Sisterhood Blog

A Circus Scion, a 'Pretzel Lady,' and Other Jewish Women To Watch

By Jane Eisner

jwi.org
Nicole Feld, producer of Disney on Ice and circus events.

A week ago, I had had the opportunity to question 10 Jewish women, in public, about their lives, their leadership roles and their family secrets. It was an all-female minyan, on stage at a Washington D.C. hotel, for a good cause — Jewish Women International’s annual conference highlighting 10 Women to Watch.

It was a fascinating line-up, including CNN’s senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash, environmentalist Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, Judaic scholar Arna Poupko Fisher, the U.S. Ambassador to the United National Commission on the Status of Women Meryl Frank, and Kim Oster-Holstein, a.k.a. the pretzel lady, a founder of Kim and Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels. (Samples were offered everywhere, to great reviews.)

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Why I 'Got a Problem' With Breastfeeding a Toddler

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Oh, Blossom. I hate to be critical of one of my favorite actresses who is an “out Jew” to boot, but your recent article in the online Jewish parenting publication Kveller, just raised too many alarm bells for me not to comment here. In the article, titled “I Breastfeed my Toddler, Got a Problem With It?” actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik writes about exclusively breastfeeding her 2½ year old son. He eats no solid food.

Yes, it’s an uncomfortable image. When our first babies were newborns, some friends and I took a post-partum exercise class, and we exchanged stunned looks when, at the end of class, the instructor’s preschooler came in, plopped down in her lap and lifted her shirt to nurse. But I live in the Park Slope area, a Brooklyn neighborhood where attachment parenting is so much the norm that family beds are conventional and people bring their babies with them into bars. So being unconventional isn’t the issue. It’s two other things that Bialik wrote that give me pause.

Her 2 ½ year old son isn’t yet verbal, she writes, unable even to ask in a basic way to nurse (he indicates interest in sign language), but Bialik doesn’t offer any explanation for his lack of speech. She also writes, “I have not slept more than 4 hours in almost 6 years.” She continues, “My son, however, is healthy, happy, and independent, and I see no reason to wean him.”

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Making Paid Parental Leave, Formalized Flex Time the Norm

By Gabrielle Birkner

Last year, the non-profit organization Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community set out to improve work-life polices, such as paid parental leave, job-sharing and formalized flex time, at 100 Jewish organizations. AWP’s founding president, Shifra Bronznick, recently spoke with The Sisterhood about the progress made as the result of AWP’s Better Work Life Campaign, and what remains to be done.

More than a year into the campaign, how close are you to meeting your goal?

We are 40% of the way there. A number of organizations are working on major improvements to their policies — even reaching to our “gold standards.” Others are “works in progress” and are grappling with work-life issues, but are not yet ready to ratify new policies. We think that this is all fairly amazing given the challenging economic environment. Even if it takes us an additional year to reach our goal of l00, that is a relatively short time to have moved organizational support for life-work issues from the margins to the mainstream.

How do you measure “improvement” on the work-life front?

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Mourning Elizabeth Edwards

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards died of breast cancer this week — a disease that disproportionately affects Ashkenazi Jewish women. Edwards left legions of admirers and readers devastated. While she was (unfortunately) most recently in the headlines for her husband’s sordid affair, the quality that most inspired the public devotion and fascination for Edwards was her honesty about the tragedies that befell her — the death of teenage son and her own cancer diagnosis, long before she faced John’s infidelity.

And in the wake of those calamities, she chose not wall herself off, which would have been more than understandable; instead, she put her energies into helping others who didn’t have what she had. Some considered the Edwardses class traitors for enjoying personal luxury while crusading for the poor, but I always felt it worthwhile of them to acknowledge their privilege, while keeping the spotlight on society’s suffering members.

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Giving the Gift of Jewish Genes

By Leah Berkenwald

I just came across a Craigslist posting via Twitter (oy, my life!) looking for a Jewish woman to donate her eggs to a Jewish couple looking to conceive. This couple, through an agency called A Jewish Blessing, is offering $8,000 for an egg from a Jewish donor. A Jewish Blessing was founded in 2005 by Judy Weiss, a registered nurse, in response to the growing number of requests from Jewish families for her help in finding qualified and extraordinary young Jewish donors and surrogates. And this is one of many similar organizations helping connect Jewish parents-to-be with Jewish eggs.

I remember seeing flyers posted around the Brandeis University campus for Jewish egg donors with high SAT scores promising upwards of $20,000 — even $40,000 — for a Jewish over-acheiver’s eggs. I remember the first time I saw one of those flyers. “Forty thousand bucks?” I thought. “What a deal!” I called up my dad, a doctor, to ask him if this sort of thing was for real. Within about five minutes he had convinced me that this was something I would never do. Egg donation is no small matter.

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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 regularly with the Sisterhood.


Trio of Jewish Women Rockers Perform Their New Single

By Gabrielle Birkner

Last year as part of the “28 Days, 28 Ideas” project, Ladino chanteuse Sarah Aroeste made a case on The Sisterhood blog for more collaboration among Jewish female musicians. In the piece, she discussed her own work with fellow singer-songwriters Naomi Less and Chana Rothman. In an effort to highlight the work of female artists and to gain greater exposure for social justice efforts in communities across the country, Aroeste, Less and Rothman have committed to traveling and performing together; their initiative is called “Lights Ignite Change.” This month, the three women are out with their first jointly produced single, called “A New Light.” Take a listen:


Nip/Tuck — With Your Rebbe's Blessing

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

Spiritual beauty is increasingly not enough for ultra-Orthodox women. More and more, plastic surgery is becoming acceptable in a community where it was once unheard of, and rabbis are relaxing their opposition to it, a recent article in Ynet reports.

Religious Jews are notorious for shunning cosmetic alterations to the body — tattoos are a famous no-no.

Until very recently, nose jobs and breast enhancements were looked upon as frivolous procedures for the secular community, in which women (and men) were willing to risk their lives to serve their vanity. But now, with the risks of cosmetic surgery reduced, a small but steady trickle of Haredim are finding their way to the plastic surgeon’s offices, with the blessing of their religious leaders.

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Feminist Battles for the 20-Something

By Nadja Spiegelman

Time Out New York’s daily newsletter was the only thing that popped up in my inbox this morning. After the fifth or sixth refresh in as many minutes, I found myself compelled to actually open it. I was immediately drawn to the “Street Fashion: Wall Street Happy Hour” slideshow. The Forward’s office is a stone’s throw from Wall Street. Would I see some of my exceptionally well-dressed co-workers? Maybe Time Out’s photographers snapped my picture. And, I reasoned, if by some oversight they had forgotten to include us, I would at least glean useful tips on dressing professionally.

I began clicking through the pictures, past Phil, the Armani-clad financial strategist, and Dylan, the hipster consultant, and Josh and Dan and Thiago and Darren and Erik. And then, it was over. There was no mention of this being any sort of feature on men’s fashion, yet the slideshow featured only men. There seemed to be some implicit assumption that Wall Street=men.

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Making the Case for Fertility Education

By Gabrielle Birkner

Back in 9th grade health class, we were tasked with creating — and memorizing — a chart of the various methods of birth control on the market and how effective they were in preventing pregnancy and, in the case of latex condoms, sexually transmitted diseases: We learned about oral contraceptives, barrier contraceptives, spermicides, and intrauterine devices. Among the least effective forms of birth control, we were told, was something called the “rhythm method,” which involved “charting a woman’s cycle.”

Since getting pregnant or getting someone else pregnant was something we were to avoid doing — we were teenagers, after all — and since the birth control method called “rhythm” was something that wasn’t considered all that reliable a way to prevent pregnancy, we didn’t linger on recognizing the biological signs of ovulation that this mysterious “charting” entails.

The overriding message in high school and, again, in college — where, at the campus health center, condoms and prescriptions for the Pill were handed out liberally, and brochures on preventing unwanted pregnancies and STDs were stacked in the waiting room — was this: Don’t get pregnant.

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Why It's Important To Remember Yoga's Hindu Roots

By Elissa Strauss

The Hindu American Foundation has started a “Take Back Yoga” campaign as an attempt to educate the American public on yoga’s Hindu roots. The group is not asking for yoga practitioners to become Hindu or even further study the religion, but just to be aware that many of yoga’s practices are linked to Hinduism. They feel that yoga has been sucked into this rootless, ahistorical “spiritual” category, when in fact is a tradition that is connected to a religion.

I have always been slightly allergic to this notion of spirituality casually tossed around by New Agers. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” when referring to their great trip to a meditation center of yoga retreat. It takes a lot of self-restraint on my part to refrain from reminding them that their vague notion of Eastern spirituality actually comes from codified and demanding religious systems like Hinduism and Buddhism. I guess I feel, having been raised a Jew, that a big part of spirituality vis à vis religion are the rules — including the ones that are inconvenient or slightly illogical. For me, those are the elements that create a sense of community and humility.

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Gaza's Surfer Girls

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Rawan Abo Ghanem on her surfboard.

In Gaza, where it is illegal under Sharia law for women even to ride bicycles, four young girls are boldly learning to surf. With the help of the American non-profit organization, Explore Corps, they are riding the waves and gaining a measure of freedom, confidence and independence.

This past summer, Rawan Abo Ghanem, 12, and her sister Kholoud, 10, together with their cousins Shorouq, 12, and Sabah, 10, mastered the basics of surfing under the tutelage of Matthew Olsen, executive director of Explore Corps. The organization, which brings together educators, expeditionary leaders, international development and political consultants to promote outdoor education programs, was founded in 2007. According to Olsen, the non-profit runs primarily on volunteer power, and its tiny budget is covered by private donors from the United States and Europe.

Explore Corps, together with the Surfing 4 Peace initiative started by Jewish surfing legend Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, Israeli surfing industry professional Arthur Rashkovan, Doc’s son David Paskowitz and surfing champion Kelly Slater, has been supporting and equipping the fledgling Gaza Surf Club. It was only last August, post-Flotilla incident, that most of the surfing equipment was allowed into Gaza by the Israeli authorities.

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Carmel Fire Claims the Life of Pioneering Female Officer

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

The smell of smoke still hangs in the air of the Carmel Forest, as Israelis look with horror at the ugly black scar that the raging fires of the past five days have left on its beautiful green northern landscape.

The fires extinguished, and the crisis in the past, it is now time to mourn those who were lost in the tragedy. Thousands turned out on Monday for the funeral of a senior and respected member of the Israeli police force, Deputy Commander Ahuva Tomer. As Haaretz reported:

Deputy Commander Tomer is considered to be one of the best-known and highest-ranking officers in the northern region. She made history in 1997 when she was appointed police commander in Nahariya, and again in 2009 when she was appointed commander of the Haifa station, the largest in Israel.

Tomer is highly respected by her fellow officers and is known for maintaining good relations with the media. Officers that have worked with her describe her as dedicated and professional, and that although she advanced the case of women in the police force, she never used her own status as a woman as political leverage.

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The Pill Is Still a Drug — Why Can’t We Question It?

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

Reliance on a drug, on hormones, to me, is the opposite of freedom. Which is why when I read Vanessa Grigoriadis’s New York magazine piece in which she asserts that women should wake up from the feel-good fog of the birth control pill, I found myself excited. This may be the beginning of a needed, deep and difficult conversation about the much-loved, never-questioned pill. Grigoriadis writes about women who stop taking the pill after years on it and have trouble conceiving, finding that fertility (like wrinkleless skin) “is a gift of youth.”

Sisterhood contributor Sarah Seltzer wrote here that Grigoriadis’s treatise “feeds into a weird anti-pill backlash that I really detest.” I get that. But I’m less interested in the condemning of the pill or the backlash than I am in unpacking why its so loaded, in 2010, 50-years after the pill’s creation, to question its worth and to reassess its purpose.

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For Tween Girls, Lessons in Power — Via Puppies

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Puppies and tween girls. You need only hear the-high pitched squeals — coming from the girls, that is — when the two meet up to know that they are a perfect pair.

Stacey Radin, a clinical psychologist, business-leadership consultant and mother of two children, knew that it would be a great match when last January, she started Unleashed NY, a non-profit organization that brings together middle school-age girls with puppies rescued from unsafe environments.

She started Unleashed after conducting a three-year research project that focused on women and power. “When I looked at very successful women, they were still struggling with the concept of power and how to use it effectively,” she said. “They were major influencers yet couldn’t transfer that to thinking of themselves as powerful.”

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What Women Don't Learn About Their Bodies

By Elissa Strauss

While I agree with all of Sarah’s broader points in her critique of the recent New York magazine cover story, “Waking Up from the Pill,” I do think the article makes a valid point about how many young women are, in varying degrees, ignorant about their reproductive system.

As Sarah points out, there are many reasons women put off having children to their mid to late 30s — from their professional and personal ambitions to the fact that they lack the financial and domestic stability required to raise kids in this country today. And it is indeed foolish to claim, as writer Vanessa Grigoriadis does — and Double X’s Amanda Marcotte points out — that women are somehow too stupid to realize that delaying pregnancy decreases their fertility.

I don’t think women are too stupid to realize this, but I do think that these issues aren’t discussed or taught as much as they should be. I know that I didn’t know too much about my reproductive system until I took a women’s studies class in college, where the true wonders of the vulva and her interior components were revealed to me for the first time. As someone who has since taken a real interest in understanding what it means to be a woman today, I have since made it my business to know about my business. But what about all the women that didn’t sign up for women’s studies classes and haven’t spent the last few years pouring over the feminist blogosphere? Where and how would they learn?

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The 'Millionaire Matchmaker' and the Jewish Mamele

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Patti Stanger, the “Millionaire Matchmaker,” has moved to Manhattan, making her show is all the much more fun for us New Yawk Jewish girls to watch.

The first New York City-based episode aired in October (but can be seen in reruns on Bravo) and features not just a nice Italian guy from Staten Island who looks like an older Mark Wahlberg and sounds like someone on the Sopranos, but also a beautiful, young Jewish mamele named Bryce Gruber.

Gruber is a 26-year-old mother of a toddler son, and editor of TheLuxurySpot.com, a bloggy website that seems more fun than luxurious. Before her MM turn, Gruber may have been best known for “vajazzling” herself and letting it be documented in the press.

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When Workplace Sexual Harassment Charges Are Ignored

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

A new investigative report in the Hebrew-language version of Yediot Ahronot provides an account of what it says is Bar-Ilan University’s attempt to hide recent charges of sexual harassment.

Last year, “Gila,” who has worked at the Ramat-Gan, Israel-based university for 20 years and had a glowing record until that point, reported to the university that her boss there had sexually harassed her. Instead of separating the boss from the complainer as Bar-Ilan regulations require, the university gave Gila a “long vacation,” while they claimed to be finding her a different job placement (for her, not for her boss). When she returned to work three, she found herself demoted and her old job taken over by someone else.

In the months that followed, Gila — a religious wife and mother — went on to file a second sexual harassment claim against her boss, who has denied the allegations. It became a matter of he said–she said, but the committee investigating the claims decided that “nothing happened,” and insisted that Gila return to work, alongside the boss she was accusing.

The woman eventually hired her own lawyer. “Gila felt like she got herself into something that’s bigger than her,” her attorney, Itai Chasid, told Yediot in an investigative report that was published last week. He said that Gila was treated like an outcast in the workplace.

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Writer and Actress Diane Flacks on How 'It Gets Better'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Coutesy of Diane Flacks
Diane Flacks, left, with her family. (click to enlarge)

Diane Flacks, a Jewish actress and writer, appears in the “It Gets Better Canada,” the country’s LGBT community’s artistic contribution to the anti-bullying campaign. Flacks can be seen in the popular, 12-minute video saying, “In my son’s class, a lot of the kids say, ‘I have two moms!’ and they don’t. But they wish they did.”

Flacks, 45, fit in well with the other high-profile participants from the worlds of journalism, entertainment, fashion and design. A lesbian who grew up in Jewish day schools and came out at the age of 27, she is known for her columns in the Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, as well as on CBC radio.She helped create five Canadian TV series and wrote for several others, including “The Kids in the Hall.” She wrote and starred in four one-women plays, including “Bear With Me,” about childbirth and the early stages of motherhood.

Flacks has been together with her wife, Janis Purdy, for 15 years. They were married six years ago and have two sons, ages 4 and 8. They live in downtown Toronto, where their older son attends an artistic, progressive Jewish day school. She spoke recently with The Sisterhood.

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The Pill Is Not the Problem

By Sarah Seltzer

Creative Commons

Vanessa Grigoriadis has the cover piece in this week’s New York magazine about the unintended “consequences” of the birth control pill — namely, infertility. “Inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect,” she writes. Her explanation is that women are so caught up in “sexual freedom” that oops! they forget their prime years for childbearing are before the mid-30s and, in short, end up wizened and barren and mad at themselves for their past decade of desiring consequence-free fornication. She writes: “On the Pill, it’s easy to forget the truths about biology. Specifically, that…fertlity is a gift of youth.”

A report from a decade ago shows that these trends may be even higher for Jewish women, who delay marriage and childbearing in greater numbers than does the general population. Why I do not know, but I do know that many of my Jewish friends get variations of the same pragmatic speech from our moms: “have a degree/career/publication before you have kids.”

And what’s wrong with that?

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Why Women Are Reluctant To Take On the Mantle of 'Expert'

By Karen Loew

When I sat on my first panel of professionals before an audience, I received some useful advice. “The audience thinks you’re an expert,” a dear friend told me. “So, just accept that mantle and be one.” The audience turned out to be tiny, but I ran with the advice and pontificated to the sleepy assemblage about journalism and civic engagement, my favorite subjects. Indeed, they took me for the expert I was billed as (even presenting a commemorative mug from the oh-so-glamorous local chapter of the American Society for Public Administration).

An expert is exactly what many women deny they are, according to the OpEd Project, a nonprofit in New York City dedicated to increasing the number of opinion pieces written by women on the nation’s newspapers’ op-ed pages (the name comes from “opposite the editorial” page; it’s a space that includes opinions “opposite” the newspaper’s official ones as expressed in editorials). The group’s latest survey of six top news sources showed only about one in five op-eds were by women. Only one in five! If women identified and embraced their expertise — whether gained through professional experience, graduate school, time spent doing hobbies or raising children or other personal experience and observation — perhaps they would write and submit more op-eds to newspapers. But that’s just one reason for the relative silence; women also may be “keeping their ink dry” because op-ed pages matter, frankly, to just a sliver of the population, or seem boring, or women are gravitating to the more accessible social and online media (like this blog).

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