The Sisterhood, of course, isn’t the only place where “Jewish women converse.” The blog also co-produces with Lilith magazine a Women’s Roundtable podcast. And Forward editor Jane Eisner co-hosts with Rachel Sklar The Salon, a Jewish Channel television show that brings together Jewish women with a wide range of perspectives.
On the latest Women’s Roundtable, the life and legacy of pioneering feminist E.M. Broner, the San Francisco ballot measure that would outlaw circumcision and misbehaving (male) politicians are the topics that Lilith editors Susan Weidman Schneider, Rabbi Susan Schnur and Sonia Isard join me to discuss.
Meanwhile on the bat mitzvah edition of The Salon, the panelists explore some of the subjects that have been hot recently on The Sisterhood, including the Orthodox basketball star who wears her religious observance on her sleeves and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s views on women and ambition. They also weigh in on the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal and the implications for the Jewish community of New York’s new same-sex marriage law. Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly; Michelle Goldberg, a columnist for The Daily Beast and Tablet, and Ilene Beckerman, the author/illustrator of “Love, Loss and What I Wore” talk with Jane and Rachel.
Listen to The Women’s Roundtable here.
And watch the trailer for 13th episode of The Salon below:
In Curtis Sittenfield’s novel “American Wife,” Laura Bush is re-imagined as Alice, a sympathetic and fairly liberal librarian, traumatized by accidentally causing the death of her high school crush in a car accident, suffering through a secret abortion and later swept off her feet by her cowboy politician husband. Throughout her loyal marriage to this political monster, Alice quietly holds true to her own views while publicly standing by her man — eventually breaking free in a rather tepid climax, to say that she thinks its time to end an unpopular war.
The novel enthralled me in many ways, but its final section, which took place during the presidency, just couldn’t penetrate my own political stances. How could someone with this woman’s sensibilities and convictions, trauma or none, shut herself up and quietly support such a man? Alice’s interesting narrative voice seemed to die once her husband inflicted atrocious policy on his own people and the world, and maybe that was Sittenfield’s ultimate point, but the novel fell flat to me from this moment forward. Alice lost my sympathy, so raw and sore was my anger at the entire Bush clan — fictionalized or real.
This fascinating character lingers in my mind as progressive women nationwide mourn the death of former First Lady Betty Ford, who, in her own way, was one of our own. She was one of ours despite her fealty to her unremarkable Republican husband, who is remembered primarily for pardoning Nixon and telling New York, essentially, to “drop dead.”
I don’t have time to write this blog because I have an infant on my lap. But I am driven to write because I do not hear my voice represented in the discussions about motherhood and the rabbinate.
Recently Rabbi Jill Levy, who was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, wrote on The Sisterhood about how reluctant many congregations are to hire female rabbis, especially those with young children.
I greatly suspect that during rabbinic job interviews when Rabbi Levy and other mothers are asked how they plan to manage motherhood along with the demands of being a rabbi that the real question being asked is this: Why are you choosing a career in the rabbinate over being with your baby?
I don’t think congregations are concerned with how motherhood might interfere with a mother’s ability to do the job as rabbi; rather, I suspect congregations are concerned with hiring someone who is obviously allowing a rabbinic job to interfere with motherhood. And I have to agree. I would rather see at least one parent at home full-time with her/his baby or toddler — ideally the birth mother, unless the child is adopted. This is what is best for the baby.
“Parenthood is the ultimate on-the-job learning experience,” my father commented a few months ago. “You simply can’t learn to be a parent without doing it.”
I believe that. Having recently experienced baby boot camp, I have learned a ton. Now, as the mother of an infant, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on some of the unanticipated lessons I learned during the course of my pregnancy. Each lesson may have been an inconvenience at the time, but taken together, they should make me worthy of a Parenting Master’s degree.
Everything Is Relative, Even Pain
I have been a regular coffee drinker since taking high school physics. As any coffee drinker who fasts on Yom Kippur knows, it hurts to go without. Over the years, I have periodically worked to reduce my caffeine intake, and the effects are typically painful.
Last fall was the big one, though. Newly pregnant, my favorite morning ritual was suddenly making me nauseated, which forced me to revise my plan to slowly taper down my coffee intake. I went cold turkey instead. Yes, in a normal world, two weeks of non-stop withdrawal migraines would have been unspeakably awful. However, my all-day morning sickness was so intense at the time, it managed to dwarf all the headaches. So those withdrawal headaches felt more like background noise. This experience taught me that all things — including pain — are truly relative. Also, even an addict can be reformed for the sake of her baby.
The lead story in the current issue of The New Yorker is a compelling profile of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.
Ken Auletta wrote the wide-ranging piece on Sandberg, who is Jewish, and includes a bit about her recent speech to the women graduating from Barnard College, which also got attention in Elissa Strauss’ recent Sisterhood post.
Auletta’s piece is an incisive look at one of the most powerful women in American business today and why she doesn’t have more company at the highest corporate levels. He analyzes some of the factors women face in business — from blatant sexual advances to more subtle forms of discrimination.
He quotes Marie Wilson, founder of The White House Project, who points out that Norway requires public companies to have at least 40 percent of their directors be men, and 40 percent women. That government can and should create realities that benefit both men and women is an important point, though one Sandberg has little control over.
About a year ago, Washington Jewish Week reported on a new crisis pregnancy center (CPC) called In Shifra’s Arms. Unlike the vast majority of CPCs, which are typically funded and run by Christian organizations or churches, In Shifra’s Arms strives to serve women in the Jewish community.
I expressed my concerns about In Shifra’s Arms in a post last year. Crisis pregnancy centers target young women using the language of choice, and often deceptively present themselves as a comprehensive medical and psychological resource, when in reality they operate with a specifically anti-choice agenda. I was especially upset to learn that In Shifra’s Arms was advertising at University of Maryland and visiting Jewish day schools while also presenting false information about abortion on their website and in their literature.
In Shifra’s Arms is now in the news again, with a wire story picked up by Washington Post, Huffington Post, and others. Somewhat misleadingly titled “Crisis pregnancy group reflects Jewish divide on abortion” (84% percent of American Jews support legalized abortion in all or most cases, according to the 2007 Pew Religious Landscape Survey, numbers that hardly reflect a deep divide), the article detailed the operation and evolution of the organization during its first year. Encouragingly, the organization’s website has taken down links to “resources” that falsely claim abortion causes breast cancer or suicide after receiving criticism from the blogosphere (that’s us!).
Despite my earlier post, it now appears that Rabbi Yizhak Silberstein did support the idea that a girl whose mother refused to buy her “religious clothes” should cut her legs in order to force the mother’s hand. An apparent recording of the rabbi’s discussion of this topic surfaced on the Internet today, in which he says that girl deserves the “highest praise” for sanctifying God’s name with her absolute dedication to Torah.
Contrary to the original publication in Ynet, Rabbi Silberstein did not receive the question from the girl about cutting her legs, but merely offered his opinion on the case, which was originally brought to Rabbi Eliezer Sorodskin, the leader of an organization called Lev La’Ahim, whose stated mission is to help secular Israelis become religious. (The organization is most recently renowned for bloating registration at Haredi educational institutions, as reported in Haaretz ). The conversation took place at a conference of Lev La’Ahim held in May in Bnei Brak.
Sorodskin talked about the girl in positively ebullient terms. She apparently loves being religious but her secular mother refuses to buy her “religious clothes” — i.e., long skirts. The girl’s willingness to cut her legs in order to preserve the sanctity of her female body, according to both Sorodskin and Silberstein, is a model of self-sacrifice for the sake of Torah, an act worthy of emulation.
I don’t know if these rabbis even realize how un-Jewish this entire discussion is.
How does a mother-to-be choose a pediatrician for her baby-to-be?
My mother recently reminded me of her awful experience with my first pediatrician, when she became a first-time mother. Underslept and anxious, my mother had some difficulty with breastfeeding, as happens to so many new mothers. I gained no weight during that first month, which concerned my mother. The pediatrician’s helpful response was to tell my mother that she was causing me brain damage. Luckily, my mother replaced this doctor with Dr. Lazarus, another pediatrician who had both sterling medical credentials and human skills. Under the care of this second doctor, the breastfeeding began to work, and I became an increasing presence on the office scale.
Three decades later, as motherhood approached, I wanted to find my own Dr. Lazarus. Late in my pregnancy — I gave birth in May — I asked local parent-friends for referrals, ran doctors’ online profiles by my doctor-sister, and arranged to interview a handful of the finalists. Interviewing pediatricians is one of those rituals you don’t know exists until you’re pregnant.
The Sisterhood’s Suggested Summer Reads:
In “The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy,” Priscilla Gilman examines the process of parenting her son Benjamin, who at a young age was diagnosed as hyperlexic, a disorder marked by high intelligence but difficulty with social skills. Gilman, also a Wordsworth scholar, looks at the poet’s work as a way to understand her own feelings of innocence and loss as she figures out how to mother her unconventional child.
Anne Kreamer explores the “tissue ceiling” in “It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace.” Drawing on both neuroscience and personal interviews, Kreamer considers which emotions are considered most shameful at work and why. She also provides some tools for dealing with anger, sadness and rudeness at the office.
Sarah Sentilles was set to become an Episcopal priest when one day she woke up and realized that her feelings for God had changed. In her memoir “Breaking Up With God: A Love Story,” she writes about her complicated relationship with God, and what happened when she lost faith.
The City of Modi’in, Israel may yet see 50% female representation on its city council in the next election. Mayor Haim Bibas, speaking recently at an evening dedicated to women in leadership, said that he personally hopes to see women as fully equals in the local party lists in 2013.
“We need to hold Mayor Bibas to that promise,” the event organizer and panel moderator Yifat Zamir, Executive Director of the organization We Power, said.
But equal representation has thus far remained elusive in Israel. According to Zamir, there are only six women mayors in Israel, out of 154 cities and towns — that’s a paltry 3.8%. Out of some 3,000 members of municipal councils, only 300 are women. Modi’in has a 17-person city council with only three women on it.
Ynet has a troubling story about a high-profile rabbi in Israel who gave advice to a young woman to cut her own legs in order to stay religious. The story, if it’s true, conflates male religious authority, extreme body cover and self-mutilation, and brings the discussions of the female body in Judaism to a whole new low. The problem is that this story may not be true, in which case instead of highlighting sexism in Orthodox Judaism, the story becomes an example of journalists’ sometimes overzealousness in their desire to attack religion by pretending to care about women. Especially given the recent history of media attitudes towards France’s burqa ban, the actions of certain journalists are no less troubling than those of religious leaders controlling the female body.
According to the article, written by a young Jerusalem journalist, Ari Galahar, for Yediot Ahranot’s Hebrew news site, Rabbi Yizhak Silberstein was asked to respond to a strange query from a young woman who was accepted to a religious academy despite her family’s non-religiousness. The young woman, struggling with the academy’s strict dress code of long skirts, long sleeves, and covered collarbones because her secular parents were supposedly pressuring her to dress in a more revealing way, asked Silberstein whether she could cut her legs, so that her parents would agree that she must wear a long skirt in order to cover the bruises. The rabbi reportedly responded, “She is permitted to cut herself in order to dress modestly, and thus to escape all sin.” He reportedly added that “the blood from the bruise will redeem all of Israel like the blood of the ritual sacrifices.”
I am enjoying the ultimate luxury vacation. Am I in a villa on the mountainous shores of Lake Como? No. Wading into startlingly clear turquoise waters in the Caribbean? Nope. In a south Tel Aviv boutique hotel in newly hip Neve Tzedek? I wish.
I am simply… in my house… quiet and alone. My husband and Boychik are off camping, and Girlchik and Rockerchik are away at overnight camp for the month. The lead-up to their departures was frenetic weeks of shopping, packing, organizing, entertaining, cooking and baking, and then some more shopping and packing.
Not only did my children conclude what was, for each of them, a good school year, Boychik graduated from high school, with a graduation party a day earlier. Because a couple of friends couldn’t make it at the last minute and I am neurotic, I was convinced that no one would actually show up to the party. But dozens did come in the end, and it was wonderful. A few weeks earlier I accompanied Boychik to Los Angeles, where he participated in a national opera competition (in which he was a finalist). That came on the heels of sitting shiva for my father, which followed his funeral, death and the last months of his illness. It was an emotionally and physically draining few months.
Back in 1777, in Dover, Del., my ancestor John Wheeler Meredith enlisted as a private in the American Revolutionary Army. Because Meredith was an original American patriot, and because I can document the eight generations that lead from him to me, I was able to join the Daughters of the American Revolution a year and a half ago.
Not many Jews can trace their ancestry back 250 years in America and, in my case, I can only get away with it because my paternal grandmother converted to Judaism. Her branch of the family tree is endlessly interesting to me, precisely because it’s distinct from the standard Eastern-European Jewish roots that make up the rest of my family. And that was the appeal of joining the DAR, too. Wouldn’t it be hilarious, I thought, if I — a short, loud Jewish girl — joined the blue-blooded ladies who lunch? Hijinks would surely ensue.
But hijinks are nowhere to be found.
Four men accused of raping a young Jewish woman from Crown Heights over a period of eight years have been indicted according to news reports. The reports say that the Jewish woman was just 13 years old when the attacks began, and that the alleged perpetrators in the case had also sold her to other men for sex. Three of the four men have criminal records.
The New York Times story details how the teacher of a class the young woman was taking at John Jay College of Criminal Justice helped convince her to turn to the authorities and report her story.
The saga began when the girl was allegedly raped by two of the defendants in a public park. But what none of the stories I’ve read so far have addressed is how this could happen for eight years to a young girl who lived in the midst of the relatively tight-knit Lubavitch Jewish community of Crown Heights without anybody knowing. It’s difficult to understand how the girl’s mother, at least, could have not known that something was terribly, terribly wrong. I hope the case prompts the men and women of the Crown Heights Jewish community to ask themselves the same questions.
As we prepare to welcome this Fourth of July,
in case you are wondering if your hem is too high,
No need to fret, maidel,
no need to worry.
We have a helpful new tool
from Lakewood’s Jewiest Jews.
It’s a “Tznius Ruler,” with measuring markers,
designed just to help us modest girls be tznius-ier.
Because if our skirts don’t meet below-knee expectations,
outraged haredim may send expectorations.
Without this flowery ruler, isn’t it true,
I wouldn’t know where my knees are. Would you?
Tip of the tichel: Shmarya Rosenberg
The sexual lives of religious women will be a major topic of discussion at a panel at the upcoming conference organized by the religious women’s forum Kolech. Naomi Marmon Grumet, who has conducted research on the intimate lives of religious women, will be examining the differences between Orthodox men and Orthodox women in preparation for marriage.
This is just one of many juicy subjects that will be addressed at the upcoming Kolech gathering, scheduled for July 3–4 at the Keshet School in Jerusalem. (Kolech, which was founded in 1998 by Hana Kehat, works within a religious framework to promote gender equity in Israel.) Other conference topics include feminism in the Haredi community; Jewish and Arab women fighting for tradition; gender and Judaism on the Internet; single mothers by choice; gender segregation in public spaces, and sex-ed for religious boys.
The third season of MTV’s hit series “16 and Pregnant” wrapped up last week. The show and its spinoff, “Teen Mom” — the third season of which begins next week — have become cultural flashpoints, spurring national conversations about everything from sex education to body image. While “Teen Mom” participants — girls from previous “16 and Pregnant” episodes — are a fairly homogenous bunch of mostly Caucasian youth, “16 and Pregnant,” which features a different young woman in each week’s episode, has featured a much more diverse array of young women.
But in the show’s three seasons, to the best of my knowledge, a Jewish girl has never been shown. (I’ve watched all of the episodes, and none of the teenagers has identified as Jewish.) Why is that? One answer is that, simply, no Jewish parents have thus far given permission for their daughter and her story to be shared on camera. But an informal survey of Jewish girls and women presents some other theories.
In a recent column David Brooks tells “The Saga of Sister Kiki,” which, summarized from this Rolling Stone article, relays the tale of a wayward teen who got “mauled by the some of the worst forces of the information age,” just like Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie got “mauled by the crushing forces of industrial America.” Kiki Kannibal is a teen who posted sexually charged pictures of herself, got lots of attention, was raped, and then victimized by a teen-exploitation site.
“Kiki must have sensed the tremendous erotic capital that a pretty, vulnerable, barely pubescent girl possesses on the Internet — even if she didn’t understand the consequences of her appeal,” Brooks writes, positioning the dark cloud over what comes next.
What Brooks is missing in this column, and what is missing in a lot of the hysterical discussion about teenagers going wild, is actual proof that what happened to Kiki represents a real and growing problem. Earlier this year New York magazine wrote a similarly sensational and heavily anecdotal piece about how girls in junior high attempt to replicate for their crushes the pornographic images they see online.
When Helen Sieger died on the day before Passover this year, at just 57 years old, in a hospital used for inmates of Riker’s Island, it was a sad end to a life with many sad chapters.
Helen — or Chayie — Sieger’s story was well-known in Haredi circles in Brooklyn. But when her saga became the subject of a New York magazine feature story in 2003, she became a household name.
After nearly a quarter-century of being a dutiful wife to Chaim Sieger, mother to a son and a daughter, and part of Brooklyn’s Bobov Hasidic community, when her husband remarried without granting her a Jewish divorce, she sued him and the rabbis who, she alleged he bribed, in civil court. The rabbis had provided Chaim Sieger with a heter meah rabbonim, permission from 100 rabbis allowing her to re-marry without granting his wife a Jewish divorce, or get.
In 1995 Chayie Sieger did something Bobov women had almost never done: She left her husband, who according to the New York magazine story, was a serial philanderer and gambler, to move to her father’s home a few doors down.
The LGBT–oriented Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan, led by openly gay Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum — a Sisterhood 50 selection — was front and center in the fight to get same-sex marriage legislation passed in New York state. (Kleinbaum also made headlines when she put her arm around an ultra-Orthodox man protesting the legislation, and was spat on repeatedly.) Two of CBST’s most active members, Rose Ann Herman and Jake Goodman, spoke with The Sisterhood about the implications of bill’s passage for the Jewish community and beyond, and what’s next for LGBT activists.
Elissa Strauss: First off, congratulations! How do you feel?
Jake Goodman: It’s an amazing feeling to know that, in terms of marriage, all New Yorkers are finally equal. It seems like such a simple, obvious thing, but clearly, it is not.
Rose Ann Herman: I am indescribably happy for all the young people out there whose lives have been validated by our state; I adore the Republican senators who showed real leadership and courage, and voted for what was right, and beautiful and good.
Can you speak a little about the efforts of the Jewish community in getting this law passed?