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
Finally, some small change for women in Israel, so to speak. Four women have been appointed to the New Currency Committee, the Bank of Israel announced last week. The four women, veteran reporter Sherry Raz-Biron, sculptor Ilana Gur, Tel Aviv University professor Adina Myer, and design expert Gila Shakin, will not only create a female presence in decision-making where there was previously none, but they will now have a role in ensuring that women’s profiles will also be represented on the new currency.
At the moment, there are no women featured on Israeli coins or bills. Golda Meir used to appear on the now-defunct 10,000 shekel-note. But ever since the Old Israeli Shekel was replaced by the New Israeli Shekel at a ratio of 1,000 to 1, and the Meir bill replaced by a coin, women have remained absent.
When selecting a rabbi to co-officiate at their wedding, Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky made a wise choice in selecting Rabbi James Ponet. Not many people can tell you this from personal experience, but I can: The guy does great intermarriages.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I married a Jewish man. But I would dare to say that my marriage involved just as much delicate juggling of traditions as that of the Methodist daughter of the former president and current secretary of state and her Jewish husband. And Rabbi Ponet did it with style and grace.
Like the Clinton-Mezvinsky clan, we thought that Jim was worth transporting from New Haven. My Israeli husband became friendly with him at Yale in the 1980s, when he arrived there as a foreign student, not knowing a soul. He was immediately welcomed into the warm circle of Ponet’s Hillel house. Ponet — known by students simply as “Jim” — spent a number of years in Israel and is fluent in Hebrew. Soon, he and my husband’s Hillel director-student relationship evolved into a real friendship.
The exclusion of women’s voices, a phenomenon present in far too many educational, economic and political settings, has perhaps the most far-reaching consequences when it comes to issues of war and peace. Women, whose cultural heritage revolves around care, relationships, nurturing and interpersonal responsibility, have a vital perspective on armed conflict.
Whereas men in power may be motivated — consciously or unconsciously — by issues of ego, power and testosterone contests, women are more likely to be motivated by their culturally imposed responsibility for life. As scholar Sara Ruddick writes in “The Politics of Motherhood” in an essay entitled, “Rethinking ‘Maternal’ Politics,” women “who believe that their lives have been transformed by caring for children… want to put this transformative experience to public use… seeking a more evidently public forum where they could enact values that they struggled to achieve in their daily work: protectiveness, nonviolence, respect for spiritual complexity, the treasuring of individual life.”
The politics of Muslim women and the burqa has sparked debate and grabbed headlines worldwide. Numerous communities and countries have been wrestling with the question of whether banning modest dress that covers the face is protecting — or violating — human rights.
Here on The Sisterhood and in numerous feminist circles, it has been hotly argued. Jews have appeared on both sides of the debate. Some agree that fully veiled women in public is disturbing and a security risk. Some on the left, view it as free expression. And many Orthodox Jews fear the slippery slope — one day burqas and veils are banned, the next, all forms of religious garb could be in danger.
The phenomenon of veiled Jewish women has been a non-existent to fringe issue in the debate. It was unheard of until a few years ago when some extreme Haredi women in Beit Shemesh in Israel began covering their faces. The media spotlight shone briefly on the phenomenon, when one of these women, dubbed the “Taliban Mother” in the Israeli press was accused of child abuse.
My colleagues and I like to joke that Newsweek’s publishing of an annual “most influential rabbis” list makes about as much sense as the Forward publishing an annual list of “most influential newsweeklies,” which, of course, we don’t.
In a more sensible move, the Forward’s women’s issues blog, The Sisterhood, last week put out an influential rabbis list of its own. Ours featured only women rabbis, a demographic that makes up only a small percentage of Newsweek’s list. Out of the 50 rabbis chosen by Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton and his friend Gary Ginsberg for Newsweek, only six were women.
Since 1972, when Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion ordained its first female rabbi — paving the way for the ordination of women at the flagship Reconstructionist and Conservative seminaries, in 1974 and 1985, respectively — America’s rabbinic seminaries have ordained more 1,000 female rabbis. So many of these rabbis are playing disproportionately large roles in changing lives and communities, it was a challenge to choose just 50 (plus five in Israel) for The Sisterhood 50 list.
Housework has always been a sticky spot for feminists, an elusive thorn in our forward-moving sides. To some, it is a prison from which women have to free themselves. For others, including countless stay-at-home moms and professional domestic workers, it is work that has never earned adequate respect.
This confusion over housework was present in feminism’s second wave. Betty Friedan sought to liberate housewives from their domestic duties, while Selma James fought for wages for housework. And the ambivalence is an issue to this day. The opt-out revolution, in which women were choosing to exit the professional world and become full-time mothers and wives — whether real or a hyped trend — created a heated debate about whether leaving the workplace is a backwards move. All the while, there has been a rise of groups working on behalf of domestic workers who are demanding that housework be considered real work, and are pushing for fair legislation that offers protections to these workers. Add to this the fact that women who don’t opt-out and try to “have it all” have been shown to be unhappy, and that basically the only women who currently label themselves housewives are tawdry TV characters, and the room really starts to spin.
Girlchik got on the camp bus yesterday with a wave and a smile, happy to head off to overnight camp and into the safe first steps toward independence for which, at 11, she is beginning to hunger. Rockerchik, who is 9, was by turns excited and having separation anxiety, bounding off the bus to give me the 10th “last hug and kiss” before she headed off to her first overnight camp experience.
I feel kind of like Rockerchik.
Since Boychik is in Israel, learning Jewish texts with great teachers and taking midnight swims in the Kinneret with new friends, this means that Hubs and I are on our own for the first time in 17 years.
In the preparation room at an Israeli mikveh, I read the list of instructions for getting ready. I’m an impostor. This is espionage. I’m not married; I’m not even engaged. I’m not even particularly religious, but I came in a skirt with my hair covered, so no one would be suspicious. This is the strangest kind of whim. I’m here because of a revelation I had at 2:30 in the morning on the Tuesday before I left for Israel — the revelation being: I need to try harder. I can’t let things go the way they’ve been going, in which I’m cynical and lazy about observant Judaism. I will suspend what I think I believe about the misogynistic underpinnings of mikveh. I will take action.
For a long time, I was afraid of water. I refused to get my head wet in the bathtub, I clung stubbornly to the wall of the pool during swimming at camp, annoying my counselors endlessly, and further contributing to my reputation as the weird kid. Now, standing in a towel, waiting to be inspected, it’s not the water I’m worried about; it’s the nudity. I have been in Israel for a month, resulting in the weirdest tan imaginable. I have mosquito bites in suspicious places, I’m not skinny, and I haven’t shaved my legs in two years.
Fearing for her life at the hands of her ex-husband, Almo Masarat, a 20-year-old Petach Tikva resident, went to the police last week. She waited around watching clerks shuffle her around like a paper clip on a desk. Eventually she gave up, telling family members that the police were not helping her. Half an hour later, her ex-husband, who was waiting in the shadows by the entrance to her apartment, allegedly killed her. She was found by neighbors in a bloody pool outside her apartment as her 3-year old son sat next to her, wailing.
Although police apathy towards domestic violence is an old story, what is perhaps surprising is that the situation for women does not seem to have improved much over 30 years, despite ongoing efforts by women’s organizations and other activists. Moreover, the situation for Ethiopian women in Israel, arguably one of the most marginalized groups in the country, is particularly stark. According to statistics released last week by the organization “L.O.,” which fights violence against women, one out of every five women murdered by her husband is Ethiopian — even though Ethiopian Jews make up less than 2% of Israel’s population.
Of the 115 women murdered by their husbands since 2001, 22 have been Ethiopian.
“Shrek the Final Chapter” caused a bit of a dispute in my house. Don’t get me wrong – I love the “Shrek” movies. The messages about beauty, gender, acceptance and love fly in the face of mainstream Hollywood with the size-zero Photoshopped girly-girls who, even if they are detectives or fighters or professionals are still expected to be daintily gorgeous. And this last “Shrek” film, which I managed to enjoy on a very rare night out with my family, added to this gender rebellion as Fiona morphed into the tough, muscular but nevertheless compassionate Leader of the Ogre Resistance, awed and admired by (male) ogres all over Far Away Land. Contrasted with the ogres evil opposition, led by a puny Rumplestilskin whose army consisted of all (female) witches, the movie presented a novel gender chiasm that you couldn’t help but love.
Still, there was something in the story line that really irked me. The film revolves around Shrek’s mid-life crisis (although his babies are all of a year old). The daily grind of diapers, dishes and toilet repairs is losing its charm. Combined with his sense of loss-of-the-old-me, a pining for the days when his roar could really scare, Shrek is left feeling like he hates his life. Every parent watching his meltdown can no doubt relate.
Jennifer Senior’s recent New York magazine article about parenting and its discontents (an article that The Sisterhood weighed in on here) made it to Cambodia — or at least to the terrace of the apartment that my family and I rented during our recent month-long stay in Phnom Penh. (Read my previous dispatches here and here.)
Surrounded by lush greenery, orchids, and the remains of a puzzle that my daughter had begun, I read the article eagerly and agreed with much of it. Children, it turns out, are challenging. And that is before you take two of them, ages 2 and 4, to Cambodia during the rainy season. I am not sure whether Senior’s article would have resonated with me at home in New York, but it sure felt true in Phnom Penh.
I sent Boychik off to his summer program in Israel with an extra $100 in his pocket and instructions to bring me back as much Ahava hand cream as that will buy. Ahava is my favorite — smells nice, absorbs quickly and does what it’s supposed to — but it’s too pricey here in the U.S. for me to indulge too often. I also like buying Israeli products when at all possible, thinking I’m doing my little bit to support the country’s economy.
I didn’t even realize until this week that in the process, I was also supporting a company under siege.
The recent legal victory of Hana Kehat, founder of the Orthodox feminist Israeli organization Kolech, has implications for working women in Israel and for feminists worldwide: The courts ruled that she was fired illegally from the Orot Teachers’ College in 2005, and that she must be immediately reinstated.
Kehat, who was described by her employers even during the trial as “an excellent lecturer” argued that she was fired from the religious Zionist institution because of her feminist views. Rabbi Neria Gutel, the head of the college who was responsible for her firing, said that she was fired because of low registration to her classes. Gutel’s claim, however, belies the point: She had low registration despite being a wonderful teacher because students were made to feel uncomfortable in her classes.
Well it looks like the emasculated husbands who appear in the bulk of beer and car ads aren’t too representative of the typical American male. Men, it turns out, actually like being married and having a family.
In a new survey from Askmen.com, 85% of men said they still believe in marriage, with 67% believing “it is a necessary institution and one in which [they] will participate to help preserve .” Also, having a family was the top-rated “ultimate male status symbol” among the 100,000 men who participated; it ranked above a high-profile career, a beautiful wife or girlfriend, a beautiful house, a luxury sports car, and a membership to an exclusive club.
My inbox was flooded with emails from outraged readers this week from pro-choice and civil liberties groups demanding action on abortion coverage in health reform. It felt a little déjà-vu. After the healthcare reform process, which brought us Bart Stupak and months of controversy over whether abortion would be sidelined as a different kind of health procedure that shouldn’t be covered, I thought we’d reached an unpleasant, but complete compromise.
But this week the Obama administration, of its own accord, decided to honor the “spirit” of that compromise by banning abortion coverage in almost all cases (rape, incest, life-threatening situations excluded), from high-risk pools — that is, for people who probably need this coverage the most.
An Israeli judge this week convicted Sabbar Kashur, a 30-year-old Jerusalem man, of rape and sentenced him to 18 months in prison. But his real crime was lying.
Kashur met a Jewish woman in September 2008 in downtown Jerusalem. He told her that he was single, Jewish and interested in a romantic relationship. The woman in question, must have never heard of “The Rules” (or common sense, for that matter). According to the court indictment, the pair “then went to a nearby building and had sex.”
The woman was outraged when Kashur immediately dressed and left her, and even more upset when she found out he was an Arab, and filed her complaint against him. He was charged with rape and indecent assault. Since the woman admitted the sex was consensual, Kashur asked for lenience and a sentence of community service.
But the judge ruled that:
As executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, Erin Saiz Hanna is front and center in the fight for women’s ordination in the Catholic Church. It’s been an uphill battle; just last week, Church officials warned that ordaining women as priests was as serious an offense as sex abuse.
Founded in 1975, the Women’s Ordination Conference is the largest national organization working to ordain women as priests, deacons and bishops. The Conference insists that while there is wide and growing support in America for women’s ordination, that level of support is not matched by decision-makers in the Vatican.
Sisterhood contributor Elissa Strauss interviewed Saiz Hanna about the roots of the Church’s ban on women’s ordination, how recent controversies within the Church have impacted the group’s efforts, and what she sees as parallels between the Conference’s cause and that of those who would like to see Orthodox women ordained as rabbis.
When I arrived last week for a writing residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I sat with my fellow new students in a basement room getting “oriented” and kvetching about the poor quality of the accommodations. But as we began to introduce ourselves and each other during a “getting to know you” game, I noticed a distinct lack of “witz” and “berg” and “man” as suffixes for people’s surnames.
Suddenly, I realized that I might be the sole member of the tribe — and I felt a whole lot more than seven hours from New York City. For me, a born and bred on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, with extended sojourns in Cambridge, Mass, being that removed from a hub of Jewish activity isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence.
On a recent Friday afternoon, here in Phnom Penh, my husband, Jeremy, and I went to visit the family of one of his former employees, Mak Lavin. Jeremy started an NGO called Digital Divide Data (DDD) that is based here, so, as I wrote in my last dispatch, we and our two young children are spending the month in Cambodia.
Several months ago, the family whom we were visiting experienced a tragic accident. The father accidentally touched a live electrical wire, and was electrocuted. His four sons, including Mak Lavin, ran over to try to help him and were all killed by the electrical current. Five members were killed — leaving behind a wife, two teenage daughters, a daughter-in-law and four young children. Jeremy had not been in Phnom Penh since the accident, and so he wanted to extend condolences in person.
Recently, Ruth Rosen wrote in the Ms. Magazine blog that the “women’s pages” of the 1950s and 60s have been reincarnated on the Internet. While she acknowledges the differences in content between those women’s pages (society, cooking, and fashion) and today’s “women’s pages” (analytical coverage of events, trends or stories overlooked by mainstream news), she argues that the designation of separate women’s sections keeps us tied to the assumption that women’s stories don’t belong on the front page.
In response to Rosen, Kim Voss wrote in to remind us that the “women’s pages” of the 1950s and 60s were more than just “society, cooking, and fashion” fluff. She argues that by mixing bits of the progressive in with the traditional, women’s page editors were able to get their serious content about women’s liberation published and reach women previously unexposed to feminism. I would add that The American Jewess was taking this approach way back in 1896. Its editor, Rosa Sonneschein, was mixing progressive feminist content with homemaking, health, and beauty tips.
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