I would describe myself, in Jewish terms, as a secular, cultural, Zionist, history-reading, challah-baking, lover and cherry-picker of tradition who by upbringing and affinity feels a deep connection to the Jewish people.
The UJA-Federation of New York’s recent population survey would call me “other,” meaning, as Forward editor Jane Eisner recently defined the term, “Jews with no denominational affiliation or no religion at all.”
I’m used to lamentations about the lack of affiliation among younger American Jews, which have been circulating since I was old enough to pay attention to such things (and probably long before that). But it took me aback to be labeled a true threat to my own people.
That label comes from an essay Eisner wrote responding to Forward contributing editor Jay Michaelson’s warning about what he sees as the growing danger of Jewish fundamentalism. In Eisner’s view, it is not only the “ultra” Orthodox but unaffiliated Jews, too, who are “damaging” to the future of Jewish life in America. “The growth of the ‘unaffiliated’,” she writes, “has equally profound and worrying consequences for the future of the Jewish community.”
I may or may not count as one of the “fraction” of the unaffiliated Eisner says are “involved in alternative expressions of Jewish identity.” (I don’t feel cool enough to be “alternative,” but I would accept the compliment if someone paid it to me.)
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.
Leave it to feminist icon Letty Cottin Pogrebin to spice things up. On the new episode of The Jewish Channel series “The Salon,” a conversation about the so-called “war on women” leads Pogrebin to discuss the power of the female orgasm:
And in another show highlight, fellow panelist Deborah Feldman, the author of the best-selling memoir “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots,” asks Pogrebin if she thinks her controversial book would have been taken more seriously in Orthodox circles if she were a man. Here’s her answer:
Loyal readers of The Sisterhood know well about the battle over women’s exclusion that is pulling Israeli society apart at its seams. But the problem extends beyond Israel, as our editor, Jane Eisner, wrote in her recent editorial, “Where Are the Women?” Here in the American Jewish community, the issue isn’t just about pay and promotion, Eisner explains. “Too many public discussions, events and programs hosted by the Jewish community have few or no women participating,” she writes.
In an effort to upend the status quo, she enlists Forward readers, writing:
To more fully address this issue, the Forward is reaching out to you, our readers, to send examples of the absence of women in your own communities to firstname.lastname@example.org, which we will publish for further debate. And we will hold ourselves and our colleagues accountable, too.
Eisner discusses the effort in the most recent episode of “The Salon,” The Jewish Channel show she hosts with Change the Ratio founder Rachel Sklar. Panelists, this month, are The Israel Project’s Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, The National Council of Jewish Women’s Nancy Kaufman, and New York Times Magazine columnist Gaby Dunn.
Watch a video clip below:
Rabba Sara Hurwitz, the Foundation for Jewish Culture’s President and CEO Elise Bernhardt and the author of “Sabbath World,” Judith Shulevitz, are guests on the fifth episode of The Salon, The Jewish Channel’s women’s issues chat show. Discussion topics include the debate over Orthodox women serving in the rabbinate in light of a major rabbinic ruling on the issue, the meaning of the Sabbath in contemporary life, bat mitzvahs gone wild and that infamous Lane Bryant lingerie ad.
The Salon, available on demand for Jewish Channel subscribers, is hosted by Forward editor Jane Eisner, with Mediaite Editor at Large Rachel Sklar.
Watch the trailer here:
The Salon, The Jewish Channel women’s issues chat show, is out with a new episode — featuring actress Tovah Feldshuh (of “Kissing Jessica Stein” and “Golda’s Balcony” fame), Lilith magazine editor Susan Weidman Schneider, and comedy writer Julie Klausner. Panelists discuss whether women’s milestones, like Kathryn Bigelow’s historic Oscar win, should necessarily be celebrated as feminist victories and parse House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s role in passing health reform, among other topics. The monthly series is hosted by none other than Forward editor Jane Eisner, with Mediaite editor at large Rachel Sklar.
Watch the promo here, and then tune into The Jewish Channel for the full episode: