In the movie “The Black Bus,” — a selection at the New York Jewish Film Festival — filmmaker Anat Zuria uses the Haredi-run “mehadrin buses” as a metaphor for the lives of two young women who have broken away from their Hasidic communities in Israel.
The movie introduces us to a young woman, photographer-law student Shulamit Weinfeld and re-introduces us to another, Sara Einfeld, a young mother who left the Gur Hasidic community with her two very young children a few years ago. Einfeld gained much attention for her blog “A Hole in the Sheet,” though the blog now seems to have disappeared.
“Black Bus” is a close look at the price paid by women who leave their Hasidic communities. Weinfeld and Einfeld are unable to have contact with their parents or siblings or friends. Even as they explain — to the filmmaker, to Haredi Jews who come to talk with them in the movie — why staying in the community was impossible, you see how much pain they’re in. Particularly heartbreaking are scenes where Einfeld’s young son asks why they can’t go visit his grandmother, and one in which a visitor catches a glimpse of scars where Einfeld cut herself on her inner arms. In the movie, which was originally made for broadcast on Israel television, Weinfeld has left her community just weeks before, after breaking free of an engagement that her parents forced her into. Her sense of abandonment by her parents, and her vulnerability, is heartrending.
The Israeli army approves enlistment of 10 ultra-Orthodox women.
Teenagers are turning toward plastic surgery to avoid bullying.
The most liberal Orthodox Jewish rabbinic organization in the United States rejected a proposal to admit women.
The fact that “Black Swan” and “Country Strong” are both movies about women who are ravaged by fame is hardly a spoiler. Anyone who has seen the films’ trailers — Natalie Portman’s bloody back and Gwyneth Paltrow’s teary battles with the bottle — gets a sense of how these characters’ quests for beauty and success quickly becomes poisonous.
As an alternative to these ravaged women, I would love to take this opportunity to recommend that everyone watches, or re-watches, Funny Girl. Yes, its a bit schmaltzy, a tad long, and, well, a musical, but it still, over 40-years later, manages to be one of the most inspiring portrayals of female ambition I have ever seen.
What began with a 2008 story about autobiographical comics by Jewish women in the Forward has developed into a touring museum exhibit. Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women is the first exhibit to explore what co-curator Michael Kaminer calls a “unique and prolific niche of graphic storytelling” by Jewish women. The exhibit features the work of 18 Jewish women artists, some of which is being seen by the public for the first time.
We at JWA were taken with this project. We spoke with Michael Kaminer, co-curator and author of “Graphic Confessions of Jewish Women,” the Forward article that started it all. This is the first in a series of interviews; we will be posting weekly interviews with the artists and samples of their work.
There is a moment during the performance of the play “Judge! The Song of Devora” when you’re not entirely convinced that this is, in fact, an all-women production. When Sisera, the legendary 12th century Canaanite general described in Judges (chapters four and five) appears on stage played by the inimitable Yael Valier of Efrat, the performance is so convincing as the womanizing, megalomaniacal warrior, that you can momentarily forget that a woman is playing the part. Valier, bursting with charisma, nuance, personality, humor and expressiveness, has the wonderful acting gift of letting you forget for a moment where you are.
“Judge!” an original play written by Valier and director Toby Klein Greenwald of the religious theater group “Raise Your Spirits”, tells the story of how the biblical heroine Deborah led the Israelites to victory over the Canaanites and provided the Israelites with forty years of peace, their first extended period of calm since Joshua led the people into the Promised Land. Deborah is also the only recorded woman leader of the ancient Israelites, and as such the story raises provocative issues about gender, leadership and Jewish life — then and now.
Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, has just voted in a new national president, so we thought it would be a good time to check in with the venerable but embattled organization.
Hadassah recently agreed to pay $45 million to settle with the court-appointed trustee in the Bernard Madoff bankruptcy. The settlement was first announced on December 9, 2010. After investing $33 million over the two decades before Madoff’s Ponzi scheme collapsed in 2008, Hadassah withdrew $137 million. Hadassah raises money in the U.S. and internationally to fund Hadassah hospital and other projects in Israel. The group’s Madoff problem, coupled with the recession, led Hadassah to lay off about one third of its staff in 2008 and 2009, and to undergo a restructuring over the past two years.
Read a Q&A with incoming national president Marcie Natan and outgoing national president Nancy Falchuk after the jump.
My mother recently celebrated her 89th birthday in a most unusual place for a party — the Tayasir Checkpoint, situated in the northeastern West Bank, halfway between Nablus and Jenin.
Barren hills, not yet softened by the green grasses that grow in winters with good rainfall, crowd around an intersection of two roads. One road is open to cars with Israeli license plates, like the one my mother traveled in with her friend Yudit, as well as those of the settlers who live in nearby Jewish outposts. The other road, which heads toward Nablus or Jenin, is open only to Palestinian vehicles. On the Palestinian section of the road is what I refer to here as a “checkpoint,” but the Hebrew term, “machsom,” or barrier, describes it more accurately.
“Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame/Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart/Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor’s sake/Blessed is the match consumed in kindling fame.”
These words were written by Hannah Senesh, just before she entered Hungary on a ultimately fatal mission to rescue Jews during World War II. That Senesh lived up to her poetic edict explains why she’s widely remembered as a Jewish heroine nearly 70 years after her death.
Senesh’s story is the subject of a show at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York, which is the first major museum exhibition to focus on Senesh’s life; the exhibit, on view through August 7, tells her story through her personal artifacts, diary, and poetry.
Senesh was a Hungarian-born Jew who immigrated to what is now Israel at age 18 and roughed it on an early kibbutz, before joining the British Army on a special mission. Her unit was ordered to parachute into Yugoslavia and then cross into Hungary. There, she would help the Allies set up escape-routes, bring aid to trapped Jews, and attempt to help those Jews escape. Unfortunately, Senesh was captured on the border of Yugoslavia and Hungary, where she was interrogated by authorities who wanted to extract information from her. Senseh refused to talk, and was subsequently tried for treason and executed by firing squad on November 7, 1944. She was 23.
Recently, I had dinner with K, a friend from college. We sat in her spacious one-bedroom apartment, where she lives alone, and we drank wine and ate steak, and talked about when we were 20-years-old, living in a tiny apartment in Amherst, Mass., thinking about whether or not we could afford to include fresh broccoli with our box of pasta.
I remember a lot of things about that apartment — the TV that didn’t work, the roommate who wore homemade skirts over her pajama bottoms, the dinner parties, my introduction to kale. It was also the first time I realized the repercussions of having never been taught to cook. K and my other roommates dealt with food with confidence; they had things like knife skills and knew the difference between baking soda and baking powder.
I come from a family where halacha is championed alongside the freedom and power of the individual. It is a hard balance to forge, and it is one that comes with contradictions and hurdles. Recently in the news was the story of a Capitol Hill staffer who would not grant his wife a get, or a Jewish divorce decree. On the one hand, I find there to be something sacred about the untouchable nature of halacha. On the other hand, I cannot support a belief system that allows for women’s freedoms to be taken away without any real repercussions according to the law.
I emailed a New York Times article about the divorce dispute to a friend, who subsequently expressed his dismay that the Orthodox belief system could survive with such an edict intact. I argued that at least the Orthodox community is taking measures against those men who refuse their wife a get. At present, a common communal response against a man who leaves his wife an agunah, or a chained woman, is social pressure and threats of being ostracized, in addition to other halachic creations like prenuptial agreements and inserting minor mistakes in the wedding ceremony that could allow grounds for a halachic divorce without needing a get.
This has been an interesting week for Knesset women. And when I say “interesting,” I am possibly referring to the famous Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” These are interesting times for women MKs for sure.
The first bit of news was that the new renegade party of Ehud Barak has two women in it. That may not sound like a lot, but when you consider that Barak’s party only has five people (including himself), you realize that the new party holds an all-time Knesset record of 40% women! That’s double the proportion of the rest of the Knesset, which has 23 women out of 120, or 19%.
Of the two women in Barak’s new party, one, MK Orit Noked, the newly appointed Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, has been blasted by her supporters for joining with Barak. Noked is supposed to be representing the kibbutz movement, and kibbutz leaders are understandably fuming at her for not even dropping a hint about her plans, never mind consulting with them about the move. Now, the kibbutz movement, which has historically been the mainstay of the socialist left, is being represented by a member of a self-proclaimed centrist party that is in coalition with some of the most right-wing parties in existence in Israel.
Sonia Peres, wife of Israeli President Shimon Peres, died January 20 as she had lived — quietly and privately, as far as she could get from the spotlight enjoyed by her gregarious, political husband. She was 87.
She died in her modest apartment in suburban Ramat Aviv, far from the grandeur of the presidential residence. The Peres marriage, particularly in its later years, always seemed to be a terribly sad story. The relationship was not scandal-ridden, but it seemed that two very good and well-meaning people were terribly mismatched: Sonia clearly hated public attention as intensely as Shimon craved it.
I had decided that I was going to stay out of the “Tiger Mother” fray, but a visit to the local public library made me change my mind.
If the number of holds at the library on Amy Chua’s “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” (83) as compared to those on Wendy Mogel’s new parenting book, “The Blessing of a B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers” (7) is any indication, then the answer to Allison Kaplan Sommer’s recent post asking whether Chinese mothers leave Jewish mothers in the dust would be a resounding “yes.” And that worries me.
In fact, Kaplan Sommer referenced a Jewlicious post that mentioned Mogel’s book. Being that it was Jewlicious, Mogel’s main point about the importance of letting kids screw up, learn from their mistakes, and find their own way (within reason) was humorously paraphrased for maximum satirical effect. I, on the other hand, am dead serious about following Mogel’s sage advice, given the fact that it is possible — if not probable — that the kind of pressure put on kids by the kind of parenting advocated by Chua has contributed in some way to the recent cluster of teen suicides that has plagued my over-achieving community of Palo Alto, California.
When “Dan”, a 16-year-old boy from the center of Israel left for school on Tuesday morning, he told his mother that everything was fine and he was okay. That afternoon, Dan committed suicide.
Dan’s mother had no idea how bad his situation had become, she told the Army Radio in an interview last week. The most significant clue into Dan’s state of mind was the computer screen that Dan left on. It showed his Facebook page, which contained some of the taunting messages that his friends had sent him that day. “I’d kill you,” one message read, “but it’s wrong to be cruel to animals”.
Reports emerging from the school — an elite institution that is most actively recruited by the Air Force — paint a horrifying portrait. According to YNet, Dan was mocked, humiliated, beaten and turned into a regular object of scorn. While many students are claiming that it was all “nothing,” that the media is blowing events out of proportion, some other students have expressed deep shame. “Everyone picked on him because he was small”, a girl told reporters.
Whenever I see “best of” lists, award finalists and even table of contents, I can’t help but immediately scan them to see how women fared. Because of this little tic, I find myself regularly complaining to my husband about the lopsided male-to-female ratio in the bylines of the highbrow magazines we receive, which include The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The New Republic. He often tells me I am being a bit neurotic, and that women are, overall, pretty well represented.
But after months and months of my informal surveys I was pretty sure I saw a pattern, so I decided to take a look at the numbers. A quick calculation of all non-cultural criticism stories in these three magazines over the past year shows that women trail men when it comes to bylines. The New Republic scored the worst, with only 13% of its stories penned by women. The Atlantic had 22% and The New Yorker (where I didn’t take in account fiction or Talk of the Town, in addition to criticism) had 30% of its stories written by women. (I didn’t take into account cultural criticism because that is an area in which women are generally well represented.) Over the past year, The New Republic had 138 men and 21 women listed on its tables of contents, The Atlantic had 100 men and 29 women, and The New Yorker had 170 men and 73 women.
For those of you not plugged into the ongoing chatter in the parenting blogosphere, the buzz over the past week has been the great debate over Chinese so-called Tiger Mothers.
It seems that Yale Law Professor Amy Chua’s piece in the Wall Street Journal struck a chord to which no writing or blogging mother could remain indifferent.
The piece was an excerpt from her book, which has since rocketed up the Amazon charts titled The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
The Jewish world lost a great light with the untimely death of Debbie Friedman on January 9. She was an inspiration to multiple generations of song-leaders and Jewish musicians, congregants, campers, students, friends, rabbis, cantors and educators. Her impact on Jewish music and worship has been so widely felt across the Jewish spectrum, across movements, across generations and across oceans that it leaves a massive, gaping, black hole —dense with energy and aching with potential.
Debbie’s music provided the soundtrack to my childhood, whether it was her “Alef Bet” in Hebrew school, “Im Tirzu” and “Not By Might” at camp, or “Miriam’s Song” and “T’fillat HaDerech” at NFTY conventions. I sang Debbie’s “L’chi Lach” at my confirmation, at my high school graduation and again at my college baccalaureate. She was a personal mentor to me at a crucial period in my life when I was “coming up” in the song-leading world, and helped me land my first job when I moved from California to New York to work as a freelance Jewish musician in the years before cantorial school.
Eccentric and sure-footed Jewesses populate some of the non-fiction films at this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival, which runs through January 27 in New York City. This group includes two pretty young women who choose to leave behind the ultra-Orthodox communities of their youth, a documentarian who chronicles her dating life, a grieving mother who battles to cremate her daughter in Israel, the plucky writer and activist Grace Paley and Israeli teens who talk politics with their Palestinian and Arab-Israeli counterparts. Here are the films in which these women appear:
My So-Called Enemy begins in July 2002, when 22 Palestinian, Israeli and Arab-Israeli teenage girls go to the United States to take part in Building Bridges for Peace, a leadership program that teaches young women about peace-building and conflict resolution. A suicide bombing that takes place while the girls are overseas forces them to speak earnestly about how living in a war zone affects their daily lives. Director Lisa Gossels then follows six of the attendees over the course of seven years as they reconcile their experiences at camp with the harsh realities of life during and after the second intifada, with Gal, an Israeli in Tel Aviv, and Rezan, a Palestinian Christian in East Jerusalem.
Vered Shavit did everything she could to avoid the Israeli rabbinate. When she got married in 2005, she flew all the way to Cyprus for a civil ceremony, then had a Reform ceremony in Israel and never registered in Israel as married. But it didn’t matter. Despite everything, when she and the man decided this year to get divorced, she had to do it with a get, at the rabbinate.
“I didn’t want to get married in an Orthodox way because the religious institution is not a part of my life, and it is far from my beliefs and ideals,” Shavit, 37, told Ynet. “It seems weird for me that people that have nothing to do with religion and its traditions suddenly have to connect to it for their wedding. It seems extremely fake.”
It’s worse than that. It’s a dangerous intrusion of a state-backed religious fundamentalism into people’s private religious lives and personal practice. It’s downright frightening.
I hadn’t spoken to Debbie Friedman in many weeks and had only seen her once since she moved back to California. Still, I had to try. I sent her an email asking if she was coming to New York anytime soon, that I needed her. Ten minutes later, she emailed me back. “Is it Deb?” she asked. I’ll never know how she remembered that my cousin, whom she had seen at many Healing Services that she and I led together at the JCC in Manhattan, was ill. I’ll never know how she knew that my cousin was dying. I only know that everyone who knew Debbie has a story like this.
She got on a plane about four weeks ago and came to New York. Despite the fact that she was struggling herself physically, she came up to Mamaroneck and led an exquisite healing service for 70 people in my cousin’s living room. My cousin was fully present for the service — her sons and husband and father held tightly by her music, her spirit and the community in the room that felt so grateful to be there and give voice to their love.