Sisterhood Blog

There Was No Real 'Jewish Angle' to Lara Logan's Story

By Shannon Sarna

I disagree completely with the thesis of Elana Maryles Sztokman’s recent post, “Jewish Angle Missing From ‘60 Minutes’ Piece on Lara Logan”: Jews are not the new women, as she declares. Women are women.

The coverage of Lara Logan’s sexual assault in Egypt was troubling and sad for anyone watching. But it was not a “Jewish story,” as Ms. Sztokman contends.

It is disgusting that the Egyptians shouted “Jew” and “Israeli” at Logan during her ordeal. But if we are being truthful, this is hardly out of the ordinary in the Arab-speaking world, where “Jew,” “Zionist,” and “Israeli” are, in some circles, socially acceptable and frequently used insults.

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Are 'Birth Plans' Just 'Birth Fantasies'?

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Melissa Langsam Braunstein’s post, “The Epidural Dilemma,” in which she agonizes over whether to ease the pain of labor with medication, took me back to the anxious months when I was a first-time mother-to-be.

There are many parallels between one’s wedding and that first experience of childbirth. Both experiences are so important, that we do our best to make them as perfect and wonderful as possible, attempting to plan them down to the smallest detail.

In both cases, we often should be paying more attention to what will come afterward. We can spend so much time focusing on the details of their wedding day, and not enough time preparing for the married life that comes afterwards. Similarly, a lot of energy is expended on preparing for the birth of the baby, and less on preparing for the superhuman demands of motherhood – and, for the couple, parenthood.

But let’s talk about birth planning and the so-called ‘epidural dilemma’ for a minute.

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Jewish Angle Missing From '60 Minutes' Piece on Lara Logan

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Getty Images
Lara Logan

Some days I think, Jews are the new women. Jews are like the woman in a room full of men, the ones who are supposed to stay quiet and nice and not talk too loud or even at all, not appear in any way strong or assertive, and never make any waves. Just as society prefers women when they are passive and submissive, the world at large prefers Jews that way, too.

I thought of this as I watched the “60 Minutes” interview with CBS correspondent Lara Logan as she described being sexually assaulted on February 11 amid the uprising in Egypt’s Tahrir Square. Her graphic descriptions of hands and nails everywhere on her body — groping, grabbing, pulling and scratching — are a woman’s worst nightmare. She was the only woman on the CBS team that night, and she was isolated from her crew and throngs of Egyptian men had their way with every inch of her body, inside and out. It was a harrowing account, and most definitively a woman’s story, in the sense that it was her womanhood that made her a victim.

But it is also a Jewish story — and, actually, an Israeli one.

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Teaching the Holocaust to Children, Without Giving Them Nightmares

By Michele Chabin

Getty Images
A Holocaust survivor gets help laying a wreath at a Yom HaShoah ceremony at Yad Vashem, May 2, 2011.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is an annual event in Israel. As in previous years, Yad Vashem held a moving ceremony honoring those who died in the Holocaust and those who survived through luck, a miracle and the help of neighbors and strangers.

At 10 a.m., the siren wailed — a mournful cry heard throughout the country. Jews around the country stood still, literally. Drivers stopped their cars in the middle of the street, opened the door and stood at attention.

For me, the one departure this year was my kids’ sudden curiosity about the Holocaust. Almost nine, our twins wanted to know exactly who in our families died during the Shoah.

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Increasingly, the Remaining Shoah Witnesses Are Women

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

It sounds terrible to say that you have a Holocaust Remembrance Day routine, but in Israel, it’s generally true.

Normally, if one of my children is part of a school ceremony, I’ll go watch it. (For a few years, one of the kids had a terrible fear of the loud noise of the siren that sounds for the moment of silence at 10 a.m. on Holocaust Day and needed me there for reassurance, so I showed up at the school anyway.) But normally, the eve of the memorial day, my family tends to gather on the sofa and watch the national ceremony at Yad VaShem. The rest of the evening and the next day is spent quietly at home, watching in the numerous quality documentaries and movies that are shown on television, and discussing the Holocaust with the kids, helping them process the enormity of it in a private, intimate way.

Everyone talks about how you rediscover the joys of life through your children; it’s rarer to discuss how difficult it is to see your 6-year-old daughter learn about mass murder of millions of innocent men, women and children for the first time. I’ve complained before about the way in which Israeli children are confronted with such horrors at such a young age, but there isn’t much one can do about it other than be there to comfort and reassure them.

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The Epidural Dilemma

By Melissa Langsam Braunstein

To have, or not to have, the epidural? That is the question. More precisely, in the ninth month of a woman’s pregnancy, it is the only question that matters.

In the fourth and fifth months, I was unsure if I wanted an epidural. How would I know? Women say that labor is intensely painful, but for those of us who have never experienced it before, what exactly does that mean? How does it compare to the pains of pregnancy, or any other pain we might have suffered through in the past? Unsure, I registered for the general childbirth class that covered all bases — natural birth and drug-assisted birth. I figured my choice would become clear as I learned more about both options.

As part of the class, my husband and I viewed two women’s birth stories. One woman opted for a natural birth, while the other took advantage of all the narcotics and epidurals modern medicine offers our gender. That video might as well have been “Rashomon,” as my husband and I had polar opposite reactions. He focused on the mother-baby bonding after birth and found it quite “moving,” while I thought only of the delivery and left class alarmed.

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Dissecting the Princess Fantasy

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Getty Images
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, helps Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, out of a carriage — upon their arrival at Buckingham Palace.

I have to admit, I can see the temptation. Watching Kate Middleton go from regular person to princess, perfectly gorgeous as she is fawned over by the entire world, I understand girlhood fantasies. When the prince said, in his vows, “and all my belongings,” I could not control that involuntary pang of jealousy. To have access to that kind of wealth and power means to be able to truly change the world. Whatever Princess Kate wants to do, she can. The world is at her disposal. All her dreams…

Well, unless she dreams about having a bit of privacy. Cameras at her every blink. Tabloids measuring the size of her waist — talk about body commentary. I even saw one article discussing whether she should have been wearing nipple pads (!). Sure, now she can do anything, but within certain rules. Every word out of her mouth will be scrutinized and analyzed. Every gesture, every expression blogged to death. Not to mention big decisions. Imagine trying to start a family, or having a regular job. She is no longer just Kate, and she never will be again.

So I ask myself, would I do it? If I had an option of gaining access to enormous power, wealth and status in exchange for relinquishing a private life, would I do it? Loving gazes from the prince aside, I’m sure she had this discussion in her own mind as well. Marry the prince and become a princess, with all that it comes with, or live a normal life. I don’t think it’s as simple a decision as it seems.

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A Royal Wedding, An Unscripted Moment

By Lillian Swanson

Lillian Swanson
Princess Diana and Prince Charles, on the way back from St. Paul’s Cathedral, 1981

As I watched the royal wedding unfold on television today, I was flooded with memories of the day I covered the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana nearly 30 years ago. I thought, as I so often have, of the one tender, unscripted moment I saw amid all the pomp and the pageantry of that riveting day in July 1981.

I was a reporter for the Associated Press in Pittsburgh and had a burning desire to cover the royal nuptials. I called the AP’s foreign editor and told him that I would be in London on vacation in late July, and offered to help with the reporting. (I remember ambition!) He said yes, and so I got on the phone again and booked a flight to London.

I was given what I thought was a plumb assignment, to do a feature story on Americans who had travelled to the wedding. But my first job was to stand on the Queen Victoria Memorial and watch the carriages leave Buckingham Palace, directly across the street. Should anything untoward happen, I was to find a phone and call the bureau.

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Q&A: Meg Wolitzer on Sex, Suburbs — and the Workmen's Circle

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

Lisa Barlow
Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer writes in spaces where women’s emotions run high: She has tackled wives overshadowed by their husbands, as well as career woman who became stay-at-home moms. In her new novel, “The Uncoupling” (Riverhead), she investigates sex by creating characters who stop having it altogether when a spell enchants their suburb. The magic begins — or ends, depending on how you see it — when a drama teacher produces the Aristophanes comedy “Lysistrata,” in which women withhold sex from men to protest war. Wolitzer spoke recently with The Sisterhood about mobile devices as sex objects, loud, Second Wave feminist Jewesses and not writing chick lit.

Allison Gaudet Yarrow: When you were writing the novel, did you see it as a commentary about how American women are sexualized?

Meg Wolitzer: I think everybody is completely weird about sex. We are marinating in sexual imagery constantly. It’s almost a radical position to say there are vicissitudes.

The post-Freudian idea that sex means you are filled with vigor and therefore if you are not sexual for some period of your life, you are weak — that isn’t true.

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Don't Let Your Daughters Watch the Royal Wedding

By Jordana Horn

Getty Images
Princess-to-be Kate Middleton waves to crowds of royal-watchers on the day before her wedding to Prince William. (click to enlarge)

In all likelihood, I’ll be up early Friday, watching the royal wedding with my daughter from my East Coast U.S. residence. That’s largely because my daughter’s manners, after 30 weeks of residence in my uterus, are still somewhat unpolished. She hasn’t been born yet, and the odds are that she’ll have kicked me awake well in time for the sounding of the bells at Westminster Abbey. In the event that I had an already-born daughter, however, I’d strongly prefer that she sleep in this Friday morning.

Is it really so important to get our bleary-eyed little American girls out of bed to show them that princesses are “real” and that “fairy tales can come true”? Not only would I say “no,” but I’ll go even further and say that it’s actually kind of creepy. Disney’s Princess industry is a golem of a marketing tool, aptly skewered by Peggy Orenstein’s “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” as well as by others. Yes, girls can be heroines, too. Hooray. But Mulan — a kick-butt Chinese warrior — is surely preferable to Cinderella, the girl who can’t find her way out of her own problems without a fairy-godmother bestowed dress, pair of shoes and prince. It’s important to note that Kate Middleton, whom I’m sure is a perfectly nice person, is going to have the world’s attention on Friday not because she’s cured cancer, but rather, because she’s done the best job of “marrying up” of anyone on the entire planet. And I’m sure she’ll look stunningly beautiful doing it.

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Prime Ribs: A Second 'Rabba'; Birth and Infant Mortality Rates

By Elissa Strauss

Another “rabba” is slated to be ordained next month by the Academy of Jewish Religion, The Jewish Week reports. (The Sisterhood will have more on this shortly.)


Chabad.org has a story about “The Heart That Sings,” a movie with an all-female cast. The film was screened in 11 cities during the Passover holiday; audiences were all women, and mostly Haredi.


Over at Double X, Amanda Schaffer writes about the potential risks of taking too much folic acid — a vitamin that has been shown to reduce the incident of some birth defects.


On the blog Family Inequality, sociologist Phillip Cohen writes about the new National Center for Health Statistics’ findings showing that the recession has driven birth rates down.


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The Politics of 'Bad Shoes'

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images

Elissa Strauss’s post on high heels and power opened a proverbial shoebox of worms for me on this fraught subject — a topic that writer Leora Tannenbaum wrote an entire book about: “Bad Shoes and the Women Who Love Them.”

It’s true that high heels are fun and flattering, and like anyone else, I stop and stare at the windows of my favorite shoe stores. But like Elissa, my biggest beef with heels is that they’re seen on so many television shows and on the feet of politicians and cultural stars as thoroughly necessary accessories for power and beauty. Whenever I see Julianna Margulies’ “Good Wife” character, Alicia Florrick, strutting across her office floor in a pair of sky-high pumps, I have two thoughts 1) she has great legs and 2) Why do her heels have to be that high? Is it part of the allure of Alicia’s character — a survivor, a great mom and someone who has no issues with plantar fasciitis? Would Alicia still be the idol of many female TV viewers if she showed up in an occasional pair of flats to complement her power suits?

The problem, of course, is not limited to fictional characters. Last year, Jezebel’s Irin Carmon published an email from a female politician in Maine complaining about the double-standard of footwear and how it feeds into other double standards:

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What To Do With Your Leftover Farfel: Make Mom's Granola

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

My personal Jewish holiday observance is usually acknowledged through the cooking of holiday-specific food: Hamantaschen for Purim, latkes for Hanukkah.

While chametz abounds in my cupboard, I have a non-traditional Passover recipe for granola that I regularly make at this time of year. It doesn’t have a place on the Seder table; it is a breakfast food or snack, at best. But I make it each year to get into the holiday spirit, and because matzo farfel is easy to find on grocery store shelves right about now.

Passover granola is seriously delicious — as good or better than regular granola varieties. And it’s incredibly simple to make. You will not long for oats. In their place is farfel, along with dried fruit and nuts smothered in oil and butter and baked crispy brown. Though we’re fast approaching the end of the Passover holiday, this granola is good anytime of year. In fact, what a perfect use for that leftover farfel. Or I suppose you could pulse your remaining matzo in the food processor to use that as a base.

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On Fashion's Abiding Love Affair With the Stiletto Strut

By Elissa Strauss

Getty Images
A close-up of the heels that Sarah Jessica Parker wore to the 2010 premiere of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

Yesterday’s New York Times featured an interview with Glamour magazine’s editor in chief Cindi Leive about what she wore last weekend. The title of the piece was “… And Heels, of Course.” “I always wear heels to work. Once I had a bum ankle and was ordered to wear flats; I felt as if I was walking into the office naked,” Leive explains.

High heels, yes, what else would a successful woman wear? Flats? Meh! Too low-to-the-ground, too accommodating of movement.

It’s been seven years since the last episode of “Sex and the City,” but high heels remain the key symbol of powerful femininity in the eyes of fashion editors, costume designers and Madison Avenue.

Bravo just debuted a new show called “Pregnant in Heels,” about a “maternity concierge” who walks affluent and high-achieving ladies through the very grounding experience of child-rearing, and the Style network ran a reality show called “Running in Heels” about interns at Marie Claire. Advertisements for “lady” products like razors, yogurt and sanitary napkins often include the power-women-in-heels trope, and Hollywood loves a good stiletto strut — usually done by the Type-A female lead in romantic comedies. Case in point: Sarah Jessica Parker’s revival of her famous heel-trot in the upcoming “I Don’t Know How She Does It.”

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Should Young, Unmarried and Sexually Active Women Frequent the Mikveh?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Creative Commons
Is the mikveh for marrieds only?

This Forward article about Yeshivat Hadar and its attempt to lead students toward a sexual ethic based on classical Jewish texts omits one central question: What about mikveh?

Hadar Dean Rabbi Ethan Tucker says, in the piece, that he and his colleagues are trying to create a community “that discusses current sexual norms while taking rabbinic concepts of sanctity seriously — all within a gender-egalitarian environment. Necessarily, this involves wrestling with traditional texts and with members’ own lives.”

The piece opens with an anecdote about two current Hadar fellows who live together in Manhattan but, during a Hadar retreat, are forced to sleep separately because Hadar’s students (all recent college graduates) are required to sleep in gender-segregated quarters at the retreats.

The most relevant question here is how do you take rabbinic concepts of sexual sanctity seriously outside the context of marriage? Would the rules be the same as those for married couples? Should they be? If so, would it not involve setting aside part of the month for abstinence, and separating the non-sexual part of the month from the time of sexual engagement by mikveh immersion?

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On Passover's Role in Fostering Female Friendships

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

I hadn’t realized how significant Passover has been in forming friendships in my life. Two different friends reminded me this week about how the holiday was significant in the creation of our relationships. They both bave had such big influences on me that I thought it is worth talking about them both.

Dr. Chaya Gorsetman started as a virtual friend. It was March 2003; I was pregnant and living in Melbourne, Australia, and Chaya was living in New York and working on the JOFA Bible curriculum. She contacted me by email to discuss issues of feminism and Jewish education, but before long we were talking about pretty much everything else — motherhood, community, work, family.

At a certain point, we were writing several times a day, sharing struggles and challenges, and looking to one another as kindred spirits, for camaraderie and counsel in the journey. For that first month, as we discovered our bond, our conversations seemed to revolve around Passover, which was imminent. The family Haggadah that I made that year, inspired by her ideas and worldview, has remained one of our greatest Passover projects. We talked about the challenges of making the holiday about education rather than about cleaning, and of not falling into the trap of becoming a woman defined by the efficiency of completing household chores. Our dialogue became a pillar of support for me, and it continues today. Although it was nearly a year before we met in-person, when we did, I felt like we’d known each other forever.

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Even Atheists Love Passover

By Sarah Seltzer

I have been reading Passover reflections on womanhood, liberation and the holiday’s meaning by Elana Sztokman here at the Sisterhood and by Elyssa Cohen at Jewesses with Attitude. It seems that for so many of us, Passover serves as a time of reflection and rebirth, a call to free ourselves from dismal patterns of indifference and habit.

Although I’m still recovering from a food, wine and company coma after two Seders, Passover always gives that a charge of new energy, an urge to shake off winter sloth. I have dozens of recollections of Passovers past inspiring me to seek out new opportunities, to volunteer, to rededicate myself to activism or self-improvement, to make my own meaning out of the holiday.

But why does a holiday in which we extol a God I don’t believe in and glorify, with qualification, some troubling events (the slaying of the first born, and the “drowning of our oppressors”) mean so much to me, and so many Jews from a wide range of backgrounds?

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Wild and Crazy Hats for Women Battling Cancer

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand
Some of the designs on display at ‘The Hat Show.’

These are not pity-party hats. From the looks of these colorful and whimsical head coverings, it would appear that the pity party is over and that the empty ice cream containers and cried-into tissues have been thrown away. Whoever is wearing these cloches, chapeaux, bonnets and berets is holding her head high in the face of adversity.

On display at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif. through April 27 are 25 hats made by the members Plexus Art Group for one of their own— Roni Mentzer, who is battling a recurrence of breast cancer. “I’m going to lose my hair again when the chemotherapy starts,” Mentzer told her 12 fellow artists. “Those hats and uncomfortable wigs are so boring. Let’s create works of art. Let’s show the world beauty!”

The members (twelve women and one man) of this San Francisco Bay Area artists’ group embraced the challenge, as they have other projects that address social and political concerns that affect them and their community. Their exhibitions aim to raise awareness, as well as funds to support like-minded organizations.

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On Passover, Rethinking Liberation

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Passover always makes me wonder whether life is meant to be hard. This thought starts rearing its head often before Purim, when those who take seriously the mission of spring cleaning are already on schedules of windows, curtain, light fixtures, and the drawers in the corner of the closet that have not been touched since last year. The call of disciplined labor continues in increasing volume until the days immediately before the holiday when you can measure the stress levels of passersby by the bags under the eyes and the bags hanging off the wrists. As my friend Nehama Zibitt Blumenreich wrote on Facebook, “Tell me how we got from a celebration of freedom to indentured servitude.” Our culture is almost saying, you haven’t really marked Passover unless you’ve actually suffered.

This nagging thought about the place of suffering in our human mission found expression in a discussion I had with my children the other day about matzo. I asked them whether the matzo represents slavery or freedom. After all, in various places in the Torah, matzo is described as the food we ate while we were slaves in Egypt, and alternatively as the food we ate when we were escaping hastily with barely the clothes — and bread — on our backs. So which one is it?

If matzo represents need, then we’re saying that our ideal life is one of comfort and ease, a nice warm French baguette, metaphorically speaking, that fills your nostrils and your stomach with its expansive softness. But if matzo represents freedom — a freedom from the bloated puffiness of materialism, a life with all excess and extravagance removed — then the ideal life is one of simplicity rather than comfort and pleasure.

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The Breakfast Club: Jerusalem Edition

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand
These women have meeting Fridays for breakfast for the past 25 years. (click to enlarge)

On a recent Friday, Karen Lakin, an English teacher who made aliyah to Israel from Connecticut with her husband and two teenage children in 1984, invited me to a café on the Giv’at Ram campus of the Hebrew University to meet the others in her breakfast club. Eight of its nine members were in attendance, including six Jews and two Christians, one of whom is an Arab, originally from Kfar Qana near Nazareth, who now lives in Beit Safafa, Jerusalem.

For the past quarter century, the women have been meeting every Friday for brunch at a café somewhere in the city, no matter the weather or the security situation. The women also have a book club, share an opera subscription, eat Shabbat and holiday meals at each other’s homes, and celebrate birthdays and American Thanksgiving together every year.

Since most of them don’t have many relatives in Israel, they quickly became each other’s family. “In fact, it’s closer than a family, because we chose each other,” said Arlene Yaakov, who is originally from New Jersey and who, in June 1967 at the outbreak of the Six Day War, took the first Israel-bound plane she could catch out of the U.S. so she could volunteer on a kibbutz. “I drove straight through from Los Angeles to New York to get on that plane,” said Yaakov, a tour group coordinator.

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