In her new story “Motherhood in the ‘Lean In’ Era for Lillith, former Sisterhood editor Gabrielle Birkner takes a look at the childcare crisis and what the Jewish communal world should, and is, doing about it.
Daycare programs and tuition subsidies are arguably as good an investment as trips to Israel. And there are fewer unknowns. Jewish children are already in the picture. Their parents need quality childcare, and help paying for it. Synagogues and community centers need to engage young families—families that look and work a whole lot different than they did a generation ago. That means overhauling existing programming models, like preschools that start at age two, and assumptions, like that one parent is always available for a noon pickup and a $2,200 a month childcare bill poses no hardship.
Birkner discussed these issues with organizations like the JCC Association of America who says that they understand the rising need for daycare and, as a result, have begun to offer full-day care in 2/3s of its 157 early-learning programs in community centers around the country.
She also spoke with the Union for Reform Judaism, who says it is encouraging its 900 synagogues to reevaluate their preschool programs with an eye towards developing full-day care and figuring out how to make it affordable.
The Sisterhood blog and the “frankly feminist” Jewish magazine, Lilith, are jointly producing a series of podcasts about Jewish women’s issues. In our inaugural discussion, Forward and Lilith editors weigh in on what Sara Hurwitz and other Orthodox women serving in rabbinic roles should be called, revitalizing the word “yenta,” and the growing role food is playing in Jewish love stories.
Listen to the podcast here.
Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and writer of fiction about women, strip poles and sexual guilt, Mary Gaitskill read a story at Franklin Park bar in Brooklyn on April 12 in which cuckolded political wives Silda Spitzer and Elizabeth Edwards become the Eves to Ashley Dupré’s and Rielle Hunter’s Liliths, and in doing so they take a muted sort of revenge by way of compulsory pedicures in Queens.
Gaitskill prefaced the reading of her story, “The Astral Plane Nail and Waxing Salon,” which was originally published in New York magazine, by asking the packed room who had heard of the myth of Lilith. A few tentative hands rose. For the rest, she quickly sketched a figurative picture of Adam’s first wife, created from dirt like him, an equal and therefore rightfully unwilling to obey. Gaitskill’s austere gaze warmed when she engaged and audience and read her prose aloud.
Great writers make careful use of lore that came before them, and that’s just what Gaitskill’s story does with Lilith, though it likely won’t satisfy Jewish women who have worked to free Lilith of her seductress chains.
In a just-posted Newsweek article, Jessica Bennett discusses her discovery of feminism at age 28. She writes that it wasn’t until she entered the workforce that she realized that things weren’t nearly as equal as she thought they would be:
So for all the talk about feminism as passé, mine wasn’t a generation that rejected it for its militant, man-hating connotation—but because of its success. Women were equal—duh—so why did we need feminism? It’s only recently that I, and women my age, have come to eat those words.
She goes on to explain that while feminism hasn’t gone away, there is no longer a centralized movement. For Bennett, this is a bad thing; for me, it’s a good thing.
Two fabulous Jewish magazines have new issues out that are must-reads for anyone interested in Judaism and gender.
The first is Lilith’s new issue, which proclaims, in big black letters on a red background, that “Boys are the New Girls.”
It’s an interesting premise, highlighting the much-needed attention paid lately to boys. Boys — and men — are unfortunately missing in action from Jewish life in liberal (i.e. non-Orthodox) precincts. In this New York Times article back in February 2006, I explored this issue as it relates to the Reform movement, which was the first major Jewish institution to grapple with the gender imbalance in its youth groups, camps and synagogues.
The new Lilith issue includes, among other items on the topic, essays on what it means to be a Jewish man today by Rabbi Steven Greenberg (the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi), a provocatively titled essay, “Bottoming for God,” by Forward contributor Jay Michaelson, a look at King David as a model of manhood by Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of Manhattan’s Congregation Ansche Chesed, and a piece on not fitting into stereotypes of boyhood by self-proclaimed “wimp” Paul Zakrzewski. The Lilith package also includes an interview with Sally Gottesman, who is co-founder and board chair of the organization Moving Traditions, which is developing a program to reach adolescent Jewish boys.
The new issue of the semi-annual journal of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) is devoted to a treasure trove of essays and articles looking at the concept of modesty from many perspectives.
The 1990s era music festival Lilith Fair — like The Sisterhood’s fellow Jewish women’s magazine Lilith — derives its name from the Jewish medieval myth about the first woman on earth, exiled because of her refusal to submit to Adam’s rule. A nebulous character who shows up in various cultural myths, the Lilith figure has become both a proto-feminist heroine and a demonic femme fatale.
In keeping with its lightning-rod namesake, the music festival has attracted its share of controversy and derision, dismissed as a stereotypical touchy-feely estrogen festival of bad music. Recent news that Lilith Fair was coming back for a 2010 tour brought a chorus of shrugs in the blogosphere, mostly from feminists dismissing music from the likes of Jewel, Sarah McLachlan and Paula Cole as over-earnest molasses-pop, the kind of earth-mother stuff that gives the women’s movement a bad name tempered by brief nods to the fact that the actual musical acts at the festival varied from Christina Aguilera to Casandra Wilson to Joan Baez to Missy Elliot.
But I have to disagree: I was exposed to those artists in middle school. During those socially conformist years, top 40 radio was embraced by every single kid in my age group, from the future punk devotee to the future folkie to the future hip-hop head. The idea that one should look at Jewel through an ironic lens wasn’t even considered; instead, my fellow sensitive 13-year olds and I gathered around her lyrics sheet and talked about how deep she was.