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.
In the preparation room at an Israeli mikveh, I read the list of instructions for getting ready. I’m an impostor. This is espionage. I’m not married; I’m not even engaged. I’m not even particularly religious, but I came in a skirt with my hair covered, so no one would be suspicious. This is the strangest kind of whim. I’m here because of a revelation I had at 2:30 in the morning on the Tuesday before I left for Israel — the revelation being: I need to try harder. I can’t let things go the way they’ve been going, in which I’m cynical and lazy about observant Judaism. I will suspend what I think I believe about the misogynistic underpinnings of mikveh. I will take action.
For a long time, I was afraid of water. I refused to get my head wet in the bathtub, I clung stubbornly to the wall of the pool during swimming at camp, annoying my counselors endlessly, and further contributing to my reputation as the weird kid. Now, standing in a towel, waiting to be inspected, it’s not the water I’m worried about; it’s the nudity. I have been in Israel for a month, resulting in the weirdest tan imaginable. I have mosquito bites in suspicious places, I’m not skinny, and I haven’t shaved my legs in two years.
Fearing for her life at the hands of her ex-husband, Almo Masarat, a 20-year-old Petach Tikva resident, went to the police last week. She waited around watching clerks shuffle her around like a paper clip on a desk. Eventually she gave up, telling family members that the police were not helping her. Half an hour later, her ex-husband, who was waiting in the shadows by the entrance to her apartment, allegedly killed her. She was found by neighbors in a bloody pool outside her apartment as her 3-year old son sat next to her, wailing.
Although police apathy towards domestic violence is an old story, what is perhaps surprising is that the situation for women does not seem to have improved much over 30 years, despite ongoing efforts by women’s organizations and other activists. Moreover, the situation for Ethiopian women in Israel, arguably one of the most marginalized groups in the country, is particularly stark. According to statistics released last week by the organization “L.O.,” which fights violence against women, one out of every five women murdered by her husband is Ethiopian — even though Ethiopian Jews make up less than 2% of Israel’s population.
Of the 115 women murdered by their husbands since 2001, 22 have been Ethiopian.
“Shrek the Final Chapter” caused a bit of a dispute in my house. Don’t get me wrong – I love the “Shrek” movies. The messages about beauty, gender, acceptance and love fly in the face of mainstream Hollywood with the size-zero Photoshopped girly-girls who, even if they are detectives or fighters or professionals are still expected to be daintily gorgeous. And this last “Shrek” film, which I managed to enjoy on a very rare night out with my family, added to this gender rebellion as Fiona morphed into the tough, muscular but nevertheless compassionate Leader of the Ogre Resistance, awed and admired by (male) ogres all over Far Away Land. Contrasted with the ogres evil opposition, led by a puny Rumplestilskin whose army consisted of all (female) witches, the movie presented a novel gender chiasm that you couldn’t help but love.
Still, there was something in the story line that really irked me. The film revolves around Shrek’s mid-life crisis (although his babies are all of a year old). The daily grind of diapers, dishes and toilet repairs is losing its charm. Combined with his sense of loss-of-the-old-me, a pining for the days when his roar could really scare, Shrek is left feeling like he hates his life. Every parent watching his meltdown can no doubt relate.
Jennifer Senior’s recent New York magazine article about parenting and its discontents (an article that The Sisterhood weighed in on here) made it to Cambodia — or at least to the terrace of the apartment that my family and I rented during our recent month-long stay in Phnom Penh. (Read my previous dispatches here and here.)
Surrounded by lush greenery, orchids, and the remains of a puzzle that my daughter had begun, I read the article eagerly and agreed with much of it. Children, it turns out, are challenging. And that is before you take two of them, ages 2 and 4, to Cambodia during the rainy season. I am not sure whether Senior’s article would have resonated with me at home in New York, but it sure felt true in Phnom Penh.
I sent Boychik off to his summer program in Israel with an extra $100 in his pocket and instructions to bring me back as much Ahava hand cream as that will buy. Ahava is my favorite — smells nice, absorbs quickly and does what it’s supposed to — but it’s too pricey here in the U.S. for me to indulge too often. I also like buying Israeli products when at all possible, thinking I’m doing my little bit to support the country’s economy.
I didn’t even realize until this week that in the process, I was also supporting a company under siege.
The recent legal victory of Hana Kehat, founder of the Orthodox feminist Israeli organization Kolech, has implications for working women in Israel and for feminists worldwide: The courts ruled that she was fired illegally from the Orot Teachers’ College in 2005, and that she must be immediately reinstated.
Kehat, who was described by her employers even during the trial as “an excellent lecturer” argued that she was fired from the religious Zionist institution because of her feminist views. Rabbi Neria Gutel, the head of the college who was responsible for her firing, said that she was fired because of low registration to her classes. Gutel’s claim, however, belies the point: She had low registration despite being a wonderful teacher because students were made to feel uncomfortable in her classes.
Well it looks like the emasculated husbands who appear in the bulk of beer and car ads aren’t too representative of the typical American male. Men, it turns out, actually like being married and having a family.
In a new survey from Askmen.com, 85% of men said they still believe in marriage, with 67% believing “it is a necessary institution and one in which [they] will participate to help preserve .” Also, having a family was the top-rated “ultimate male status symbol” among the 100,000 men who participated; it ranked above a high-profile career, a beautiful wife or girlfriend, a beautiful house, a luxury sports car, and a membership to an exclusive club.
My inbox was flooded with emails from outraged readers this week from pro-choice and civil liberties groups demanding action on abortion coverage in health reform. It felt a little déjà-vu. After the healthcare reform process, which brought us Bart Stupak and months of controversy over whether abortion would be sidelined as a different kind of health procedure that shouldn’t be covered, I thought we’d reached an unpleasant, but complete compromise.
But this week the Obama administration, of its own accord, decided to honor the “spirit” of that compromise by banning abortion coverage in almost all cases (rape, incest, life-threatening situations excluded), from high-risk pools — that is, for people who probably need this coverage the most.
An Israeli judge this week convicted Sabbar Kashur, a 30-year-old Jerusalem man, of rape and sentenced him to 18 months in prison. But his real crime was lying.
Kashur met a Jewish woman in September 2008 in downtown Jerusalem. He told her that he was single, Jewish and interested in a romantic relationship. The woman in question, must have never heard of “The Rules” (or common sense, for that matter). According to the court indictment, the pair “then went to a nearby building and had sex.”
The woman was outraged when Kashur immediately dressed and left her, and even more upset when she found out he was an Arab, and filed her complaint against him. He was charged with rape and indecent assault. Since the woman admitted the sex was consensual, Kashur asked for lenience and a sentence of community service.
But the judge ruled that:
As executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, Erin Saiz Hanna is front and center in the fight for women’s ordination in the Catholic Church. It’s been an uphill battle; just last week, Church officials warned that ordaining women as priests was as serious an offense as sex abuse.
Founded in 1975, the Women’s Ordination Conference is the largest national organization working to ordain women as priests, deacons and bishops. The Conference insists that while there is wide and growing support in America for women’s ordination, that level of support is not matched by decision-makers in the Vatican.
Sisterhood contributor Elissa Strauss interviewed Saiz Hanna about the roots of the Church’s ban on women’s ordination, how recent controversies within the Church have impacted the group’s efforts, and what she sees as parallels between the Conference’s cause and that of those who would like to see Orthodox women ordained as rabbis.
When I arrived last week for a writing residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I sat with my fellow new students in a basement room getting “oriented” and kvetching about the poor quality of the accommodations. But as we began to introduce ourselves and each other during a “getting to know you” game, I noticed a distinct lack of “witz” and “berg” and “man” as suffixes for people’s surnames.
Suddenly, I realized that I might be the sole member of the tribe — and I felt a whole lot more than seven hours from New York City. For me, a born and bred on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, with extended sojourns in Cambridge, Mass, being that removed from a hub of Jewish activity isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence.
On a recent Friday afternoon, here in Phnom Penh, my husband, Jeremy, and I went to visit the family of one of his former employees, Mak Lavin. Jeremy started an NGO called Digital Divide Data (DDD) that is based here, so, as I wrote in my last dispatch, we and our two young children are spending the month in Cambodia.
Several months ago, the family whom we were visiting experienced a tragic accident. The father accidentally touched a live electrical wire, and was electrocuted. His four sons, including Mak Lavin, ran over to try to help him and were all killed by the electrical current. Five members were killed — leaving behind a wife, two teenage daughters, a daughter-in-law and four young children. Jeremy had not been in Phnom Penh since the accident, and so he wanted to extend condolences in person.
Recently, Ruth Rosen wrote in the Ms. Magazine blog that the “women’s pages” of the 1950s and 60s have been reincarnated on the Internet. While she acknowledges the differences in content between those women’s pages (society, cooking, and fashion) and today’s “women’s pages” (analytical coverage of events, trends or stories overlooked by mainstream news), she argues that the designation of separate women’s sections keeps us tied to the assumption that women’s stories don’t belong on the front page.
In response to Rosen, Kim Voss wrote in to remind us that the “women’s pages” of the 1950s and 60s were more than just “society, cooking, and fashion” fluff. She argues that by mixing bits of the progressive in with the traditional, women’s page editors were able to get their serious content about women’s liberation published and reach women previously unexposed to feminism. I would add that The American Jewess was taking this approach way back in 1896. Its editor, Rosa Sonneschein, was mixing progressive feminist content with homemaking, health, and beauty tips.
Mention circumcision in a crowd — even a virtual crowd — of liberal Jews (or liberal anything, I guess) and it never fails to spark rhetorical fire. And so, when I saw a recent post on the Park Slope Parents listserv from a woman whose daughter is pregnant and not sure about having a son circumcised, I knew it would devolve into anti-brit milah rhetoric even though the original poster made no mention of religion and, I suspect, isn’t a MOT.
Devolve it did. Some people weighed on based on their personal experience with the issue for their own issue, and soon enough a couple of responses appeared on the 3,800-plus member list from Jews who said they didn’t circumcise their sons and are glad they didn’t.
Forward alumna and current Tablet editor in chief Alana Newhouse has an incisive op-ed in today’s New York Times today, warning that Israel’s Rotem Bill, which would enshrine official approval of conversion to Judaism in the hands of ultra-Orthodox rabbis, will lead to a split between Israel and the Diaspora.
She’s right, of course, though I would argue that the growing alienation that many American Jews feel expands each time a member of Women of the Wall is arrested or detained by police for having the holy chutzpah to carry and love and feel close to a sefer Torah.
We women are the proverbial canaries in the coalmine; the way we are treated is a harbinger of how things are moving socially and politically in general. So the way Anat Hoffman and Nofrat Frenkel are treated at the Kotel, and women forced to ride at the back of busses bodes poorly for how Israel will fare as a culture and as the Jewish home.
My family is spending this month in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where my husband, Jeremy, started a social enterprise that creates jobs for disadvantaged young people. Because of Jeremy’s work, Cambodia and all of its tragic history and problems is a part of our daily consciousness in New York City, but I had not actually visited since 2004.
It has been powerful and complicated to be here with our children, ages 4 and 2. Besides the obvious challenges — jet lag, different food, scary water, mosquito-borne illnesses — I am, of course, seeing life through different lenses. As I intensely try to keep my children safe, happy, and well-fed I am acutely, paralyzingly aware that such aspirations are out of reach for the majority of mothers in this country. To try to understand their challenges, and to think about ways in which I can do something helpful, I have been visiting programs here that try to help at-risk women and children. One of these projects has given me a lot of hope about the future for women in Cambodia, and also made me think about women in the Jewish community.
When I was an 18-year old yeshiva student, my friends and I would ask every teacher we had to give us a talk on our favorite topic. And it wasn’t sex. It was head-covering. Considering that the prevalent issue on our minds was marriage, we were desperate to get some expert advice on how to make the biggest choice of our lives: hat or wig, leave out the ponytail or stuff it in — or for some, like me, to cover or not to cover.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin taught at Midreshet Lindenbaum, what was then called Brovender’s, where I spent the summer of 1988. I knew that his wife did not cover her hair — neither did Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s wife, by the way, and neither does Rabbi Norman Lamm’s wife, and neither does my mother.
Nevertheless, in this setting, the gap year in Israel, promoted in the Orthodox day school world as the pinnacle of religious development, none of those women seemed to matter.
Abigail Pogrebin’s story, “The Rabbi and the Rabba,” in this week’s New York magazine, takes an insightful look at the man behind the making of the first woman in America to be ordained as Orthodox clergy, Rabbi Avi Weiss.
Pogrebin does a good job of capturing many aspects of Weiss’ complicated personality; his ardent political activism, which he can pursue single-mindedly, his political savvy and also his kindness toward people in need of ordinary kinds of support, through illness and grief. She certainly captures the impetuousness with which he plunged forth when it came to changing Sara Hurwitz’s title from “maharat” to “rabba,” a shift which precipitated enormous outcry from the Orthodox establishment.