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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
I’m not one to frequently applaud the approach to female modesty in the ultra-Orthodox community. Particularly during the hottest days of an Israeli summer, seeing Haredi women perspire under layers of clothing, wigs, hats, and heavy wool stockings makes me sweat in sympathy.
And over the past years, we’ve seen the birth of the Jewish burqa-wearers, embracing the most uncomfortable of severe Islamic restrictions — a fully covered body and a veil over the face.
That is why I was pleased, even inspired, after seeing the photos in the Israeli press of the men of the Hasidic Bratslav sect setting off on their annual pilgrimage to the grave of their spiritual father, Rabbi Nahman. Tucked under their hats were black cloths covering their faces, that they were wearing for the airplane journey so as not to defile their vision with unclean images.
Prime Ribs From the Week’s News:
• There were no mini-skirts or corsets — or men — at this recent Jerusalem fashion show, featuring tsnius clothing for observant Jewish women.
• The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles this summer launched a blog all about mah jongg — the tile game that has long been a favorite pastime of Jewish women of a certain age. Blogger Elaine Sandberg takes on such pressing mah jongg issues as “the ‘trauma’ of finding a hand” and the “savvy discarding” of tiles — and she ends each post with “May the tiles be with you.”
• At a time when American colleges are graduating more women than men, a Washington Post blogger explains why “women’s colleges are not passé.”
I’m enjoying this thread on gossip that Sisterhood contributor Sarah Seltzer has taken up has taken up, because I love talk and I love information. And when you combine the two it’s likely you’ll cross the border into the realm of gossip. Does this mean that by extension I also love gossip? Sometimes I do. Other times I most definitely do not.
The High Holy Day liturgy takes on the issue of gossip — it includes “For the sin that we have committed before You in judging our neighbor/ And for the sin we have committed against You in slander and idle gossip” — so it’s a fitting time to reflect on the power of talk and its effects on others.
Libi bamizrach va’ani b’sof ma’arav. “My heart is in the East, but I am in the farthest West.” Those were the sentiments of Yehuda Halevi, the Jewish-Spanish physician and poet who lived in the 11th and 12th centuries.
They are also mine.
However, while for Halevi, “East” represented the Land of Israel, for me it symbolizes both that and my other cultural home — New York City. When you live on the western edge of the North American continent, as I do, both seem very far away.
Recently, a friend announced that she was not attending High Holy Days services this year. It was not a sign of protest but rather of resignation. Having attended services last year with a toddler, there was no way she was going to try this year with two small children. Even when a congregation offers tot services and babysitting options, the thought of getting to synagogue for Rosh Hashanah with small children can be daunting. But skipping services does not mean giving up on the meaning of the holiday — and here are some ways to do that:
As a 21st-century version of the balebuste, Sisterhood contributor Elissa Strauss wrote of the joys of being an organized, industrious wife. Although Strauss’s balebuste inclinations were recognized when she was still a little girl, one may argue that she officially entered the ranks of true balebuste-hood when she became a wife. (Other Sisterhood contributors weighed in on embracing or rejecting the balebuste moniker here, here, and here.)
In fact, my 1968 version of Leo Rosten’s “The Joys of Yiddish” defines a balebuste as “the wife of a baleboost or An excellent and praiseworthy homemaker, A female owner, A female manager, A bossy woman.” Furthermore, Rosten goes on to explain that — like Strauss — he was most impressed “as a child, by the obsession with cleanliness in our household, and the scorn with which untidiness was castigated.”
My own model of the quintessential balebuste is a rather untidy, creatively chaotic 29-year-old single Jewish woman: My daughter, Lara.
Amy Alkon, the witty syndicated advice columnist behind “The Advice Goddess,” thinks rudeness has reached epidemic proportions.
Alkon opens her book “I See Rude People” with a description of being subjected to a stranger’s decibel-crushing cell phone conversation. And woe to the person who shouts out his phone number within earshot of Alkon. She’s at the ready to take down that number and call him back to tell him how rude it is to be conducting loud personal conversations in public spaces.
The L.A.-based Alkon is an advice columnist for the 21st century — grappling with the intricacies of what constitutes polite behavior in these chaotic and unprecedented technological times. “People are basically the same as they always were,” she told The Sisterhood during a recent phone interview. “Technology enables rude people to disseminate rudeness faster and more effectively.”