Sisterhood Blog

Israel's Wage Gap

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

If Israel’s government wants to improve the economic condition of women, it can start by looking at its own payroll. According to the public sector salary report that was just released, the majority of government workers are women — 64% — and yet women’s earnings in the public sector significantly trail those of men. Haaretz reports:

The average monthly salary for women was 24% less than the average for men. The average gross pay for women stood at NIS 11,498 [$3,158] while men averaged NIS 15,060 [$4,136] a month. The report further showed that while the proportion of women in the public sector workforce is growing from year to year, so is the wage gap. The fact that men are employed in higher-ranking jobs than women only accounts for some of the discrepancy.

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Why No Heroines Among the 'Jewish Community Heroes'?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

When one of our favorite blogs, Jacob Berkman’s The Fundermentalist, over at JTA, throws down the gauntlet, we at The Sisterhood are happy to take it up.

In his post announcing that the Jewish Federations of North America-run Jewish Community Heroes contest has selected its five finalists, he notes that they are all male. Nominees for the contest are selected by popular online vote: This year, more than 311,000 votes were cast. A panel of 16 judges (six of whom are women) selected the finalists and will pick the winner, who is to be announced at the upcoming JFNA General Assembly, in New Orleans November 7–9.

My view of the contest is complex: On the one hand, this kind of popularity contest tends to be finessed by the well-organized, like the Chabad-associated nominees this year and last who are adept at using social media to generate support. On the other hand, we know many Jews who work selflessly to improve things for others and would be able to put the $25,000 grand prize to effective use. And the Jewish community is in real need of inspiration, so the idea of finding unsung heroes to highlight is, well, appealing.

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'How Much Do Women Cost?': Taking a Stand Against Trafficking

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

If some of the mannequins in Dizengoff Center seemed a little strange last week, it may be because they were not made out of plastic but out of real, live human bodies. In an effort to raise awareness about the trafficking of women in Israel, The Coalition Against Trafficking of Women has launched a campaign entitled, “How much do women cost?” in which women pose as mannequins in store fronts with price tags hanging on their bodies.

In one store front, under a sign that reads, “Women for sale according to personal tastes,” seven young women stand with ripped clothes and bruises, and tags that display their age, weight, measurements and country of origin. On the website of the popular clothing chain, Zap, a new category popped up called “Women To Go” that enabled visitors to “purchase” women in the same categories.

“The victims of sex trafficking do not get to rest all day long, and neither do we,” Uri Keidar, one of the founders of the coalition, told reporters. “The purpose of the campaign is to bring this issue to the public awareness and get people to develop strong feelings on the issue.”

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Kate Bernheimer: Champion of the Fairy Tale

By Eryn Loeb

Kate Bernheimer, and her new book.

A fierce believer in the power and possibility of fairy tales, Kate Bernheimer has explored the genre’s history in essays and scholarship, edited anthologies of and about fairy tales, founded a literary journal focused on them (Fairy Tale Review) and written fresh tales of her own — as short stories, novels, and children’s books. It’s an area of focus that challenges her to be both a preservationist and an inventor.

In the eight elegant tales that make up her new book “Horse, Flower, Bird,” Bernheimer takes us places at once strange and utterly familiar — blurring the line between where we are, where we’ve been, and what we imagine. And in the latest anthology under her editorship, “My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me,” she brings together contemporary fairy tales written by an impressive group, including Francine Prose, Neil Gaiman and Aimee Bender. The Sisterhood recently interviewed Bernheimer, via email.

Eryn Loeb: Over the time you’ve been working within the genre, how has your idea changed of what a fairy tale can be?

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Murders, Deemed ‘Honor Killings,’ Rock an Israeli City

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

The Israeli city of Lod is a powder keg of tension after a devastating wave of recent murders, most of which are believed to have been honor killings related to interfamily disputes.

The latest two murders were particularly chilling. At the beginning of October, Amal Khalili, a 27-year-old divorced mother of three who reportedly had been threatened by the family of her ex-husband, was shot in her car as she sat alongside her brother and her 7-year-old daughter. And then again, last Tuesday, a mother of five named Abir Abu-Katifu was shot — also in front of her children. Four of her male relatives were arrested for involvement in the crime.

Both Jewish and Arab residents of the city, afraid in their own city’s streets, are calling out for action. The Arab sector kept their children out of school on Thursday to protest the lack of security.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Murder, Lod, Honor Killings

'Whip My Hair Back and Forth' Fun

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Tired of Glee’s girls gone wild? and the near-pornographic playthings that pass for pastimes for girls these days? Then check out this new video by Willow Smith, daughter of actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. It’s a hella lotta fun.

The words don’t go much beyond “I whip my hair back and forth, I whip my hair back and forth, I whip it real good,” and true, the production values, choreography and hair styling are the very best money can buy, but it’s catchy and meaningless and girlish and fun.

Willow isn’t wearing a ton of makeup (aside from in her hair, that is); her eyebrows look brushed but not plucked; basically, she just looks like the privileged but hip 9-year-old she is. A kid having fun. And here, for the little kid in us all, is the Muppet take on it.

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Homophobia: An Insidious Outgrowth of Misogyny

By Chanel Dubofsky

Let’s be honest: It’s not like I was going to vote for Carl Paladino in the first place. If there were some kind of reverse political dictionary, and I was in it, Carl Paladino would be listed as my particularly aggressive antonym. That was before he decided to publicly demonstrate his homophobia, while bringing the Jewish community into it. Unfortunately, it’s not as though we weren’t in it to begin with. This is everyone’s problem, whether or not we consider ourselves to be queer positive folks, but particularly if we do.

Even if you were never planning on voting for Paladino, even if you were disgusted beyond any reasonable definition of the word at his remarks to the congregation in Brooklyn, it’s still vital to understand that homophobia is not an oppression that stands alone; it’s a particularly insidious outgrowth of sexism, and even in its most progressive corners, the Jewish community is guilty of perpetuating both.

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At Yeshiva, Shielded From ‘I Am Woman’

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Helen Reddy

I have a terribly embarrassing confession to make. This week I discovered Helen Reddy, and heard for the first time “I Am Woman.” Really, I had never heard of her until a friend sent me a link to her 1975 rendition of this amazing song. Truly, never heard her name. I can’t believe it myself. Of course, I have been listening to it ever since, and whether I’m driving or washing dishes or sitting at my desk, I’ve been singing, “I am strong (strong)! I am invincible (invincible)! I am womaaaan!” to the increasing annoyance of those around me. But right now, I don’t care. I am invincible!

I mean, the embarrassment of singing out loud is nothing compared to the embarrassment of not even knowing my own history. I’ve been working and writing about women’s empowerment for 15 years, and I’ve never heard or heard of this song. It’s like the entire women’s movement passed me by when I was a kid.

The truth is, I really am quite astounded by this revelation, and more embarrassed for those who educated me than for myself. I was not in control of my own cultural exposures during the 1970s. In fact, throughout that decade, when “I Am Woman” was spreading around the world as the anthem of a revolution, I was in yeshiva elementary day school. But I might as well have been on another planet.

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Prime Ribs: All About Hair; More $#*! Your Moms Say

By Gabrielle Birkner

The first Torah scroll written entirely by female scribes, six of them, has been completed — seven years after it was begun.


Danielle Berrin, over at The Jewish Journal’s “Hollywood Jew” blog, thinks Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and “The Social Network” writer Aaron Sorkin are hanging out with the wrong Jewish women.


Many women of childbearing age who are on medications that can cause birth defects, such as those used to treat cancer, high cholesterol and acne, don’t reliably take oral contraceptives.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sivan Hadari, Scribe, Hair, Race for the Cure, S#*! My Mom Says

Jewish Girls of 'Glee' Gone Wild?

By Leah Berkenwald

gq.com
Glee stars in a provocative pose.

Earlier this week, Diana Agron and Lea Michele of “Glee” were on the cover of GQ with co-star Cory Monteith in what can only be described as a hypersexualized spread. Diana Agron plays popular cheerleader Quinn Fabray. Lea Michele plays the know-it-all Jewish girl Rachel Berry. Both actresses are Jewish. (See other “Glee”-related posts here, here, here and here.)

The high school themed photoshoot, shot by Terry Richardson, features the Jewesses half-naked, in sexy, “come hither” poses. In one shot, Lea Michele is provacatively licking a lollipop. Jezebel calls it “porny” and reminds us that Terry Richardson has been accused of sexual harrassment by his models in the past. Jezebel also notes that Cory Monteith, who plays the football star Finn, is wearing clothes and his poses are active rather than passive. Another blogger noticed that GQ chose to feature only thin, white actresses when “Glee” is all about being pro-diversity, even if it deals with the issue in a lightweight, superficial way.

The photoshoot has sparked debate about whether “Glee” is a show for children or adults. The Parents Television Council said the shoot “borders on pedophilia,” despite the fact that the actors are all 20-somethings. Also, “Glee” has hit record ratings among adults and has featured plenty of sexual content that did not provoke statements from the Parent’s Television Council.

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Leah Berkenwald is the online communications specialist at the Jewish Women’s Archive, and a contributor to its Jewesses With Attitude blog, which cross-posts regularly with the Sisterhood.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rachel Berry, GQ, Glee, Lea Michele Diana Agron, Cory Monteith

Girls Playing Sports: Crucibles for Conflicting Messages

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Soccer season is in full swing, which means that on weekends Girlchik is out on the field, passing and handling the ball with impressive facility while I cheer her on from the sidelines, chat with other parents and enjoy the cool fall breezes.

It’s an interesting thing, cheering on girls this age to get in there and be more aggressive with the ball. Some girls have a tendency to be a bit — how can I say this nicely — wussy on the playing field. Girlchik is a good soccer player but some of the girls on her team seem afraid of the ball. And I realize, with a start, that my daughter and her teammates are at a moment of intersecting, and often conflicting, cultural messages.

The girls, all 11- and 12-years-old, are at that moment when they are not yet stork-legged teenagers, but neither are they little kids.

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Why I Believe Anita Hill — Now More Than Ever

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
Anita Hill (click to enlarge)

Like Hinda Mandell, I experienced the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings at a formative moment of my childhood. The entire spectacle of the trial made a really strong impression on me and the ensuing “Year of the Woman” helped turn me into a budding self-identified feminist — walking around my Jewish day school with Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein buttons affixed to my shirt, and a neon pink “Choice” hat atop my head.

So I reacted to the Ginni Thomas phone message fiasco with amusement and frustration at the media for framing the story around Hill’s refusal to apologize rather than Thomas’s outlandish behavior.

It’s true, as Mandell writes, that no one involved seems to be able to escape the shadow of the scandal. But I don’t feel any sympathy for Ginni Thomas. As feminist bloggers have been saying, people often dismiss sexual harassment with one of two common phrases: “She deserved it” or “She made it up.” Judging from her now-famous voicemail, Ginni Thomas intimates the latter about Hill.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Virginia Thomas, Ginni Thomas, Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill, Sexual Harassment

End Israel's Private Tribunals for Sex Abuse Cases

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Graphic sexual details from the complaints against Rabbi Mordechai “Motti” Elon were published this week in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot. The accounts were based on previously unreleased documentation from meetings of the religious Zionist forum Takana, a task force charged with confronting sexual violence in the religious community. Takana decided to release the documents this week, for reasons that remain unclear, and Yediot is gradually publishing the remaining victim testimony, with more details promised in this weekend’s edition.

There seem to be several motives for releasing the details. One is an issue of validation of claims. Because Elon is such a popular, public figure, many of his former students and colleagues have rallied around him and declared their belief in his innocence. This, coupled with the fact that the police initially dropped the investigation — until more victims came forward, prompting law enforcement to recommend indictment — means that public opinion vis à vis the whole affair has waffled. By releasing details, Takana is hoping to squash doubt and let the public know that the complaints are real.

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For Women of the Wall, a New Coalition of Allies

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

The embattled Women of the Wall prayer group has a new coalition of allies, in the form of a group called Rabbis for Women of the Wall.

Women of the Wall is a group of Israeli and other Jewish women (many originally from North America) who have long fought for the right to pray as a group at the beginning of each Jewish month at Judaism’s holiest site, the Kotel, or Western Wall of the Jerusalem area where the ancient Temple once stood.

WoW has faced invective and at times physical violence from some of the Haredi men and women who worship at the Kotel. Since last November, members and the group’s leader have also been arrested while carrying a Sefer Torah.

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Housecleaning Is a Dirty Business For Israel's Political Wives

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Getty Images
Ehud Barak and Nili Priel-Barak

Good help is hard to find, especially if you are the wife of a top-tier Israeli politician.

First it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, who has had serial crises with various disgruntled former nannies and housekeepers. First, with two nannies back in 1996 and then a housekeeper last year she was vilified and mocked after they ran to both the media and to the courthouse with harrowing stories of mistreatment and unfair dismissal, laced with juicy and highly unflattering details of their private lives.

And now it is the turn of Nili Priel-Barak, the second wife of Defense Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is taking the brunt of the couple’s decision to employ an illegal worker from the Philippines to clean their house. Like many of the illegals in Israel, the worker originally came to Israel with a legal permit to work as a caregiver to the elderly, but stayed on after that permit expired, and turned to housecleaning.

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In Latest Chapter of Clarence Thomas Scandal, It's She Said-She Said

By Hinda Mandell

Apparently there’s no statute of limitation on scandals. Nineteen years after Anita Hill testified before the U.S. Senate that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her, the Supreme Court Justice Thomas’s wife wants Hill to apologize.

As has been widely reported, Ginni Thomas left a voicemail at Hill’s Brandeis University office:

I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.

I was on the cusp of puberty when the Anita Hill story broke, and I distinctly recall the strong impression it left on me. I was too young then to realize that the allegations were not to be taken lightly. But as a tween — to use today’s parlance — I was titillated by all this sex talk among the adults. I even got yelled at by one of my teachers at Jewish day school for disturbing class by talking about sexual harassment. And now, we’re revisiting the scandal again. This time I don’t feel so cavalier about it.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sexual Harassment, Ginni Thomas, Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill, Virginia Thomas

Bringing Women Into the Fundraising, Grant-Making Folds

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

A recent article about evolving trends in Jewish philanthropy offered a fleeting yet stinging portrait of women and money in the Jewish community. An article entitled, “For the Perplexed: A Guide to Jewish Giving” in a recent issue of The Jewish Week opened with the following:

A middle-aged professional in the Jewish communal world, Ari H. deals with a dilemma of Jewish life…. Collectors for various Jewish charities, domestic and from Israel, show up at his synagogue on a regular basis. Sometimes men — it’s always men, usually bearded men — show up at his door, driven around the area from Jewish house to Jewish house by a hired driver who has a chart of donors that is the Jewish equivalent of “a map of stars in Hollywood.”

I would like to focus on the “it’s always men” part of this narrative. Because in fact, there are plenty of women in the field of non-profit — women who are fundraising, who are doing outstanding work and who, incidentally, don’t usually have beards. Apparently none of them are being treated to a Hollywood tour of American Jewish money.

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Thoroughly Modern Mikveh?

By Judy Bolton-Fasman

Given that rabbinic laws of family purity alternately repel and fascinate me, I recently decided to confront my prejudice and attended a panel discussion on “Exploring Contemporary Understandings of Niddah” at last week’s Mayyim Hayyim conference on all things mikveh.

While I’m offended by the idea of clean and dirty or pure and impure when it relates to a woman’s body, as a woman who grew up during feminism’s Second Wave, I’m also open to exploring whether or not these laws could actually mean something to me.

Once I left the yeshiva world I gradually realized that Jewish law could be dynamic, while at the same time staying true to its original intent. The rabbis were full of common sense and they applied their smarts to ensure Jewish continuity. For example, it’s not a big leap to figure out that the practice of niddah is all about creating optimal conditions for a woman to conceive. Judaism does not continue without Jewish babies.

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The Women of Pop — and Their Once-Shocking Art

By Jessica Loudis

Brooklyn Museum
Martha Rosler’s ‘Vacuuming Pop Art’

While walking through “Seductive Subversion,” the Brooklyn Museum’s new exhibition on female Pop artists between 1958 – 1968, I was interrupted by a family of tourists who burst into the gallery and made a beeline for “Accumulation, No. 1,” a soft sculpture piece by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama featuring a white armchair covered with fabric phalluses. As I looked on, the family, children included, began fondling the chair until the security guard yelled at them to stop. They did, and I went back to Kay Kurt’s photorealistic painting of a candy box.

That both Kusama’s and Kurt’s pieces are included in the show raises a number of questions about how the curators define “subversion.” Are artworks subversive simply because they were made by women? Does something that was shocking 40 years ago still qualify? Is a candy box actually subversive? If the aim of the show is to open a space for female artists in the Pop canon, then “Seductive Subversion” half succeeds: It showcases a number of talented and largely unknown female artists, but fails to prove — as it claims — that there was a radical undercurrent of feminist Pop that fell victim to 60s art world misogyny.

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Komen Founder Discusses Her Three Decades of Fighting Breast Cancer

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

komen.org
Nancy Brinker

Sometimes it seems as if October has always been Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with pink ribbons and fundraising events everywhere, but it was not at all the case three decades ago, when the words “breast cancer” weren’t uttered outside a hospital room and the norm for a woman being biopsied, if she was found to have cancer, was to wake up from the biopsy without a breast. The words “breast cancer” and “informed choice” were simply not part of the language; Susan G. Komen for the Cure has done much to change that.

Nancy Goodman Brinker founded the organization in 1982, two years after her sister Susan died of breast cancer at age 36. Now Brinker has written a memoir, “Promise Me: How a Sister’s Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer.”

Brinker, a former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, spoke recently with The Sisterhood about Susan G. Komen’s evolution, and the work left to be done to make breast cancer death a thing of the past.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Susan G. Komen, Nancy Brinker, Breast Cancer



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