We learned from the cover story of the past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine that there is a debate raging in developmental psychology and neuropsychology circles as to whether there is a new stage in human development called “emergent adulthood.” Some might call it “prolonged adolescence,” but apparently, a lot of people are asking a variation of the question “What Is it About 20-Somethings?”
The jury is still out as to whether the fact that so many young people in their 20s are not yet financially independent, settled on a career, or in long-term, committed romantic relationships is a definitive indication that humans are not cut out to assume the responsibilities of adulthood until they reach the age of 30.
Whether or not you completely buy the new theory, this re-thinking of the timing of the true onset of adulthood has not only biological, social and economic implications, but also religious ones. If brain imaging research has found that the human brain does not finish its major growth and hardwiring until approximately age 25, then what are we Jews doing declaring young people adults at the age of 12 or 13?
I’m interested that Debra and Elana chose to focus on the housecleaning dimension of the balebuste role that Elissa describes aspiring to in her youth. I thought balebuste meant homemaker, not cleaning lady.
Working at a marriage for many years, and watching it grow and change while raising children gives Debra and Elana different perspective. I don’t need to visit their homes to know that they likely have me beat in the arena of domestic expertise. They’ve been at it longer. Elissa and I are newer to this, and I imagine that vantage allows us to approach the homefront differently. I have yet to abandon my wide-eyed optimism or my dreamy naïveté about house making. Perhaps I’ll feel differently next decade. Maybe I won’t.
Usually, they aren’t given a name. They make do with an initial. If a newspaper publishes a photo of them on the way to or from the courthouse, it is blurred, blotted out with enlarged pixels. As though they were the ones who had done something wrong. The identities of women who go through sexual abuse are usually not revealed. Often, this is their choice, which must be respected, but the choice is indicative of social assumptions.
Photographer Alicia Shahaf decided to counter this tendency in project called “Heroines,” showing portraits of women who have been sexually assaulted. Thus far she has photographed about 20 women. Each of them looks straight at the camera. They do not hide, they are not ashamed.
Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, “Freedom,” arrives this week with considerable fanfare, but also a little bit of backlash. Although the author is not a Jew, one of his characters is, and he has a place in the cool crowd of literary writers than includes many Jewish writers such as Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran-Foer and more recently, Gary Shteyngart.
But the glowing reviews and attention the book garnered also provoked a little bit of anger, which Jewish writers have weighed in on both sides. It began when bestselling author Jodi Picoult criticized The New York Times Book Review for its undue attention to the aforementioned group of writers to the exclusion of more mainstream, popular titles — many of them written by women. She asks:
How else can the Times explain the fact that white male authors ROUTINELY are assigned reviews in both the Sunday review section AND the daily book review section (often both raves) “while so many other writers go unnoticed by their critics?”
In attempt to counter those who accuse them of being extremists, Women of the Wall — composed of women who gather once a month for a prayer service at the Western Wall — recently asked women around the world to send in photographs of themselves reading from or holding a Torah. The campaign’s goal: Get 10,000 women to send these images (via the organization’s website), along with a letter of solidarity, to political and religious leaders in Israel.
The letter implores: “We ask you to open your eyes and see what is ordinary every place else in the world: women embracing Torah, reading from the Torah, rejoicing with the Torah and learning from the Torah. We ask that you see and be blind no more to the injustice of religious oppression.”
The campaign follows the June arrest of Women of the Wall chair Anat Hoffman for the crime of “praying with a Sefer Torah,” according to a spokesman for Israeli police. Hoffman insisted that she was not praying with the Torah, but rather holding it as she walked from the Kotel plaza to the section of the wall where the group is allowed to hold its service.
Already, women from around the world, daughters, mothers and grandmothers, alone and in groups, have sent in pictures of themselves with a Torah, to show their support for Women of the Wall.
Watch a slideshow featuring some of the images that have come in:
“Hey Gurrrlll, how you doin’?” Part Brooklyn homegirl, part Wendy Williams, it’s the way I’ve lately greeted my nearest and dearest girlfriends. I’m going for affectionate and ironic — what with it coming out of the mouth of a white woman edging into middle age, even if as a naturalized citizen of Brooklyn I can stake some legitimate claim to Brooklyn-ese.
Nonetheless, the semiotics of “girl” are an interesting topic, as the layered implications of this loaded label continue to evolve. As with all things language related, these implications are culturally specific, and so Nettie Feldman’s recent Sisterhood post about the sharp annoyance she feels at being called “girl” by her male colleagues in Israel is as much about what it means in the context of Israel’s culture as anything else.
Because it’s so run-of-the-mill for women in Israel to be addressed as “maideleh” or similar, as Nettie suggests, it reflects the fact that it’s a culture where chauvinism remains entrenched. The issue is really about what calling a grown woman “girl” suggests: that in the Israeli workplace, there is a gender power imbalance and that men feel quite secure in the dominant position. Things today in the U.S. — at least in my blue state world — are quite different.
The Sisterhood Digest:
According to protocols from former Israeli President Moshe Katzav’s recent trial for rape and other sex crimes, Katsav “saw women that were subordinate to him as a reserve from which he chose sexual objects,”. The defense has called the accusations “blood libel.” A verdict in the case is expected this fall.
A Lebanese medical aid ship carrying all women is planning to set sail for Gaza on Sunday, in an attempt to break Israel’s blockade of the strip.
Writing in Tablet, Eddy Portnoy has a jewel of a story about a 1906 riot, during which tens of thousands of Jewish mothers took to Lower East Side streets to protest … tonsillectomies.
Call it the-morning-after-the-morning-after-the-morning-after-the-morning-after-the-morning-after pill — or call it ella. Either way, the new drug has won FDA approval, and is expected to hit U.S. pharmacies this fall.
Free tickets are still available for “3 Alicias 3” — an evening of performances by composer and klezmer fiddler Alicia Svigals, poet and critic Alicia Ostriker and singer, songwriter and violinist Alicia Jo Rabins, who plays with the bands Golem and Girls in Trouble.
The Forward is sponsoring “3 Alicias 3,” alongside Manhattan’s Sixth Street Synagogue, where the event will be held at 7 p.m. on August 24. The artists will perform solo and as a trio; they’ll also participate in a panel discussion on Jewish women in the arts, and the relationship between poetry and song. For more information, click here.
The first 10 Sisterhood readers to email me get in free; otherwise, the cover is $8.
P.S. - I’ll be bartending.
I think if I live to be a 150, I’ll still be called “girl” by my Israeli male colleagues.
The term is still alive and kicking in the Israeli workforce. A reporter friend of mine once told me that years ago, when she interviewed Ehud Olmert — certainly not the most savory of characters, but still — he prefaced his reply with “maideleh,” or little girl.
I can’t say how many times I’ve fought against men calling me “girl,” whether it’s saying it privately or in a meeting. I’m not shy. I tell them: That’s the last time you call me “girl.” Usually, there’s silence — the silence of not getting it. Sometimes the conversation goes something like this:
What’s on ‘Our Rack’:
“97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement” (Smithsonian) by Jane Ziegelman looks at the eating habits of five immigrant families living in New York’s Lower East Side between 1863 and 1935. Relying on census date, cookbooks from the era and newspaper clippings, Ziegelman chronicles the lives of the families — who are Irish, Italian, German, Russian Jews and German Jews — and how their respective cuisines evolved in their new homeland.
Harper Perennial has put out a new edition of “The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook,” which was first issued in 1954. Toklas, most famously the companion of Gertrude Stein, wrote this cookbook in a casual narrative style and includes sections like “Dishes for Artists” and “Food in French Homes.” Stein and Toklas were part of France’s vibrant expat scene, which provided Toklas a chance to cook for friends such as Ernest Hemmingway, Pablo Picasso and Thornton Wilder.
In “After the Girls Club: How Teenaged Holocaust Survivors Built New Lives in America” (Lexington Books), women’s studies professor Carole Bell Ford has pieced together the life stories of a small group of orphaned teenagers who relocated to Brooklyn after surviving the Holocaust.
August is my time for cleaning house. Before the start of the new school year and the next winter season, I like to clear out piles of old things, papers that are no longer relevant, clothes that will never be worn again in this house, projects completed or abandoned. It’s a spiritual as much as a physical task, all about letting go, making space inside myself, and starting over. So it has been with a certain interest that, as I filled my fourth garbage bag for the day, I read the story by Elissa Strauss and the follow-up post by Debra Nussbaum Cohen about women’s housecleaning.
Personally, I relate much more to Debra’s outlook than Elissa’s. I cannot imagine idealizing the balebuste, or housewife. Until I read Elissa’s post, I had not even considered fluffing up pillows, and certainly the notion of making the living room ready for my husband to read the paper is a scenario far removed from my daily life. My husband and I do many things for one another; fluffing one another’s pillows is not among them. Like Debra said, housecleaning is a chore that must get done, and whoever is around and available has equal responsibility to do it.
In the midst of the never-ending storm about the Park51 — the Islamic cultural center formerly known as Cordoba House — in Lower Manhattan, which is causing more than a little controversy due to its proximity to Ground Zero, The Daily News ran a funny piece about other interesting “cultural centers” that lie a mere stone’s throw from the former WTC site.
While the piece devolved into reiterating the same arguments about the mosque we’re hearing everywhere else, reporter Erin Einhorn started the story brilliantly by zeroing in on two such businesses.
..the Pussycat Lounge, a strip club where a photo of a nearly naked woman marks its location just two blocks from where the World Trade Center stood. Or the Thunder Lingerie and peep show next door, where the marquee sports an American flag above a window display of sex toys and something called a ‘power pump.
Can a woman perform a bris?
Jewish scholars, even the most Orthodox among them, answer with a tentative “why not?” for there is no halachic prohibition against mohelot, or female mohels. While Jewish law states that it’s preferable for a Jewish male to perform the brit milah, or ritual circumcision, if one is present, it is not mandatory. The symbolism of a woman circumcising a man is inherently provocative — touching on questions of spirituality, nurturing mothers and emasculation. Many men, when polled on the subject, reflexively cross their legs.
It’s a truism that fashion trends repeat themselves. Sure, there may be a new style, but it’s really just a repeat of an old one, usually with some small variations on the theme. It’s just too bad that when low-rise bell bottoms were big a few years ago, I wasn’t able to wear them and channel the six-year old I was when they were first in fashion. Maybe some women were willing to risk the muffin-top look for the sake of nostalgia, but I sure wasn’t.
Since I am not at all a big clothes shopper, I am always happy when something I already have in my closet (and still fits) comes back in style, or can be re-purposed in some fashionable way. It is usually flattering for a designer to see teenage girls walking down the street in garments (or knock-offs thereof) they produced decades earlier for the girls’ mothers, or even grandmothers.
I am hoping this is how Rabbi Rachel Silverman will feel if she sees the t-shirt she created back in 2006 worn today, but with a different intention in mind on the part of its wearers.
Women cannot win.
If we have children, we are criticized about the way we raise them, how many of them we have and who they turn out to be. If we don’t have them, we are pathologized, essentialized and told that we don’t know what we want. Most insidious, I think, is when these painful attacks comes from other women. In her recent Sisterhood piece, “Why Being ‘Childless by Choice’ Often Reflects Jewish Disengagement,” Debra Nussbaum Cohen contemplates the ability of Jewish women who elect not to have children to be active members of Jewish communities.
For me, this piece zeroes in one of my worst fears as a Jewish woman who has made the choice not to have children — the accusation that because of a very personal choice that I have made, my Jewish commitment will never be sufficient. This is what we do to each other, Jews, we compete with one another to be “enough”: religious enough, Zionist enough, and in this case, to have enough children, or any.
The sexism endemic to Israeli corridors of power has finally made it to front-page news. The all-male commission investigating the May 31 Gaza flotilla incident, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Turkel, has been ordered by the Supreme Court to add a woman to its ranks. Turkel, however, has thus far responded by refusing to comply. The commission has already started its work, and this whole appoint-a-woman thing is just a thorn in his side.
Supreme Court justice Miriam Naor, who issued the ruling, gave Turkel until August 29 to comply.
This entire incident, which was brought about thanks to a petition brought by women’s groups Itach Women Lawyers for Social Justice and WePower, among others, reveals just how deep sexism in Israel runs, and exposes some of the rhetoric that works at disguising misogyny.
Never thought I’d be saying this about Fox News, but I witnessed what may be a watershed moment for women — in a good way — on the Fox Sunday News show “Panel Plus.”
The show on August 15 was guest-hosted by Bret Baier and featured four politically conservative talking heads discussing the current news. And three of the four panelists were women.
The title of Elissa Strauss’ essay in the Forward, “Embracing My Inner Balebuste,” caught my eye. Perhaps it’s a reflection of what I assume are a few years of difference in our age that I find the term “balebuste” loaded with provocative associations and Elissa can embrace the title with pride. On the other hand, maybe it simply reflects what housework meant in our respective homes, growing up.
My mother didn’t know much Yiddish, but she would have cringed at being called a balebuste, as do I except on those occasions when it’s applied with affectionate irony.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the heavy-handed conservative radio host, is in the news for using the n-word 11 times during her Tuesday show. Schlessinger told an African-American woman, who is married to a white man and who called in for advice about dealing with her in-laws’ racist remarks, that if she doesn’t have a sense of humor, then she should not “marry outside your own race.”
The tirade recalled this 2003 Forward story about Dr. Laura, as she is known — specifically about the Jewish convert’s defection from Orthodox Judaism. Here is an excerpt from that piece:
Schlessinger began her August 5 program by noting that, prior to each broadcast, she spends an hour reading faxes from fans and listeners. “By and large the faxes from Christians have been very loving, very supportive,” she said. “From my own religion, I have either gotten nothing, which is 99% of it, or two of the nastiest letters I have gotten in a long time. I guess that’s my point — I don’t get much back. Not much warmth coming back.”
… Of her conversion to Judaism, Schlessinger said, “I felt that I was putting out a tremendous amount toward that mission, that end, and not feeling return, not feeling connected, not feeling that inspired. Trust me, I’ve talked to rabbis, I’ve read, I’ve prayed, I’ve agonized and I came to this place anyway — which is not exactly back to the beginning, but more in that direction than not.”
The Sisterhood Digest:
A group of Israeli women recently smuggled 12 Palestinian women and four children into Israel for a day of leisure. The women dined out in Jaffa and swam in the Mediterranean before the Palestinian women returned to the West Bank via Jerusalem. Among the excursion organizers was the Israeli writer Ilana Hammerman, who earlier this year wrote a magazine piece about another such gathering.
Barbara J. Zakheim, founder of the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse of Greater Washington is undertaking what is believed to be the first national survey of agunot, or women who, unable to obtain a Jewish divorce document, are stuck in unwanted marriages.
Haaretz introduces readers to Israeli psychologist Edna Foa — a pioneer of “Prolonged Exposure Therapy.” The technique is being used by the U.S. military on soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.