Anti-Semitism In My Own Back Yard
Being A Mom in the Midst of War
Hanukkah's Hottest Hebrew Hotties
Jews Far More Promiscuous Than Muslims
What Makes A Family?
Why I Screened Myself for Breast Cancer Markers
Police Shackle Anat Hoffman
Defending Michelle Obama's Arms
Why I'm Nostalgic for Hasidim
What's Wrong With Modern Dating?
The Case for Premarital Sex
When DIY Was More Than DIY
Sisters in Skivvies: A Graphic Review of 'Unterzakhn'
Chabad 'Likes' Facebook, But Not for Girls
Meet the 'First Lady of Fleet Street'
Video: Meet Chaya Mushka, Yet Again
'Raising a Bilingual Kid Is Harder Than I Expected'
Nir Hod's Anguished 'Mother'
Attachment Parenting's Star Evangelist
A Male-to-Female Jewish Journey
How Men Cornered the Baby Manual Market
Bubbe Cuisine Goes Local
Editorial: Defending Contraception
Should You Be Blogging Your Baby's Illness?
Video: Where Fashion Is Frum, Not Frumpy
The Case for Jewish Daycare
Saying Farewell to Filene's
The Bintel Brief Takes Comic Form
Editorial: Where Are the Women?
Video: Mah Jongg's Jewish Journey
Podcast: Adrienne Cooper's Musical Life
America's Most Influential Women Rabbis
You know it’s a new day in social networking (virtual and otherwise) when someone puts as her Facebook photo a picture of her pee stick home pregnancy test showing the 2 lines that indicate a baby is on the way.
While I don’t personally know the woman who decided to announce her pregnancy this way, we have FB friends in common, which is how I meandered over to her page (procrastinating while trying to write a Sisterhood blog post).
I love when technology and popular culture bump up against tradition, and this is one small, new illustration of how the former continuously impacts the latter.
It’s the first time I’ve encountered a pregnancy announcement on Facebook, but we Jewish women vary widely in when and how we tell people that we’re expecting.
Mainstream and longstanding Jewish custom has long been to wait until after the first trimester, when the greatest risk of miscarriage has passed, before sharing the news widely. I told my mother and sister as soon as I knew I was expecting, but held off on sharing the news more widely until the 2nd trimester kick off (or should I call it kick-in, because that’s the trimester when you start having the astounding sensation of feeling the baby move).
While the Israeli cabinet has been grappling with some of the most harrowing decisions it has ever faced — from the deliberations over the release of Gilad Shalit, to some particularly stringent conditions imposed by President Obama — the religious right wing community in Israel has been engaged in its own disputations about nothing other than the role of the women’s body in contemporary Israeli politics.
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, rabbi of Har Bracha Yeshiva who is at the center of the current storm about religious troops refusing orders to evacuate Jewish homes, apparently believes that the real power of the religious right wing comes from women’s wombs. Two weeks ago, he wrote a column in the newspaper “Besheva” about the appropriate response to the settlement freeze: “By establishing large families, blessed with many sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters like the dust of the earth, inheriting the land.”
He went on to say that in order to have more children, people have to be willing to live “modesty” and to “give up permissiveness.” Finally, he suggested that if families in the West Bank would be willing to “crowd in the way they do in Meah Shearim, we could fit into our homes 900,000 people.”
Now there’s a vision to behold — imagine an entire landscape that looks like Meah Shearim.
In response to this post about the “What’s a Coastie?” song, Renee Ghert Zand of Truth, Praise & Help shared this video. Landline TV spoofs classic Disney “behind the scenes” shorts about the making of a fictional new animated film about a Jewish American Princess called “Rachel and the Dragon.”
Watch the video here.
This is clearly intended to be satire, and personally I found it hilarious. Since it was so obviously satire, as opposed to the iffy “Coastie” song, I don’t find it offensive. It did bring up an interesting point, though. Disney princesses are just as popular as ever, and many African-American girls and parents were excited to see a black woman represented as a Disney princess in the new film, The Princess and the Frog. But will we ever see a Jewish woman as a Disney princess, or are Jewish girls excluded from the “princess” club as a result of the JAP stereotype?
“Sex With the Rabbi…” would be a great title for a sex column written by a rabbi’s spouse. (To any rebbetzins or husbands of rabbis reading, it’s yours!) But “sex with the rabbi” also a subject that’s been in the news lately — first as the informal moniker given by Modern Orthodox yeshiva day school students to a mandatory course on Jewish Sexual Ethics that was featured recently in The York Times’ “On Religion” column.
Days after the Times piece ran, the subject of “sex with the rabbi” came up in a in a very different, more sordid context, when the prominent ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Leib Tropper was allegedly caught, on audio tape, admitting to having a sexual relationship with a woman seeking to convert to Judaism. He was also allegedly heard admitting to giving her money and asking her for sexual favors on behalf of other men.
Oy vey is right.
Coastie, a new term for out-of-state students that is floating around the University of Wisconsin, Madison, definitely seems like a euphemism for Jewish American Princess. And I am just not sure it is such a bad thing.
The term, which, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has been used at the school for around a decade, has just peaked in popularity due to a the “Coastie song,” and subsequent YouTube video, that has been getting its fair share of attention.
What’s a coastie?
Black tights all day
That’s a coastie
Starbucks, big shades!
She a coastie
Always blowin’ daddy’s money
You a coastie
My East Coast Jewish honey
My Jewish American princess baby
Walks wit a swag and talks so crazy
East Coast accent,
East Coast fashion
Black spandex wit an ass like Bascom!
Smokin on a cig as she passin,
This past summer I walked under the “arbeit macht frei” sign at Auschwitz, under the ominous symbol that I first learned about as a girl. I was with a group of five other women, each of us graduate-student fellows at the Auschwitz Jewish Center.
This morning I woke up to learn that the sign was stolen.
The vandalism — an assault on history — comes on the heels of something I witnessed yesterday, occurring thousands of miles from where the sign, until today, pronounced “work sets you free.” At the core of my experience is also a story about the place of Auschwitz in contemporary society. And to me, at least, it feels just as brutal as the stolen sign.
Let’s transition from Auschwitz to a university campus in the American Northeast.
I did something last night that I’ve never done before: Serve store-bought potato latkes to a gathering in my home. I was not raised to serve store-bought anything to guests, and rarely have deviated from that central teaching, driven home in childhood by a mother who not only made all of our food, but a sizable amount of our clothing, too. My husband was raised the same way, which is why he stood over a hot stove last weekend to fry up dozens upon dozens of potato latkes for a group from our synagogue, whose members then devoured every last, crispy shaving in, oh, about a minute and a half.
But last weekend, in the beginning of the eight-day festival, we were in our sprawling home, just outside of Philadelphia — with a massive frying pan I purchased years ago just to make latkes, and with all the other equipment that make this annual task a little less, well, thankless.
Last night, on the seventh night, we hosted my wonderful staff from the Forward in our New York apartment, a cozy one-bedroom that has none of the space or the accoutrements of a well-stocked, suburban kitchen. So I swallowed hard (especially at the price) and ordered in a couple dozen, quite tasty latkes that needed only to be warmed in my tiny oven.
They also were consumed in about a minute and a half.
In the past two weeks, I have had coffee with two important Jewish women who have spent the fall semester as fellows at the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. Both have reminded me of the value of good conversation and the affective and intellectual gifts of getting together with other scholars, artists, or thinkers; and to be more specific, Jewish scholars, artists and thinkers; and to be even more specific, Jewish female scholars, artists and thinkers.
I work in a small, well-regarded college of public affairs at Michigan State University, where I am surrounded by generally thoughtful men and women who study, write about, and teach subjects ranging from international relations to Michigan’s economic future, from the early history of the American republic to the nature of nationalism today.
At times, I imagine that I am out of step because I love the humanities, and teach and research mainly Victorian novels and a broad range of Jewish literature (from Bible and Midrash, on one end, to the fiction of Jewish-American Gen X writers, on the other end). At other times, I think I am out of step because I am the currently pregnant mother of two young children — to this day, a rare phenomenon among as-yet untenured female faculty at many American universities. But then I realize that another part of being out of step is being a Jewish woman and intellectual among primarily non-Jewish intellectuals. What is the difference? I’ll try to answer this question with an anecdote.
Oh to be a working mother in Israel, where women who give birth will soon get 14 weeks of paid maternity leave. Fourteen weeks? I’d have been happy to get 14 days of paid leave in this country.
In Jane Eisner’s Forward editorial this week, she writes about Israel’s move to extend legally mandated maternity leave benefits. She also writes about the dismal reality among American Jewish organizations, as recently documented by Advancing Women Professionals.
In the editorial, Jane writes about Mechon Hadar, an egalitarian yeshiva on the Upper West Side whose chair, Ariela Dubler, made instituting paid parental leave a priority. I loudly applaud Hadar’s policy giving four weeks of paid maternity leave for each year of employment, up to 16 weeks.
If someone were to take four months of paid parental leave it would be a fiscal challenge for the small organization. This is an argument long used by businesses and not-for-profits to justify not providing paid parental leave, as it was in the early 1990s, when the federal Family and Medical Leave Act was being debated. Pregnant with my first child at the time, I clearly remember the debate – and the eloquent rhetoric in favor of FMLA from leaders of several Jewish organizations even as they had no family leave provision in their own company’s rules, which I documented in an article for JTA (which is unfortunately not available online).
But Ms. Dubler, a law professor at Columbia University, is quoted in the editorial as saying Mechon Hadar is “balancing generosity and risk.”
Therein lies part of the problem. Having a paid parental leave policy is viewed as “generosity,” as a gift, as something “extra,” or “over and above.”
It should not be.
I turn 40 next week, and I want to celebrate. I’m not talking about a Madonna-style birthday celebration of pretending I’m still 22, or an Oprah-style event involving a car giveaway (although perhaps if I could actually do either, I might consider it). I’m thinking more along the lines of a celebration of life, of joy, of the freedom that comes with a certain stage of adulthood.
Forty is a big deal. Every major biblical transition was represented by 40: 40 years in the desert, 40 days on the mountain, 40 days of the flood, 40 years of peace when Deborah became judge (after Yael took out Sisera). In short, 40 is birth, transition, or transformation. Forty weeks of gestation. According to the Kabala, 40 steps in the creation of the world – 10 utterances of God, and four steps of creation each time. Forty. According to Aryeh Kaplan, 40 is the mem, the letter of “mayim”, waters, which represents the fluidity of life. Forty, or mayim, is about my own rebirth. I can’t wait.
Forty is freedom. It’s about relinquishing all kinds of anxieties and fears and a nagging need to please. It’s about letting myself dance and sing and run and leap, about allowing myself to be who I am, to speak freely and write freely and not be too afraid that someone won’t like what I have to say. I’ve learned that someone will always disagree or disapprove, so I might as well be true to myself, so at least one person will always be satisfied.
Leaders of the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel today sent Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. a letter questioning recent remarks which seemed to criticize accounts of a woman who was arrested at the Kotel for wearing a prayer shawl.
Ambassador Michael Oren, speaking at last week’s convention of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said that the young woman, Nofrat Frenkel, was not arrested but merely “led away” by police from the prayer area at the Kotel when haredi men became aware she was wearing a tallit.
The report of his statement can be read at the bottom of the Forward story here.
Oren’s statement is directly contradicted by Frenkel’s first-person account, published in the Forward here, and by other women who were part of the Women of the Wall group which was trying to pray at the Wall on the first day of the new Jewish month. The account of one of them, Anat Hoffman, can be read here.
Now Rabbi Alan Silverstein and David Lissy, the chair and chief executive, respectively, of the Conservative movement’s foundation to support Masorti communities in Israel, have written Oren a letter saying that they are “astonished” by his “somewhat disparaging” remarks about the Frenkel affair at the United Synagogue conference.
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Forward, they write:
It is always good to deal with facts. Nofrat Frenkel’s first person account, not disputed by any participant or published report, indicates that if ‘arrest’ is not the proper term under Israeli law to describe what happened, some equally harsh term would fit.
The Masorti Foundation leaders go on to recount the facts as related by Frenkel and others, and conclude the letter by writing:
This summer, I wrote for the Sisterhood about how much I loved the character Rachel Menken on “Mad Men,” a strong-willed Jewish woman who may or may not have been anti-hero Don Draper’s soulmate. Even though she vanished after the second season, she remains on the minds of many viewers as the woman who may have had the best chemistry with Don.
It turns out that Maggie Siff, the actress who plays Menken, is herself a strong, intelligent Jewish woman — and a smart one at that (she was an English-lit major at Bryn Mawr). And there’s a reason she’s attracted to parts like Rachel’s, as she told New York Magazine’s Vulture blog when asked about her yen for playing self-confident women.
I mean, I love those roles. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think we find things and things find us that are sort of meant to. And I tend to find myself in those parts.”
When talking to Time Out New York, she also gave me another reason to love her, as she pointed out the problematic misogny in a lot of writing by men, and far more succinctly summed up my own critique of David Mamet’s “Oleanna.”
In response to haredi efforts in Israel to increasingly segregate public areas by gender – the latest move is to make psychiatric hospitals single-sex only, which you can read more about in the Forward’s article here, an Israeli feminist organization is setting up a hotline for women to call to file complaints about discrimination or attack in public places.
The hotline is being called Hashme’eini, the feminine term for “Let my voice be heard,” and is being established by Kolech, the Israeli feminist organization for religious women. It is being supported solely by the New Israel Fund, which is spending $7,000 on it for its first year.
The hotline phone number is 02-671-1911.
According to an English translation of the Hebrew press release sent out by NIF:
The hotline is for women who wish to express their opinions, and to those subjected to any type of discrimination, insult or attack in the public sphere/space in places such as public transportation, sidewalks, performances, public institutions and others.
The goal of this initiative is to make recommendations regarding advancing/improving the rights of women in the public space, as well as their status, wellbeing, dignity, and to advise and be advised.
Hashme’eini is to go live this Sunday, and will be open Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, between 3 and 5 p.m.
The Slate folks recently had an online spat about Congress’s idea to help cover the cost of health care with a 5% tax on elective cosmetic surgery. On the main site Christopher Beam argued against the tax, using studies to show that, despite assumptions that this would only affect the rich, one-third of the people getting plastic surgery make under $30,000 a year, while 86% make under $90,000. He also makes the case that better-looking people are often more productive and higher earners.
Meanwhile, Jessica Dweck, over at Slate’s women’s-interest blog the XX Factor, argues that there is nothing wrong with the so-called “botax.” She thinks that this would be more akin to a sin tax, as opposed to a payroll or an income tax, and best serves as a discouragement to questionable behavior. Dweck writes:
If the majority of those going under the knife cannot afford to do so, the government should dissuade its low-earning citizens from frittering away their scarce resources on larger breasts and firmer calves and encourage them to invest in education instead.
Now the fact that the tax was presented as a way to cover the estimated trillion-dollar cost of the proposed health care bill, and it was not an attempt at “father Obama knows best,” as Dweck calls it, is besides the point. This is still a pretty interesting debate on the plastic surgery.
At first I read Dweck and cheered.
The recent conversion to Judaism and subsequent marriage of Ivanka Trump to Jared Kushner, and Chelsea Clinton’s even more recent engagement to Marc Mezvinsky have newspapers, magazines and blogs discussing the impact these relationships have on society and on the families involved. In this Daily Beast essay, Samuel P. Jacobs touts Ivanka Trump’s, and presumably Chelsea Clinton’s, seeing the “allure of marrying a Jewish man,” — without mentioning the wealth and power both Ivanka and Chelsea bring to their respective unions. Jacobs goes on to write, “Of course, Jewish mothers worry endlessly about their sons falling prey to the seductive powers of the shiksa.”
As a multicultural society, our sensitivities are heightened. Racial, religious and ethnic epithets that were unfortunately permissible in decades past are no longer tolerated, which is why I was offended to see the word “shiksa” in Mr. Jacob’s essay, and in the sub-headline of Jennifer Senior’s New York magazine piece about the Clinton-Mezvinsky engagement. I was more shocked to see the same insulting word for a non-Jewish woman in John Purchase’s recent “From Salt Lake City to Smoked Salmon Town: On Growing Up Mormon and Marrying Kosher”, published in the pages of the Forward.
It is astounding that shiksa has not been added to the list of politically incorrect expressions — given it is derived from the Hebrew word shayketz, meaning to loathe or abominate an unclean thing.
My personal battle with the moniker began years ago.
A family court in Israel has issued a decision that the sperm of a long-dead man may be used to inseminate a woman, who apparently never even met the father of her potential future baby.
According to this article in Yediot Achronot:
The sperm in question belonged to a 22-year-old soldier who died of cancer several years ago. About eight months after that, the woman contacted his parents and asked to use the sperm. They obliged.
The young man had apparently banked his sperm before treatment for the cancer, which these days is not uncommon.
The article continues:
The [Israel] Attorney General’s Office, which signs off on surrogacy agreements, denied the unprecedented request, saying the parents and a woman who was not the deceased spouse, have no legal standing in the matter.
Such an arrangement, said the AG’s office, could only be stuck between a married man, or one living with a partner, and only if he expressed explicit wishes to father children. The parents, added the brief, have no legal standing in whether their son fathers children, be him [sic] alive or dead.
The woman sought the legal counsel of Attorney Irit Rosenblum, head of the New Family organization, and filed suit against the Health Ministry and the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, both of which claimed she had no right to the sperm, “Since the deceased had never met her.”
For reasons of religion and history, Israel is a strongly pro-natalist country. National Health Insurance, which every Israeli citizen must have, covers all fertility treatments, including In Vitro Fertilization for all women, including single women and lesbians, and the costs of embryo transfers, for instance.
But is using sperm from a long-dead young man taking it too far, especially since the woman who wants to be impregnated with it was not only not his wife, but apparently a stranger?
As the Forward, via JTA, noted last week, a number of prominent Jewish organizations, including the Union of Reform Judaism, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Joint Action Committee and the American Jewish Congress have signed onto an effort to stop stringent anti-abortion measures (the Stupak amendment in the House, and the Nelson amendment in the Senate) from entering the health care reform bill. On Monday, a number of these groups as well as Jewish Women International and NA’AMAT USA sent a letter to Congress vehemently opposing the Stupak amendment. The organizations wrote:
American families should have the opportunity to choose health coverage that reflects their own values and medical needs, a principle that should not be sacrificed in service of any political agenda.
It’s a powerful statement, and much appreciated. So why does it feel like the only religious voices being really loudly heard on this issue are the conservative ones, most notably the Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has had a crucial role in constructing the language of these troubling amendments?
In theory, I love the idea of marshaling our own religious forces against those folks who seek to monopolize the idea of God being on their side. I am also intrigued by Gordon Newby’s argument that sweeping abortion restrictions actually impinge on religious freedom because many religious traditions, including the Jewish one, permit abortions in certain cases. If the Stupak amendment is passed, he writes, “Americans across the spectrum of faiths will be subjected to limitations that will contravene their faith’s most well-considered and cherished views….”
Tempting and true as this argument is, though, religion should really be out of the picture.
In Japan, it seems, there are some women-only buses. They were established, according to journalist Chani Luz, to protect women from “groping men.” Luz, who writes for the Orthodox publications Makor Rishon and Hatzofe, supports women-only buses in Israel because, as she recalled in a recent Ynet column, she was once molested on a bus when she was in 12th grade. “An older man sat next to me on the bus from Rehovot to Ramle and did not stop putting his hand on me and making indecent proposals,” she wrote. “I wanted to get up but I froze in my seat until the end of the ride.” Luz thus concludes that feminists should be in favor of separate buses.
Gender-segregated buses, with men in the front and women in the back, are currently a burning issue in Israel, as Transport Minister Israel Katz has until December 27 to rule on whether or not gender-segregated buses in Israel are, in his opinion, legal.
“Women to the back of the bus” has been a growing trend over the past 10–15 years in Israel. I experienced being sent to the back of a bus back at Bar-Ilan University (coming from Bnei Brak) back in 1995, as I boarded the bus with a toddler asleep on my shoulder. One man started getting up for me but the man next to him pulled him by the sleeve and implored him not to. As the bus pulled onto the highway, I was still on my feet, making my way towards the crowded women’s section while trying to hold my child and maintain my balance. A nice (secular) woman eventually got up for me.
Orthodox filmmaker Robin Garbose is one happy camper right now. She has secured distribution for her first feature film in two mainstream movie theaters in Israel. But while any independent filmmaker would be happy to have her work released in theaters, the victory is especially sweet for Garbose, whose film, “A Light for Greytowers,” is intended for an audience of women only.
The Israeli theaters, the Cinematheques in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, have agreed to target the screenings of the film to a female-only audience, which Haaretz notes is “the first time these venues — considered strongholds of secularism — have made such a concession.”
“A Light for Greytowers,” a movie musical, was produced with a cast of mostly Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox Jewish females, many of whom were students at the L.A.-based Kol Neshama Performing Arts Conservatory, which Garbose founded (the program’s tagline is “Transforming Hollywood into Holywood…” — cute). Garbose is devoted to providing performance training and opportunities for women who, due to their adherence to Jewish laws of modesty, will not perform in front of men, and cast members participated with the stipulation that the film would be for women-only audiences.
An interesting new post on the New York City Mom’s Blog, here, explores a mother’s feelings about her 4-year-old daughter asking people, “Are you Jewish?”
Of course the little girl has lots of company – shout out Lubavitchers! – who apparently find my Brooklyn neighborhood fertile territory for fishing for Jews. So many young Chabadniks have in recent years blanketed Prospect Heights and Park Slope around Rosh Hashana and Sukkot, trying to get Jews to hear the shofar being blown and to bless and shake the lulav, that it’s been turning off even those locals who don’t generally mind their assertive approach to outreach. (How many times in a day can one person reasonably be expected to answer “Are you Jewish?” before losing their patience?)
But a 4-year-old asking the same question is a different kettle of gefilte fish.
Kosher Mommy Blogger, as she calls herself, is concerned that her non-observant relatives (she and her husband are the only religious ones in their families) will be offended when her little girl pipes up with the question that she worries could be incendiary.
The little girl must be KMB’s first child, because anyone who’s parented a 3- or 4-year-old knows that they are wont to pepper everyone around them with questions like these. They’re waking up to the fact that there is a world beyond mommy and daddy, and trying to figure out what is part of “their” world and what isn’t.
KMB is worried about offending her relatives. As the mother of three inquisitive children myself, I remember when they were that age and asking almost everyone they met the same question. Occasionally I’d feel the need to step in to try to smooth over what I thought was an awkward moment but usually, whether the person my son or daughter was asking was Jewish or not, I’d just let them answer it however they wanted.
it is still awkward when she blurts out these questions to my own family members (just the other day she asked if her grandparents were Jewish, oy vey).
She also writes:
Will my four year old understand this concept and stop questioning the religious beliefs of our friends and family?
But KMB has it wrong. The value judgments aren’t there in her daughter’s innocent question. Instead, they’re in her mother’s mind. KMB is presuming that her non-observant relatives are going to regard it as a judgmental question, probably because KMB is worried about being viewed by them as judgmental herself.
In our family, where we run the gamut of Jewish identification and practice from my husband’s large, entirely haredi family to my own smaller iteration, where some relatives observe Jewish tradition but others enjoy their bacon cheeseburgers, I’ve had plenty of chances to explain and discuss with my kids that there are many ways that people relate to being Jewish.
At the same time, more than once I’ve been on the receiving end of similar comments and assumptions that feel freighted with judgment.
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