before the holiday when you can measure the stress levels of passersby by the bags under the eyes and the bags hanging off the wrists. As my friend Nehama Zibitt Blumenreich wrote on Facebook, “Tell me how we got from a celebration of freedom to indentured servitude.” Our culture is almost saying, you haven’t really marked Passover unless you’ve actually suffered.

This nagging thought about the place of suffering in our human mission found expression in a discussion I had with my children the other day about matzo. I asked them whether the matzo represents slavery or freedom. After all, in various places in the Torah, matzo is described as the food we ate while we were slaves in Egypt, and alternatively as the food we ate when we were escaping hastily with barely the clothes — and bread — on our backs. So which one is it?

If matzo represents need, then we’re saying that our ideal life is one of comfort and ease, a nice warm French baguette, metaphorically speaking, that fills your nostrils and your stomach with its expansive softness. But if matzo represents freedom — a freedom from the bloated puffiness of materialism, a life with all excess and extravagance removed — then the ideal life is one of simplicity rather than comfort and pleasure.

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The Breakfast Club: Jerusalem Edition

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand
These women have meeting Fridays for breakfast for the past 25 years. (click to enlarge)

On a recent Friday, Karen Lakin, an English teacher who made aliyah to Israel from Connecticut with her husband and two teenage children in 1984, invited me to a café on the Giv’at Ram campus of the Hebrew University to meet the others in her breakfast club. Eight of its nine members were in attendance, including six Jews and two Christians, one of whom is an Arab, originally from Kfar Qana near Nazareth, who now lives in Beit Safafa, Jerusalem.

For the past quarter century, the women have been meeting every Friday for brunch at a café somewhere in the city, no matter the weather or the security situation. The women also have a book club, share an opera subscription, eat Shabbat and holiday meals at each other’s homes, and celebrate birthdays and American Thanksgiving together every year.

Since most of them don’t have many relatives in Israel, they quickly became each other’s family. “In fact, it’s closer than a family, because we chose each other,” said Arlene Yaakov, who is originally from New Jersey and who, in June 1967 at the outbreak of the Six Day War, took the first Israel-bound plane she could catch out of the U.S. so she could volunteer on a kibbutz. “I drove straight through from Los Angeles to New York to get on that plane,” said Yaakov, a tour group coordinator.

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Newsweek List Takes a Page From 'The Sisterhood 50'

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Members of ‘The Sisterhood 50,’ 2010. (click to enlarge)

Newsweek magazine, this year in conjunction with its sister publication The Daily Beast, has just published its annual list of America’s 50 “most influential” rabbis. It’s Newsweek’s fifth such list but the first time that a woman — writer Abigail Pogrebin — has been directly involved in the selection, which no doubt explains why the number of women on the list has more than doubled. This year, 13 women made the list; that’s up from 6 last year.

The Newsweek list has come under fire in years past for including a paucity of women and for ranking rabbis at all (though, to be sure, rabbis who make the list often include their ranking in their official bios, and I’ve heard a few of them mention the distinction when being interviewed about something totally unrelated).

Interestingly, six of the seven women who were new to the list were on The Sisterhood 50 last year — a list compiled by Sisterhood editor Gabrielle Birkner in response to the shortage of female rabbis mentioned. Pogrebin says that she had The Sisterhood 50 “very close by, always,” when working on Newsweek’s rabbi rankings. “Other lists are instructive and their own snapshot of a perspective,” she told The Sisterhood. “I wanted to very much consult what was already out there, and some of those lists were intended to be a corrective.”

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At Jewish Radicalism Conference, Coming Face-to-Face With Formative Feminists

By Chanel Dubofsky

I was reading on the subway last week and missed my stop. The beautiful irony here is that I missed the stop because I was reading Carolyn Heilbrun’s biography of Gloria Steinem, while on the way to the “Women’s Liberation and Jewish Identity: Uncovering a Legacy of Innovation, Activism and Social Change,” a two-day conference at NYU. Sponsored by NYU’s Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History, the Jewish Women’s Archive, the Spencer Foundation’s Special Initiative on Civic Learning and Civic Action and Brandeis University and convened by Dr. Joyce Antler, the conference brought together 40 Jewish women who participated in the women’s liberation and Jewish feminist movements beginning in the late 1960s.

Speaking on a panel on the next generation of feminist activism, Dr. Judith Rosenbaum, Director of Public History at the Jewish Women’s Archive, described the conference attendees as “my bookshelf come to life.” For me, it seemed like walking through a field of landmines; anyone I talked to, ran into the bathroom, stood next to in the line for coffee, was a woman who had shaped my feminist theory and identity. Needless to say, I spent two days sweating profusely.

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Putting To Bed the Debate Over the Origin of the Seder Plate Orange

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Many homes will have oranges on their Seder plates come the first two nights of Passover, starting Monday evening. And there will also be lots of different versions of the story explaining why we put it there.

Now Rabbi Andrew Sacks, head of the Conservative movement’s Israeli branch of the Rabbinical Assembly, has laid the debate about the origins of the practice to rest with a Facebook post — excerpting an email he received from Susanna Heschel.

Heschel, a professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College as well as the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, wrote in her email to Sacks:

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When Religious Girls Become Beauty Queens

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Maayan Madar won the title “Miss Gedera” in her local beauty pageant. And then she was kicked out of school. The 18-year old, who is finishing 12th grade in a state religious high school in Israel, was told by her principal that her participation in the pageant went against school rules. Most importantly, the principal reportedly said, Madar wore a strapless dress.

“I don’t think the school has the right to interfere in my personal life,” Madar, who is now a local celebrity, told reporters this week. “And anyway, before I entered the pageant, I made sure that there was no swimwear competition, and that the dresses were not low-cut.” In fact, Guy Harari, the pageant producer, said he arranged in advance with the head of the municipal council of Gedera Yoel Gamliel —himself a religious Zionist man — that the pageant would not have “immodest” components out of respect to the large religious community in the town.

Her parents are incensed about the principal’s actions, and Madar is worried about her future. She was meant to matriculate in a few months, and she is not sure what will happen to her next. The Ministry of Education has come out in support of the principal but said in an official statement that it is still “investigating the matter”.

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Diversity a Common Theme in Children's Passover Books

By Ruth Abusch-Magder and Maya Kasoswsky

Kar-Ben Publishing

Passover is a time for storytelling. One of the main purposes of the holiday is to allow one generation to tell the next generation the story of how we came out of Egypt and journeyed from slavery to freedom. There are many children’s books that engage young minds by going beyond the telling found in the traditional Passover Haggadah to engage young minds. In choosing among the possible additions the Seder, we have focused on books that celebrate the diversity of Jewish families and those that introduce the themes of Passover in new or particularly engaging ways:

A newcomer to the Passover scene is the colorfully appealing “Afikomen Mambo,” by Joe Black and illustrated by Linda Prater. Sold together with the book is a CD with performance by Black, who is well known for his music. Geared to the 3–7 set, this playful combination of illustration and song, do exactly what the Afikomen is meant to do — pique the interest and engagement of the younger set so they stay awake until the end of the Seder. Somewhat puzzling is the plethora of children and the paucity of adults seated around the table. From the looks of it, one set of parents has invited a whole brood of young ones to join in the Passover fun. But at least everyone looks happy doing the Afiokmen Mambo.

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Hip-Hop Violinist Miri Ben-Ari: A Role Model for Our Daughters

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Getty Images
Miri Ben-Ari performs last month at the White House.

Miri Ben-Ari, the Israeli “hip-hop violinist” who has played with Jay-Z and Alicia Keys and who recently was honored by Michelle Obama at the White House this week, has single-handedly turned the violin into a cool instrument.

It’s wonderful to have a glamorous female role model who has mastered music. While “Tiger Mother” Amy Chua may have had the energy to stand over her daughters for hours of practice and turn them into virtuosos, we weaker-willed Western moms are always looking for ways to motivate our daughters to take up a musical instrument and practice diligently.

And now we can point to Ben-Ari, in her designer dresses and with her glamorous celebrity lifestyle. Presumably, it works much better than attempting to get them excited about playing in some boring old symphony.

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