Sisterhood Blog

The Allure of Orthodoxy

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

When I was a student at Tel Aviv University, during my second year of college, I spent a number of Shabbatot and holidays with new friends — young women who had, like me, grown up in the States, and were now newly Orthodox — who were learning how to be religious at Neve Yerushalyaim yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood.

Reading Elana Sztokman’s recent post about how good it felt to be counted in a minyan for the first time brought some of those memories back, though in a kind of reverse way.

I know how it feels to be attracted to the other side of Jewish life. I’ve always been fascinated by and attracted to deep religious experience and the meaning it brings to those who aren’t satisfied skating on the surface of life.

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Paycheck Fairness Doesn't Mean Doom for Gender Relations

By Sarah Seltzer

Christina Hoff Sommers, noted (Jewish) anti-feminist gadfly and provocateur, is back, this time arguing on the New York Times’ Op-Ed page against one of the most common-sense pieces of legislation before Congress: the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The bill, a sort of companion to the Lilly Ledbetter Act, would shore up previous equal pay measures and ensure transparency for employees concerned about gender discrimination. The Times editorial board itself supports its passage.. But Sommers does not.

Her contention is that differing life paths explain the persistent pay gap between men and women —which is certainly something feminists agree on, at least partially. She pays lip service to feminist contentions that social pressure and gendered expectations often lead to a disparity in workplace attitudes, ambitions, and choices. But she then uses that acknowledgement to dismiss the possibility of any lingering gender discrimination and claims that the act’s passage will lead to a bonanza of lawsuits. In her words it “would set women against men, empower trial lawyers and activists, perpetuate falsehoods about the status of women in the workplace and create havoc in a precarious job market.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Christina Hoff Sommers, Lilly Ledbetter Act, Paycheck Fairness Act

A Mikvah Lady Turned 'Lice Lady'

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

As soon as the phone call came from my daughters’ school yesterday, the itching started. My knees, my shoulders, my scalp, it all itched, because the Lice Lady, doing one of the several school-wide checks she is periodically brought in to do, had found the little buggers in my girls’ hair.

Turns out, my itching wasn’t just psychosomatic. I had ‘em too, as did my son. So last night, after stripping all of the beds in the house and starting what has felt like 100 loads of laundry, off we went to one of the Lice Ladies of Brooklyn, Shayna Brown.

The living room of Mrs. Brown’s modest apartment, where she has raised nine children, who now range in age from 31 to 7 years old, had been turned into a nit-picking salon.

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How Rav Yosef's Daughter Is Educating Her Father's Flock

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Just before Yom Kippur, The Sisterhood linked to this article in Haaretz profiling the life and work of Adina Bar-Shalom, founder of the Haredi College of Jerusalem. She is the eldest daughter of Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and her valiant work is bringing higher education to both men and women in the rapidly expanding and increasingly impoverished Haredi population in Israel, so that they can better support their families.

By chance, while collapsed in my post-break-the-fast food coma, I switched on the television and there was Bar-Shalom, the focus of a segment in a three-part documentary on Haredi life called “Haredim.”

The activities of the petite bespectacled woman were accurately described in the Haaretz piece. But the article failed to convey, as the film did, just how daunting — and exhausting — her mission is, and the courage strength of personality she must possess in order to accomplish it.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Ovadia Yosef, Haredi College of Jerusalem, Adina Bar Shalom

Asking Fewer People for Forgiveness

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

For many years now, since I learned about the practice of mechila, or asking for forgiveness, I’ve taken it seriously, using the weeks leading up to the High Holy Days to reflect on the ways in which I know I’ve fallen short. My personal al chet, or confession, is a long one — as I think about a comment that inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings, about things I’ve said in heated moments at home, and about my enduring quest to develop more patience.

My practice has been to ask those to whom I’m closest what I may have done in the past year that hurt them, and then, whether they enumerate some of those things or not, to ask them to forgive me. It’s been a healing ritual and I am grateful for this interlude in the Jewish calendar, which calls for reflection and repentance, as a chance to be more conscious about my behavior.

But this year, somehow, I’m just not feeling it. I don’t feel like being “the good girl,” and asking for forgiveness from some of the people in my life.

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Prime Ribs: Haredi Women in High-Tech; Artificial Ovaries

By Gabrielle Birkner

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s eldest daughter, Adina Bar Shalom, is helping to train Haredi women for jobs in Israel’s high-tech sector.


Meanwhile, secular Israeli women have a higher rate of workforce participation than do women in any other developed country, Haaretz reports.


In a discovery that could help women undergoing cancer treatment preserve their fertility, scientists have created the first artificial human ovary that can grow and mature human eggs.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Adina Bar Shalom, Fertility, High-Tech, Marriage, Sperm Donation

Where Women of All Shapes and Sizes Do the Hula

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

One of the most life-altering events I experienced in Maui was going to an Uluwehi Guerrero concert. Uluwehi, or Ulu as he is known to his friends, is a beloved Hawaiian folk artist who is dedicated to preserving not only Hawaiian language and music but the entire Hawaiian culture and heritage. Leslie Granat, a fabulous Jewish philanthropist and businesswoman — a Brooklyn-bred Maui resident and one of the major sponsor s of Ulu’s concert — told me that if I could go to only one Hawaiian concert in my life, this should be it.

Indeed. Ulu, a massive man with a captivating voice and gentle presence, sits at the back of the stage surrounded by a row of ukulele players on his left, other string instruments on his right, a 40-person choir to the side, and dozens of hula dancers in front of him. He tells stories – ancient and contemporary – about every song, while dancers dressed in hula skirts, leis, and peony hairpieces fill the stage with their dances. Every bodily movement matches not only the music but also the words — with hand motions for birds, for trees, for relationships, and even for a hilarious fly-swatting song.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Pono Fried, Maui, Leslie Granat, Hawaii, Uluwehi Guerrero

The High Holy Days With 'Debbie and Danny'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Amazon.com
The cover of the 1961 book ‘Rosh Ha-shono Yom Kippur’

I missed Debbie and Danny. They were my childhood friends with whom I used to celebrate the Jewish holidays. I lost touch years ago with Debbie and her brother Danny. So, I was thrilled to recently find them again and reconnect with them … on the pages of a series of children’ books published by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations — now the Union for Reform Judaism — in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Back in the days when publishers could get away with giving children’s books simple and straightforward titles like, “Rosh Ha-shono Yom Kippur” or “Passover: The Festival of Freedom,” Debbie and Danny guided youngsters through the basics of holiday observance. Way back when, there was no need for main characters to be anthropomorphized insects and animals or for picture books to be written in clever limericks.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yom Kippur, Children's Literature, Debbie and Danny, Rosh Hashanah, Union of American Hebrew Congregations

'I Love Daisy Khan!' the Seminary President Gushed

By Sarah Seltzer

After weeks of waiting for a chance to publicly express solidarity with the folks behind Park51 a friend and I cut out early from the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday.

Swag in hand, we met up with J Street’s contingent to attend the Liberty Walk for Religious Freedom, which started at St. Peter’s Church in Lower Manhattan and continued along the nearby streets, past various houses of worship and by the footprints of the former twin towers. It was a relief to be surrounded by hundreds of other people who wanted to publicly and vocally defend the Islamic cultural center, and the opening speeches — over an hour and a half worth of them — resulted in numerous moments of thunderous clapping and standing ovations for any line that strayed even close to applause-worthy; one could feel the pent up energy.

Some attendees in clerical collars and yarmulkes were close to tears, and throughout the packed pews one could almost sense palpable desperation, as though weeks of anti-“Ground Zero mosque” propaganda and overwrought media debates left audience members craving a little bit of generosity and kindness.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Katharine Henderson, Islamic Cultural Center, Ground Zero Mosque, Daisy Khan, Park51

Ray Frank's Historic High Holy Day Sermons

By Leah Berkenwald

One hundred and twenty years ago this week, Ray Frank delivered a historic sermon on what was the first night of Rosh Hashanah in Spokane, Wash. Ray Frank, featured in JWA’s History Makers exhibit, is one of those “complicated” heroines. She is a pioneer in that she is thought to be the first woman to preach formally from a synagogue pulpit, but despite her important “first,” Ray Frank does not fit the idea of a feminist heroine. In fact, she called herself “a stout opponent of what is commonly called ‘Women’s Rights.’” (This post about Ray Frank delves into this deeper.)

Ray Frank’s Rosh Hashanah sermon entreated her audience to overcome the differences between Reform and Orthodox ritual that had divided Spokane’s Jewish community. It was so moving that she was invited to deliver a second sermon on Yom Kippur. The original newspaper clipping of her Yom Kippur sermon is available to view on the Jewish Women’s Archive website.

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 weekly with the Sisterhood.

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Mourning My Mother — on Yom Kippur and Throughout the Year

By Chanel Dubofsky

The writer, with her mother.

Sitting around the table — four young women, all of us had lost one of our parents — we told the stories that we always tell or never tell: when we knew it was inevitable (cancer was the cause of death in every situation), where we were when we had to drop everything and come home, the worst and the silliest things people have said to us, the mysterious inability to account for the time between death and the funeral.

We waved our hands and talked faster and passed around second and third helpings of squash casserole. Some of us cried. I thought about what it meant to share these things, our moments of vulnerability and terror and grief, and how, in spite of feeling connected, the very unique texture of our losses would always separate us.

Twelve years after my mother’s death, I’m still forgiving her. Trust me when I say there’s enough work to be done that it takes the whole year, every year, and not just the month of Elul or the 26 hours of Yom Kippur. This is what no one tells you about — how big the task is of mourning an entire person.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yom Kippur, Yizkor, Mother, Cancer

Is It Easier To Be Plus-Sized in Israel or America?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Petite and Plus-Sized: Tali Giat

When Tali Giat was picked as the winner of the show “More to Love” by bachelor Luke Conley, she became the first Israeli to win any American reality show, and the first plus-size woman to win any of the bachelor shows.

Late last fall, Giat and Conley broke up. Since then she has focused on building a career as a “Healthy Body Image and Self-Esteem Ambassador.” “Today I’m working to empower women, kids and teenagers to re-define beauty. What you see on TV and in magazines is not what is,” she told The Sisterhood. “It’s the industry that makes them look the way they look.”

Giat, who is 5’4” and ranges between sizes 10 and 14, was born and raised in Kfar Saba, Israel, the oldest of six children in a Yemenite family.

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Penina Roth: The Brains Behind NYC's Most Diverse Reading Series

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

Ferentz Lafargue
Penina Roth founded the Franklin Park Reading Series.

Penina Roth is an atypical Lubavitcher; she once worked as a wardrobe stylist for music videos and was a literary groupie before launching the popular Franklin Park Reading Series last year. Located at a bar of the same name in the steadily gentrifying neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn the series boasts an impressive collection of readers and performers, from bestsellers to unknowns. Some of her readers previously featured in the Forward include Dani Shapiro, Amy Sohn, and Teddy Wayne.

Allison Gaudet Yarrow spoke recently with Roth about the changing face of Crown Heights — a neighborhood that Hasidic and Caribbean families have long called home — and what it means to bring an infusion of literary arts to the area.

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'The Velveteen Rabbi' on Raising Money for Mosque Repair

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

flickr.com
‘The Velveteen Rabbi’: Rachel Barenblat

It’s not every day that New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof cites a rabbinical student, but Rachel Barenblat won that distinction on Sunday, when the writer mentioned her recent success raising money so that a vandalized Queens mosque could replace its damaged prayer rugs.

On August 25, a drunk man entered an Astoria, Queens mosque, called the worshippers there terrorists and then urinated on their prayer rugs. Apalled, Barenblat tweeted about the incident and someone reading her Twitter stream suggested that they find a Queens synagogue interested in donating money to pay for new carpets.

Instead, the 35-year-old posted on her blog, “The Velveteen Rabbi,” a request for donations to be passed along to the Al-Iman mosque, to pay for a steam-cleaning of its prayer rugs.

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What I Learned From Making a Mauian Minyan

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

Last week, for the first time in my life, I was the tenth man for a minyan, so to speak. Although on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish Congregation of Maui had a packed house, by the second morning, the dropout rate was noticeable. So when I walked into the synagogue on Friday morning, the nine men waiting to pray were very happy to see me.

Making the minyan was so novel, so refreshing. I felt like my presence actually mattered, that I was sitting among equals, and that my gender was irrelevant. I cannot remember another time I felt that way in synagogue. I wore my tallit, a gold-laced fabric that a dressmaker friend of mine made for me nearly ten years ago out of material that I bought at the market. My husband showed me how to tie the knots of the tzitzit, although I am not sure that his Chabad teachers who taught him this special craft would have approved. I don’t wear my tallit that often, because I am not often in environments where it feels socially comfortable, even in partnership synagogues. Here, it felt exactly right. I was finally a peer standing before God, and I fit right in.

This was a positively empowering experience. All the attendees were dedicated, sincere and genuine. There was a certain intimacy and friendliness, but the service was carried out in its authenticity. The room eventually filled up some more around shofar-blowing time, but that lovely balance between formality and informality held.

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Yes, Jewish Women Do Wear Lilly Pulitzer

By Elissa Strauss

Knopf
Lisa Birnbach, author of ‘True Prep’

When Lisa Birnbach’s “The Official Preppy Handbook” was published in 1980, the tongue-in-cheek “field guide” to preppy behaviors became a generational phenomenon, spending a year on the New York Times bestseller list and inspiring American fashion for decades to come.

Now Birnbach is back with “True Prep: It’s a Whole New Old World,” an updated guide, written with Chip Kidd, to the polo-shirt wearing, gin-and-tonic drinking, Volvo-driving coterie, which looks quite a bit different than it did 30 years ago.

Birnbach, who is Jewish, spoke recently with The Sisterhood about the globalization of preppyhood, why materialism doesn’t go well with sweater sets and pearls, and giving speeches at country clubs once closed off to Jews.

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Prime Ribs: Prosecution for Hoffman?; Soap Opera Politics; 'Birth Rape'

By Gabrielle Birkner

Jerusalem police are recommending prosecution for Anat Hoffman, the Women of the Wall leader who was arrested in July while carrying a Torah in the Western Wall plaza. Read The Sisterhood’s interview with Hoffman — her first following the arrest — here and view our slideshow of women around the world holding or reading from the Torah here.


A Syrian soap has taken a turn for the political with a storyline about a Muslim woman’s decision to take off her veil — a decision that causes her mother to disown her and her brother to plot her murder.


Jenna Zark, over at TCJewfolk, has some fun playing with the initials J.A.P.


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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: James Ponet, Women of the Wall, Chelsea Clinton, Birth Rape, Anat Hoffman

Shofar as Midwife

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

There are some Jewish holidays where the feminine aspect is front and center, as on Passover, which counts women are pivotal characters and when we remember coming through “the narrow place” in our exodus and re-birth from Egypt, and Purim, whose heroine, of course, is Esther.

I hadn’t thought of Rosh Hashana as one of those female-focused holidays, but reading a new gloss on the meaning of the shofar, the ram’s horn used during this period of reflection and renewal, in which it is likened to a midwife, has shown me a new perspective.

Rabbi DovBer Pinson, who runs a Brooklyn center for learning and spirituality called Iyyun, has published an online booklet of mystical insights into the Jewish New Year. In it, which can be read in its entirety here, he writes:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Shofar, Rosh Hashanah, Midwife, 5771

How Anti-Abortion Activists Are Winning the Debate

By Sarah Seltzer

Dina Lamdany, the young Jewish feminist blogger behind From the Rib, is looking into abortion-rights organizations at the colleges she is considering. Citing the legacy of strong Jewish women in the abortion-rights movement, she hopes to join Students for Choice or the equivalent at whatever school she ends up at. She writes:

So that’s why I believe that it’s important for me to join a pro-choice group when I go to college: because reproductive rights are important, because I want to make sure that abortion stays legal and safe for women, but also because I want my peers to learn to appreciate and want to protect the rights that we have been lucky enough to have been born with.

She writes about the generation gap — about how young people born with the assumed right and ability to take control of their reproductive health whether it’s through birth control, abortion or the morning after pill, have a little understanding of how those rights are slipping away.

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Hawaii's Lessons for 5771

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

visitmaui.com

I’ve been here in Maui for nearly three weeks — far from my home in Israel nearly 180 longitudinal degrees away — and the contrasts are striking.

Drivers stop at crosswalks even if the pedestrian is standing still on the sidewalk. Everyone stops to say a cheery “aloha” to people they pass on the street, making me wonder at first if my host actually knows everyone on the island. The talk is slow, the breeze is refreshing and the surrounding waters remind you that there is no current known threat of enemy or terror in the foreseeable distance. Even the looming volcanoes are dormant and benign.

I realize that the tranquility here is something of an illusion. After all, Hawaii has socio-economic and ethnic woes like many other places, as well as a severe drug problem and less-than-perfect educational system. Locals like to say that Maui is a tough place that spits some people out. Still, there is something about the energy here that I want to bring back with me to Israel. When the ocean breeze blows in the afternoon, I feel like everything washes away. I can close my eyes and let myself drift out into the grand universe, allowing God to take me wherever the wind can carry me.

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