Nearly every month, it seems, there is troubling news relating to the status of women in Israel. Late last year it was women forced to sit at the back of public busses, and then Haredim attacking schoolgirls in Beit Shemesh for being insufficiently modest. In October the leader of Women of the Wall was arrested and allegedly mistreated by police for leading others in prayer at the Kotel. And recently, according to the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, Knesset candidate Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan declared that the agunah issue is caused by women’s groups trying to besmirch the rabbinical courts, rather than by husbands who refuse to divorce their estranged wives.
JOFA brought together some of the women involved in confronting these issues, both in the U.S. and Israel, for a roundtable discussion on November 28 in midtown Manhattan.
Israeli feminist leaders Hannah Kehat, founder and executive director of Kolech: Religious Women’s Forum and Susan Weiss, founder and executive director of The Center for Women’s Justice participated, along with Americans Nancy Kaufman, director of the National Council of Jewish Women; JOFA founder Blu Greenberg and Forward Editor-in-Chief Jane Eisner.
There is little room in today’s news coverage for ten-year-old memories. The instant, the current, the now is what we want. We want to read about events as they happen, described by witnesses who are there, and as we read we scan the page hoping that the words aren’t all there is; we want video of whatever has exploded or broken or happened.
There is a lesser, but still respected, place for the legitimate past — childhood remembrances of times gone by, fading recollections of worlds lost. What’s in between is untouchable: too old to be relevant, but too new to have accumulated the patina of authenticity that real history requires.
And yet, as rockets rained down on southern Israel recently, I found myself in between. The town names that filled my Twitter feed and the images on TV brought me back exactly 10 years, to the months I spent in those same war-weary, war-expectant places.
Eilat, where I celebrated my 26th birthday exalting in unknown November warmth, was briefly thought to be a target four days after my 36th birthday, but it turned out the resort town had been spared.
To protect has always seemed to me to be the first duty of the parent. Living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with my husband and three young children, I knew what it was I wanted to shield my children from: violence, fear, social disorder so profound that it would unsettle their very sense of safety in the world.
Last year, when I began to volunteer in an inner-city school in Detroit, my challenge was not to explain to my own children the violence the Detroit kids faced on a daily basis — that did not even occur to me to discuss; it was way too scary. Instead, I had to confront the unbearable injustice of limited opportunity, as well as the effects of an inheritance of racism. It was painful to me to talk with my eight-year-old daughter about the fact that the Civil Rights movement, which she had studied, had left some problems unsolved. “Til today?,” she asked, in disbelief.
In late August, my husband, Ori, and I took our children to Israel, where we planned to spend a sabbatical year. Both of us had lived there previously, Ori for eight years, serving a full-term in the army in the early 1990s, and myself for two years in the same era, with many summers spent in Israel since. I was also born in Israel to American parents who lived here at the time, and my grandparents and paternal aunt and her family all made their lives here. My children have all visited before, too. They speak and understand Hebrew to varying degrees, and when we were still living in Ann Arbor, they attended schools that were replete with Israel-activities and study.
Amid all the Facebook posts about the heart-rending violence taking place at this moment in Israel and Gaza, this photo of a bomb shelter door in Ashdod leapt out. It says that the bomb shelter is only for men and boys.
We don’t know if there is a separate shelter right next to this one, designated for women and girls. Nevertheless, it is gender segregation at its most outrageous.
It reflects how deeply the notion that men and women must be separated at all costs has taken hold — even in life-threatening situations, such as when the sirens sound the alert that rockets are falling.
There may be a women and girls’ shelter next door. There may not be. My Hebrew isn’t good enough to be able to read all of comments this photo has sparked on Facebook, some of which might shed light on the question, and Bing does a lousy job of translating them.
But even if there is, what if going to the female-only bomb shelter requires women and girls to take a few more steps than if they were allowed in this one? What if that puts them in harms way?
Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times, is currently covering Operation Pillar of Defense from inside Gaza. Rudoren, who was appointed to her post in May of this year and who had previously reported on presidential campaigns, education and the Midwest for the Times, is covering a war for the first time in her career.
Upon the outbreak of hostilities, Rudoren left her husband and five-year-old twins at home in Jerusalem and headed to Gaza, arriving there Thursday late afternoon. Despite “spotty Internet,” as she put it, Rudoren was able to communicate with The Sisterhood by email from Gaza on Friday evening.
Here is what she shared about being a female reporter among other women war correspondents, what she has seen so far, and juggling being a mother and a bureau chief on the front lines.
Four women were taken into custody by the police on August 19 (Rosh Hodesh Elul) for wearing a tallit (ritual fringes) at the Western Wall, making Israel the only country in the world where wearing a tallit can be illegal, and the only country where there is a proposed law — submitted by ultra-Orthodox politicians — to make Jewish women’s religious practice punishable by a seven-year prison sentence. It’s not so much wearing the tallit that is illegal, but rather being a woman that puts one at odds with the police. Being a religious woman can be a dangerous thing in Israel.
I recently spoke with Deb Houben, a 35-year old graphic designer and wine taster living in Jerusalem, who was one of the four women taken into custody. A graduate of the modern Orthodox Maimonides Day School in Boston, she made Aliyah in 2007 and has been participating in the monthly Rosh Hodesh prayers of Women of the Wall for around five months. This is the second time she has been picked up by the police during prayers. This time, she was charged with wearing a tallit and disturbing the peace, and sentenced to 50 days away from the Western Wall or a 1000 NIS (~ $250) fine.
SZTOKMAN: How did you get involved with Women of the Wall?
HOUBEN: My friend Molly works for Women of the Wall, and she invited me to come and I really love it. I really enjoy the experience of davening (praying) with this group, and lending my voice. My brother recently gave me a new tallit, although at the kotel we call it a “shawl.” It’s a traditional tallit, with black stripes, because that’s how I like it. It’s what my brothers wear, and it’s what my father wears. In fact, the tallit I used to wear was my grandfather’s.
The American legal system decided decades ago that there is no such thing as “separate but equal.” Segregation is just a fancy word for discrimination. And being forced to the back of a plane — or a bus — is the same as saying you’re not good enough to sit in the front.
Debra Ryder, a Florida woman who says she was pushed out of her aisle seat on an El Al flight after ultra-Orthodox men refused to sit next to her, has sued the Israeli airline. She was, she said in her August complaint, “humiliated” and led by a flight attendant to a middle seat in the back of a recent flight from New York to Tel Aviv.
Ryder is seeking $12,500 in compensation from the national carrier, and in the process has reignited a fierce argument: When does protecting the beliefs of the ultra-Orthodox constitute sexism?
To those who believe in equal treatment, it’s when women are pushed to the rear of a jetliner or to the back of a bus. To ultra-Orthodox adherents, it’s not sexism but a question of morality.
As I returned home this weekend after spending three days representing the National Council of Jewish Women at the Israeli Presidential Conference last week in Jerusalem, I reflected on the fact that the very fundamental issue of inequality in Israel was not addressed in any meaningful way.
In fact, women who were asked to speak were often placed on panels that danced around the topic entirely. It was as if equality for women, and others in Israel, was the elephant in the room. As I drove home listening to the radio I learned that even as we gathered to discuss everything but equality, reality had been marching on, as one more woman from the Women of the Wall had been arrested for wearing a talit at the Kotel.
It took a while, but Rabbi Alona Lisitsa has finally taken her rightful seat on Mevasseret Zion’s religious council. Lisitsa, a 41-year-old, Kiev-born Reform rabbi, was named to the council three years ago, but the Religious Affairs Ministry delayed approving her appointment until Israel’s High Court of Justice ordered it to do so.
Israeli’s 170 religious councils supervise kashrut, and oversee marriage registration, burials, synagogues and mikvehs throughout the country.
In a recent Skype conversation with The Sisterhood from her home in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret, Lisitsa explained that as far back as the 1990s, non-Orthodox individuals had been appointed to religious councils. However, they were never endorsed (by the Orthodox-controlled Religious Affairs Ministry) in time to actually take their places before the next municipal elections came around. “It was a political game they were playing,” Lisitsa said.
According to Rabbi Maya Leibovich, the rabbi of Kehilat Mevasseret Zion, the town’s Reform congregation and the first Israeli-born woman to be ordained, Lisitsa is the first female rabbi to successfully join a religious council, but not the first Reform Jew to do so. Lisitsa is also not the first woman to serve on a religious council. That precedent was set by Leah Shakdiel in 1988, when she joined the Yerucham religious council after a landmark Supreme Court decision in her favor.
Lisitsa said that prior to her appointment, the male chairperson of Kehilat Mevasseret Zion (where Lisitsa is a board member), had been elected to the religious council. He was effectively ostracized by the Orthodox members, as the council chairperson would call meetings — and then when the Reform member would show up, he would find no one else there.
This is the ninth entry in an ongoing series exploring Jewish feminism.
The first time I entered an Orthodox synagogue and saw a mehitza, or divider separating men and women in prayer, I was a little girl visiting my grandparents in Queens. Their home wasn’t religiously observant in the slightest, but my grandfather had grown up in an Orthodox family, and so the synagogue he attended — when he attended — was Orthodox.
I was only eight or nine years old when I first saw the mechitza but I clearly remembered being shocked at the sight of women relegated to the back of a house of worship, behind a partition. It was utterly alien to everything I knew a synagogue to be.
In the small WASP-y New England suburb where I lived until I left for college, the small Reform synagogue, known as “The Temple” with about 100 families, was the only game in town. Men and women sat together, some men with kippot, others without, as our young rabbi picked up his guitar before services and sang the tunes. Women were not only equal, they dominated synagogue life, some serving as president of the synagogues, making sure the Hebrew school and youth groups functioned smoothly.
For me, growing up, feminist Judaism was the norm. It was Judaism.
It was only as a college student on my junior year in Israel and later in graduate school in New York City that I was truly exposed to Orthodoxy. I learned much more in my first job as a Jewish journalist, covering the workings of the Jewish world for the JTA, and still more after I married a man from an Orthodox family in Jerusalem.
It’s been two years since I’ve experienced symptoms of an eating disorder, such as skipping meals or over-exercising, but I’ve thought about the disease every day since then. In our world, it’s hard not to.
I’m reminded of it when I see my friends who have eating disorders post on Facebook about the challenges that their eating disorders continue to present. I think about it when I hear girls in the Stern College cafeteria debating which foods have the fewest calories. And, most of all, I see it all around me — the Photoshopped actresses on magazine covers, the half-naked model in car dealership commercials, the emaciated women on the product billboards that line the highway.
In Elissa Strauss’ recent Sisterhood post “Should we Lighten Up About Weight?” she posits that in a perfect world the topic of gaining or losing weight wouldn’t send everyone into a tizzy, and I agree. But until we reach that perfect state of living, I can’t imagine most women or young girls taking too kindly to someone calling them “a little fat,” no matter the critic’s intent.
For now, sensitivity is required.
For American-Israeli women like me, having a baby means a trip to the U.S. Embassy. Once you are home from the hospital, and once your newborn’s Israeli birth certificate is granted and health care benefits are in order, you head to the embassy to apply for U.S. citizenship on behalf of your infant.
With the U.S. passport (replete with a funny-looking newborn passport pic) in hand, you can relax knowing you won’t face visa headaches when it’s time to take your bundle of joy to America so the grandparents can kvell.
Convenience is, of course, only one of the reasons that American parents anywhere in the world want to quickly establish the automatic U.S. citizenship granted to kids with at least one parent who is a citizen. In a post-9/11 world, American citizenship and the ability to travel freely in and out of the U.S. is not something to be taken for granted.
When I went through the process for my three Israeli-born children, my biggest worries were getting the diaper bag through embassy security and filling out the forms coherently on very little sleep. But mothers who had their babies using assisted reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization, are now facing a much bigger and more serious problem: Many of these children are being denied citizenship altogether.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Canadian women did it, American women did it and even Singaporean women did it. Soon Israeli women will do it, too: This month will see Slutwalks (Mitzad Sharmutot in Hebrew ) in Tel Aviv (on March 16) and in Haifa a week later. A third Israeli Slutwalk will take place in Jerusalem next month.
The first Slutwalk was around a year ago in Toronto, prompted by a policeman said at a crime prevention safety forum that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”
His remarks reflected a very commonly held view that a woman who dresses in what is considered sexy attire is basically asking to be assaulted or harassed.
Women, fortunately, are no longer willing to accept this attitude. Following the march in Toronto, over the year many other Slutwalks were held all over the world, where some of the participants were scantily clad. The marchers’ message is clear: We will wear what we please, we do not need to apologize for our sexuality, and it does not matter what you think of what we wear or what you think we mean: When we say no, it means no.
Women’s images continue to be at the forefront of the religious cultural wars in Israel. On a recent Shabbat, posters of famous art works featuring nude females were put up in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood in Jerusalem to provoke Haredi residents there. And as Purim approaches, the Uncensored movement is calling for a boycott of the Kfar Hasha’ashuim toy and costume chain because of its print ads that blur out the faces of little girls, and its bus ads that do not include girls at all.
One humorous response to this very serious matter is the Kosher Camera. The gag website states that this special camera has built-in facial recognition software that covers female images with either the Mehadrin Mask (a brown paper bag), the Glatt Blot (pixilated face), or Modern Modesty (black bar obscuring the eyes).
Natan Eshel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau chief, resigned from the civil service, amid accusations of sexual harassment.
Let’s face it: an overwhelming number of the modern world’s greatest achievements have come from the United States. Behind all of those accomplishments are human beings, all of whom, presumably, have mothers and fathers. So I ask: If this is true, why are American parents — more specifically, American mothers — so insecure about the way they raise their children? Why are they so certain that somewhere else in the world, parents in other countries and cultures must be doing it better?
First it was Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” comparing American mothers unfavorably to their Chinese counterparts, and finding Americans terribly lacking when it comes to producing classical music virtuosos and getting kids accepted to Harvard. Chua made moms very existence did not revolve around schlepping children to study with the world’s top violinists, and drilling them in algebra and chemistry feel horribly lacking.
Now, after the mommy brigade has barely recovered from Chua-mania comes “Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting” by Pamela Druckerman. The title alone turned my stomach with its implication that if French parenting is wise, the Americans version must clearly be unwise. The British publisher of the same book judiciously injected a little skeptical humor into the title, naming the book “French Children Don’t Throw Food” (because, really, would the British ever admit that the French possessed superior wisdom?)
Israeli fashion magazine BelleMode is publishing a provocative spread in its February issue, featuring sexy young women wearing see-through clothes on what appears to be a gender-segregated bus in Israel.
Blogger Kung Fu Jew, better known to his friends as Ben Murane, wrote about it on Jewschool, and it was picked up by Gawker, which titled it “Sexy Israeli Photo Shoot Mocks Ultra-Orthodox Women Haters.”
The Jewschool post has a link to a Russian-language website that has a bunch of photos from the shoot, and a Hebrew-language “behind-the-scenes” video.
Miriam Adelson, the Israeli-born wife of multibillionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, will donate $5 million to a “super PAC” backing Newt Gingrich for the Republican presidential nomination, The New York Times reported Monday. Her gift to Winning Our Future — the group behind the 28-minute video takedown of Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital — comes two weeks after her husband gave $5 million to the super PAC, and days before the Florida GOP primary.
Just what do we know about the wife of one of the world’s wealthiest men?
She’s a Doctor: She studied internal medicine at Tel Aviv University and worked at Tel Aviv’s Hadassah Hospital before moving to New York, in 1986, to study the biology of addiction. Through her research, she became an advocate for prescribing methadone to drug addicts who have failed to stay clean. “As a physician I opted to help them, because I have a weakness for weak people,” Miriam Adelson told Haaretz in 2008. “In medicine one also considers what is less harmful: If we do not give them methadone, they will continue to inject heroin with dirty needles, and will become infected and infect others with AIDS and hepatitis, and the hospitals will be flooded.”
She’s a Mother: Miriam Adelson has four children. She and her former husband, physician Ariel Ochshorn, have two grown daughters: Yasmin Lukatz, a casino executive with Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corporation, and Sivan Ochshorn, whom a website that tracks campaign contributions (yes, she backs Republican candidates) identifies alternately as a homemaker and a senior analyst for Las Vegas Sands. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have two younger sons together, Adam and Matan.
Dear Ariel Beery and Erin Kopelow:
Congratulations on the impending birth of your baby girl.
When I saw your essay on Tablet questioning whether it was wise to raise a daughter in Israel at a time when “war is waged against girls and women” I understood the feeling. I had my first child when I, like you, was living in Tel Aviv, way back in 1996, just after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and during the height of terrorist suicide bombings. I, too, was worried about the place I had decided to raise kids.
You correctly point out the disturbing domination of the ultra-Orthodox establishment on the state. You knew that the rabbinate wasn’t your friend when you moved here, and that you would face problems regarding Erin’s halachic status — her mother underwent Conservative conversion during pregnancy — and that this would affect your future children. But now that a baby is on the way, that reality is upon you. Add that to the current crisis over the “exclusion of women,” the situation in Beit Shemesh, the issues over buses and women’s singing in the army and I can see why it would concern you.
I was sure that your piece was heading for a discussion of how to raise an Israeli daughter confident in both her Jewish and her female identity under these circumstances. Instead that the article was essentially a 911 call to American Jews, arguing that Diaspora leaders need to “demand” Israel “make liberalization of the rabbinate a priority.”
Let’s get something straight: I believe that the world would be a far better place, and women would be far better off, if Bravo had never invented the “Real Housewives” television reality show genre. But unfortunately for women — especially those of Orange County, Beverly Hills, New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey and Washington, DC — there is obviously some deep human need for a glimpse of the lives of the rich and ostentatious, and what better, albeit sexist, prism than the lives of the privileged women? And so the endless viewing of luxury living and staged catfighting, where men are either non-existent, or as interesting than the furniture, became a staple of American television.
Then just as nearly every successful reality series from “Survivor” to “The Voice” has made aliyah to Israel, so came the “Housewives” concept. The staged reality series about wealthy Israeli women, “HaMeusharot,” (“Wealthy Women”) and the timing couldn’t have been more unfortunate. Right around its premiere last summer, Israeli social protesters pitched their tents on Rothschild Street and the ‘tycoons’ become public enemy number one. It was as if the series premiere of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” coincided with the emergence of Occupy Wall Street.
You’d think people wouldn’t have been in the mood for the rich and famous. But the show quickly drew an audience and received relatively strong ratings for the financially struggling television channel that airs it.
In her post “Why Infertility Breeds Silence,” my fellow Sisterhood blogger Elissa Strauss writes about the silence surrounding conception and infertility in her group of friends in the child-bearing stage of life. She observes that it:
feels as though we lack a vocabulary for how to discuss these things and as a result conversations are often awkward. I wish I would hear more first-person accounts about trying to conceive from friends. I want to hear about the pain and frustration and the fun and joy. I understand that for some trying to get pregnant is something they feel should be kept private, and I respect that, but sometimes privacy hurts more than it helps.
Having conceived and given birth to three kids, and suffering some all-too-common early miscarriages along the way, I would question Elissa’s assertion about privacy sometimes hurting more than it helps when it comes to the business of procreation. Granted, I live in Israel, where women have the opposite problem: Every woman’s uterus seems to be the whole country’s business and people don’t seem to stop talking about having babies.
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