Sisterhood Blog

A Ketubah for Expectant Parents

By Elissa Strauss

Thinkstock

Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Slate’s Rebecca Onion thinks so.

Concerned about the potential negative effects procreation might have her on her life and her relationship with her husband, Onion wonders whether a “legally binding document, outlining expectations and setting a course for periodic re-examination of the division of labor, [might] alleviate [her] fears, and prevent aggravation, or fights, or divorce, in the future?”

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Those Boys on Gaza Beach Remind Me of My Brother

By Sarah Seltzer

Sarah Seltzer with her twin brother as children.

I have a twin brother who, as a kid, frequently ran around outside with a ball and his friends — usually in New York’s parks. Woe to the teachers at our Jewish day school who denied them gym or recess: they acted up extra-rambunctiously when they were cooped up. One of the cardinal lessons of my childhood was this: If you don’t let kids run around, everyone suffers. So that, in part, explains why the boys on the beach in Gaza proved my breaking point — boys who had been shut in for over a week and just wanted to kick a ball around, for a blessed few hours, and feel the air.

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Where Are the Women Leaders in Wartime?

By Elana Sztokman

Gender democracy activist Anat Thon-Ashkenazy holds a 1325 pin in support of the UN resolution to bring women leaders into negotiations.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” Albert Einstein famously quipped. Yet, when it comes to the current crisis in Israel and Gaza, the same minds that created the problems seem to be the ones charged with resolving them. And those minds almost exclusively belong to men.

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Frieda Barkin Hennock, Federal Communications Commissioner

By Chana Pollack

Forward Association

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

In June 1951, Frieda Barkin Hennock was nominated for to a federal judge position in the Southern District of New York. Her nomination warranted coverage in the Yiddish Forverts. The headlines themselves seem to shep nakhes (take pride) noting the fact that “Miss Hennock” was Polish born, a not entirely subtle way to tell readers that she was undzers, she’s one of us — a Yiddish speaking immigrant from the old country.

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Can a Maxi Skirt Bridge Cultural Divide?

By Elissa Strauss

Mushky Notik (left) and Mimi Hecht (right) created Mimu Maxi

Together, sisters-in-law Mimi Hecht and Mushky Notik run Mimu Maxi, a fashion label the creates clothes that are both modest and chic. The women, members of the Crown Heights Hasidic community, came up with idea for the company when struggling to find something stylish to wear for themselves.

Since opening two years ago, the business has found a customer based in not just other tznius women, but also Muslims and Christians who are looking for a more fashionable way to live a traditional lifestyle. Everything was moving smoothly until last week when a collaboration involving a lime-green maxi-skirt with a hijab-wearing Muslim style-blogger ignited a firestorm on their Facebook page. The Sisterhood’s Elissa Strauss spoke to Hecht about what happened and how fashion can be a great uniter during a time when many feel more divided than ever.

Elissa Strauss: Okay, first tell me a little bit about what you do.

Mimi Hecht: Mushky and I started designing two summers ago when, instead of bemoaning the trials and tribulations of trying to find modest, trendy pieces, we took matters into our own hands. We share a very similar aesthetic for oversized, comfortable menswear and pieces that are easy to “live in.” We don’t have an ideal customer — we just love seeing how so many women of so many backgrounds have embraced what we’re doing. If there was a “favorite” customer, it would be the ones that tell us “I started dressing modestly because of you, thank you for making it easier!”

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Free Frida Kahlo!

By Elissa Strauss

Often, when a member of a marginalized group achieves fame in an area in which her group lacks representation, she becomes an icon. This is nearly inevitable, and continues to happen today to women like Lena Dunham and Hillary Clinton.

Being an icon definitely has its perks. People love you. They want more of you and what you do. And they’ll pay.

But it also has it drawbacks. Icon status forces a person into symbol-status. No longer does who they are and what they do just represent them as individuals, but also the whole underrepresented group that identifies with them. Before long they are expected to be all things to all people, and somewhere in that process the focus on their work and message either becomes skewed or disappears.

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Israel's 'Men's Only' Bomb Shelters

By Elana Sztokman

Getty Images // There was gender mixing in this shelter in Tel Aviv, unlike one in Ashdod.

While people all around Israel have spent the past two weeks scrambling for cover during rocket attacks, it seems that in some places, only men’s lives are considered worth protecting. In the Ashdod rabbinate building, the bomb shelter has a sign on it reading “For men only,” and women who happened to be in the rabbinate during recent raids were not allowed into the bomb shelter. Thus reports MK Stav Shaffir, whose staffer happened to be at the rabbinate this week when all this was taking place.

Orit, an Ashdod resident who was also in the rabbinate this week with her husband, told Yediot Ahronot about the “insult of trying to impose gender segregation on us even at times like this,” and her shocked discovery that the “women’s” shelter was just a regular room, with windows and plaster walls and no indications of protection from rocket attacks. Her husband added that gender segregation has reached “insane proportions, and are now at the point of risking women’s lives. The rabbinate is basically saying that it’s important to them to save men’s lives, but women can die or pray or hope for a miracle. It’s just unbelievable”.

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A Gaza Mother Amid the Airstrikes

By Eman Mohammed

Eman Mohammed with her daughters, Lateen and Talia

As a photojournalist, stepping into war isn’t a dilemma for me. It is my instinct to grab my cameras and run out to document the man-made misery, the horrors of war, each and every time hoping humanity will get the lesson.

But nothing prepared me to understand how to raise children in a war zone — not even having been a child in one myself.

I grew up in Gaza. When I was in school, I spent my days walking to and from class, avoiding the streets that were normally targeted by airstrikes. On my summer holiday, I stayed indoors for fear of meeting the same fate as the families who dared to visit the beach and were killed by missiles while they enjoyed their barbecue.

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Mom in the Bomb Shelter

By Deborah Meghnagi Bailey

Deborah Meghnagi Bailey and her family

Here’s a scene from my life last week: It’s 9:30 pm. I’m lying on my bed, fully dressed, talking to my husband, who is ready for bed. We weren’t supposed to be here, tonight. We were supposed to be in the Galilee, in a beautiful cabin with its own private pool and Jacuzzi, with a massage chair in the bedroom and a hammock rocking gently in the garden outside. We escape there once a year, without the kids. It’s an oasis of calm and relaxation and peacefulness.

We’ve been looking forward to our getaway for a year. We were supposed to leave this morning. But last night, rockets were fired toward Tel Aviv. We live in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, and we haven’t been attacked yet, but there’s always the first time, so how can we leave our boys? What if it happens while we’re away? My mother-in-law is babysitting, and competent as she is, she’s never lived here through sirens, and how can one person get two kids to a shelter downstairs within 90 seconds, if they’re asleep when the siren goes off? We live in an older apartment, so we don’t have a secure room. The building’s shelter is not far, just eight steps down and across the hallway, but still.

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How Facebook 'Like' Came Between Dad and Me

By Avital Norman Nathman

Avital Norman Nathman and her son on a recent trip to Israel

I am my father’s daughter. That means I am incredibly passionate, equally stubborn and some might even say hot-headed. You can just imagine how my teen years went as I came into my own — lots of slammed doors, shouted ultimatums, and threats from both of us.

For the most part though, we see eye to eye on many issues now. Just the other day my father forwarded me a breaking news email from the New York Times regarding the Supreme Court’s Buffer Zone decision. My father’s cool like that — he sends me emails about abortion and supports me in my reproductive health work. What transpired was a calm and interesting back and forth about freedom of religion, speech and where one person’s rights ends and another’s begins. Somehow we can discuss certain hot button issues without devolving into shouting matches and tears.

But not all issues.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg Was Right on Hobby Lobby

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images

It fascinated me, when the Hobby Lobby decision came down, to see Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel Alito debating the potential ramifications of the case via their dissent and decision, respectively. Alito declared his surety that allowing companies to exercise religious domination (essentially) over their employees would not lead to all kinds of discrimination, and that only certain kinds of women’s reproductive healthcare would be affected.

Ginsburg held an opposing view, warning the court that it had entered a “minefield” of slippery-slopes. If any sincerely-held religious beliefs can be grounds to apply for a health insurance exception, she noted, then soon enough we could be hearing from business owners who sincerely believe that God tells them to do more than discriminate against women’s health: discriminate against Jews, or gay people, for instance.

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5 Reasons 'Seinfeld's Elaine is Feminist Icon

By Elissa Strauss

This week marks the 25th anniversary of Seinfeld, the mostly loved but sometimes reviled sitcom about nothing. In honor of this milestone, the Sisterhood would like to pay our dues to the character of Elaine Benes, whose spunk and guile was given shape by the most enduring cast member, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. Elaine was an unlikely shero for the generation of women who grew up on the show and today, as we look back, it feels fair to crown her as an official feminist icon. Here are five reasons why.

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The Mikveh in My Backyard

By Johnna Kaplan

The site of the Chesterfield synagogue

I’m walking towards a wooded lot almost hidden by what passes for a busy intersection in rural eastern Connecticut. The road has no shoulder, so I try to stay as close as possible to the curb. This is not a place designed for pedestrians, and I wonder what passing drivers are thinking about me as I head up the hill away from the one gas station, the one store, and the one motel.

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There's a Shark in the Mikveh

By Deena Yellin

Perplexed souls seeking enlightenment about what to expect when taking a dip in the mikveh have generally found a limited variety on the shelves of Judaica stores and libraries: On the one hand, there are a myriad of volumes devoted to the halachic intricacies of family purity, and then there are the numerous works extolling the ritual for enhancing marriages and providing spiritual renewal.

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Is Lady Liberty Jewish?

By Chana Pollack

The Statue of Liberty in 1936. International News / Forward Association

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

With her right arm raised heavenward, it’s easy to imagine that the Statue of Liberty, built in 1886, stands in mid-harbor, vowing to remember Jerusalem, lest her right hand wither. In truth, Lady Liberty is not technically a Jew. Her father was a Freemason; the sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi called her “Libertas” after the Roman goddess of freedom. He also wanted her to resemble the goddess Isis, the Egyptian queen of heaven, hence the crown of sunbeams.

Bartholdi was helped by fellow French artists Gustave Eiffel and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc who assisted with Lady Liberty’s inner foundation construction. Perhaps it’s her long term domestic partnership with acclaimed Sephardic Jewish New York City poet and activist Emma Lazarus, (or at least with her sonnet “The New Colossus”) that makes Lady Liberty seem like a philo-Semite. And Lazarus wouldn’t have been the first American Jew mesmerized by her spiritual largesse.

The froy mitn fakl as she’s sometimes nicknamed in Yiddish, “the woman with the torch,” inspired German Jewish refugee immigrant Manfred Anson’s menorah with each branch and the shamash a tribute to her. Lady Liberty’s folded robes and sandals, evoke a reimagining of the early practical, but still fashion-forward Israelite look during the 40 years of biblical wandering. Her zaftig figure, bottle curls, ample lips and nose, her sturdy, heymish interior beckoning you in, along with her serious dedication to mentshlekhkayt un gerekhtekayt — “humanity and justice” — her task of enlightening the world, all seem like a familiar package. She doesn’t have a weight problem, she comes from solid stock. And coupled with the Lazarus poem naming her “mother of exiles” she offers to all a tower of female strength. A Jewish mother for the tempest tossed. With her own set of broken chains lying at her feet, she identifies with you, and the troubles you’ve seen. She is a confident multi-tasker, providing a watchful eye and a warm welcome.

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Pepi Littman, Yiddish Drag King

By Chana Pollack

Forward Association

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

The image of early 20th century itinerant member of the Broder Singers (and Yiddish drag king) Pepi ‘Peshe Khane’ Littman (1874-1930) seen here as ‘the griner bucher’ (the inexperienced bachelor) calls to mind the bawdy Yiddish saying: es zol dir dunern in boykh un blitsn in di hoyzn (may you have thunder in your belly and, — more importantly perhaps — lightning in your pants.)

Electricity was precisely what Pepi brought to the then nascent field of Yiddish women performers: either in drag as a young hasidic man costumed in a long black satin coat, high peaked silk yarmulka, white knee-socks and breeches, or as a dandy bachelor, sumptuously filling out a handsomely tailored three piece suit. Pepi was a charming transgressive star delivering original Yiddish lyrics and drawing fans from literary circles, including those based around the “grandfather” of Yiddish literature, Mendele Moykher Sforim.

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The Dead Mothers Club

By Chanel Dubofsky

Molly Shannon in ‘The Dead Mothers Club’

This morning on the train, I started reading “The Goldfinch,” Donna Tart’s enormous novel that won the Pulitzer this year. Five pages in, you learn that Theo, the protagonist, has a life that’s been separated by the “dividing mark” of his mother’s death, Before and after. This would ring familiar to anyone with a dead mother, or a dead parent, or a sick parent or friend. The moment before the death, in hindsight, seems like it was lived by an entirely different person, someone who’s now unrecognizable.

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Goodbye, Dov Charney

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images // Dov Charney

Goodbye, Dov Charney. Last week, trendy t-shirt and legging manufacturer American Apparel said genug to the antics of its “controversial” (and Jewish) CEO Dov Charney, known for being the sleaziest head honcho in an industry hardly known for its puritanism. I’ll never forget reading the profile of him in my favorite lady-magazine that included the detail of him masturbating in front of the reporter. Gross. Combine his rumored and non-rumored antics with the porn-resembling, discomfort-producing exploitation of his company’s ad campaigns and brand and you get a pretty big disincentive from shopping at American Apparel.

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Debating My Boyfriend Over Israel's Orthodox Rule

By Noga Gur Arieh

Noga and her boyfriend

When I imagined my wedding day as an Israeli Jew, I envisioned choosing one of the alternatives to the Orthodox process. It would be a non-religious or a Reform ceremony, in which my partner and I would be treated as equal, a ceremony in I could express my love, and not stand as an empty, smiling vassal. To my disappointment, I recently learned that my partner does not share this wedding-day vision of mine.

Not long ago, we attended a wedding, and during the ceremony, I spelled out my dream to him. Then, in what turned out to be a part discussion/part argument, he told me he was not willing to skip the traditional Jewish Orthodox wedding. I explained the humiliation I feel just by thinking about all the processes I would have to go through as a Jewish woman. He said he was sorry I feel this way, but that he must put his foot down: tradition is important to him, and he was raised to respect it. The thought of this matter threatening to break us up sometime in the future was unsettling, but I just couldn’t see myself choosing his path.

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When Fanny Brice Made the Follies

By Chana Pollack

Forward Association

Fanny Brice (born Fania Borach) of Forsyth Street, and later on, further uptown and even New Jersey, opened her career-making act as the Yiddish “Salome” with this line: “I’ve been a bad woman, but such good company, Nu?”

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