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The Case for Premarital Sex
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Editorial: Defending Contraception
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Video: Where Fashion Is Frum, Not Frumpy
The Case for Jewish Daycare
Saying Farewell to Filene's
The Bintel Brief Takes Comic Form
Editorial: Where Are the Women?
Video: Mah Jongg's Jewish Journey
Podcast: Adrienne Cooper's Musical Life
America's Most Influential Women Rabbis
A one-woman play, “The Lady With All The Answers,” honoring the late Jewish advice columnist Ann Landers has just opened at New York’s downtown Cherry Lane Theatre. This New York premiere of a play that has been touring regionally is an affectionate portrayal of what the British press refers to as an “Agony Aunt.” In both the United Kingdom and the Bintel Brief, Jewish women who followed in the tradition represented by The Forward’s “Bintel Brief”, which offered advice to disoriented immigrants, felt a need to de-ethnicize their personae.
Like Britain’s Marjorie Proops (born Rebecca Marjorie Israel in East London; 1911–1996, a noted agony aunt in London’s “Daily Mirror,” Esther Pauline Lederer (née Friedman of Russian Jewish ancestry; 1918–2002), not only took over an “Ask Ann Landers” column in 1955, after its creator, Ruth Crowley, died, but also assumed the name Ann Landers in public. Landers had competition in the form of her twin sister Pauline Phillips (born 1918 as Pauline Esther Friedman), who assumed the name Abigail Van Buren to launch the “Dear Abby” column in 1956. In 1992, the immortal actress Estelle Getty proclaimed in an episode of “The Golden Girls”: “Simpletons read Dear Abby, fools read Ann Landers.”
The sisters’ plastic identities may have been partly to blame, and playwright David Rambo, with acclaimed actress Judith Ivey, strive to get past these facades, to widespread critical plaudits. Fortunately, today’s Jewish advice columnists, from Ruth Westheimer to Emily Yoffe, discard any such attempts at pseudo-goyishe identity and thereby remain anchored in reality, like the Bintel Brief of yore.
Watch a preview of the New York production of “The Lady with All the Answers”:
Watch Ann Landers, during a 1958 Canadian television appearance:
It is my mother’s 8th yartzheit.
Eight years have passed since she left this world. Eight years which have been a lifetime to my children, who have grown from infant into child, toddler into tween, and young child into young man.
I miss my mother so deeply.
Saying her name somehow keeps her alive in this world and so I say it, as often as I can. Jacqueline Ruth Nussbaum.
My mother was a remarkable woman, in the most ordinary and important ways. She was smart, though never a candidate for a MacArthur “Genius” Award. She was inclined toward the literary, though not a scholar. She played classical piano though never performed publicly. She worked hard, enjoyed the arts, challenged herself to grow, volunteered when she could and enjoyed her friends, good brewed coffee, and her family. Her delight in her grandchildren was endless.
My mom was funny and warm and loving. But it wasn’t always that way.
As an admirer of David Mamet’s writing style and piercing commentary, I was disappointed when I went, as a guest of a critic, to see the recently-opened production of his he-said, she-said sexual harassment play, “Oleanna”. After suffering through more than an hour of Julia Stiles’ student character, Carol, and Bill Pullman’s professor character, John, foolishly and nastily duking it out, I fear I may have to put Mamet in the Philip Roth club of talented Jewish male writers who fall into the trap of revealing their own misogyny instead of exposing their characters’.
“Oleanna” was meant to provoke, enrage and trouble us, to make us doubt our understanding of power, gender and harassment, and to ponder the difficulty of communication across those lines. Through the first half of the play, we sympathize with the kindly, if idiotic, John as played by Pullman, and later are horrified when Carol turns on him with her accusation of his inappropriate behavior, bolstered, it seems, by a crash course in feminist theory. But as John leans on his class, age, power and male privilege to fight her back with shocking results, our sympathies are definitely meant to shift and, I suppose we are then led to wonder if Carol’s original accusations didn’t have a ring of truth to them. But invariably, we don’t.
“Rachel” an ultra-Orthodox mother of 12 living in Jerusalem, got divorced this week.
It’s cause for celebration for two reasons. First, this grants her much-needed freedom from her severely violent and erratic now-ex-husband, a man who viciously controlled, manipulated and abused her and her children during the marriage and separation. But the real jubilation is because the divorce process – receiving her get – took nine years. Nine years! That’s a marathon that deserves acknowledgment.
Jessica Grose and Hanna Rosin, over at Slate’s women’s channel Double X, are cutting down on kvetching this week in an experiment to see if complaining less will make them happier. They sound a little skeptical and I don’t blame them. I tried a similar project three years ago.
It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college and I’d signed up to be a camp counselor at a camp for people with disabilities. I chose the job simply because it was the most challenging I could think of to do. Before going, I read an article about how it’s easiest to kick bad habits when you’re changing your routine, and so I decided to take on an independent summer project as well. I wouldn’t say anything negative about anyone behind his or her back for the entire summer. The results of my experiment were far from what I expected.
The work itself was hard enough. Three counselors slept with eight campers in an open cabin on the same small, plastic mattresses the campers used. Sessions lasted a week, and at the end of each session, we rotated both cabins and co-counselors. The campers required a lot of patience. Autistic campers woke us up at 4 a.m. to blow bubbles in our faces and campers with Prader-Willi syndrome snuck banana peels out of the garbage and tried to eat them. One camper faked seizures regularly, with the hope that she would be sent home, and another asked that I change his diaper hourly.
I had struggles myself with nursing each of my three children, and naturally the first time was the most difficult to deal with.
When my son as born, 15 years ago, the morning after the Friday night C-section I put him on to nurse and thought I was doing just that for a couple of days. Then he spiked a fever and when they ran his labs they found he was seriously dehydrated and put him in the NICU. There was my bruiser of an overdue, wouldn’t-come-out-the-usual-way of a 10½ pound son in with the premature, frailest babies in the hospital.
Why was he dehydrated? Because he wasn’t getting anything from the mama milk bar. I stepped out of the converted broom closet in the NICU where I had been tethered to an industrial-strength breast pump they wheeled in, but where I’d produced just a fraction of an ounce of milk in 30 minutes.
The NICU nurse asked what formula she should give him – regular or soy. Rarely have I felt so helpless and at a loss for what to do. I’d never considered not nursing, at least for a while. But my body was failing us both. I’d failed to go into labor spontaneously, failed an induced attempt to labor him out, and now I was failing to provide him with the only thing he needed. Maternal Jewish guilt had kicked in full-force.
An Israeli academic has come up with a theory about domestic violence that is, at once, extremely disturbing and somewhat hopeful.
Eila Perkis of the University of Haifa’s School of Social Work claims in a new paper that violence between couples is usually the result of a calculated decision-making process.
Her theory is that neither partner sits down and plans when he or she will swear or lash out at the other, but there is a sort of “silent agreement” standing between the two on what limits of violent behavior are acceptable, where the red line is drawn, and where behavior beyond that could be dangerous. (She stresses that this in no way excuses violence.)
In short, while violent partners often describe their behavior as “loss of control,” this doesn’t tell the whole story; rather, she’s says, it is conduct of a pre-determined kind triggered by anger or conflict.
The Sisterhood spoke with Air Force Captain Sarah Schechter, 41, who is a chaplain and a Reform rabbi, as well as the mother of 3-year-old-daughter Yael Emunah. She works at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, mostly with new recruits who are in basic training. In the past two years she was deployed to an undisclosed location in the Persian Gulf and recently returned home from a four month deployment in Balad, Iraq. Her husband is a stay at home dad. We spoke with Capt. Schechter, above reading Torah, about what it’s like to be a mother working in the military. You can read a related story, about Jews in the military, here.
Tell me about your start in the military and your career path.
I joined the military as a result of Sept 11th. As an adult I never seriously contemplated the military and it was not a track particularly developed in rabbinical school, but when our country was attacked, immediately, I realized our complete dependence on the good will of thousands of people who volunteered to make national defense their business. I wanted to help in any way possible and for me, that meant becoming a chaplain. On Sept 12th, I called an Air Force recruiter and, echoing Abraham’s words, I said, “hineni,” “here I am.”
How long had you been serving when you had your daughter?
My daughter was born a few years into my military service. I joined as a chaplain candidate while still in rabbinical school and have been in active duty service the past five and a half years. I have deployed twice in her three plus years and all in all have missed quite a bit of time in her life.
Sara Einfeld says that “A hole in the sheet” saved her life.
The 25-year-old former Gur Hasid and mother of two from Ashdod said in an interview in last weekend’s Yediot Aharonot that she was choking in her life, “a carbon copy of masses of other ultra-Orthodox women, all about kids, cooking, husbands, and meeting friends to talk about kids, cooking and husbands.”
Then she discovered the Internet and began blogging anonymously at “Hor Basadin,” literally “A Hole in the Sheet.” That, she says, “was when redemption came.”
This weekend I went to the Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Mass. to see “Cravings: Songs of Hunger and Satisfaction,” a cabaret set in a Jewish kitchen that explores themes of hunger, success, acceptance, nourishment, fame, and sex. “Cravings,” starring cabaret artist Belle Linda Halpern, accompanied by Ron Roy, and directed by Sabrina Hamilton, was originally created to close the Ko Festival’s 2008 series, themed on food.
As I entered the theater I was surprised to find myself in a Jewish kitchen. The only thing out of place was the piano. Belle Linda Halpern made charoset, and kibbitzed with us in between songs. She even called on Ron to help peel apples. As a Jewish woman, I found everything in this show relatable. (Except, where did they find such a quiet food processor!?) But what struck me most of all was the connection Halpern draws between the Jewish craving for food and the craving for success and achievement.
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.
Jews all over the Diaspora loosened their belts and let out a collective sigh of relief Sunday evening as the holiday of Simchat Torah came to a close, marking the end of the fall Jewish holiday season — or as I like to call it, gefilte-fest. (The verdict is still out on whether it or the concurrently running Oktobefest causes more bloat.) With all of the Torah being read on this particular holiday, it’s surprising that the passage including the injunction ‘Thou shalt stuff oneself to the bursting point’ is omitted, so I guess we can chalk the practice up to tradition.
But speaking of Torah and tradition, I’m glad that Nathan Jeffay brought up what’s become a new tradition of women’s Torah readings on Simchat Torah. Though I disagree with his analysis that boredom is at the bottom of their popularity. Rather, the practice has more to do with the spirit of inclusion that’s become integral to the holiday — and women’s insistence on being included in that inclusiveness.
A recent full-page ad in The New York Times announced that Israeli journalist Amira Hass will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation at an October 20 luncheon at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Hass is a reporter and columnist at the influential Israeli newspaper Haaretz who is best known for her coverage of the daily life of Palestinians, and for her sympathetic perspective toward them.
According to the IWMF’s press release:
For almost 20 years Hass has written critically about both Israeli and Palestinian authorities. She has demonstrated her ability to defy boundaries of gender, ethnicity and religion in her pursuit of the truth in her reporting. In covering the Palestinian Occupied Territories, her goal has been to provide her readers with detailed information about Israeli policies and especially that of restrictions of the freedom of movement.”
For many years, she made her home first in Gaza City and then in Ramallah. In 2002 the Los Angeles Times reported that Hass “is the only Israeli Jew known to be living under Palestinian rule and one of a handful of Jewish reporters who still cross enemy lines for the Israeli media.”
The award to the controversial journalist, who still lives in Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian National Authority, has sparked criticism in the Jewish blogosphere.
Growing up I didn’t much think about my wedding. This is not to say I didn’t dream about the man I would one day marry; I did that plenty. But the details — a white tulle dress, a tiered fondant cake — were never part of that revelry. I have stayed true to the girl I once was, and have managed to plan a low-key wedding that bucks most of the costly and extravagant traditions. But there is one thing I can’t resist from the American storybook wedding, and as a young Jewish woman, it is the probably the worst of the lot: I want Wager’s “Bridal Chorus.”
Much of my ambition with wedding planning has been to strip off the excess that has been layered on the American wedding over the last 20 years, and pare it down to the traditions I find pretty and simple. For me Wagner’s song, which comes from the opera “Lohengrin,”), fits in this category. The dah-dah-dah-daaaah, whether intuitive or learned, just feels like a wedding procession, allowing a bride to eschew the often too-precious individualism of modern weddings. Using it would be a no-brainer if it weren’t for the composers well documented, not to mention handwritten, antisemitism.
While it would be enough for most that Hitler both adored and was inspired by him, Wagner himself, in 1850, made his own views on Jews public in the essay he penned entitled “Das Judenthum in der Musik,” or “Jewishness in Music.” In this polemic, he claims that Jews are incapable of making good music, and are an overall bad influence on German society. Counter-critics have replied, “some of his best friends were Jewish.” While that was likely true, as was the fact that his motivations were likely bound up in some nascent form of national ideology that makes them even just the tiniest bit more sensible within context, there is really not much wiggle room here.
Last week, my 15-year-old son, a Facebook junkie like all his peers (and his mother), showed me the newly public only extant video footage of Anne Frank, which has raced around the Internet, mesmerizing many of us.
I think I’ve watched it 20 times.
The all-too-brief clip of a girl unknowingly at the apex of her all-too-brief life, shows Anne hanging out her apartment window as a newly-wedded, chicly attired bride and groom come out to the building’s entrance below and ride away in a car.
The newlyweds are presumably off to their honeymoon, though if they were Jewish, we now know that it was ultimately probably to the same fate faced by Anne and 5,999,999 other Jews during the Shoah.
According to this new article in the Los Angeles Times, the 21 second-long snippet of motion picture was taken on July 22nd, 1941.
Anne was a coltish girl of 12, who a year later would be in hiding with her family in an attic and penning the diary that has, for so many young people, put the only human face on the Holocaust that they will ever see.
The motion picture snippet we see of Anne has haunted me as it has Sarah Seltzer, who wrote about it here.
Sarah wonders if the burden of being the human face of the Holocaust should be borne on the shoulders of one young girl.
That responsibility became Anne’s with the first publication of her diary, in Dutch in 1947, and in 1952 in English.
The newly unearthed video of Anne haunts me because it is like seeing a ghost – the ghostly image of a lively young girl whose horrifying, terrifying fate we all know.
It has the shock of unexpectedly seeing video of someone we love who has died too young and yet still seems so alive to us.
If Larry David’s alter-ego on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” functions as the neurotic male Jewish id, then Susie Greene is his screaming, cursing Jewish female super-ego. One of the most joyous things about watching “Curb” is the long shouting matches between Larry and Susie over social convention. On a recent episode, for instance they sparred viciously over whether it’s appropriate to ask one’s potential host which other guests are invited to a party. “It’s not done!” she snapped.
This week The New York Times’ “At Home With” column profiles the hilarious Susie Essman, the actress, comedian and just-published author who has brought Larry’s foul-mouthed foil to life season after season. Some highlights: Essman is newly married to a contractor-turned-realtor, a divorced suburban dad. When they were dating thought his toolbelt was sexy. She has taken to step-motherhood well and she has more domestic tendencies than her character. Still, the best part of the piece was Essman’s ruminations on playing Susie Greene:
People think she’s a yelling, angry, crazy woman, when the truth is it’s justified, she’s provoked. I love Susie Greene — she is so freeing. I analyze things from every which way. She just reacts without any kind of censor. Everything is an indignity, and she is absolutely sure of herself in every single response.
“All those doubts held me back for years: I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t pretty enough, is this the right dress to wear? Susie Greene thinks she is drop-dead gorgeous and everything she chooses to put on is drop-dead gorgeous. Imagine being like that.”
It made me realize that in a lot of ways, Susie is a perfect counterpart to Larry. Neither have any compunction about stating their opinions, and both lack any sort of filter between their brains or their mouths. Their pairing makes unforgettable comedy. When they lay into each other, all seems right with the world.
Simchat Torah begins in Israel tonight, a day before it starts in the Diaspora. It’s the festival that is notoriously dull for women. If it’s an Orthodox synagogue you’re in, as the vast majority of Israeli ones are, women sit there for hours and hours while every man in attendance is called to the Torah, as-per the tradition of the day. Then comes the supposed climax of the service — the Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereishit (“Bridegrooms of the Law”) are called up — both men. Many women wonder from behind the mechitza if the name of the day Simchat Torah, which translates as “Rejoicing of the Law,” is meant ironically, concluding that they experience more simcha in the bus queue.
This boredom is acting as a catalyst for change. In dozens of locations across Israel, Orthodox women will hold their own, female-only Torah readings. While women’s services are happening increasingly year-round, on Simchat Torah they appeal to women who wouldn’t usually go near. And many mainstream synagogues, which don’t have any option of women-only prayers during the year, hold women-only Torah readings on Simchat Torah.
While community leaders seem unworried about women feeling uninvolved most of the year, the prospect of their female congregants becoming positively bored seems to catapult them in to action. And judging by the large crowds, what the promise of religious empowerment can’t bring about among Orthodox women, the fear of boredom can.
The women’s Torah readings tend to be relaxed in atmosphere, with different women reading different sections of the Torah portion, each women in attendance getting an aliyah (call-up) and two women taking the role of Kallat Torah and Kallat Bereishit, equivalent of the Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereishit.
When Professor Ada Yonath, the bubbly, animated scientist with Einstein-like hair as well as intelligence, received the phone call several days ago informing her that was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, she thought someone was playing a joke on her.
“I said, ‘Yeah, right, so should I make an appointment for the hairdresser now?’” she recalled at the press conference this week. “As you can all see, I did not make that appointment,” she laughed, with a wonderful gleam in her eye.
Yonath’s prize for discoveries about ribosomes is cause for celebration, especially for Jewish women. It gives her a place not just in the annals of human history, but also in the hearts and diaries of countless girls.
I logged onto the computer last weekend to see that Anne Frank was a trending topic on Twitter. That was largely thanks to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which released (as the Bintel Blog reported) a new video, showing the only known footage of Anne, leaning out of a window and watching a married couple. It immediately became a hit on YouTube. Seeing such a timelessly tragic figure from another time on such definitively contemporary context — Web 2.0 — had an odd feeling to it. And then of course, Anne got caught in the middle of a bizarre dust-up between David Mamet and the Disney Studio. (Mamet’s re-imagining of the diary onscreen involved a contemporary girl going to Israel to learn about the trauma of suicide bombings) and she is the subject of a new book by Francine Prose.
It shouldn’t be shocking, or odd, that Anne Frank continues to be with us. Her image and name have become icons, instantly recognizable symbols of what the Nazis destroyed, but also of young womanhood and its possibilities. We know that her diary has been read by millions upon millions of schoolchildren around the world — I must be one among countless other young girls who started my own journal after reading it — and she’s one of the most well-known people who ever lived. But whenever anyone reaches that kind of super-iconic status, there’s a worry that the very un-iconic reality of his or her life will be lost in the shuffle.
What makes Anne’s diary so remarkable isn’t just her incredible talent as a writer, but her keen observations of the everyday textures and tones of life, and the slow and subtle way that her perspective changes as she grows up — and then of course, the realization of just what was cut off the day the Germans stormed the “Secret Annex” where she was in hiding. To have read, and loved, the diary, is to feel like one has an intimate connection with Anne, one-sided as that connection is.
Seeing her turned into a posthumous YouTube celebrity is unsettling, at best. Yes, Anne’s enduring fame means that the forces that destroyed her life will never be forgotten; she is a constant reminder of the price of war and genocide. But should that burden be thrust so thoroughly on to the shoulders of one young girl?
In case you missed the video, see it here:
Take that, Larry Summers.
Israeli scientist (and grandmother!) Ada Yonath, 70, became the first woman since 1964 to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry — and the first Israeli woman ever to do so.
According to Nobel Prize selection board, Yonath, together with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan of the U.K. and Thomas Steitz of the U.S., received the award for pioneering “studies of the structure of the ribosome.”
In a profile of the scientist, published last year by the Web site Israel 21c, Yonath weighed in on the stereotype that women don’t have what it takes to succeed in mathematics and the sciences:
“Women make up half the population,” [Yonath] says. “I think the population is losing half of the human brain power by not encouraging woman to go into the sciences. Woman can do great things if they are encouraged to do so.”
… Today, plans to retire are a long way off and she is still working hard, welcoming organized groups into her lab through a program organized by a local high-tech company, El-Op. This program encourages young women to enter scientific fields by giving them a closer look at the scientific life.
“I want them to decide for themselves if they want to study science,” she says. “I would like woman to have the opportunity to do what is interesting to them, to go after their curiosity. And I would like the world to be open to that. I know in many places there is opposition to that.”
I have yet to hear my fellow female directors calling for Roman Polanski to return to the United States to face sentencing for his admitted guilt of statutory rape.
I guess I mistakenly believed that as women and artists we would be genuinely appalled that a man got away with raping a 13-year-old girl. And now we hear that he did not even pay the victim in the civil lawsuit.
Don’t buy the argument that the passage of years since that crime was committed allows him to avoid judgment. It is just a bogus excuse for a talented director being above the law. We are still tracking down Nazi criminals and bringing them to justice.
Don’t get me wrong. As a child of Holocaust survivors myself, I am sympathetic to Polanski’s horrifying and harrowing childhood. I love his filmmaking and listen to the music from “The Pianist” all the time. I think he deserved the Oscar, but that statue does not also allow him the prize of going scot-free for statutory rape. Rape is rape, Whoopi.
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