When it comes to giving tzedakah, doing so anonymously is considered the most virtuous way to go. By the standards of the Rambam’s ladder of tzedakah, Henrietta Lacks would be one of the greatest tzaddikahs of all time. Lacks gave of herself by way of cells that have enabled scientists to conduct research to create the polio vaccine, uncover mechanisms of cancer, test the effects of the atom bomb, develop cloning and in vitro fertilization techniques and map genes.
She gave of herself so not only anonymously, but also unknowingly. And therein lies the crux of the ethical dilemmas relating to human tissue donation and use that underpin her story, as it is expertly and caringly told by Rebecca Skloot in her recent book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” (Crown Publishers, 2010).
There are those childhood pictures that are reminders of our cuter selves. Aw, There I am with the freckles! And that’s me with chocolate sundae smeared all over my face! Precious.
And then, of course, there are those pictures of yesteryear that have a more humiliating bent. A particular one comes to mind: I’m wearing a bat mitzvah dress with shoulder pads that were about two and a half times the width of my upper arm. But I look so cheery, braces and massive glasses and all. Everything was so much bigger in 1992 — the glasses, the dresses, the bows (a baby-pink one on the dress and a lighter pink one on my head). No micro-minis on the bimah back then. (Case in point, the fashions seen in this recent Sisterhood video of a bat mitzvah that took place the same year as my own.)
I know she was just trying to look like Streisand, and not pretending she could sound like her, but still. If anyone has the right to model herself after Streisand, it sure isn’t Jennifer Aniston. It’s Lea Michele.
Have you seen her on “Glee”? Or were you lucky enough to catch her performance on Broadway in “Spring Awakening”? (That’s where Boychik and I saw her opposite Jonathan Groff, who also plays her evil love interest on “Glee.”)
Sisterhood News Roundup: Israel Edition:
“The job is not for mothers”: A woman from the religious town of Elad received the equivalent of an $8,000 payout for gender discrimination in job hiring. The woman had applied to work as a security guard in the town, but instead of being properly interviewed, she was ridiculed by her potential employers. “This is not a job for a young mother,” they reportedly told her. “And anyway, you cannot do the job wearing the skirt.” She thought she could, and thankfully the courts agreed. She may wear a skirt and push a stroller, but she is tough and knows how to stand up for her rights.
Protesters in tank-tops are not welcome: Apparently pro-Palestinian activists and ultra-Orthodox Jews have something in common: women’s bodies. Last week’s protest in solidarity with residents of Sheik Jarrah included some unusual instructions. Protestors were told that women wearing tank tops would not be allowed to participate.
The personal is political, said feminist writer Carol Hanisch back in 1969, and while reading Renee Ghert-Zand’s recent blog post on childbearing, I couldn’t help but think that procreation is political, as well.
That’s especially true when it comes to Jewish parenting; anyone who is Jewishly engaged is aware of the cultural/religious imperative to have children.
And it is an imperative. Being fruitful and multiplying is not only in the first book of the Bible, it’s also a way to respond to those who, through annihilation or assimilation, would see the Jewish people winnowed away to nothing.
It has been an incredible week for Jewish women. The confirmation of Elena Kagan as the next Supreme Court justice, bringing the total number of women to three and the total number of Jewish women to two, has the effect on me of lighting fireworks in my soul. Despite all the rubbish women have to put up with in society and in Judaism, this is a moment when I can put that all aside and think, “Yes, Jewish women can!”
One of the greatest moments for me in the process that began with President Obama’s May 10 announcement of her nomination, was watching law professor and former prosecutor Paul Butler on PBS NewsHour analyze the significance of her appointment. After coolly describing some of her many strengths — pragmatism, moderation, swift negotiation, mental agility, and wit — he diverted from his dispassion, smiled and said, “She’s brilliant and she’s charming!” Wow, I thought. Really smart people love and appreciate her. That is just so wonderful.
On August 24, the Forward and the Sixth Street Synagogue will present three accomplished Jewish artists — all named Alicia — whose work extends across generations and genres. The event, called “3 Alicias 3,” will feature:
• Alicia Svigals
Svigals is a virtuosic klezmer fiddler, who was a founder of the Klezmatics and the band Mikveh. Svigals is a native New Yorker, who studied with the legendary Leon Schwartz. She has been called “the greatest living exponent of the klezmer fiddle.”
It’s Funny Girl redux. Or, at least, kind of. Jennifer Aniston has been transformed into Barbra Streisand for the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar. (See the pictures here.) Donning looks from Streisand classics like Funny Girl and What’s Up Doc?, Aniston does her best Babs impression, manicured nails and all.
The article explains that Aniston has long admired Streisand, the “patron saint of stage and screen (two Academy Awards, eight Grammys) and the exemplar of times-they-are-a-changing feminism, and that the homage was largely inspired by her hairdresser.
Ayelet Waldman makes up half of one of America’s most prolific Jewish literary couples. (She is married to Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon.) Her most recent novel, “Red Hook Road,” is the story of two tragically intertwined families: the Jewish Copakens, from New York, and the Yankee Tetherlys of Maine, led by matriarchs Iris and Jane, respectively.
Sisterhood contributor Allison Kaplan Sommer recently interviewed Waldman via email about writing Jewish characters, raising daughters, how the novel has been received in Maine, where her family is summering, and why she decided to immerse herself in the world of wooden sailboat-building.
Allison Kaplan Sommer: “Red Hook Road” was published on July 13 to numerous positive reviews. And the same month you organized and celebrated your son’s bar mitzvah. Which was more challenging — putting together a bar mitzvah or writing a novel? Which was more satisfying?
Somehow, I am not surprised that just as I find myself at what has for me been the hardest stage of parenting (working mom with three boys, ages 9, 14 and 16), studies are showing that fewer women are choosing to be mothers.
A recently released Pew Research Center study shows that a quarter of American women in my age and demographic group (40-44 , with an advanced academic degree) are childless. While that percentage is down from 31% in 1994, there is evidence that choice, and not just infertility, is involved.
The recent report cited a 2007 poll, showing that 41% of respondents felt that children were essential to a successful marriage, down from 65% in 1990. A recent, much-talked-about article in New York magazine titled, “All Joy and No Fun,” covered the supposed revelation that parenting is hard and captured the zeitgeist of today’s young parents hating to be parents.
Eleven women’s groups got together last week to challenge gender discrimination that is written into Israeli law. As it stands, the Law for Appointing Judges bans women from applying for the position of Executive Director of the Rabbinical Court. Although such a law would have no doubt have been thrown out long ago from the American legal system, in Israel Version 2010, getting this law revoked is harder, it seems, than bringing the mountain to Moses, so to speak.
Last Wednesday, a group of women’s organizations, including the Israel Women’s Network, the Center for Women’s Justice, Naamat, WIZO, Kolech, ICAR, and several others, appealed to the Supreme Court in a suit against Justice Minister Ya’akov Ne’eman, to repeal the law on the grounds that it violates the basic human rights of women and women’s freedom of employment.
Before Paul Rudd broke into television and movies, the “Dinner for Schmucks” star was working the bar and bat mitzvah circuit in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. He emceed my bat mitzvah party, back in 1992 — months before landing a recurring role on the NBC drama “Sisters.” (“Clueless” was still a few years off.)
The soft-spoken aspiring actor whom my mom and I met on the hunt for bat mitzvah DJs — I took an immediate liking to Rudd — turned out to be the perfect choice for the event. Rudd, donning a yellow tuxedo jacket, a ruffled shirt, shorts and Doc Martens, ably and energetically led us through all of the bat mitzvah staples: candle-lighting, Coke & Pepsi, toasts, limbo, “Hands Up,” challah-cutting and “YMCA.” And as the “Today” show-themed bat mitzvah party came to a close, he invited my friends onto the dance floor to sing a moving rendition of “That’s What Friends Are For.”
In “Afterworld,” a novella that closes the new story collection “Memory Wall,” O. Henry Prize-winning author Anthony Doerr imagines life inside a Jewish girls’ orphanage during World War II. The novella tells the story of Esther, an epileptic grandmother in Geneva, Ohio, whose seizures bring her back to the time she spent in the orphanage.
Doerr spoke recently with Sisterhood contributor Elissa Strauss about the powerful inspiration for the piece, the universal appeal of Anne Frank’s diary, and the way made-up stories can preserve real-life events.
How did you come to set this story at a Jewish girl’s orphanage during WWII?
While doing research for another project, a novel I’ve been working on for years, I came across a deportation manifest with the names and birthdate of 13 girls on it. None was older than 16, and the youngest was under 5. All were sent to Auschwitz. I left the manifest pinned to a bulletin board in my office for over a year, and every now and then it would percolate back up in my thoughts. It wasn’t until I started reading about temporal lobe epilepsy, for yet another project, and the visions that some of its sufferers have, that I began to think: Maybe I can make fiction about these two things.
Finally, some small change for women in Israel, so to speak. Four women have been appointed to the New Currency Committee, the Bank of Israel announced last week. The four women, veteran reporter Sherry Raz-Biron, sculptor Ilana Gur, Tel Aviv University professor Adina Myer, and design expert Gila Shakin, will not only create a female presence in decision-making where there was previously none, but they will now have a role in ensuring that women’s profiles will also be represented on the new currency.
At the moment, there are no women featured on Israeli coins or bills. Golda Meir used to appear on the now-defunct 10,000 shekel-note. But ever since the Old Israeli Shekel was replaced by the New Israeli Shekel at a ratio of 1,000 to 1, and the Meir bill replaced by a coin, women have remained absent.
When selecting a rabbi to co-officiate at their wedding, Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky made a wise choice in selecting Rabbi James Ponet. Not many people can tell you this from personal experience, but I can: The guy does great intermarriages.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I married a Jewish man. But I would dare to say that my marriage involved just as much delicate juggling of traditions as that of the Methodist daughter of the former president and current secretary of state and her Jewish husband. And Rabbi Ponet did it with style and grace.
Like the Clinton-Mezvinsky clan, we thought that Jim was worth transporting from New Haven. My Israeli husband became friendly with him at Yale in the 1980s, when he arrived there as a foreign student, not knowing a soul. He was immediately welcomed into the warm circle of Ponet’s Hillel house. Ponet — known by students simply as “Jim” — spent a number of years in Israel and is fluent in Hebrew. Soon, he and my husband’s Hillel director-student relationship evolved into a real friendship.
The exclusion of women’s voices, a phenomenon present in far too many educational, economic and political settings, has perhaps the most far-reaching consequences when it comes to issues of war and peace. Women, whose cultural heritage revolves around care, relationships, nurturing and interpersonal responsibility, have a vital perspective on armed conflict.
Whereas men in power may be motivated — consciously or unconsciously — by issues of ego, power and testosterone contests, women are more likely to be motivated by their culturally imposed responsibility for life. As scholar Sara Ruddick writes in “The Politics of Motherhood” in an essay entitled, “Rethinking ‘Maternal’ Politics,” women “who believe that their lives have been transformed by caring for children… want to put this transformative experience to public use… seeking a more evidently public forum where they could enact values that they struggled to achieve in their daily work: protectiveness, nonviolence, respect for spiritual complexity, the treasuring of individual life.”
The politics of Muslim women and the burqa has sparked debate and grabbed headlines worldwide. Numerous communities and countries have been wrestling with the question of whether banning modest dress that covers the face is protecting — or violating — human rights.
Here on The Sisterhood and in numerous feminist circles, it has been hotly argued. Jews have appeared on both sides of the debate. Some agree that fully veiled women in public is disturbing and a security risk. Some on the left, view it as free expression. And many Orthodox Jews fear the slippery slope — one day burqas and veils are banned, the next, all forms of religious garb could be in danger.
The phenomenon of veiled Jewish women has been a non-existent to fringe issue in the debate. It was unheard of until a few years ago when some extreme Haredi women in Beit Shemesh in Israel began covering their faces. The media spotlight shone briefly on the phenomenon, when one of these women, dubbed the “Taliban Mother” in the Israeli press was accused of child abuse.
My colleagues and I like to joke that Newsweek’s publishing of an annual “most influential rabbis” list makes about as much sense as the Forward publishing an annual list of “most influential newsweeklies,” which, of course, we don’t.
In a more sensible move, the Forward’s women’s issues blog, The Sisterhood, last week put out an influential rabbis list of its own. Ours featured only women rabbis, a demographic that makes up only a small percentage of Newsweek’s list. Out of the 50 rabbis chosen by Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton and his friend Gary Ginsberg for Newsweek, only six were women.
Since 1972, when Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion ordained its first female rabbi — paving the way for the ordination of women at the flagship Reconstructionist and Conservative seminaries, in 1974 and 1985, respectively — America’s rabbinic seminaries have ordained more 1,000 female rabbis. So many of these rabbis are playing disproportionately large roles in changing lives and communities, it was a challenge to choose just 50 (plus five in Israel) for The Sisterhood 50 list.
Housework has always been a sticky spot for feminists, an elusive thorn in our forward-moving sides. To some, it is a prison from which women have to free themselves. For others, including countless stay-at-home moms and professional domestic workers, it is work that has never earned adequate respect.
This confusion over housework was present in feminism’s second wave. Betty Friedan sought to liberate housewives from their domestic duties, while Selma James fought for wages for housework. And the ambivalence is an issue to this day. The opt-out revolution, in which women were choosing to exit the professional world and become full-time mothers and wives — whether real or a hyped trend — created a heated debate about whether leaving the workplace is a backwards move. All the while, there has been a rise of groups working on behalf of domestic workers who are demanding that housework be considered real work, and are pushing for fair legislation that offers protections to these workers. Add to this the fact that women who don’t opt-out and try to “have it all” have been shown to be unhappy, and that basically the only women who currently label themselves housewives are tawdry TV characters, and the room really starts to spin.
Girlchik got on the camp bus yesterday with a wave and a smile, happy to head off to overnight camp and into the safe first steps toward independence for which, at 11, she is beginning to hunger. Rockerchik, who is 9, was by turns excited and having separation anxiety, bounding off the bus to give me the 10th “last hug and kiss” before she headed off to her first overnight camp experience.
I feel kind of like Rockerchik.
Since Boychik is in Israel, learning Jewish texts with great teachers and taking midnight swims in the Kinneret with new friends, this means that Hubs and I are on our own for the first time in 17 years.