Elana Maryles Sztokman, in her recent Sisterhood blog post titled “The Case Against the Sheitel,” seems to be mistaken in her critique of the wigs that many married Orthodox women choose to wear. Sheitels are a model of how Jewish law is supposed to function and change. We will know that the Arab world has modernized when they, too, favor sheitels over headscarves.
Let me explain. Many religious communities, including traditional halachic ones, have deep-seated concerns about matters of modesty. Sure, these concerns seem quaint to some of my students — students with their belly buttons out for display, students who comfortably endorse sexual activity as a form of recreation. As one of them said to me, “Sex to us is like food to Jews; we use it to celebrate, and variety is the spice of life.” But the simple fact is that how one dresses and what one shows frequently does serve as a signal of how one is prepared to act.
Hasidic families in the United States are about to reach a crisis of sorts. Many Orthodox Jews, including Hasidim, will only use certain dairy products, including a type of infant formula that’s only available as an import from Israel — and now it’s no longer available.
Let me explain. There’s a certain kosher stringency, called chlolov yisroel, that many Orthodox families abide by. Only two types of formula, Materna and Similac, manufacture acceptable versions. Similac is ridiculously expensive — look, here’s a 32-oz. package for $42.99 — and so Materna, which is shipped here from Israel, is a relative bargain at $10 or so a case.
Or it was until this week.
“Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women” is the first museum exhibit to explore this unique niche of autobiographical storytelling by Jewish women. The touring exhibit, sponsored by the Forward, features the work of 18 Jewish women artists. The Jewish Women’s Archive — whose Jewesses With Attitude blog partners regularly with The Sisterhood — is interviewing each of the artists about their work and their experience as a female, Jewish graphic artist. This week’s interview is with Ilana Zeffren, an acclaimed Israeli cartoonist. Zeffren’s Sipur Varod, her graphic autobiography as an Israeli lesbian, is widely regarded as a breakthrough comic. Much of her work is available on her Flickr photostream.
Leah Berkenwald: How did you get into cartooning?
Ilana Zeffren: I got into comics after a dramatic break-up with my first girlfriend. After I stopped sobbing, I realized that what happened was actually kind of funny and ridiculous, so I made a comics strip about it. When I did it, I realized how much this medium that combines words and illustrations suits me. A short while after this comics was published, I got an offer to draw and write a graphic novel and I’ve been doing comics ever since.
How does your Jewish identity influence your work?
There’s a young Orthodox woman named Dina Mann whose hilarious new YouTube video has gone viral. In it, she impersonates a mamish chasidishe woman who takes a trip to Miami and is surprised at the pool when men arrive. You can watch Mann’s video here.
For those who want to fully appreciate the Miami trip video but aren’t conversant in Yiddish, here’s a version of “Chaye Surie’s” video with English subtitles. One question though: Is liquor really called “Bronfman,” as in the Seagrams family?
And, since frum women making spoof videos appears to be a burgeoning cottage industry, here’s a response to Dina’s Miami trip video by “Danielle.” She impersonates a rebbetzin who takes issue with the idea that “Chaye Surie” would even be so un-tzniusdik as to go swimming — or discuss the color of the flowers on the black shoes she bought for her trip.
One out of every four Israelis had their lives put on hold this week — those impacted by the strike of the government-employed social workers. The strike is a desperate, last-ditch effort to bring some measure of human dignity to the dedicated workers who are saving people’s lives on a daily basis. And significantly, both the striking workers and those whose lives are most deeply impacted by them are overwhelmingly women.
The professional lives of social workers are among the most taxing in society. They deal with the most harrowing cases of violence, abuse, poverty, drugs, crime and more. Their job is to help people function under the direst of circumstances, to believe in people’s abilities to change, to grow, to rehabilitate, and to build a better life, and to keep fighting to help people even when the rest of society has written them off. They go directly into the pit where most of us would not dare.
My mom handed me a copy of “Jane Eyre” when I was 10, after she had finished re-reading it herself. Despite some rough going at first, I pushed my way through it and have a distinct memory of finishing it behind my prayerbook in the women’s section of an Orthodox synagogue in Rochester, N.Y. At the very moment that a family friend a few years my senior became a bar-mitzvah, my eyes popped open at the destruction of Thornfield, the death of Bertha, Edward Rochester’s maiming and Jane’s return. I still consider myself lucky to have read the book before I had any inkling that there was a madwoman in the attic.
As a child reading the book, I was puzzled as to why Jane loved Rochester — mostly because he was described as not handsome. But Rochester’s soul, which Jane Eyre finds beautiful, is a subject of much more debate than his appearance. A few writers this week, inspired by the umpteenth film adaptation, have written about the less savory aspects of Rochester’s personality. Jessica Winter at Slate writes, “our hero is, objectively speaking, a bit of a creep.” Edan Lepucki at The Millions goes as far as to list all the reasons for that creep-factor, while Sadie Stein at Jezebel says says, “Rochester is weird, manipulative and borderline sadistic.”
Aviva Braun, a social worker and psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders in young women, and Rabba Sara Hurwitz, a pioneering Modern Orthodox spiritual leader at New York’s Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and Yeshivat Maharat, are teaming up for an event that will focus on body image from feminist, therapeutic and Torah perspectives. The event — aimed at bat mitzvah-age girls through college age women, and their parents — will take place at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 12, at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. There will also be a screening of “Hungry to be Heard,” the Orthodox Union-produced documentary about Jewish adults struggling with eating disorders.
“Judaism supports the notion that our bodies are sacred,” Hurwitz told The Sisterhood. “Philo, a Jewish philosopher said, ‘The body is the soul’s house. Shouldn’t we therefore take care of the house so that it will not fall into ruin?’ We have an obligation as a community to help foster a positive body image in our own selves and in our children.”
Braun spoke recently with The Sisterhood about the specific challenges of treating eating disorders in the Orthodox community, Braun’s use of a feminist therapeutic model and her forthcoming book that is part memoir, part recipes.
Two courses are underway to teach the teachers of Orthodox brides, grooms and married couples how to better prepare their students for healthy sex lives.
In Israel, a course for male teachers of grooms is currently being held at the Puah Institute and in New York, a course for female teachers of brides will be held for the second time by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.](http://www.jofa.org/).
According to this article the Puah course, run in conjunction with Bar-Ilan University, is training marriage counselors and rabbis to address sexual problems among married Orthodox Jews. The JOFA course is titled “Demystifying Sex & Teaching Halakha: A Kallah Teacher’s Workshop,” and is being held in conjunction with Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and Yeshivat Maharat. March 13th-16th.
But as I wrote in this New York Times piece, there has been a growing embrace, in recent years, of the need to address — or even prevent — such problems.
Crossposted from Haaretz.
At 32, Likud’s Tzipi Hotovely is the youngest Knesset member; she was raised on religious Zionism. An attorney by profession, she takes part in right-wing ideological battles. But she also wears another hat as head of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women. In the run-up to International Women’s Day today, a series of bills designed to benefit Israeli women were proposed — and most of them shot down — by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. She spoke recently with Mazal Mualem.
Mazal Mualem: Is this a happy day for Israel’s women?
Tzipi Hotovely: The trend is always one of improvement, though there is still a lot of progress to be made in women’s rights, and we’re still far from the equality we seek. We’re in the midst of a week in which the social workers’ cries have been heard; their struggle reflects the sad situation of women’s salaries, as more than 90 percent of social workers are women. This can be seen also in other professions staffed by women such as teaching and childcare. In professions in which women are dominant, salaries are much lower, and public battles are fainter because, I’m sorry to say, women are still considered secondary wage-earners.
The work world creates the dilemma of career versus family for many women. This is one of the goals of the committee I head: to provide relief for working women by making daycare more accessible to more sectors of the population. It hasn’t yet happened, unfortunately, and as long as childcare expenses are higher than salaries, we’ll see more women staying home.
Once upon a time, baby clothes printed with pithy phrases extolling cuteness referred to the cuteness of the baby. But on a new crop of cheeky onesies that I discovered while out shopping for my nephew, it is all about the mommy.
With phrases like “If you think I’m cute, you should see my mommy,” on Amazon and “My Mom’s a Fox,” at Target, these onesies direct your eyes to the attractive little number pushing the cart, not the one in it. There is even “She’s not a cougar, she’s my nana,” at the Los Angeles boutique Kitson.
I can’t help but find it all a bit gross. (Not that grandma can’t be sexy, but does she really need her new grandson to advertise it on his tiny chest? A time and a place, ladies, a time and a place.) At Walmart you can customize a onesie or fleece romper with a “cute” relative’s name. Their example is “If you think I am cute, you should see my Aunt Barbara.” Looks like the cult of female hotness has struck again, this time with a strange Freudian twist.
Today is the 100th annual International Women’s Day, commemorating the achievements of women, past and present. This year’s theme: “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.”
Who are the top 10 Jewish women in labor history? Anticipating the centenary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which killed 146 garment workers — most of them young Jewish and Italian women — the Jewish Women’s Archive’s Jewesses With Attitude blog is profiling the Jewish women who had a transformative impact on workers’ rights legislation in America.
After designer John Galliano’s was caught on tape making virulently anti-Semitic remarks, Rachel Shukert, over at Tablet, looks into high fashion’s hateful legacy.
“Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women” is the first museum exhibit to explore this unique niche of autobiographical storytelling by Jewish women. The touring exhibit, sponsored by the Forward, features the work of 18 Jewish women artists. The Jewish Women’s Archive — whose Jewesses With Attitude blog partners regularly with The Sisterhood — is interviewing each of the artists about their work and their experience as a female, Jewish graphic artist. This week’s interview is with Lauren Weinstein whose comics first appeared as syndicated strips in the Seattle Stranger and gURL.com. Weinstein published her first solo comic, the Xeric Foundation award-winning Inside Vineyland, in 2003. Her story collection “Girl Stories” was published in 2006.
Leah Berkenwald: How does your Jewish identity influence your work?
Lauren Weinstein: My Jewish identity manifests itself in my personality with neuroses and self hatred and obsessive compulsions for whatever is going on in my life (right now it’s making curtains for my house; I look online at least five times a day for the best deals on textiles). Also a bleak and cynical world view which my Atheist grandfather gave to me, and also the constant urge to kvetch. So basically all the negative aspects of my personality I can attribute to being Jewish, but I also feel it gives me the power to laugh about it all.
Do you think the experience of being a cartoon artist is different for men and women?
In a post on eJewish Philanthropy’s blog on Tuesday, rock musician and Jewish feminist blogger Naomi Less discusses four recent communal endeavors at which she believes women were given the shaft.
Less doesn’t simply list grievances against the Jewish community, but suggests solutions to the problem of female under-representation, and proposes a series of four questions that every organization should ask itself when planning events to avoid gender discrimination or misrepresentation. She even offers to connect various organizations with different women for their events.
Reading Less’s commentary and her recounting of these episodes are both heartening and exhausting: We are still having the same conversation about how to include Jewish women in a community that is apparently evolving towards a place of gender inclusion. Furthermore, as is demonstrated in the comments following Less’s piece, members of the Jewish community continue to question the validity of that conversation.
A cantor at a Conservative synagogue, Congregation Beth El in Vorhees, N.J., is featured in this video, put up by the professional organization Cantors Assembly. It’s a lovely portrayal of female cantor Alisa Pomerantz-Boro, who works at at what had been a non-egalitarian shul. The video shows how she has changed the hearts and minds of the congregants as she leads by example and creates possibilities for other women, as well as men, to grow in their observance and connection to God and tradition.
It’s worth watching.
The photos of 14 men are plastered across the cover of last week’s finance supplement of Yediot Aharonot. What makes this particularly outrageous is the context: a story on the salaries of senior managers in Israel’s business sector. Apparently there is not a single woman in Israel’s business community making a salary worth reporting about.
The issue at hand is a legislative effort currently underway to correct socioeconomic inequalities by capping top salaries in publicly traded companies. Last week, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who is heading the committee debating the issue, announced that the government will not intervene in salary decisions, because “[i]ntervening can cause more harm than good”. And so, men such as Haim Katzman, chairman of Gazit Globe, who made 18.8 million NIS ($5.2 million) in 2009; Eli Yunis, CEO of Mizrahi Tfahot, who made 18.6 million NIS ($5.1 million), and Shlomo Rodev, chairman of Bezeq, who made 11.74 million NIS ($3.26 million), will continue to get what they want and believe that they deserve, without any government action. It’s like the Wild West over here — if you can get it, grab it, and there’s nobody to stop you. At least if you’re a man.
“Do you like the blond better? With or without the ponytail?”
Wig-shopping is the new initiation into religious life for women, writes Tali Farkash, a Haredi columnist for Ynet who alternates between defending religious life and kvetching about it. If women used to accompany brides to the mikveh in order to welcome them ritualistically into the club of married women, she says, today a trip to the sheitel macher, or wig-maker, is the thing to do. Farkash, who recently accompanied her friend to get a wig, is still recovering from the experience.
Her friend sat “right there on the seat of honor at the sheitel macher’s,” Farkash writes, “surrounded by relatives whose job it is to say ‘That looks so nice on you!’ and to elegantly avoid the obvious questions about the net in front that presses on the forehead, or the sadistic job of the comber. There is something bittersweet about sitting on the waiting couch as a support, witnessing the metamorphosis… from permitted hair to forbidden hair.”
The sheitel is undoubtedly one of the strangest customs of modern Jewish life. No matter how many perky rebbetzins try to write funny or pedagogical blogs to rationalize this practice, there is no way to make this normal or sane. “Every attempt to take the discussion out of the religious-halachic loop is doomed to failure,” Farkash writes.
The language of human morality has no way to make sense of this. That’s not to say people don’t try.
While we have been busy looking at women in magazines, Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University has been tracking the rather sluggish growth of women in Hollywood. The Center just released its annual report, “The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2010” and the numbers are dismal.
According to the report, women made up just 7% of directors, 10% of writers, 15% of executive producers, 24% of producers, 18% of editors and 2% of cinematographers. That means roughly that only 16% of Hollywood bigwigs are women — sadly, a 1% decline from 1998.
In her report made public on the Women’s Media Center website, Lauzen writes that some industry insiders explain this disparity by saying that fewer women are interested in working in film, but she says that simply isn’t true and has film school enrollment to back her up. Others explain the lack of women by suggesting that men are, well, better, as evidenced by their bigger box-office success. Lauzen says men earn more at the box office because their films get bigger budgets, and that studies show that films with similar budgets, regardless of who makes them, fair similarly at the box office.
“Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women” is the first museum exhibit to explore this unique niche of autobiographical storytelling by Jewish women. The touring exhibit, sponsored by the Forward, features the work of 18 Jewish women artists. The Jewish Women’s Archive — whose Jewesses With Attitude blog partners regularly with The Sisterhood — is interviewing each of the artists about their work and their experience as a female, Jewish graphic artist. This week’s interview is with Miriam Katin, author of “We Are On Our Own,” a story of a mother and her daughter’s survival in WWII and a number of other other works.
Leah Berkenwald: How did you get into cartooning?
Miriam Katin: I am doing comics and it is different from cartooning. I think. During my work in animation I met artists who did comics and I felt that with this method, much drawing and not much text, I can tell my stories.
How does your Jewish identity influence your work?
In every way since all my work is coming from being Jewish. My place in history, relationships, my faith or the lack of it etc.
If you have a career, being a mother in this country costs you — in promotions and salary, and, because of a near total lack of legally mandated parental leave, in physical and emotional health as well. This is a well-known reality for every working mom I know, and now the international NGO Human Rights Watch has published a comprehensive look at the breadth and depth of the problem, and notes that it also has a negative impact on the economy.
The report, titled “Failing Its Families,” which can be read in its entirety here, says that the U.S. is one of just three countries in the world — alongside Papua New Guinea and Swaziland — that lack paid maternity leave.
The report continues:
The parents interviewed for this report recounted serious harms related to the meager policy supports for US working families. They described struggling with the lack of paid leave, and reported negative effects on their careers, on family finances, or on their children’s health. Many also confronted inflexible workplaces after leave, including with respect to requests for flexible hours or reduced schedules, and concerning pumping breast milk at work.
The White House released a comprehensive report today on the state of women in America, the first report of its kind in nearly 50 years. The information in the report isn’t new, but rather a compilation of a wide-range of studies that together provide an aerial view of the progress, and lack of progress, made by women over the past five decades.
I broke it down into good news and bad news. I am starting with the good. (Note: Good news, to me, means an increase in life choices and opportunities available to women. I am not, for example, saying fewer children is good news; but that more women feel that they can choose whether or not to have children is definitely a positive change.)
Here’s the good news: