Sisterhood Blog

When 'Pre-Simcha Stress Syndrome' Overcomes You

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

I was always certain that I was never going to be one of those mothers. A bar or bat mitzvah isn’t a wedding, after all. The important thing is that your child is reaching the age of maturity and reading from the Torah. It’s not about the color of the napkins, the quality of the appetizers or the fancy outfits.

Big parties just aren’t me. But then I take a look at the pictures of my daughter’s big, beautiful and undeniably lavish event last week, I think to myself: What happened?

Somehow, the same momentum took over that drove me when I planned my wedding. Except, somehow, the pressure to make this a beautiful ceremony and festive party was greater.

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The Next Jewish Miss America?

By Aimee Berg

Paul Bousquet
Loren Galler Rabinowitz

In the 89-year history of the Miss America pageant, there has been only one Jewish winner: Bess Myerson, in 1945. On January 15, there may be another: Loren Galler Rabinowitz, Miss Massachusetts.

The 24-year-old Harvard University graduate from Brookline is the daughter of two doctors, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and a novice when it comes to pageants, but she is no stranger to competition.

Galler Rabinowitz grew up skating with her mother. She “so liked having someone on the ice to talk to,“ that at age 9 she found a partner and became an ice dancer. At 14, she won her first national title, with David Mitchell, then placed fourth at the 2003 World Junior Championships and captured the bronze at the 2004 US Senior Championships.

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The Case Against 'Don't Worry, Be Happy'

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

For the New Year, a Facebook friend wrote as her status, “My New Year’s resolution is to be Happy all Year!” That sounds lovely, I initially thought. It’s almost Oprah-ish, a vision for living one’s best life, joyously. Or perhaps it’s more like what Dennis Prager advocates — the idea that we all have a moral obligation to be happy in order to spread good feelings, rather than grumpiness, as we walk through world.

But then, I thought, maybe that’s a bit of an optimistic interpretation. I’m wondering if the “Don’t worry, be happy” philosophy that seems to be gaining in popularity actually has such a notable social-communal component. Certainly my kids do better when I’m in a good mood. But really, is that what this is all about? When people talk about the goal of living joyfully, is that a societal vision or just a personal one?

The Buddhist answer is that the only way to influence society is by changing ourselves. Since we cannot ever change another person, the theory goes, we should just focus on changing ourselves — and if the entire world did that, there would be world peace. But, with all due respect to Bu-Judaism, that is really not the Jewish answer. In Judaism, we are in fact urged to interfere in other people’s lives to change them for the better.

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A Mitzvah Project With the Help of Online Crowd-Sourcing

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Abby Hofstetter

How does an 11-year-old girl raise nearly $9,000 for a worthy cause in just over two weeks? By tapping the power of online crowd-sourcing.

A couple of months ago, Abby Hofstetter began volunteering at the Masbia soup kitchen with her parents and younger brother at two of their four “restaurant without cash register” locations, which serve the hungry in Orthodox neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens. When it came time to decide on a chesed project for her upcoming bat mitzvah, Abby knew what she wanted to do.

At first she held a bake sale, which raised $211 for Masbia. When her mother, Sarah, a digital marketing executive, told her boss about it, he said, “If a girl can raise $200, she can raise $10,000,” Abby told The Sisterhood. “He actually just meant it as a joke, but I took it seriously. So I said ‘why not?’”

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Why Is This New Year’s Eve Different?

By Jenny Merkin

It started about two weeks ago — the instant messages while I was at work, asking me about my New Year’s Eve plans and the incessant text messages, sending my phone into a vibrating jig while I made the rounds at holiday parties. I was shocked at the extent to which the simple question, “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?” made my blood boil. I thought that this year I had the perfect excuse to avoid getting fussed up, drunk and spending money: Shabbat.

Now, I don’t mean to be the grinch of New Year’s. However, the holiday presents peer-pressure at its extreme. Almost every single conversation with friends in the last few weeks has included the words “I hate New Year’s.” One friend explained, “I can drink any other weekend”; another one asked Mah nishtanah halyla hazeh? Why is this night different from all other nights?

This year, New Year’s Eve falls on Friday night, the night usually reserved for festivities of a different sort, and more thoughtful conversation. Add a little champagne to the scenario, and it sounds like the perfect start to 2011 (especially when compared to finding myself miles away from home in hard-to-walk-in heels). Observing Shabbat will preclude me from going too far, spending money or using electronics.

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Realizing That It's Not My New Year

By Chanel Dubofsky

Until I was a teenager, I had little interest in large social gatherings featuring other people, with one exception — the all-night New Year’s Eve skating party in town. This happened every year at the local rink, and I was never allowed to go. In the revisionist history in my head, everyone I knew was going to this party, and it made their New Year’s Eve, and the year that ensued, charmed. I, on the other hand, staying home and watching the ball drop with my mother, felt as though I was missing out on a pivotal experience.

I’ve always found the moment when the ball drops always manages to be both painful and unremarkable, fueled by adrenaline and dread. And when it was over, I was still the same person, standing in someone’s living room or in my kitchen. If I stop to consider it, a lot of the hype back then was about boys — if I was with one, who he was, who he wasn’t, and who I was because of him. In spite of being a black sheep of sorts, I still desperately wanted to fit in, even if I didn’t really know what that meant.

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Former Israeli President Katsav Convicted of Rape

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Former President of Israel Moshe Katsav was convicted Thursday on two counts of rape and other counts of sexual harassment and indecent acts by force against three women who worked for him while he was in government.

The conviction, which caps a 19-month-long trial, concludes the first criminal trial of a former Israeli president in Israel’s history.

The lengthy decision rendered by the three judge panel found that the testimony of “Aleph,” who worked for Katsav in the Ministry of Tourism and accused him of two counts of rape, was supported by new evidence that came to light during trial. The judges also rejected Katsav’s claim that he was indicted by the media, and added that he brought the media attention on himself — in particular with his three and a half hour televised rant in March 2009 following which several of his own advisers resigned.

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Response to the Rebbetzins

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

The “rebbetzin” is a specious title. The wife of a rabbi, she gains her status from nothing more than the happenstance of marriage. Although a person seeking out medical counsel from a doctor’s spouse is likely to be met with curiosity if not an actual straitjacket, we in the Jewish community have a cultural history of affording the rebbetzin a particular status of knower or counselor. There may have been a certain historical-sociological legitimacy to this. After all, in past worlds where women were excluded from formal education and men were deemed emotional boors, the rabbi’s wife would fill in for the rabbi in all matters “feminine” — such as say, questions involving birth or human feelings.

Nevertheless, in today’s world, in which women can study and achieve their own titles, when we no longer live in shtetls and people can freely choose their own counselors, I find it odd that the contemporary rebbetzin is still considered in some circles to be an automatically qualified educator. This is particularly jarring in Israel, where the Hebrew title for rabbi’s wife, “rabbanit,” which should really mean “female rabbi,” is dubiously used by certain women to grant themselves a stature based solely on the qualification of owning this particular marriage certificate. Some of us worked for many years to attain our certifications and titles. Moreover, some of my experiences as a student of certain rebbetzins have been, frankly, less than enthralling. At this point in time, the opportunity to learn from a rebbetzin holds no particular attraction or interest for me.

My overall wariness about the educational predilections of the rebbetzin was exacerbated this week by news that 27 rebbetzins from an organization calling itself “Lehava” signed a letter calling on Jewish girls to stay far away from Arab boys.

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Top 10 Moments for Jewish Women in 2010

By Leah Berkenwald

I am one of those retrospective people who loves to reflect and analyze the events of the past 12 months at the end of each calendar year. So this weekend, while snowed in at my parents’ home in western Massachusetts, I set out to answer this: What were the top 10 moments for Jewish women in 2010? Here’s the countdown:

10). The “First Lights” of Women Rabbis Came Together To Light the Hanukkah Candles

Sally Priesand, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Amy Eilberg, and Sara Hurwitz, the first-ordained North American Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative women rabbis, and Open Orthodox rabba, respectively, gathered together for the first time to light the Hanukkah candles, to share their inspirational stories, to celebrate the progress that has been made across the Jewish movements, and to discuss what still needs to be done.

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9). Keshet’s Pledge To Save Lives

Keshet led the Jewish community in response to a wave of bullying that drove a number of youths to suicide this year. The pledge is a commitment to ending homophobic bullying or harassment of any kind in our synagogues, schools, organizations, and communities, and a promise to speak out when anyone is demeaned for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. There are currently more than 10,000 signatures on Keshet’s online pledge.

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The rest of the countdown is here.

Leah Berkenwald is the online communications specialist at the Jewish Women’s Archive, and a contributor to its Jewesses With Attitude blog, which cross-posts regularly with the Sisterhood.


'Unexpectedly Eighty': Judith Viorst’s Poetry of Aging

By Eryn Loeb

Milton Viorst
Author Judith Viorst

Judith Viorst has long been an eyewitness to the quirks of the human life cycle. She is a renowned children’s author — producing such gems as the storybook “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” — and has written several adult nonfiction books, including the best-selling “Necessary Losses: The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies, and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow.” She has also published books of poems reflecting on what it’s like to realize that you might no longer qualify as “young”; she has written about turning 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 — and now, 80.

In “Unexpectedly Eighty: And Other Adaptations,” Viorst offers droll, poignant meditations on growing older and wiser, and on what it means to become more limited. She offers odes to continued health, and boasts of her status as a “three-desserts grandmother.” And in this volume, her pithy observations give way to weightier considerations, such as the inevitability of death, and the possibility of an afterlife.

At nearly 80 — she doesn’t officially pass that threshold until February 2011 — Viorst still has a full plate, having come out last fall with a new children’s book, “Lulu and the Brontosaurus.” Viorst, who is married to the prominent critic of Israeli policy Milton Viorst, spoke recently with The Sisterhood about her favorite decade, her evolving perspective on aging and loss, and writing for children as an (almost) octogenarian.

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Inspiring Jewish Women Who Died in 2010

By Leah Berkenwald

As the year comes to a close, the New York Times Magazine published “The Lives They Lived,” an annual feature celebrating the lives of people who died over the last year. The collage is a mix of people known and unknown. This assortment of stories is more gender-balanced than the regular obituary section of the New York Times, which received criticism this year for it’s editorial policies regarding whose stories are important enough to record.

The Jewish Women’s Archive — whose blog crossposts regularly with The Sisterhood — makes an effort to record the stories of great Jewish women who fly under the radar. This year, we said goodbye to a number of impressive Jewish women — some of whom were recognized in the media, others not so much. So, today we present JWA’s edition of “The Lives They Lived.” I hope you find these women’s stories as inspiring as we do.

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Leah Berkenwald is the online communications specialist at the Jewish Women’s Archive, and a contributor to its Jewesses With Attitude blog.


Male Doula Charged With Sexual Assault

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

A Rehovot man who has been working as a doula, or birth coach, for the past nine years was arrested this morning on charges of rape and sodomy of dozens of women.

According to police Lieutenant Commander Yigal Ben Shalom, who is coordinating the investigation, the man would ask women to undress, explaining that this was part of their treatment, and then he would rape them. One pregnant woman speaking on the Army Radio (Galatz) about her experience with him said, “I did not want to believe that this would happen. And there it was, exactly what you were afraid of, what you didn’t want to believe, is exactly what happened. I’m still in shock.”

Accusations against the doula initially emerged in birth and pregnancy forums on the Hebrew-language web portal Tapuz. Ben Shalom urges all women who may have been victimized to come forward.

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Christmas as a Jew-to-Be

By Erika Davis

Today is Christmas. As someone who is in the process of converting to Judaism, — and blogging about it here — this is the first Christmas that I won’t be celebrating. Since just after Halloween — when the Christmas decorations started appearing all over stores, and when the Christmas music began playing everywhere from Duane Reade to Barney’s — I’ve been “in training” for how to mark the holiday as a Jew.

Two years ago was the first time in my New York life that I picked a fresh Christmas tree from a seller on the street. I was living with roommates on the Upper West Side and my Jewish partner amused me by patiently waiting for me to select the perfect tree, barter with the seller, and lug it home, over our shoulders. She watched as my roommates and I acted like small children with twinkles in our eyes as we decorated the tree with white lights and carefully selected ornaments. When we were finished, we admired our handy work with glasses of wine in hand. I casually asked her if she’d had a tree growing up; she had not. Why would she? She’s Jewish.

If I’d known that that tree would have been my last tree I would’ve taken more pictures of it. Instead I thought nothing of it as I took it down a few weeks later.

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Thoroughly Modern Shidduch

By Daniela Gerson

When I was 23, I interviewed a Lubavitch matchmaker for a story I was writing. The more she explained her profession to me, the more appealing the whole idea sounded: Your parents get together with a professional and find someone for you. You’ve got a say in who you match with, but none of this agony of hoping a mixture of chemistry and fate will bring you your true love.

In the 10 years since that interview, many yentas young and old, across continents and denominations, have tried to play a role in matching me. But most of my actual affairs have been fleeting, foreign and decidedly goyish. My longest relationships have been with a Catholic from Rio, a Muslim from Tunis, and an agnostic from Vermont who shares the name of a very unkosher cut of meat. None have been result of a self-appointed matchmaker’s efforts.

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Rachel Maddow's Feat Times Three

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow

Last night Rachel Maddow interviewed Michael Moore at that stalwart Jewish cultural institution, the 92 street Y. Maddow had been under tremendous pressure from the feminist community to bring up the issue of Julian Assange’s rape charges — Moore’s overly flip dismissal of which I wrote about here last week.

Since then, the movement to get Moore to re-address the rape allegations has swelled on twitter under the #mooreandme hashtag and even spawned an intense intra-Jewish feminist smackdown between Naomi Wolf and Jaclyn Friedman on the Democracy Now! program.

So when Maddow and Moore took the stage last night, there was a maelstrom swirling around them, and they both sat under a spotlight of “don’t screw up” scrutiny. Maddow, to her credit, came out of the gate swinging — asking Moore to address the allegations, and getting him to make this statement.

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Israel's Incitement Laws Applied To Incitement of Sexual Violence

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Four years ago, an Israeli man calling himself “Roso” posted a blog about his “successful seduction” of a Czech tourist in a supermarket in Tel Aviv, thanks to techniques he learned at the Center for the Art of Seduction. These techniques, according to an article by Dmitri Reider in last week’s Haaretz, include putting her down to erode her confidence, ignoring her pleas to stop (“Who listens to girls?” Roso wrote. “A girl is a confused creature with a lot of feelings. She’ll do anything you tell her in this confused state.”), and forcing himself on her to what the course calls a “F**k Close” (FC):

The original blog post, which has since been removed but is being spread with screen-shots on Facebook, contained the following description translated by Dmitri Reider:

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Why Women Are Worse at Networking

By Chanel Dubofsky

The second time I see H. is on a Sunday morning at the bus stop near my apartment. It’s the kind of rainy day in New York that makes you feel hopeless; the rain comes at you sideways, umbrellas blow inside out, and by the time you reach anywhere, you are sopping and angry and frustrated and wish you’d never even tried.

H. and I had met a few days earlier in the middle of woods, at a training for very courageous people planning to journey to remote locations with many young Jewish adults in our charge. She and I, and a few other women, had been part of one evening’s networking group.

Networking is the ultimate demonstration of privilege. That is, if you know what networking is, why it’s important, what to do with networks and know other people who also know these things, you are privileged. You’ve probably been to college, or even graduate school; you probably have had access to some kind of money and/or community that values connections and speaks about how it’s all about who you know. In the Jewish community, this is especially true; if you can manage to penetrate the walls of the organized Jewish establishment, you have a network that might last you as long as you want it, and maybe even beyond.

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Who Needs Civil Unions?

By Elissa Strauss

A recent front-page article in The New York Times looks at how civil unions are gaining on marriage as the preferred method of commitment for heterosexual couples in France. (For homosexual couples, it is their only choice) The pacte civil de solidarité, known as PACS, have become increasingly common over the last 10 years with heterosexual couples, who made up 95% of the 173,045 registered civil unions in 2009.

Some of the couples explain their choice as a generational thing, explaining that marriage, and divorce, was for their parents. They think of marriage as being “very institutional, very square and religious” and that civil unions feel freer. This is despite the fact, as the story reports, that French marriage ceremonies are held in town halls with no religious aspect to them.

Though this dislike for marriage doesn’t seem to be stopping them from taking part in a number of traditions long associated with marriage.

It long ago became common here to speak of “getting PACSed” (se pacser, in French). More recently, wedding fairs have been renamed to include the PACS, department stores now offer PACS gift registries and travel agencies offer PACS honeymoon packages.

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Prime Ribs: BRCA Study; Eating Disorders; Funny Jewish Lesbians

By Elissa Strauss

The Washington Post reports that eating disorders are on the rise in the Orthodox Jewish community — a trend that the Forward wrote about here


In the L.A. Jewish Journal, actress Annie Korzen writes about being too Jewish to play an “Annie Korzen type” in Hollywood.


The lesbian pop culture site After Ellen profiles four rising Jewish lesbian comediennes.

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How Jewish Workplaces Can Right Gender Disparities

By Rachel Jacoby Rosenfield and Renanit Levy

A recent article by Dan Brown at eJewish Philanthropy argues that Jewish communal leaders have a dismal track record of recognizing and rewarding the talented women in their midst. Brown makes an excellent case for taking action to right such disparities — disparities that have been covered extensively in the Forward. But how?

How can communal leaders enable their employees — male and female — to serve and grow to best effect? Our own personal experience informs how we see the answer. We both hold meaningful positions in the Jewish communal world with flexible, part-time work arrangements. These situations afford us opportunities for professional growth, while enabling us to fulfill our responsibilities as caregivers and communal volunteers. We hope and expect that these positions will lead us to positions of top leadership in the Jewish communal workforce. Our central piece of advice to communal employers is this: Make work arrangements flexible, formal and meaningful. Here’s why:

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