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
Dear Ayla and Arianna Brown:
I have an explanation for your father’s election night announcement that you are both “available” to meet men: He was simply channeling his inner Jewish mother. Ladies, your dad probably just wants you to be happy, healthy and, in the not-too-distant future, married (as long as it’s to to a person of the opposite sex).
I feel your pain. A red-hot wave of embarrassment still comes over me when I think of how my own Jewish mother once flaunted my own availability.
There is hardly a topic that gets people quite as wound up as women’s home-work decisions. Many a Shabbat lunch has turned explosive when a strong view was deemed condescending, insensitive, or (dare I say it?) sexist. I confess to having been a copious part of this phenomenon over the years, occasionally accused of being, um, a bit opinionated.
Women, looking around at other women, are often so sensitive to being judged — whether or not the sentiment is justified. Working women feel judged as bad mothers, and stay-at-home mothers feel judged as inferior members of society at large, a society in which career often equals social status and identity. I think that much of the recent Sisterhood debate on this topic reflects this general insecurity. Mothers are so heavily judged and blamed for a whole host of societal ills. From Sigmund Freud to Robert Goren, mothers who don’t do their jobs properly are credited with smothering and emasculating young men and for causing psychosis and sociopathic behavior. No wonder women are always so insecure.
As I said in my previous post, I sometimes find the question of women’s work to be a bit tired. Not trying to dismiss real dilemmas, what I tried to say is that although the dilemmas are real, the dichotomy between “work or home” is false, and we should abandon that discussion.
Dating and parks, I’ve once learned, share a common trait. We’re supposed to leave both — romantic partners and pastoral places, that is — better than we found them.
I was thinking about that this past week when an email popped into my inbox from a dating site to which I subscribe. Now it’s not a Jewish dating Web site, because where I live there is not much of a Jewish population to support one. The email was from a member of the site who wanted to make a connection. The reason? Because I’m Jewish, he’s not and he’d like me to help him clear up “any misconceptions” he may have about Jewish culture.
Dating a Jew, he writes, would be a natural step after dating his last girlfriend. (Who, you guessed right, was an Arab woman, who — yup — cured him of his Arab stereotypes.) But shall we let the gentleman speak for himself?
The Sisterhood Digest:
• The recently released results of an Orthodox Union survey seem to indicate that Orthodox Jewish women have happier marriages than married women in the general U.S. population. Some 74% of women responding to the O.U.’s online poll characterized their marriages as “excellent/very good.” Compare that to the National Marriage Project 2009 poll, in which 60% of American women reported that their marriages to be “very happy.”
• Over at DoubleX, Melissa Meltzer reports on two new iPhone apps that offer virtual plastic surgery. Don’t like your nose or ears or cheeks, but afraid to go under the knife? No problem. The applications iSurgeon ($2.99) or NewBeauty ($4.99) can test drive the new you — no anesthesia required. “After giving myself a rhinoplasty, chin implants, an eyebrow lift, and cheek implants,” Meltzer writes, “I looked like a cross between a cat and an elf.”
• When you’re done squinting at your elf-self, check out Mae Singerman’s blog post over at jspot.com), in which she writes about Matzah Ball organizers giving out her contact information to clinic that performs cosmetic surgery.
I’m going Mormon.
After all, I do love watching “Big Love,” and I can’t deny the appeal of having a “sister-wife” who wouldn’t mind doing the laundry for everyone in the family.
But mainstream Mormons no longer practice polygamy — it’s been against official church policy for more than a century — so the “sister-wife” situation is off the table. And anyway, there’s no way I could join a religion whose leaders sanction converting dead Jews to Mormonism for “the benefit” of their eternal souls.
But I have converted to their shopping.
Dear Elana: I usually love your point of view, and always enjoy your writing. But, wow, do I disagree with your most recent Sisterhood post, “What Makes us Bad Feminists? Kvetching About Artificial Choices.”
My friend, I was surprised to see you use such derisive language when you decried the “pseudo-crises” of “Should I work?” and “Am I a good mother?” There is nothing pseudo about these dilemmas for me and for the countless other women who also struggle to satisfy the needs of (a) our families, (b) our mortgage payments and (c) the desire to realize our full potential as productive, creative human beings.
As I was driving my daughter to school for an afternoon exam, I received a work call about a knotty issue that left me with a lot of explaining to do about power, money and some complexities of office politics. This is my life, I thought. Though I’ve long since abandoned any hope of being free to do only one thing at a time, and I’m not sure I would have chosen to expose my child to all that she heard on the speakerphone. Nevertheless, after 17 years at this parenting stuff, I am happy to report that I am no longer self-flagellating about doing it all at once.
There was a time, long ago I think, when I would pore over those new-mom essays, the type agonizing over pseudo-crises like, “Should I work?” or “Am I a good mother?” and soak up every word. Today, I find that genre irritating at best. I am not interested in hearing guilt-inducing rants, and frankly, I think that some of these questions are all wrong, driven by a conservative, anti-feminist backlash designed to keep us in our place.
Fordham anthropology professor Ayala Fader is the author of “Mitzvah Girls: Bringing Up the Next Generation of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn” (Princeton University Press, 2009), which has just been named the winner of the Jewish Book Council’s 2009 Barbara Dobkin Award in Women’s Studies. The Sisterhood’s Rebecca Honig Friedman recently interviewed Fader about her fieldwork in the wilds of Borough Park, Brooklyn, what “fitting in” means among haredi women, and how her research changed her perspective on how the ultra-Orthodox live.
Rebecca Honig Friedman:“Mitzvah Girls” began as your doctoral thesis. How did you choose the topic?
Ayala Fader: Growing up on the Upper West Side as a Reform Jew, I had always been fascinated by Hasidic Jews — they had been presented to me as a remnant of a lost past. I think there was some nostalgia I had which was pretty quickly cured by fieldwork. When I began reading some of the literature on Hasidic Jews, I found out that there had not been much research done on [Hasidim’s use of Yiddish], and even less on childrearing. So for both personal and professional reasons, I chose this topic.
In the book you talk about the importance for Hasidic females of “fitting in” and being “with it.” Do you see the desire for conformity and what we might call “hipness” as being different from the similar desires of women outside the Hasidic world?
Last week I heard something out of the mouth of a father that I cannot imagine hearing from a mother.
Permit me to explain. My 15-year-old, Boychik, is in a fabulous Jewish youth choir that just had a regional retreat in N.J. I had volunteered to be the Manhattan chapter’s parent coordinator, which meant I needed to make sure that every kid in the chapter had a way to get to the retreat and back.
Being the Yekke that I am, I got on the task early. I emailed parents more than a week in advance, asking them to let me know if their child was going and if so, if he or she needed a ride to or from the gathering. Naturally, I heard from no one.
“Raise your hand if you are nervous about the election in Mass tomorrow? My hand is up!” tweeted the National Council for Jewish Women’s Sammie Moshenberg yesterday.
Indeed, all eyes are trained on the great state of Massachusetts today as the special election for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat threatens to turn the tide or even derail healthcare reform. Squaring off at the center of the storm are Martha Coakley, a seemingly- ackluster Democratic candidate who got the support of all the big name women’s groups like NOW and more, and Scott Brown, a state senator who has campaigned using his pickup truck and once posed nude in the pages of Cosmo. And it looks like Brown might win. The combination of an uninspiring campaign from Coakley, an overwhleming wave of anger from the right, and a mix of indifference and discomfort with filling Ted Kennedy’s long-held seat may be combining to spell Coakley’s doom — although of course, we won’t know the outcome until tonight.
The Sisterhood Digest:
• Israeli soldiers, in Haiti to assist victims of last week’s catastrophic earthquake, delivered a healthy baby, over the weekend, in a makeshift hospital that the Israel Defense Forces set up on a Port-au-Prince athletic field. The baby’s mother reportedly plans to name her newborn son “Israel.”
• As Myriad Genetics prepares to go to court to defend its right to patent two genes linked to breast cancer and ovarian cancer — genes that are most prevalent among Ashkenazic Jews — the Los Angeles Times comes out in favor of barring patents for gene sequences.
• Sara Netanyahu is being sued by a former housekeeper, who is charging that Israel’s First Lady was emotionally abusive. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, Mrs. Netanyahu “expected [the housekeeper] to be on call 24 hours a day, and once even phoned her at 2 a.m. to reprimand her for failing to properly cover a pillow.” The Prime Minister’s office says the woman’s claims are false, and that she received warm and affectionate treatment from Mrs. Netanyahu.”
Goel Ratzon, a 60-year-old man with long white hair and penetrating eyes, has at least 17 wives and 28 children, though the precise figure remains elusive. Ratzon, who apparently believes himself to be something of a messiah, or the modern embodiment of King Solomon, was arrested last week in Tel Aviv, as were some of the wives, following an eight-month undercover operation that included some daring work of a female detective who presented herself as a willing conquest. The details emerging over the past few days about life in his cult/commune/harem form a disturbing and mysterious portrait, in part because of how zealously many of the women have come to his defense.
Ratzon, who is facing charges of rape, enslavement, extortion, indecent acts against minors, and possibly incest, has been living an elaborately organized polygamous lifestyle since 1993. The household, which is spread out among several apartments in a blighted neighborhood of Tel Aviv, is run according to “The Book of Rules” — intricate protocols with punishments to limit the women’s free movement and speech, along with a systematic, assembly-line rotation of tasks among women such as tending to the children, cooking, and sleeping with Ratzon.
Last week, in an effort to woo my 9-year-old] daughter from the comfort of her bed, I offered to bring her clothes to her. Contrary to her assurances the night before, nothing had been laid out. So I began searching through the array of possibilities. Shirt after shirt came out of the drawer and each time the response was the same, “No, too small, definitely too small — give it away.” Her conclusion: “I need some new things!”
As a matter of course I go through the drawers with my children every few months to see what is ready to be passed on to another kid or tossed. All the shirts my daughter discarded last week were one or two sizes two small; a few dated back as many as four years. Only a few weeks back I had touched these same garments and asked if they should be put aside, only to be assured “They FIT!” On a recent trip to the mall, I had suggested looking at t-shirts, only to be rebuffed. “No thanks, I don’t need anything,” my daughter told me then.
Before I began to roll my eyes or raise my voice in frustration, I took a deep breath in and remembered the old light bulb joke: “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to want to change.”
As the House and Senate hash out their versions of the sweeping healthcare reform bill in the coming weeks, several crucial women’s health issues hang in the balance. The most high-profile, and controversial, is abortion — the Stupak-Pitts amendment in the House and the Managers Amendment in the Senate would both severely restrict abortion coverage nationwide, even among private insurers — but coverage of other women’s health procedures, such as mammograms, are also written specifically into the bill (those are, fortunately, required to be covered).
That the health of millions of American women being tossed around like so many political footballs has inspired some very inspiring metaphors, sports and otherwise. Sick of being told that “prochoice women should shut up and take one for the team,” Katha Pollit wrote in The Nation, “Whose Team Is It, Anyway?” A Mother Jones blogger went with a financial metaphor, asking whether abortion rights are “the price of healthcare reform.”
Now a new campaign called Not Under the Bus “calls on all women and men who support women’s equality to take the initiative and start driving the bus right down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
“Srugim,” the hit television series tracing the love lives of modern Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, returned this past Sunday to the Israeli cable channel YES! The series — its name is derived from the knit yarmulkes favored by the dati le’umi or religious nationalist boys and men in Israel — has surprised even its creators by its immense popularity among secular Israelis. In the U.S., “Srugim” has developed a cult-like following among the modern Orthodox, who can equate life in the Jerusalem neighborhood Katamon (nicknamed “the bitzah” or the swamp) to life in the similarly religiously and romantically fraught Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Accurate portrayals of Orthodox Jews in American films or on television are hard to come by. Good female characters are especially rare, usually appearing onscreen as either oppressed or unnaturally saintly (see “A Price Above Rubies,” “A Stranger Among Us”.)
But “Srugim” (written and directed by Laizy Shapira, himself an observant Jew) comes with complex female characters who have commitment issues, religious struggles, and romantic baggage (a lot of romantic baggage). Modern Orthodox young, single professionals can finally see themselves on onscreen. Although created by a man, the show is especially good at portraying the female characters’ complicated relationships with their tradition.
It was hard not to feel sympathy for Roza Hinda Weiss as she stood before some 700 Lubavitch women last Sunday night and asked them for money.
At an “Emergency Rally for Pidyon Shvuyim,” or Redeeming a Captive, she was trying to raise $1.5 million for her father’s legal appeal. In November her father, Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, was convicted on 86 counts of financial fraud relating to Agriprocessors, the country’s biggest kosher meat processing plant, which he ran and was owned by his family.
Weiss, a tiny young woman in her 20s wearing glasses, a simple sweater and skirt and a dark sheitel, seemed fragile, as she stood on stage in the Crown Heights girls’ school. Her voice broke slightly as she related the trials of going door to door in Monsey, N.Y., after her father’s arrest in October 2008, asking Hasidic Jews there for money on cold fall nights as her husband and three very young daughters waited in the car.
Elizabeth Edwards’ appearance, specifically her zaftig figure, may have played into her saintly reputation, which is only now taking a beating in the wake of the publication of John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s “Game Change.” In this delicious excerpt, published in New York magazine, Heilemann and Halperin write:
Even before the cancer, she was among her husband’s greatest political assets. In one focus group conducted by Hickman in Edwards’s Senate race, voters trashed him as a pretty-boy shyster until they saw pictures of Elizabeth, four years his senior. “I like that he’s got a fat wife,” one woman said. “I thought he’d be married to a Barbie or a cheerleader.”
Which makes me wonder: If Elizabeth Edwards looked more like a trophy wife, would it have taken so long for what the “Game Change” authors call the “lie of Saint Elizabeth” to be exposed? And would reports that she is arrogant, selfish and prone to angry outbursts be so surprising? Does a Barbie look-alike or a former cheerleader or a size-0 beer heiress — even one who, like Elizabeth, has experienced great loss and is facing a terminal illness — make a more believable villain than a chubby woman who looks most of her 60 years?
I was in Jerusalem twice last month — both times to pray at the Western Wall. The first was for the monthly Rosh Hodesh service of Women of the Wall, and the second was for a family bar mitzvah. Unfortunately, neither prayer services went smoothly.
I have been active in Women of the Wall for more than 15 years. I am on the board and had been praying at 7 a.m. each month, rain or shine, at the Kotel with this group of women. That is, until I moved with my family of eight this past summer to Kibbutz Hannaton in the Lower Galilee. It’s a religious Kibbutz, but it is religious in the same unacceptable-to-the-Israeli-religious-powers-that-be way as Women of the Wall and all non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.
The fact that nice Jewish actress Natalie Portman told Elle UK that she “she stays away from Jewish roles” (the full interview isn’t posted yet) prompted Double X’s Jessica Grose to ask how many major studio movies in recent years have actually had explicitly Jewish female protagonists outside the Holocaust genre. She came up with a mere two: “Kissing Jessica Stein” (one of my personal favorites) and “Two Lovers.”
At first I thought she was undershooting — we’re all over the movies! — but then I realized that finding more examples that fit her criteria was far harder than it seemed. I actually had to go back to the 1990s, and do some real digging and sifting through comment threads to fill out my list, which contains its share of mother-in-law type supporting characters who are not explicitly romantic protagonists.
I spent my New Years Eve at friends’ nuptials in Richmond, Va. After the glass was crushed, and guests were bussed from synagogue to reception hall, the band played the song that sets Jewish wedding receptions apart from others. My husband and I, and the two other Jewish couples at the table leapt up like they were offering free Flip cams at the front of the room. I love to hora because it brings wedding guest-factions together like nothing else. I’ve clutched plenty of strangers’ sweaty palms in the name of hava nagila, and have later found myself with new friends.
I feared our people’s celebratory dance as a kid, since it felt dominated by adults in sharp heels (I once nearly lost a toe). Now, I’m likely the heeled crazy-woman that kids are running from. This New Years Eve hora was composed of mostly adults, as the first circle confidently formed. I hadn’t gotten there in time to join it, and our outer circle was a slower to manifest itself, but it got moving. Guests sang, locked elbows, hooted and crooned southern-inflected Hebrew. The jazz trumpeter looked exhausted by the end of the first round of Uru achim b’lev sameach, but he was a sport so he kept blowing.
Chairs appeared, primed for the big lift.
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