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
I knew I would regret it as soon as I started typing, but I did it anyway. As much as I try to avoid getting into virtual arguments in talkback-land, this week I found myself unable to restrain myself. The language, it seems to me, is at the root of the problem, and that’s where the fight needs to take place.
At issue is the latest chapter in the saga of ultra-Orthodox pressure to send women to the back of the bus. Last week, a 60-year-old woman, perhaps inspired by Rosa Parks, sat down in the front and refused to move. When an 18-year old male yeshiva student tried to force her to move by yelling, cursing and threatening her, she eventually responded by showering him with pepper spray.
I kind of wish she hadn’t done that.
As if us single ladies didn’t have enough pressure to deal with — no mom, I would not like to meet the emcee from the Goldenblatt’s Hanukkah party — we now have this to consider: It’s not only our biological clocks that are ferociously ticking before our female hardware is incapable of conceiving. That concern is so 1990s. Try this on for size: If we don’t have a child soon — as in now — we may be too old to technologically connect with our tot, who will be born twiddling an iPhone.
The Sisterhood Digest:
• The number of legal abortions in Israel has declined 10% since 2000, the Jerusalem Post, citing Health Ministry statistics, reports — even as Ynet reports that abortions among ultra-Orthodox women in Israel have been on the rise since the beginning of the financial crisis. In Israel, abortions are permitted if they are shown to meet one or more of the following criteria: the woman is younger than 17 or older than 40; the pregnancy is conceived under illegal circumstances; the pregnancy is likely to endanger the health of the mother or cause her physical or emotional harm; the fetus may have a physical or mental defect.
• Meanwhile, reproductive rights groups in Israel are denouncing the Chief Rabbinate’s statement that abortions “delay redemption.” The statement was made in a recent letter that Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger sent to rabbis on the state payroll.
The Sisterhood blog is one forum in which Jewish women of different ages, denominations and political ideologies can debate issues of communal importance. “The Salon,” produced by The Jewish Channel and hosted by Forward editor Jane Eisner with media critic Rachel Sklar, is another. In this newly available episode, the panel — made up of comedian Judy Gold, filmmaker Lacey Schwartz and Nancy Falchuk, Hadassah’s national president — takes on Sarah Palin’s unpopularity among Jewish women, Israeli breast cancer advocates’ exclusion from a recent international cancer summit and the implications of supermodels strutting their stuff on behalf of Jewish organizations, among other topics. Watch the promo here, then tune into The Jewish Channel for the episode in full:
I am the proud mother of a feminist, Deborah Kolben, who was inspired by the iconic “Free to Be… You and Me” album wrote this recent Sisterhood post about her decision to stay home with her infant daughter. In that post, she wonders whether she is fulfilling the dreams of her mother, who worked outside of the home. The answer is a resounding yes.
In addition to being Debbie’s mom, I’m also the executive director of Center for Children’s Initiatives, an organization devoted to shaping childcare polices and helping parents find appropriate day care. I have devoted the past few decades to changing the way we value parenthood and young children by removing child care as a barrier to parents having real choices — the theme of “Free to be… You and Me.”
Every time I read about the ongoing Women of the Wall saga, I am filled with sorrow. As I picture Jew fighting Jew, a woman being roughhoused by police, fingerprinted like a common criminal, my heart is heavy. Their fight is reminiscent of that of Rosa Parks. All these women want is the same treatment as men. How could one group be allowed to monopolize a national holy site?
These are the emotions that fill my heart. When I think about it, though, I ultimately disagree with what the Women of the Wall are trying to accomplish.
I can see things from both sides because I’ve been in both worlds. I was raised as Conservative Jew, and was outraged the first time I saw the mechitza at the Western Wall, during a family trip to Israel when I was almost 14. I had basically no real understanding of Orthodox Judaism at that point, but the message of the mechitza was clear to me: You women don’t have the same rights and privileges as men.
I like Facebook (and waste far too much time on it). But the cultural norms on this mother of all social networking sites may be getting just a bit too … intimate for me.
This week suddenly many of my female FB friends started simply listing colors for their Facebook statuses. First a friend just wrote “pink.” Thinking she was making a simple existential comment, I commented “polka dots.” Then another friend, who doesn’t know the first, posted “white.”
And today, most of my many female FB friends have posted a color for their status. It’s the color of their bra. “Nude.” “Black.” “Pink.” “Gray (used to be white).”
At the risk of sounding like my FB “friend” (someone I’ve never met but whose sufficiently important job in the Jewish community led me to think I should accept his friend request) who ends EVERY SINGLE Status Update with an exclamation point, TMI! TMI! T-M-I!!!! (Too Much Information, for someone who’s never been a teenager).
The last time I paid much attention to Sarah Palin was in July, when she announced that she would resign as governor of Alaska. Her speech was mesmerizing. Not, as you might hope from a former candidate for vice president of the United States, for the skill of her rhetoric or substance of her ideas, but rather, because it was as odd, disjointed and disorganized as the rest of her media appearances.
Legendary comedian Jean Carroll (née Celine Zeigman) passed away on New Year’s Day at the age of 98. A pioneering stand up comedian, Jean Carroll was a regular headliner in nightclubs and theaters in the ’40s and ’50s. She was featured on the Ed Sullivan Show, and she even had her own sitcom on ABC in the 1953-1954 season.
Jean Carroll began her career as a vaudeville performer, but is best known for her achievements as one of the first female performers to do stand up. During this period, nightclubs were not considered “fit” places for “ladies” to inhabit. Female comics usually performed in couple acts with a man alongside them. Jean Carroll originally performed as part of a duo with her husband, Buddy Howe. When Howe was drafted into the Army during the Second World War, Jean Carroll began her solo act. When Howe returned, even he could see that she was better on her own. Rather than rejoin his wife on stage, he became her agent.
Much like Sophie Tucker, Jean Carroll’s routine’s were risqué by the standards of her time. She made jokes about shopping, raising children, and her husband. As the New York Times wrote, “Genteel by today’s standards, Ms. Carroll’s humor was radical in its day — radical, that is, in the hands of a lone woman with a microphone in front of her and an audience at her command. For a female comic to wield that sort of power was unheard of then, especially in the smoke-filled universe of nightclubs.”
A man goes to a prostitute, and then blames her for making him sin. No, this is not the beginning of a joke. Rather, it’s the argument currently being made by Knesset members from the (all male) Shas party in a current round of deliberations about the legality of prostitution.
At issue is a bill recently introduced by Kadima Knesset member Orit Zuaretz, seen at right, outlawing the solicitation of a prostitute. Actually, the Zuaretz bill makes solicitation punishable with six months in prison only after the second arrest. First time offenders will be sent to a form of rehab that includes mandatory attendance at seminars on public health and human dignity, as well as lectures given from former prostitutes about the harrowing conditions of their lives. The bill is based on the Sweden model, where a 1999 law punished those soliciting and not those being solicited — and resulted in the number of women working as prostitutes shrinking by two-thirds.
This weekend, The New York Times Book Review, which has a real knack for hiring known anti-feminists as writers, featured Katie “Rape, shmape” Roiphe’s essay on literary sex in the works of Great Male writers. The essay bemoans the supposed sissiness of today’s male novelists, such as Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace and company — compared with their predecessors, the Updikes, Roths, Mailers and Bellows, who featured coupling in vivid details throughout their works.
Many of these writers are Jewish, and the sexual angst they describe is a particularly Jewish American male variety. I haven’t read all the works Roiphe quotes, but I found the timing of her piece amusing. I’ve just read my first Chabon novel and had planned to write a Sisterhood post about how I preferred Chabon’s gentler, more humanistic (and less hetero-normative) version of Jewish manhood to Roth’s out-and-out misogyny. Not quite the same reaction as Roiphe’s. Roiphe sprinkles the terms “virile” and “postfeminist” in opposition to one another throughout her piece, implying that feminism killed off virility. She seems to believe that male writers who wonder what women think while in bed, or while flipping the page, are effectively castrated. Sigh.
One of the country’s foremost experts on the lives of American girls is Rachel Simmons, a 35-year-old alumna of Vassar College and Oxford University who also attended the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School through high school. Her mother is Israeli, and, she says, she was raised in a “Conservative-Israeli” kind of household. Graduate school investigation of aggression in teenage girls led her to write “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls,” and later, to write “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence,”, and establish the Girls Leadership Institute.
Last week Simmons hosted the PBS show “A Girl’s Life”, which looks at the complicated lives of four teenagers: basketball player Annaluz, who struggles with being plump even as she’s athletic and strong; an inner-city young mother named Carla, who gets involved in vicious, scarring physical fights with other young women; Sonia, the daughter of Mexican illegal immigrants whose mother gets her into the Young Women’s Leadership School in East Harlem, which leads to college; and Libby, a popular girl whose former best friend becomes her cyber-bully, with painful results.
Simmons, who calls Park Slope home, spoke with The Sisterhood from South Africa, where she was teaching and spending time with her partner.
A post-Hanukkah, pre-Christmas epiphany has guided me to a new understanding about Jews and gentiles: While we both love a deal, there’s a difference in how we snag it.
I arrived at this inter-religious realization at the tailend of this holiday shopping season, when newspaper circulars, emailed promotions and Facebook ads tell us to buy, buy, buy. As if we actually needed any instruction in that department. Sales promotions attempt to take the pain out of holiday spending with a promise of free merchandise — stuff we really want but really don’t need — if only we first jump through a number of hurdles.
I was ready to jump through those hurdles for three free pairs of socks offered by an outdoorsy retailer. And yes, I said socks.
Since we celebrated the beginning of a new millennium, Jewish women have continued to make important “firsts” in a variety of fields, and have made their voices heard in the Jewish community, in American culture and politics, and in forums around the world. Here are just some of the important events of this decade in Jewish women’s history. Please do add other important events and accomplishments in the comments.
September 21, 2001 — Jewish Women Watching declare “Sexism is a sin.”
October 6, 2003 — Aviel Barclay becomes first female Torah scribe.
May 14, 2004 — Mayyim Hayyim], a progressive community mikveh, opens.
May 5, 2006 — Haviva Ner-David is ordained as the first Orthodox woman rabbi, although she was not given the title of “rabbi.”
February 19, 2009 — Sara Hurwitz completed the required course of study in Yoreh Deah to become an Orthodox spiritual leader.
June 6, 2009 — Alysa Stanton ordained as first African-American female rabbi.
Read about the decade in Jewish women’s accomplishments in the categories of community, politics, arts and culture, education and sports here.
According to the recent obituaries of Alice Schiller, co-owner of Los Angeles’ legendary burlesque nightclub the Pink Pussycat, was a prudish Midwestern gal who cried when her husband told her he was turning his Hollywood club into a strip club.
The Orthodox Jewish-reared Schiller, the daughter of a deli manager, eventually came to terms with her husband’s vision, and was instrumental in turning the Pink Pussycat into most high-profile burlesque spots around. The club attracted such regulars as the Rat Pack and other members of Los Angeles glitterati. It was also the kind of spot where husbands where often joined by their wives — certainly not the norm for today’s strip clubs. Schiller, who had apparently never smoked, drank, or cursed, had a reputation for treating her workers with respect, and designed a show that was sexy and suggestive, rather than vulgar.
The club — now called Club 7969 — also gained notoriety for its College of Strip Tease, run by fellow Jewess Sally Marr (née Sadie Kitchenberg), mother of comic Lenny Bruce, who died in 1997. Marr taught classes such as “The Psychology of Inhibitions,” “The History and Theory of the Striptease,” and “Applied Sensual Communication.”
The legacy of these Jewish matriarchs of striptease certainly seems to live on in the playful attitudes of the modern burlesque movement (as written about by The New York Times here), which includes the evolution of the pop group Pussycat Dolls from a Los Angeles lounge of the same name, and even Jewish groups like the Schlep Sisters and Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad (written about in the Forward here).
A few days before my daughter, Mika, turned 11-weeks-old, I received a package from my mother. It included an adorable snowsuit for Mika and a copy of the CD “Free to Be… You and Me,” ostensibly also for Mika.
For those of you who don’t remember, the album, produced by Marlo Thomas in 1972, uses poetry and catchy tunes to hammer in the values of individuality and gender equality. The album, and its follow-up video, includes appearances by some of her pals like Mel Brooks and Harry Belafonte.
Growing up, I loved this album. I was totally indoctrinated. Yes, boys could be cocktail waitresses and girls could be firefighters. Little girls who used their feminine wiles to get ahead in life got eaten by lions. And for all you little girls out there, housework is the pits. The message is so heavy-handed that I have to admit, I started to feel guilty.
I felt guilty because here I was, all grown up, my daughter about to turn three months old, the time at which our society tells women it’s time to go back to work — and I didn’t want to go. I am surprised, myself, how much I relish being at home with my daughter. Every coo, smile, and burp feels like a major accomplishment.
In many ways, I feel nervous telling this to my mother and her friends. It’s not that they didn’t love their children to pieces, but they still had something to prove. They needed to get back to work to show the world that women could do everything men could do. And I suppose it’s thanks to their hard work that I can choose to throw up my hands and say, no thank you.
Of course, there are practical concerns like money that will thrust me back into the workforce. And I’m sure that once Mika is a bit older, I will be ready to exercise my brain and decamp everyday to an office. But in the meantime, I can’t help but wonder: Does this make me a bad feminist?
Watch a clip from the 1974 film, “Free To Be… You and Me”:
“My name is Heli Buzaglo, I’m 24 years-old from Afula, a fat girl, FAAAAAAAAT but beautiful (or at least that’s what everyone says, including the mirror on the wall.” Thus opens the blog of one of the contestants in the 2009 Fat Beauty Pageant in Israel — or, what I have come to think of as the best and the worst of women’s body culture.
The pageant, held last week in Beersheva, was open for women weighing 176 pounds or more. In advance of the voting, the Internet was swamped with homemade videos of self-described beautiful fat girls posing in heavy make-up, sexy lingerie and suggestive poses. In yet another “American Idol” transposition, young women beg their viewers to “SMS Yarin, number995! I love you all!”
When I first saw the full-page advertisement for the pageant in the local newspaper, I was excited. After all, “fat” and “beauty” do not often occupy space in the same sentence in Western culture.
When I heard that Leslie Starobin, a Boston-based artist, was looking for first generation Jewish immigrants from Latin America for her series of montages called “The Last Address,” I got in touch with her. She was thrilled to hear from a Cuban-American Jew — a so-called Juban — and felt it was fortuitous that I was virtually right in her backyard.
I didn’t have much to offer Leslie in the way of the physical objects, such as the clothing, visas and report cards that are often central to her work. “Castro took everything” was the refrain of my childhood. What I do have is a picture of my mother at 19 in which her lips are dark and her eyebrows are arched like a movie star’s.
Compiling a family’s oral history is integral to Leslie’s artistic process. To that end, Leslie extensively interviewed my mother, who remembered that she sat for the picture at a photographer’s studio in downtown Havana after a long day of classes at the university.
My mother also told Leslie her signature story. “I still see Manzanito after he was gunned down. We called him Manzanito because his cheeks were red and full — like little apples — manzanitos.” Manzanito was Jose Antonio Echeverria, the president of the University Students Federation, who had led an attempt to overthrow Fulgencio Batista by storming the presidential palace. On March 13, 1957, Echeverria was slain by Batista’s henchmen — only steps away from the famous staircase leading into the University of Havana. My mother has recounted taking a quiz in a nearby classroom when she heard the gunshots.
“Your mother told you that she went to the University of Havana?” asked Olivia Kantor, who knew my mother in Cuba, and was friendly with her after they both immigrated to Brooklyn.
You know it’s a new day in social networking (virtual and otherwise) when someone puts as her Facebook photo a picture of her pee stick home pregnancy test showing the 2 lines that indicate a baby is on the way.
While I don’t personally know the woman who decided to announce her pregnancy this way, we have FB friends in common, which is how I meandered over to her page (procrastinating while trying to write a Sisterhood blog post).
I love when technology and popular culture bump up against tradition, and this is one small, new illustration of how the former continuously impacts the latter.
It’s the first time I’ve encountered a pregnancy announcement on Facebook, but we Jewish women vary widely in when and how we tell people that we’re expecting.
Mainstream and longstanding Jewish custom has long been to wait until after the first trimester, when the greatest risk of miscarriage has passed, before sharing the news widely. I told my mother and sister as soon as I knew I was expecting, but held off on sharing the news more widely until the 2nd trimester kick off (or should I call it kick-in, because that’s the trimester when you start having the astounding sensation of feeling the baby move).
While the Israeli cabinet has been grappling with some of the most harrowing decisions it has ever faced — from the deliberations over the release of Gilad Shalit, to some particularly stringent conditions imposed by President Obama — the religious right wing community in Israel has been engaged in its own disputations about nothing other than the role of the women’s body in contemporary Israeli politics.
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, rabbi of Har Bracha Yeshiva who is at the center of the current storm about religious troops refusing orders to evacuate Jewish homes, apparently believes that the real power of the religious right wing comes from women’s wombs. Two weeks ago, he wrote a column in the newspaper “Besheva” about the appropriate response to the settlement freeze: “By establishing large families, blessed with many sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters like the dust of the earth, inheriting the land.”
He went on to say that in order to have more children, people have to be willing to live “modesty” and to “give up permissiveness.” Finally, he suggested that if families in the West Bank would be willing to “crowd in the way they do in Meah Shearim, we could fit into our homes 900,000 people.”
Now there’s a vision to behold — imagine an entire landscape that looks like Meah Shearim.
You've successfully signed up!
Thank you for subscribing.
Please provide the following optional information to enable us to serve you better.
The Forward will not sell or share your personal information with any other party.
Thank you for signing up.Close