Jewish boys apparently want a room of their own. This is the main conclusion from the new curriculum “Engaging Jewish Teenage Boys: A Call to Action,” an educational program aimed at resolving the so-called “boy crisis” in Jewish communal life. The program encourages the creation of all male spaces, such as a “Brotherhood” groups, in which boys can freely discuss life, philosophy and Jewish identity, and also play some basketball. The theory is that women and girls have been conducting Jewish ritual and consciousness-raising in all-female spaces for a while, and boys can use some of that empowerment, too.
There is no doubt that the Jewish community needs to enable boys to explore their gender and Jewish identity in safe educational environments with skilled and compassionate facilitators. While women have been grappling with Jewish meanings of femininity for several decades, there has been only scant attention given to meanings of masculinity. In that sense, it is a great idea to give boys — and men, for that matter — an opportunity to explore gender expectations and roles and conflicts in identity in order to help them form stable, balanced identities.
That said, creating all-male spaces in a tradition that is still male-dominated is problematic.
That’s the response I’ve received, over and over again, when I’ve called a friend or family member to say that I have “good news” or “big news.”
“No,” I tell them, “I’ve been nominated for a journalism award” or “Jeremy [my husband] won an Emmy” or “We bought an apartment.” To which the person on the other end of the line always seems a bit let down. Sometimes it feels as if the only accomplishment worth sharing is having a baby on the way, which we don’t; it’s as if everything else pales in comparison.
Maybe it does. I’ve never been pregnant. I wouldn’t know.
A friend of mine had an abortion this week. She wasn’t raped, she is not underage, and she is not experiencing a mental breakdown. She simply does not want to have children. She is not mean or cold or super-ambitious. She’s lovely and smart and funny. She just never felt the “urge.” She is 38-years old, has been married for two years, and says simply, “If the rest of my life is spent with just my husband and me, I would be really happy.”
But the decision not to have children is not so simple for a Jewish woman, especially for a Jewish woman in Israel. First of all, there is enormous family pressure. My friend’s parents do not understand her position, and they are relentless in offering their opinions on the subject. Of course, “family” also refers to distant cousins, co-workers and occasional passengers on the train who have no compunctions about asking, “So, when are you planning on starting a family?” Even the assumption of the question is that two people do not constitute a family, like there is something wrong with you. (See The Sisterhood debate about being Jewish and childless by choice here, here and here.)
Then there is the position of the State of Israel. True, abortion is legal in Israel. But in order to obtain that legal right, women who seek to terminate a pregnancy are put through the ringer. They have to apply to a committee, which usually includes a social worker, a rabbi, and perhaps a doctor, and, as if sitting before a parole board, women have to recount in gruesome and invasive detail exactly why they want an abortion.
The 10.5-carat diamond ring that once graced Ruth Madoff’s hand, and the Steinway piano that once graced her living room are likely gone for good. But the elaborately draped, four-poster bed that she slept in alongside the world’s most famous Ponzi schemer could soon be hers again — that is, if the woman who purchased it Saturday at an auction of Madoff family possessions is serious.
Tally Wiener, an Upper West Side resident who put in the winning bid for the ornate bed, told CBS-2 News: “My heart goes out to Ruth Madoff and I would be happy to give her back her bed.”
Wiener is a bankruptcy attorney, who in February 2009 wrote an article explaining the legal framework for “clawbacks,” as a means to compensate victims of Bernard Madoff’s fraud. According to this article in The New York Times, Wiener and a fellow bankruptcy lawyer attended another Madoff auction about a year ago, where they purchased “a tree stump that had been turned into an end table for $500.”
A critically wounded woman’s decision to become a single mother; a grandmother’s Holocaust-era story told through live action and animation; and an Incan family’s conversion to Judaism and subsequent move to Israel are among the subjects of this year’s Jewish Women’s Film Festival selections. The one-day event, organized by the National Council of Jewish Women – New York Section and its Eleanor Leff Jewish Women’s Resource Center, takes place Sunday at New York City’s Baruch College.
On offer will be eight short films about the lived experiences and aspirations of Jewish women. There will be two sessions, each featuring four films — 5 to 61 minutes each — and a Q&A with the filmmakers; a session costs $18 a person at the door.
Personally, my eye’s on the 5-minute short “To Pee or Not To Pee.” The festival describes the film as “the briefest of comedies depicting a worldwide problem with which all women can identify and have often experienced.”
And to that we can all say “Amen.”
A year after the Forward reported on how women in the Jewish communal workforce lag behind their male counterparts in pay and promotion, a new study released this week reinforces the economic discrimination against women in American Jewish communal life. “Profiling the Professionals: Who’s Serving Our Communities?” authored by Steven M. Cohen for the Berman Jewish Policy Archive demonstrates that women in Jewish communal work earn on average $28,000 a year less than men for equal work – or $20,000 a year when mitigating factors are considered. At the risk of stating the obvious, I would like to say that $28,000 is a lot of money. In Israel, that is considered a decent annual salary.
“Although women comprise about two-thirds of the professional workforce,” the report states, “their salaries, on whole, continue to lag significantly below their male counterparts. This pervasive issue remains a concern for attracting and retaining the best talent for the field.”
Economic discrimination against women is so rampant and so widely reported at this point that it’s surprising that the problem has not been redressed yet. In Israel, the problem seems to be getting worse, as women’s wages of 62 agurot for every man’s shekel has remained almost constant since the early 1980s. So the question on everyone’s minds seems to be, why aren’t women’s economic lives noticeably improving?
Did I ever think that I’d be calling a studded codpiece-wearing demon the best Jewish husband on television? No, but after developing a mild addiction to the A&E cable network reality show “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” starring the KISS bassist, his long-time girlfriend and their two young-adult children, I must.
Simmons was born in Haifa to a Hungarian Holocaust survivor and given the name Chaim Witz. He came with his mother, Flora Klein, to Jackson Heights, Queens, when he was 8. Shortly after arriving in the U.S. Chaim adopted the name Eugene Klein. He later attended Sullivan County Community College, in the Catskills, and in the late 1960s started calling himself Gene Simmons after rockabilly performer Jumpin’ Gene Simmons.
With another Boychik, Paul Stanley (né Stanley Harvey Eisen), Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, they formed KISS, which even now occasionally tours. Simmons is a merchandising maven and has countless KISS product deals putting the band’s name and logo on everything from guitars to action figures to condoms.
Prejudice is so easy to embrace when it’s seen at a distance, and nearly impossible to sustain when viewed up close. Thus, in the story of “Driving Miss Daisy,” the revival now playing on Broadway, we watch a 72-year-old Southern Jewish widow drop her guard and learn over the decades to trust her black chauffeur. A true friendship blooms between them on the roads of Georgia and Alabama, and the play ends with a tender moment.
It’s a simple story with simple staging, which makes it possible to fully appreciate the magnificent gifts that the stars, Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones, bring to the stage. Their gentle banter and the nuance and restraint they bring to their roles allow us to ponder anew the terrible thoughts that underlie what they say.
They are, in fact, navigating some of the most explosive thoughts — about race hatred and anti-Semitism — in the annals of human prejudice. But because the dialogue is delivered with a side of humor and a few helpings of hope, we come away feeling good, feeling that some progress has been made.
When the first gender-segregated buses appeared on the Israeli roads in 1997, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how far the phenomenon would spread. Today, not only are there gender segregated buses in many Israeli cities — and even on bus lines that go through non-Haredi neighborhoods — but there are segregated post offices, banks, health care centers, police stations, pharmacies, supermarkets, candy stores, conferences, elevators, Luna Parks, cemeteries, city streets, schools, courtyards, tours of historic sites, and the Western Wall. There have been conferences of the Education Ministry and events from a variety of local municipalities that demanded segregation. And there is currently pressure to introduce separate trains and buses as well.
“This is actually against the law,” said Knesset Member Nitzan Horowitz on Tuesday at a special Knesset session dedicated to examining this troubling and growing phenomenon. In fact, all of these locations are meant to be public spaces that, according to a 1949 decree of the first government — signed also by four religious parties at the time — must be guaranteed full equality. In addition, a 2000 law forbids “discrimination in products, services and entrance to places of entertainment and public spaces”.
Alina Treiger made headlines last week, when she became the first woman rabbi to be ordained in Germany in 75 years. But Treiger, 31, is not the first woman rabbi to serve in Germany since World War II.
That would be Bea Wyler, who was trained and ordained at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary during. Her 1995 appointment to serve the Jewish community in and around Oldenburg, in northwestern Germany, caused considerable controversy — amid the rabbinical establishment’s refusal to accept a female rabbi into its ranks. The Ukrainian-born Treiger, whose rise has been more warmly received than that of her predecessor, will also serve the community of Oldenburg.
Treiger’s appointment has revived interest in Regina Jonas, Germany’s first woman rabbi, ordained in 1935 — nine years before she murdered at Auschwitz. “When I look at [Jonas’s] photograph I’m reminded of what a significant step this is,” Treiger told The Guardian.
Several more women, studying in Germany to become rabbis, are expected to be ordained in the coming years.
Mazel tov, er, Herzlichen Glückwunsch, Rabbi Treiger!
By this afternoon the internet is quite beside itself — or perhaps befuddled is the better word — with the story told by George W. Bush about having to drive his mom, former First Lady Barbara Bush, to the hospital after a miscarriage. Apparently on the way she showed him the remains of the miscarriage — a fetus — in a jar she was taking with her. From that moment on, Bush says, he opposed abortion because he saw the miscarriage as the loss of a sibling.
Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory points out that the incident didn’t seem to have the same effect on Bush’s mom, who has said she’s pro-choice (as is his wife, Laura). Meanwhile my colleague Robin Marty at RH Reality Check notes an inevitable comparison to the behavior of former right-wing Senator Rick Santorum, who brought his wife’s deceased 20-week-old fetus home to cuddle and pose for pictures with the family before returning the body to the hospital.
There’s nothing wrong with mourning the loss of a pregnancy for any reason. But whatever your views about abortion are, there’s something decidedly strange going on with all this fetus-preserving and fetusworshipping in the name of anti-abortion views. This may be particularly true for those of us with a Jewish sensibility about death, coming from a tradition in which we’re instructed to bury our loved ones soon and simply — without delaying the end of their physical existence.
Divorce is almost always presented as a prickly topic, one that imbues it survivors with bitterness and regrets. And so when I first heard about The Huffington Post’s new section devoted to divorce, I expected ranting. But most of the contributors on the site appear to be reasonable and sincere grown-ups — a mixture of financial experts, religious figures and everyday people who have experienced divorce; their content provides readers with sound advice on how to move through a period time that is almost always difficult. They make divorce sound, well, okay.
As a child of divorce I have felt, even with my new husband, the shame associated with divorce. My parents’ divorce is not just sad, but a little embarrassing — as if it could have avoided if they had exhibited a bit more rationality and restraint. There’s a sense that they, and we as a family, failed.
Sunday was the enormous Lubavitch Kinnus HaShluchim, replete with 3,500 of the rebbe’s emissaries in Crown Heights for Shabbos and coverage in The New York Times, of the banquet meal at Brooklyn’s cruise terminal, the only space large enough to accommodate the crowd.
I write this while watching a live feed of the speakers. The shluchos, or female emissaries, have their own convention in Brooklyn in February. Shluchim are only sent out as married couples, and in the Lubavitch community both the husband and wife are regarded as full partners in the work.
Seeing this weekend’s convention reminded me of the speaker I heard at a recent Shabbos dinner, where Rabbi Chaim Miller spoke about “kosher feminism.” It was held at the synagogue where my husband and I were married, 20 years ago, which is being revitalized by a young Lubavitch shaliach named Rabbi Ari Kirschenbaum.
L’Chaim! It’s nearly time to celebrate for the 60,000 Israelis who, until now, were unable to marry in their own country because they are not Jewish according to Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law.
And thousands of Jewish couples will be extremely jealous.
A new marriage registrar, expected to be approved by the Israeli government within days, will pave the way for civil marriage, which, until now, has been non-existent. Right now, valid marriages are only those performed by an official representative of the religious community to which the couple is affiliated — Jewish, Muslim, Druze or Christian.
It was because of my late grandmother and her 40-year obsession with a book called “The Prophet of San Nicandro” that I was sitting at Columbia University’s Café 212, in the middle of a bone-chilling December afternoon, having coffee with professor John Davis.
Davis, who holds the chair in Modern Italian History at the University of Connecticut, had agreed to meet with me several hours before his seminar on “The Jews of San Nicandro: A Curious Tale of Collective Conversion in a 20th Century Mediterranean Community.”
As I sat listening to Davis talk about how he first came across the existence of the San Nicandro converts, I thought how thrilled Bubby would be that a bona-fide scholar was resurrecting the improbable tale that had had such a hold on her for decades — of how a group of Catholic peasants in a remote southern Italian village came to practice their own form of Judaism during the rise of Fascism, and converted en masse after World War II.
I, too, thought “uh-oh” when I saw the now infamous “Glee” photo shoot in GQ — see our earlier, related post here — nodding my head in agreement to the chorus of critiques deeming it sexist and even pornographic. But then I remembered what I used to dress like in my early 20s and realized that perhaps I had been too quick to judge. Fine, I never wore underwear as pants while suggestively sucking on a lollipop like Lea Michele does in the photo shoot, but you could certainly say that my wardrobe as a married woman is considerably more modest that many of the Friday night get-ups I used to wear in my early 20s.
Because I am slow to learn, I had a similar knee-jerk reaction when reading Dodai Stewart’s response to the article “The Truth About Beauty,” by Amy Alkon on Pyschologytoday.com. I instantly sided with Stewart that the article, which encourages women to remain mindful of their outer-beauty and promotes the damaging messages put forth by mainstream women’s and men’s magazines.
Like Stewart, I was revolted by the closing line from Alkon’s piece.
Jennifer Pozner’s new book, “Reality Bites Back,” is out this week. In its pages, she takes our favorite “guilty pleasure” genre of TV to task for racism, sexism and manipulation of its audience. Pozner spoke recently with The Sisterhood. Her satirical book trailer is below, and the interview follows.
Sarah Seltzer: How did your interest in paying close attention to reality TV develop?
Jennifer Pozner: I basically started monitoring reality TV in 2002 when “The Bachelor” began to air. I sensed a new backlash meme was about to start. People were saying “oh, it’s just a fad.” But I knew that wasn’t the case because of media economics. It’s really easy to think shows come and go based on what viewers want to see but that’s not true. It’s more what advertisers want to pay for and what networks want to design for their advertisers. And reality TV is up to 50-75% cheaper than scripted shows, and it nets networks hundreds of thousands of dollars of product placement. So I thought we’d see more of this kind of show. I was hoping I was wrong but unfortunately I wasn’t. And I thought someone had to write this book.
Until recently, only women in Israel received automatic parental leave following childbirth. The husband, while entitled by law to up to 6 weeks of leave, could only take off from work once the mother returned to work, and only after a period of six weeks from the birth date. But this may be about to change. According to a bill introduced by Kadima MK Robert Tiviaev, new fathers will be entitled to a seven day leave with pay, starting on the day that a new baby is born.
Tivaiaev explained that the bill comes from request from testimony of many men who appeared at the Knesset committee meetings on the subject, testimony which he believes is confirmed by research collected on paternity leave practices around the world.
When we think of Jews who played a role in the Civil Rights Movement, names like Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel immediately come to mind. Few of us would name Judith Frieze Wright, Heather Tobis Booth or Beatrice “Buddy” Mayer. A free, new online curriculum called “Living the Legacy,” written by Judith Rosenbaum and published by Jewish Women’s Archive is attempting to change that — by shedding light on Jews and the Civil Rights Movement through a distinctly feminist lens.
“Living the Legacy” is a robust guide to the questions Jewish teens today should be considering — not only about Jewish participation in the Civil Rights Movement of 50 years ago, but also about their own political identity and commitment to social justice and human rights.
In “Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt Robert Gottlieb,” Robert Gottlieb trims away the fat from the storied life of the legendary actress, who was born Jewish and who was later baptized a Roman Catholic. Gottlieb presents a peppy and concise biography rooted in facts and recorded accounts. The book, the debut title in Yale’s Jewish Lives series, looks at the people and places central to Bernhardt’s rise. Read the Forward’s review here.
Novelist Elisa Albert has edited a book of literary essays on the complicated relationships among siblings. In “Freud’s Blind Spot,” writers such as Erica Jong and Julie Orringer examine the powerful yet often complicated bond between brothers and sisters. (Elisa Albert will be a guest on an upcoming Yid Lit podcast.)