Sisterhood Blog

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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Protesters of Extreme Gender Segregation Report Personal Threats

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

The violence in Mea Shearim coming from proponents of public gender segregation has apparently started to get personal. Several activists who have been particularly vocal or public in their opposition to gender segregation say they have been threatened and stalked by gender-segregation fanatics in Jerusalem.

Avital Livny, the Volunteer Coordinator for the organization Yisrael Hofshit [“Free Israel”], whose contact details were posted on flyers and Facebook pages in advance of recent protests against gender segregation on the streets of Mea Shearim, reports receiving dozens of threatening phone calls trying to stop the organization’s activity. Similarly, Rona Orovano, the Vice Chair of the Bezalel Academy Student Union and founder of the Organizational Forum for a Free Jerusalem, said she has received threatening phone calls, emails and Facebook messages such as, “We are waiting for you with rocks,”and “We know where you live” — and even a death threat.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sikrikim, Segregation, Mea Shearim, Elah, Egged, Bus, Yishrael Hofshit

Training Mikveh Ladies — and Other Lessons in Immersion

By Judy Bolton-Fasman

The staff at Mayyim Hayyim: Living Waters Community Mikveh loves to think up catchy program titles having to do with — what else — water. Their latest wordplay, “Gathering the Waters: Ancient Ritual, Open Access and New Meaning,” was a spectacular, bustling conference, held earlier this week and dedicated to all things mikveh.

Mayyim Hayyim — its recent conference brought together 250 people from 22 states and Israel — has been on an upward trajectory since its founding a decade ago. Among the reasons for the mikveh’s success is the passion and dedication of its founder and president, best-selling author Anita Diamant. (“The Red Tent”) Diamant, together with the organization’s executive director Aliza Kline, wanted a mikveh that passed muster with Jewish law, but was also beautiful and inclusive.

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Getting Ahead on 'Boss's Day'

By Gabrielle Birkner

Hyperion
Lilit Marcus, the author of ‘Save the Assistants’

Today is Boss’s Day. What, you say, isn’t every day Boss’s Day? Well, sort of. In this Q&A, Lilit Marcus, an editor at the women’s site The Gloss and the author of the “Save the Assistants: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the Workplace,” explains how ambitious working women should (and shouldn’t) mark the day, and how to turn a difficult boss into a mentor.

Gabrielle Birkner: What are some appropriate ways to celebrate?

Lilit Marcus: There are two schools of thought about Boss’s Day presents. One is that you should get your boss a little something in order to be professional and thank them for the opportunity of working for them. The other school, which I belong to, thinks it is absurd to buy a present for someone who earns 10 times as much as you do and has the ability to fire you. So if you want to compromise, get them a card and say something and honest and meaningful about how you’ve learned from them or gained insight from working at the company. Keep it brief — you don’t want to go overboard. Save the gushing for when you get promoted.

What’s the worst thing you could do on Boss’ Day?

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The Fruit of 'Franzenfreude'

By Sarah Seltzer

The National Book Award finalists were announced yesterday. And for the first time ever, 13 of the 20 finalists were female. They included Lionel Shriver, (acclaimed Jewish novelist) Nicole Krauss, and most wonderfully, alternative punk rocker Patti Smith for her recently published memoir. Jonathan Franzen, subject of so much acclaim and backlash in recent weeks, was notably not on the list.

It’s wonderful to see the numbers looking so good. When the New Yorker announced its “20 Under 40” several months ago, half of that list was made up of women as well. Other year-end lists have been inching towards parity, too.

These changes can’t just be random. It’s my guess that some decision makers in the literary world have been listening to the stream of criticism coming from women for years. Let’s be clear; “Franzenfreude” was not the first outcry of its kind. Female authors have been up in arms time and time again reacting to one egregious slight or another, forced to explain why yet another lopsided list or impolitic remark is offensive and biased. But their voices are loud.

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For Teenage Girls, Lessons in Money Management

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

It never ceases to surprise me when I meet other women, most of them women who have or have had professional careers, who let their husbands take care of every detail of their family’s financial life.

I guess feeling compelled to have control (and share decision-making with my husband) over my and my family’s financial life is rooted in my mother’s experience. When she and my father split up after more than 20 years of marriage, I saw that she had to unlearn a lifetime of messages about what it meant to be a woman in order to feel empowered to take care of herself, financially speaking.

It turns out that that model of what it means to be a “wife” hasn’t changed, or perhaps hasn’t changed enough. Because when they leave college and set out on their own, young Jewish women are often not able to manage their own financial lives, according to Deborah Rosenbloom, director of programs at Jewish Women International.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Deborah Rosenbloom, Financial Literacy, JWI, Jewish Women International, Karen Finerman, Money

A New Reason To Make 'Infertility Aliyah': Free Egg-Freezing

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

In Israel, a woman can now freeze her eggs — for free.

It’s no secret that Israel is a fabulous country to live in if you happen to be struggling with infertility. Not only is health care considered a right, not a privilege, but so is childbearing. The universal government-funded health care, package covers fertility treatments for women until they produce two children.

Israeli women take full and enthusiastic advantage of the privilege. Unlike their American counterparts, who must make tremendous financial sacrifices to finance in vitro fertilization treatments, the number of attempts are not limited by their means. Even the poorest of women make attempt after attempt. They can use their own eggs, or donor eggs, and they have the right to keep trying at state expense. (Unofficially, I have seen anecdotal evidence of “infertility aliya” — American Jewish couples who have become citizens and settled in Israel primarily so that they can qualify for state-funded IVF. In the US, they simply can’t afford children.)

Now, the state has even better news for women who aren’t dealing with infertility yet — but worry that they might someday. Beginning this month, the freezing of eggs by healthy women for future use is available in Israel for the first time covered by state health insurance.

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'The Social Network' on the Lore of Jewish Men and Asian Women

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images
Justin Timberlake, Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield, stars of ‘The Social Network’

Sarah Seltzer came away from watching “The Social Network,” the movie about the founding of Facebook, peeved about its (non)portrayal of women. In her post, “The (Male-Only) Social Network,” she quoted Maya Dusenbery about “the wall of giggle and boobs that composes the film’s background.” I, too, came away miffed about this, but also thinking about the fact that those giggles and boobs belonged to a large (excuse the pun) number of young Asian women.

In a scene in the film, in which the Mark Zuckerberg character pulls his friend Eduardo Saverin out of an AEΠ (a Jewish fraternity) party to talk to him, Zuckerberg glances over at a group of Asian female Harvard students and asks what they are doing there. Saverin answers with something about how Asian girls like “us,” meaning Jewish guys. A bit later, two such students come on to Zuckerberg and Saverin and one ends up going out with the latter.

As someone who has observed the growth in the number of couples made up of Jewish men and Asian women (especially so in Northern California, where I live and where there is a relatively high rate of interracial relationships in general), I took note of Saverin’s offhand line and wondered whether he was referencing a false stereotype or a legitimate trend.

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Orthodox Women, Stunted Ambitions

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Does Orthodoxy make women girly?

That is the essence, I believe, of Israeli religious feminist Chana Pinchasi’s argument in an opinion piece in Ynet. In lamenting the absence of religious women in positions of public leadership in Israel, Pinchasi asked, “Why don’t we have a Keren Neubach, Shelly Yachimovitch, or Ilana Dayan? Why isn’t there a religious woman with a clear, polished, elaborate and committed ideological voice at the center of the public discourse? I mean the voice of a woman who does not deny her femininity but also does not play with it, and for whom it is not obsequious. The type who is both a mother and professional and has a critical public voice that you may not agree with but you cannot help but respect.”

I have been wondering the same thing. Although, to be fair, judging by Ynet alone, Pinchasi herself has a strong voice, as do Rivka Lubitch and Chana Kehat and a few others. But it seems to me that religious women are socialized into putting ourselves last, into fitting into social expectations, into not being too loud or too disagreeable, and into not really breaking out of the rules too much.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Haredim, Chana Pinchasi, Ambition, Motherhood, Orthodoxy

If You Must Be Fruitful and Multiply, a Sister Wife Sounds Appealing

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Getty Images
A Times Square billboard for HBO’s ‘Big Love’

Leah Berkenwald discussed how the reality show “Sister Wives” has joined HBO’s fictional “Big Love” in shining the spotlight on polygamous lifestyles, and in raising interesting questions about our ideas about marriage, monogamy and religion.

Her conclusion? “I came to realize that my problem with “Sister Wives” is not a problem with the family itself (they are actually quite likeable people), nor is it a problem with alternate polyamorous lifestyles. What I do have a problem with is religious fundamentalism and its adherence to biblical notions of marriage and paternalism. And that applies to Jewish fundamentalists as well.”

Probably because because I’m the harried mother of three, but when I watch portrayals of these strictly religious, patriarchal, and fundamentalist Mormons I’m thinking less about the sex and more about the kids. And, of course, I’m thinking about the Jews.

In addition to hard-core religion and patriarchy, when it comes to having children, ultra-Orthodox Jews and the polygamist Mormon fringe have an identical philosophy — they believe that more is more. The difference is that, unlike their Biblical forefathers, even the most Orthodox Jews believe in one wife at a time. Being fruitful and multiplying to one womb per family.

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I'll Take My Sports Magazines Sans Naked Women

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

You expect to see naked (or near naked) women on the cover of Playboy. On the cover of ESPN magazine? Not so much.

When our family’s copy of Outside magazine arrived recently, the cover made me look twice, and not in a good way. The cover photo of female climber Alex Puccio shows off her impressive abs between the parts of her bikini, and also a tousled head of hair and come-hither expression.

Inside the feature story, headlined “Exposure Special: XX Factor,” is a big picture of a Torah. Not the Jewish holy scroll, but rather an Olympic snowboarder named Torah Bright, who wears only a sweater and manages to look as inviting as a Playboy bunny.

ESPN magazine arrived a day later, with a dozen naked women on the cover. The women are members of the USA water polo team, and in the centerfold — yes, an actual centerfold — is the team frolicking to and fro underwater, totally and utterly naked.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Outside, Madonna, ESPN, Athletes, Alex Puccio, Sports, Torah Bright

We Asked; You Answered — The $#*! Your Mom Says

By Gabrielle Birkner

Yesterday, The Sisterhood — inspired by the new television show “$#*! My Dad Says” — asked our readers and Facecbook fans to send in their mother’s (or grandmother’s, step-mother’s or mother-in-law’s) favorite sayings. They chimed in with these gems. Some are attributed; others were sent in anonymously.

• “With every generation an improvement.”
– Rose Magder

• “Even a fish wouldn’t get caught if he didn’t open his mouth.”

• “You don’t marry the man you can live with — you marry the man you can’t live without.”
–Hattie Seligman, z”l

• “If he had two brains he’d be a half-wit.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Words of Wisdom, Jewish Mothers, $#*! My Dad Says, $#*! My Mom Says

Prime Ribs: Is the Yeshiva Girl Fall Fashion's Muse?

By Gabrielle Birkner

Fall fashion may be drawing inspiration from an unlikely source: yeshiva girls.


Forbes has released its list of the 100 most powerful women in the world — and a Jewish woman has the No. 2 slot. That would be Irene Rosenberg, the CEO of Kraft Foods — makers of Cheez Whiz, Kool-Aid, Velveeta, Chips Ahoy and Ritz Crackers, among many other food products. Check out the Forbes list in its entirety here.


Miri Cohen, a professor who researches the different ways that Jewish and Arab Israeli women deal with breast cancer, said that many Arab women still feel the need to hide their illness, which is often perceived as a death sentence in their communities. Haaretz has this Q&A with Professor Cohen.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sharsheret, Rochelle Shoretz, Nancy Kaufman, Miri Cohen, Irene Rosenberg, FAshion, Breast Cancer

$#*! Our Moms Say

By Elissa Strauss

Dumped by his girlfriend, 28-year-old struggling comedy writer Justin Halpern packed up his life in Los Angeles and returned back to San Diego to live with his parents. And it was there at home that he discovered comedy gold: his Jewish septuagenarian father. Justin began transcribing the daily musings of his father, Sam, whose sayings Justin describes as a mixture between Socrates and Lenny Bruce, for a Twitter feed. The Twitter feed, full of profanity-laden gems, quickly became a viral success. ”Before long, the Twitter account turned into a bestselling book, and now it is the basis for a new TV show”$#*! My Dad Says,” starring William Shatner as Sam.

But we think Jewish mothers are pretty funny, too. And so we at The Sisterhood are asking our readers to send in “$#*! Their Moms Say.” Send us some of the words of wisdom — precious or silly — bestowed upon you by your mothers. The subject matter can be anything, as long as the voice is theirs. You can email them to us at sisterhood@forward.com, or post them in the comments section below.

To get started here are a few from the Sisterhood friends and family:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Words of Wisdom, William Shatner, Justin Halpern, Jewish Mothers, Comedy, $#*! Our Moms Say



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