Sisterhood Blog

When Workplace Sexual Harassment Charges Are Ignored

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

A new investigative report in the Hebrew-language version of Yediot Ahronot provides an account of what it says is Bar-Ilan University’s attempt to hide recent charges of sexual harassment.

Last year, “Gila,” who has worked at the Ramat-Gan, Israel-based university for 20 years and had a glowing record until that point, reported to the university that her boss there had sexually harassed her. Instead of separating the boss from the complainer as Bar-Ilan regulations require, the university gave Gila a “long vacation,” while they claimed to be finding her a different job placement (for her, not for her boss). When she returned to work three, she found herself demoted and her old job taken over by someone else.

In the months that followed, Gila — a religious wife and mother — went on to file a second sexual harassment claim against her boss, who has denied the allegations. It became a matter of he said–she said, but the committee investigating the claims decided that “nothing happened,” and insisted that Gila return to work, alongside the boss she was accusing.

The woman eventually hired her own lawyer. “Gila felt like she got herself into something that’s bigger than her,” her attorney, Itai Chasid, told Yediot in an investigative report that was published last week. He said that Gila was treated like an outcast in the workplace.

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Writer and Actress Diane Flacks on How 'It Gets Better'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Coutesy of Diane Flacks
Diane Flacks, left, with her family. (click to enlarge)

Diane Flacks, a Jewish actress and writer, appears in the “It Gets Better Canada,” the country’s LGBT community’s artistic contribution to the anti-bullying campaign. Flacks can be seen in the popular, 12-minute video saying, “In my son’s class, a lot of the kids say, ‘I have two moms!’ and they don’t. But they wish they did.”

Flacks, 45, fit in well with the other high-profile participants from the worlds of journalism, entertainment, fashion and design. A lesbian who grew up in Jewish day schools and came out at the age of 27, she is known for her columns in the Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, as well as on CBC radio.She helped create five Canadian TV series and wrote for several others, including “The Kids in the Hall.” She wrote and starred in four one-women plays, including “Bear With Me,” about childbirth and the early stages of motherhood.

Flacks has been together with her wife, Janis Purdy, for 15 years. They were married six years ago and have two sons, ages 4 and 8. They live in downtown Toronto, where their older son attends an artistic, progressive Jewish day school. She spoke recently with The Sisterhood.

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The Pill Is Not the Problem

By Sarah Seltzer

Creative Commons

Vanessa Grigoriadis has the cover piece in this week’s New York magazine about the unintended “consequences” of the birth control pill — namely, infertility. “Inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect,” she writes. Her explanation is that women are so caught up in “sexual freedom” that oops! they forget their prime years for childbearing are before the mid-30s and, in short, end up wizened and barren and mad at themselves for their past decade of desiring consequence-free fornication. She writes: “On the Pill, it’s easy to forget the truths about biology. Specifically, that…fertlity is a gift of youth.”

A report from a decade ago shows that these trends may be even higher for Jewish women, who delay marriage and childbearing in greater numbers than does the general population. Why I do not know, but I do know that many of my Jewish friends get variations of the same pragmatic speech from our moms: “have a degree/career/publication before you have kids.”

And what’s wrong with that?

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Why Women Are Reluctant To Take On the Mantle of 'Expert'

By Karen Loew

When I sat on my first panel of professionals before an audience, I received some useful advice. “The audience thinks you’re an expert,” a dear friend told me. “So, just accept that mantle and be one.” The audience turned out to be tiny, but I ran with the advice and pontificated to the sleepy assemblage about journalism and civic engagement, my favorite subjects. Indeed, they took me for the expert I was billed as (even presenting a commemorative mug from the oh-so-glamorous local chapter of the American Society for Public Administration).

An expert is exactly what many women deny they are, according to the OpEd Project, a nonprofit in New York City dedicated to increasing the number of opinion pieces written by women on the nation’s newspapers’ op-ed pages (the name comes from “opposite the editorial” page; it’s a space that includes opinions “opposite” the newspaper’s official ones as expressed in editorials). The group’s latest survey of six top news sources showed only about one in five op-eds were by women. Only one in five! If women identified and embraced their expertise — whether gained through professional experience, graduate school, time spent doing hobbies or raising children or other personal experience and observation — perhaps they would write and submit more op-eds to newspapers. But that’s just one reason for the relative silence; women also may be “keeping their ink dry” because op-ed pages matter, frankly, to just a sliver of the population, or seem boring, or women are gravitating to the more accessible social and online media (like this blog).

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How Women in the Jewish Workforce Can Get Ahead — and Get a Raise

By Gloria Feldt

maryannerussell.com
Gloria Feldt

It is said that when a baby elephant is trained in captivity, it is tethered to a post. It learns that it can move only in a circumscribed space when it’s tied up. After the elephant becomes a large and powerful animal, it could easily uproot the post. But it still assumes that when tethered, it can move only in that same, limited space.

I thought of the baby elephant story when I read Elana Maryles Sztokman’s recent Sisterhood post “Are Women or Communal Structures to Blame for Economic Disparities.” Citing the average $28,000 pay disparity between men and women in Jewish communal organizations, she concludes that blaming the structure is more fruitful than focusing on the power that lies in our hands to make change. Casting women as victims rather than as actors with the power to shape our own fate is outdated thinking that no longer reflects reality, nor does it serve us well today.

Inarguably, women have been discriminated against, by law and by custom. It’s not right that women in the U.S. earn 20 percent less than men; it’s not right that — despite being 60 percent of college graduates, 50 percent of the workforce, and 54 percent of the voters — it will, at the rate we’re going, take 70 years for women to reach parity in top leadership positions.

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Celebrating Judith, Heroine of Hanukkah

By Gabrielle Birkner

At Hanukkah time, Judah and the Maccabees get top billing. Often left out of the narratives passed down from one generation to the next is the story of Judith, who is said to have killed an enemy general and, ultimately, to have led the Israelites to victory.

Our friends and partners at the Jewish Women’s Archive have produced a video about the story of Judith, which is widely considered to be apocryphal; the video also celebrates contemporary women who bear the name of the biblical heroine: feminist writer Judith Plaskow, civil rights activist Judith Frieze Wright and comedian Judy Gold, among them. Watch it here:


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The Pope (Kinda, Sorta) Loosens on Condoms: What It Might Mean

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
Pope Benedict XVI

While it seems like Jewish opinion runs the gamut on condom use and birth control, our lack of a centralized authority on such matters — and our cultural and religious tradition of debating everything to death — means there’s long been a variety of pragmatic and idealistic views on the matter, mostly leaning in favor of allowing some birth control.

But for American Catholics, the fact that the Pope frowns on condoms while 95% of laypeople use birth control, has always been a fascinating and glaring disconnect. And the outrage is particularly strong when it comes to AIDS prevention in Africa and all over the world, where condom distribution could save countless lives.

Now that the Pope has entered the world of moral relativism, saying that condom usage is still a terrible, evil sin, but in some dire situations it’s the lesser of two evils, one has to wonder what floodgates will be opened.

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Making Mom's 'Cranberry Mash': A Remembrance and a Recipe

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

It’s been nine years since my mom died, which has meant nine Thanksgivings without her. For many years before then, she would join me and Hubs and soon Boychik and then Girlchik too — she was ill already when Rockerchik was born — at our home for turkey and her famous Cranberry Mash. After Boychik, her first grandchild, was born and she needed to choose a grandmotherly appellation, she selected Grandma Peaches after a movie character. It stuck, and is how everyone in the family remembers her.

In the nine years since she died, we’ve gone to my father and his wife’s Thanksgiving dinner, which is where we’ll be this year. I’ve brought along the Cranberry Mash for the past couple of years. But this year I’ve been asked for a different side dish, so I’ll bring along a broccoli salad, and just enjoy my Cranberry Mash at home.

I love Cranberry Mash, and not just because it was my mom’s recipe. Simple to make and delicious, it makes otherwise plain Greek yogurt a yummy treat, tastes good with any poultry and is just perfect when mixed into hot cereal. I lay in plenty of fresh cranberries this time of year, when they’re plentiful and cheap. (I buy more than I need stick them in the freezer to use year-round.)

Here’s the recipe. Make some and enjoy!

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Marriage — Only for the 'Haves'?

By Elissa Strauss

In Belinda Luscombe’s recent article in Time magazine, “Who Needs Marriage? How an American Institution Is Changing,” she assess the state of marriage today, pointing out that of all the changes marriage has gone through in the last 50 years — the biggest shift being the gap between the marriage rates of rich and poor. Luscombe writes:

In 1960 the median household income of married adults was 12% higher than that of single adults, after adjusting for household size. By 2008 this gap had grown to 41%. In other words, the richer and more educated you are, the more likely you are to marry, or to be married — or, conversely, if you’re married, you’re more likely to be well off.

This is a startling statistic, one that underscores the growth of income inequality in the America in recent decades, a shift that has been met with a separate set of lifestyles and expectations for the haves and the have-nots. Marriage, as Luscombe illustrates, is for the haves, and she makes this point by citing statistics that show that married people today are more likely to have college degrees and, well, money.

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The Sex Assault Allegations Against the Man Who Could Be Israel's Next Police Chief

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Getty Images
The accused: Uri Bar-Lev

Once again, a man in a senior governmental position in Israel is being accused of sexual assault of a subordinate female coworker. The trial of former Israeli president Moshe Katzav has not yet ended — though it seems to have faded from the headlines — and two new women have emerged with stories of sexual attacks. And, once again, Israeli women are sent the message that no matter what happens to you, think twice before you complain about it.

The man being accused is Commander Uri Bar-Lev, the Israel Police attaché in Washington. (Did anyone know that such a job even existed? What does he do? Why does the Israeli police even need an attaché in Washington? But I digress.)

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Attention Gen Y: What the F-Word Is and Isn't

By Chanel Dubofsky

facebook.com
The Reclaim the Name logo

I was voted Class Feminist during my senior year of high school. I still have the award, a certificate adorned with awesome late 90s computer graphics, tucked into the back of my senior yearbook. (There was also an award for Class Chauvinist, bestowed upon on a football player, who laughed proudly and boisterously on his way to the front of the room to accept it.)

I’m not sure what, if anything, I did to deserve that award. I had no idea that the arguments I had with a friend about abortion during class via a yellow legal pad were worthy of the attention of the high school mainstream. I certainly had feminist politics, but it was surprising to me that others considered it to be a defining aspect of my identity. In retrospect, the award feels like a joke, which, to be fair, it probably was, being a high school superlative. But making me the recipient of the title was like being referred to as the “Super Jewish”: I was doing the work so no one else would have to. Everyone else want to get as far away from the “F-word” as possible.

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Judge Kimba Wood Shows Her Cultural Sensitivity — and Feminism

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

You’ve got to love a lawyer who writes a note — laden in Yiddish and as footnoted as any legal brief — to the judge presiding over his client’s case, touting the forthcoming birth of the lawyer’s grandchild and asking for a recess from the trial so that he can be at the bris if said grandchild is a boy.

And you’ve got to love a judge —in this case federal Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District Court of New York, who appears not to be Jewish — who responds not only with permission, but also with a desire to “balance the scales” and decides that “if a daughter is born, there will be a public celebration in Court, with readings from poetry celebrating girls and women.”

It turns out that not only is the lawyer, Bennett Epstein, about to become a zeyde. According to this blog post on the website Israel Insider, he’s also devoted to the Jewish state.

(tichel tip: Jeffrey Goldberg.)


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The Pressure To Be a 'Young Mom'

By Keren Copperman

While reading Elana Sztokman’s recent Sisterhood post about her friend who had decided to have an abortion, I found myself responding very strongly. While I’ll admit that I am stubbornly pro-choice, it is not the actual decision to have the abortion that filled me with admiration for Elana’s friend — it was her decision to be a childless, married, woman living in Israeli society.

I have had countless discussions with my female friends and peers on the societal demand placed on young Israeli woman (particularly in Orthodox circles) to get married and have a baby — and fast. I am a high school senior. It is therefore only natural that the subject of our future is constantly being discussed: With it comes the talk of diamond rings and weddings and three beautiful children (first two boys and then a girl, in that order). Now, don’t get me wrong. I too can’t help but squeal with glee when I think of myself in a lovely white gown surrounded by friends and family as I walk down the aisle. But the difference between my friends and me is that my future wedding is still very much a fantasy. I have no doubt that it will happen, but I certainly do not expect to be looking at halls or printing invitations for many, many years. I’m only 17.

That is where my frustration begins.

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The Royal Engagement: When Wills Weds Kate

By Jane Eisner

Getty Images
Kate Middleton and Prince William

They stand for everything I find abhorrent: Inherited political and religious power. Ostentatious wealth. Idleness. Scandalous behavior. Nonetheless, I can’t resist the English royals at wedding time.

At least I come by this fascination honestly: My late mother was born and raised in Yorkshire, where her family lived for generations — going as far back as Jews were allowed to reside in England. (Jews had been banished for many centuries, another black mark on the monarchy.) I lived in London as a foreign correspondent. I crave really strong English tea. My dogs are named for Jane Austen characters.

So when the news broke that Prince William had finally asked his long-time girlfriend Kate Middleton for her hand in marriage, I had the most wonderful flashbacks. There was the time in 1981 when my sister and I woke up in the middle of the night to turn on the TV and watch Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer proceed through the happy streets of London on their way to St. Paul’s Cathedral and a marriage that, we learned later, was doomed from the start. Whatever. It was a great and lavish spectacle.

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Backtracking in the Halls of Power

By Sarah Seltzer

It’s not the greatest time for women’s equality in the halls of power. First of all, as the final result from this year’s election come limping in, it’s confirmed: This is the first time in decades that women have not made strides in our representation in national government. We’ve backtracked.

How did this happen, when 2010 was supposed to be the year of the women? It’s complicated: Some feminist thinkers theorize that since the Republicans swept in running on anti-women policies, the voters who leaned in that direction might be less than thrilled by so many powerful women looking to gain office. In other words, the theory is that many of the same voters who vote for women tend to vote Democratic, thus the loss. It was also just an anti-incumbent year, and several of the strong congresswomen who won in the last few cycles ran for re-election and got pushed out by that tide.

Whether any of these theories explain the numbers or not, it’s a stinging moment for women. The U.S. ranks well behind other countries in terms of female representation in government and whatever your politics, that’s just ugly. Women’s advocacy groups are regrouping and getting ready for another round.

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Remembering the Artist Behind Ms. Magazine's First Cover

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Ms. Magazine
The first issue of Ms., illustration by Miriam Wosk (click to enlarge)

“In her art she was a perfectionist and in her life she was a realist,” wrote Sheila Balshine Romalis, of the illustrator and multimedia artist Miraim Wosk, in a letter to Wosk’s son. The letter was one of condolence, following Wosk’s recent death from breast cancer at the age of 63.

Romalis knew Wosk from their years growing up together in Vancouver’s Jewish community in the 1950s and 1960s. The two women went on to be roommates in New York in 1967, while they were both attending design school.

That was the period in which Wosk’s career took off. She began as a fashion illustrator — working for Vogue, Mademoiselle, Esquire, New York magazine, and The New York Times. Wosk is known in feminist circles for having created the cover art for the first issue of Ms. Magazine in late 1971. That colorful illustration featured a pregnant woman with eight arms, symbolizing the many roles that the modern woman juggles. Other subsequent covers she designed for the magazine showed similar multi-limbed, multi-tasking women.

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Progressive 'Housewives of God'?

By Elissa Strauss

In Sunday’s New York Times magazine Molly Worthen wrote a story about a movement of female conservative Evangelicals — women who are trying to ward off gender equality in order to live what they understand to be traditional Christian lives. The catch, though, for these “Housewives of God,” as the article is titled, is that, beliefs asides, the gender dynamic in their day-to-day lives closely resemble those of the average 21st century couple.

Whorten explains:

Many call themselves complementarians, signaling their belief that God ordained complementary — not identical or flexible — roles for men and women. To critics, “complementarian” is code for sexist patriarchy, a license to keep women muzzled and homebound. Yet spending even five minutes with Priscilla Shirer and her husband suggests that reality is far more complicated — not only at home but also in the new “separate sphere” that this theology has spawned: a subculture of Bible studies, conferences, ministries, religious retreats and literature ranging from Christian fitness books to Christian romance novels, all produced by and for evangelical women.

These complementarians are criticized by more progressive Christians for emphasizing an intrinsic difference between men and women, one that accounts for the fact that women are “destined to live a different — and subordinate — Christian life.”

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Toward a More Equitable Parenthood

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

I’m sad for Elana’s friend, the one who recently had an abortion. Not because she had an abortion, but because it was such a difficult experience and because her husband doesn’t agree with her decision not to have a child.

I’ll confess to having a laugh at Elana’s pre-Thanksgiving image, in which she describes motherhood as carving “out pieces of our identities, as if we’re a turkey lying there for all to partake in.” True, there is an objectification of motherhood. We are expected, all too often, to be fonts of unending maternal nurturance.

Our needs? They are frequently incompatible with the needs of children. I confess to still-frequent moments of frustration that I can’t get my writing done in a day, or a week or month, when this one is home with a stomach bug or that one needs to be taken for yet another blood test.

And without a doubt, American culture (I can’t speak authoritatively to Israeli culture on this) offers all the demands and virtually no support to mothers: insufficient parental leave and most, if not all of it unpaid, little support from extended family or government, and many other ways as well.

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The Synagogue as a Veiled Woman

By Elissa Strauss

Kate Milford
Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans

The Museum at Eldridge Street, a Lower East Side synagogue that was built in 1887 and holds National Historic Landmark status, recently underwent a quarter-century-long renovation, which culminated with the recent installment of a 16-foot glass window — see it here designed by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans.

The synagogue, long an Orthodox congregation for early Eastern European Jewish immigrants to America, had no record of what the original window looked like. So the museum decided to commission something new. Gans spoke recently with The Sisterhood about synagogue architecture in America, designing for gender-segregated congregations, and how the process made her re-think sacred spaces.

Elissa Strauss: Did you have any preconceived notions about synagogue design that informed your design?

Deborah Gans: I was very interested in the fact that there is no one synagogue architecture. This, of course, has scriptural roots — the Temple in Jerusalem being the one true Temple. I love the way in which that precept combined with cultural wandering and iconoclasm has created a kind of elusive architecture. Eldridge Street is identifiable within a category of 19th century eclectic synagogues — a bit Mudéjar mixed with Gothic revival, but also a kind of Americanism.

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The Problem With 'Engaging Jewish Teenage Boys'

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Brett Lubarsky
Members of a Moving Traditions pilot class participate in a trust-building activity.

Jewish boys apparently want a room of their own. This is the main conclusion from the new curriculum “Engaging Jewish Teenage Boys: A Call to Action,” an educational program aimed at resolving the so-called “boy crisis” in Jewish communal life. The program encourages the creation of all male spaces, such as a “Brotherhood” groups, in which boys can freely discuss life, philosophy and Jewish identity, and also play some basketball. The theory is that women and girls have been conducting Jewish ritual and consciousness-raising in all-female spaces for a while, and boys can use some of that empowerment, too.

There is no doubt that the Jewish community needs to enable boys to explore their gender and Jewish identity in safe educational environments with skilled and compassionate facilitators. While women have been grappling with Jewish meanings of femininity for several decades, there has been only scant attention given to meanings of masculinity. In that sense, it is a great idea to give boys — and men, for that matter — an opportunity to explore gender expectations and roles and conflicts in identity in order to help them form stable, balanced identities.

That said, creating all-male spaces in a tradition that is still male-dominated is problematic.

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