Sisterhood Blog

Taking Photos of Chained Women

By Tova Ross

Aviva Klein

For the past several months, the subjects standing before Aviva Klein’s camera have not been the usual assortment of musicians, celebrities and fashion labels who hire her for their album artwork or style shoots, but agunot, women who are chained in marriages they no longer wish to be a part of thanks to a halachic structure where one gender holds the power. Klein, who lives and works primarily in Manhattan, recently funded an Indiegogo campaign to raise $5,000 to continue her photography project that began with a grant from The Schusterman Family Foundation. She spoke with Tova Ross about her work and why she felt compelled to set aside time from her career taking pictures of celebrities like Beyonce, T.I. and Questlove and for fashion companies like Lanvin and Nike to taking photos of* agunot*.

Tova Ross: If your professional background is in the music and celebrity industry, then why photograph agunot now?
Aviva Klein: In late 2013, I received a micro-grant from the Schusterman Foundation to “make something happen” in the Jewish community. The organization didn’t specify what it should be, exactly, just that those who receive its funding do something impactful that will effect a meaningful change within the Jewish community. I chose to incorporate my photography skills as a way to tell a story of something I thought needed more attention and awareness. When I did some research and learned that one of the most pressing issues our Jewish community faces today is the plight of the agunot, I was drawn to it right away.

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To The Father Who Raised Us — My Husband

By Frimet Goldberger

Frimet Goldberger’s children, Shloimy, age 9 and Rachel, age 7.

While the daughters and sons of America are celebrating their fathers, I am spending my Father’s Day celebrating my husband, the man who raised us — our family — and stood by me through the tumultuous journey to help me build a new foundation from the ground up.

My husband, for those of you who don’t know him, is an unlikely match for a woman like me. Where I am loud and willing to share deeply-personal stories, he is a fiercely private man who loathes publicity. (He asked not to have a photo of him appear with this blog post.) Where I am the gregarious half interested in meeting others, he is the homebody who prefers to spend time with his loved ones.

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Rav Ovadia Yosef's Mission to Free Agunot

By Chavie Lieber

Getty Images
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

Today, the Jewish world mourns a great loss: Rav Ovadia Yosef, a spiritual leader of the Sephardic community and founder of the Shaas Party has passed away.

The Baghdad-born rabbi, who died at the age of 93, will be remembered as an active political player and major Torah scholar. And although not all of his views towards women were progressive, his efforts towards helping Jewish women is something not to be overlooked. Indeed, he was heavily involved in permitting more than 1,000 agunot — literally, women chained — to remarry after the Yom Kippur War.

While Rabbi Yosef was serving as Tel Aviv’s Chief rabbi in 1973, he was approached by IDF General Mordechai Piron regarding a serious problem: nearly 1,000 women were left in a state of limbo. Their husbands had not returned from the battlefield, but there was no way to confirm their deaths. Without obtaining evidence of death, or a get, a religious divorce, these women were left as agunot — “chained” and unable to remarry.

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Too Many Orthodox Bachelorettes?

By Frimet Goldberger

Thinkstock

There are many crises happening around the world right now — coups and civil wars, Spitzers and Weiners and what-have-you. But the real serious crisis involves the old Jewish maids crying their eyes dry because no nice Jewish boys will marry them.

The yeshivish Orthodox world has been embroiled in the so-called “shidduch crisis” for years now. This crisis involves a complicated math of too many bachelorettes for too few bachelors. Traditionally, 20-something boys marry 19-something girls, which leaves 20-something girls with no options but to grow old and give up on their dreams of diapering babies and baking challah. Or, as some ardent male critics argue, the crisis stems from girls being “too picky” when it comes to choosing a mate, while young boys would tap anything.

A recent YouTube video produced by NASI, the North American Shidduch Initiative, suggests that young boys can and should marry older girls — even if the girl is four months his senior, or, God-forbid, one year and three months older (what a crisis!).

The three young yeshivish men in glossy lips and giddy smiles talk about their own reservations about the age difference — we are talking one to two year gaps, not the shidduch crisis of 40-year-old Yitzchak marrying 3-year-old Rivka. But, as two of these three men excitedly demonstrate, listening to the matchmaker paid off and they now have little wiggly toes to show for it.

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'Princeton Mom' Is No 'Jewish Mom'

By Emily Shire

Princeton mom Susan A. Patton

I have a few choice words for Susan A. Patton, the infamous “Princeton Mom,” but I fear my ugly language would cause her to clutch her pearls so tightly it might cut off the oxygen to her brain. Then again, maybe that’s what she needs to smarten up.

Earlier this year, Patton sparked outrage and, we can only assume, mortifyingly embarrassed her two sons when she wrote in the newspaper of her beloved (I cannot stress that word enough) alma mater the Daily Princetonian. Her essay, “Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had,” had at its core one simple message: Ladies, grab a Princeton man (any fellow stumbling out of an eating club in a garish orange-and-black polo will do) and marry him! Quick! Marry him before you’re lost in a world of non-Princeton grads that will never fulfill you, neither intellectually nor romantically, and you die alone, yearning for Ivy League loving.

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How to Get Jewish Grandchildren

By Elissa Strauss

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I found myself surprised by the critical response Caroline Rothstein and Debra Nussbaum Cohen got for explaining why they feel Jews should marry Jews. Rothstein wrote about why she only dates Jewish guys and Nussbaum Cohen about why she wants her children to marry Jews.

I see no problem with the act of wanting a Jew to marry a Jew. To me this just means that they want themselves or their children to marry a partner who will be more likely to preserve a culture and lifestyle that they find comforting and nourishing. What is inherently wrong with that?

As I see it, the issue isn’t wanting yourself or your loved ones to marry a Jew, but how you react if you or they don’t. I suspect, and hope, that most of us would not do anything radical should our children marry outside the faith. We might be a little sad, a little disappointed, but this should never be cause to end or harm a relationship.

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Why I Want My Children To Marry Jews

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Thanks to Caroline Rothstein for her Sisterhood post “Why I Date Only Jewish Guys.” I read in it that yes, she dates only Jewish guys — but not a clear articulation of why.

I’m the mom of 3 adolescents, ranging in age from 12 to 19. Since they were little, I have made it clear (not in a finger-wagging way, hopefully, but in a conversational way) that I want them to marry Jews.

And I know that it is important to understand and articulate why. The part of my writing career focusing on the Jewish community and Jewish issues began just when the 1990 National Jewish Population Study came out. It was a watershed moment for the organized Jewish community. Newly aware that a high percentage of American Jews were marrying non-Jews (at that time said to be 51 percent of the youngest Jews getting married, which meant that for every Jewish couple being created, two interfaith couples were being created) and that there is a high correlation between intermarriage and a loss of Jewish identity among their children, funders and organizational leaders did an about-face.

They severely curtailed their historic focus on things like intergroup and U.N. relations and began focusing resources on keeping Jews engaged in Jewish life and on building identity with the hope that more Jews would choose endogamy, or in-marriage, over exogamy. In the years that followed, commissions were formed and programs including Birthright Israel and the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education were begun. Recent statistics comparing in-married and intermarried Jewish couples on a basic measure of Jewish identity, synagogue membership, can be seen here.

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Why I Only Date Jewish Guys

By Caroline Rothstein

Jonathan Weiskopf
Caroline Rothstein performs her poem “The Slut” in Astoria, Queens, April 4, 2009, the night she met Jonathan.

Growing up, two things were clear: I had to go to an Ivy League school and I should marry a “nice Jewish boy.” My partner of four years is a nice Jewish boy from Long Island; he is my longest and most serious relationship. Before Jonathan, my foremost relationships lasted three months each. The first was with my best guy friend from growing up (not Jewish) whom I was dating at my Bat Mitzvah. The second was during my sophomore year of college; he was three years older, Jewish and an assistant coach for my college’s men’s tennis team.

To me, finding a nice Jewish boy was crucial to finding a lifelong partner. All but one of my longest crushes and infatuations were Jewish. When I daydreamed about twentieth dates, and creating a home, and standing under the Chuppah, I could never envision anything realistic with a non-Jew. Whether this was based on my parents’ urgings or my own innate desire, is still unclear.

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Q&A With A Modern Day Matchmaker

By Leeor Bronis

Thinkstock

Rachel Garfinkle, 29, an ultra-Orthodox stay-at-home mom in Cleveland, Ohio, was married to her husband Michael in 2003. Her cousin, who also happened to be Michael’s best friend, set them up. As the norm goes in her community, they were married after five dates.

Since then, Garfinkle has looked for opportunities to make matches for others whenever she can. In the past, parents would flock to traditional ‘Yenta the Matchmaker’ types — who knew little about the single in question — to set up their daughters and sons. But now, people like Garfinkle have made a lucrative side business out of finding dates for their friends and family.

As Jewish Orthodox diaspora communities become more modernized, Garfinkle says a new era of the shidduch, a term for the matchmaking process, has emerged. Now many parents eager to find a mate for their children are seeking help from the young people in their social circles. Their knowledge of the young man or woman can offer a more personal touch to finding a potential suitor.

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We Must Help Women Get Gets — Now!

By Beverly Siegel and Barbara Zakheim

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock

The tawdry spectacle of “get” refusal and extortion in Jewish divorce has made the rounds in both Jewish and secular media for decades. But the Jewish community now faces an historic opportunity. We have within our hands the data on which to base a plan of action to alleviate the plight of “agunot” and a tool to drastically cut the future risk of chained women.

A 2011 survey of agunot in the U.S. and Canada, co-sponsored by the Orthodox Union (OU), Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), Jewish Women International (JWI) and Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), revealed 462 cases of agunot between 2005 and 2010. While the survey understates the problem due to some right-wing organizations’ refusal to respond, the results clearly outline the case for a clarion call to action.

Most agunot are under 40 years old. They have children yet little money, and are unaware of even the limited resources available to them. During the survey period, religious courts considered just half of reported cases, and contempt of court citations were infrequently issued against recalcitrant husbands. When a case did go to rabbinical court, some agunot were required to forgo financial payments or custody of their children in exchange for a get.

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Inside Sex Education for Orthodox Couples

By Chanel Dubofsky

Kallah teacher Rori Picker NeissKallah teacher Rori Picker Neiss

I’ve always wanted to know what goes on during a kallah class, in which observant Jewish brides learn about niddah, the laws of ritual purity, as well as issues of sexuality. I would have gone so far as to borrow an engagement ring to do so, but fortunately, I got to talk to Rori Picker Neiss instead.

Neiss teaches private classes to brides and couples and is a student at Yeshivat Maharat, a pioneering institution training Orthodox Jewish women to be spiritual leaders and halakhic authorities. In addition to founding and running an independent minyan in Brooklyn, she serves as the Rabbinic Intern at the Beit Chaverim Synagogue of Westport/Norwalk and the Hillels at NYU and CUNY’s Hunter College.

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Inside Sex Education for Orthodox Couples

By Chanel Dubofsky

Kallah teacher Rori Picker NeissKallah teacher Rori Picker Neiss

I’ve always wanted to know what goes on during a kallah class, in which observant Jewish brides learn about niddah, the laws of ritual purity, as well as issues of sexuality. I would have gone so far as to borrow an engagement ring to do so, but fortunately, I got to talk to Rori Picker Neiss instead.

Neiss teaches private classes to brides and couples and is a student at Yeshivat Maharat, a pioneering institution training Orthodox Jewish women to be spiritual leaders and halakhic authorities. In addition to founding and running an independent minyan in Brooklyn, she serves as the Rabbinic Intern at the Beit Chaverim Synagogue of Westport/Norwalk and the Hillels at NYU and CUNY’s Hunter College.

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Singled Out

By Johnna Kaplan

Thinkstock

Being single can be disheartening, but probably not for the reasons coupled people think. It’s less about doing every little task by yourself or living in fear of dying alone and unloved. It’s more about absorbing society’s sneaky, sometimes blatant reminders that, as a single person, you don’t fully exist. You are a faded black and white photo while married people, or people on the marriage track, live in full glossy color.

Last week, this reminder came courtesy of an article on New York Magazine’s The Cut blog about the newest trend in bragging: “the stand-alone engagement ring photo op.”

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Is 23 Too Soon To Think About Motherhood?

By Emily Shire

Emily Shire
Emily Shire and her mom, Sharon Shire.

Learning how to write a check, buying hanging shelves for my first apartment (a task that’s taken me four months and counting), and trying out the new churro place near my apartment are all more pressing concerns in my 23-year-old life than deciding when to become a mother.

However, as I wrote in my last post on Judith Shulevitz’s New Republic article on aging parents and its ensuing response, motherhood has been dancing around my head a little more these days. As a child of the 1990s and 2000s, I have been raised to put my career first; I’d be crazy to think about motherhood at my very young age, right? And while neither Shulevitz nor any other medical professional would say my clock is ticking any time soon, I began to wonder about my own mother’s decision about when to have kids (me at age 30, and her last at age 38).

Last week, my mother and I sat together on my bed, a spot we’ve sat together many times before discussing school, work, friendship and family. As she did with all of these topics, my mother, Sharon Shire, a former attorney and mother of three, had her own highly articulate and deeply thoughtful way of discussing motherhood. The fact that we were discussing motherhood and my serious life choices as a woman was both novel and rewarding. Many of my mother’s stories and pieces of advice were neither new nor surprising to me. However, I suddenly found myself understanding the professional, financial and personal considerations at stake. Above all, she taught me there is no magic formula for deciding when to have children and compromise and sacrifice were always going to be involved, regardless of the age.

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Single and Still Worthy

By Ronit Stahl

According to Jane Eisner’s recent editorial, “For 2013, A Marriage Agenda,” I am a failure. So are the hordes of other young, unattached Jews who have committed significant time, effort and resources to enriching the communal life of the Jewish people. Our fatal sin: being single and childless. And yet without us, the Jewish world would be a bleaker, more boring, place.

Let me offer some examples.

There’s my friend the immigration policy expert, who volunteers for an organization that aids Jewish immigrants, helping them find homes, teaching English and connecting them to potential employers. He attends a Friday minyan, where another unmarried friend of mine also davens. She’s a journalist who reports on politics and Israel. When we lived in the same city, she was often my conduit to events, concerts and gallery openings put on by various constituencies within the Jewish community.

These are not Jews floundering at the fringes of Jewish communal life, but the very people supporting it.

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It's My Wedding ... Right?

By Simi Lampert

Thinkstock

This post is the ninth in “Feminist, Orthodox and Engaged,” a series by Simi Lampert on love, sex and betrothal in the life of a Modern Orthodox woman.

The number one lesson I’ve learned from planning my wedding is: This is not my wedding. Sure, I get to wear the ivory gown and the invitations have my name on it, but the wedding is only a fraction about me and what I want. I’m not even sure how the Bridezilla creature was invented; whatever bride actually forced the wedding party to bend to her own personal will must surely only exist in the fantasies of frustrated brides everywhere.

It’s common to read (and receive, from well-intentioned or simply thoughtless friends) articles on why and how weddings should be limited in both expense and size. Every few months, it seems, newspapers regurgitate the topic with a selection of new words and ingenious ideas for cutting costs. But I don’t see the average cost of weddings — not to mention Jewish weddings, outsized only by Indian fares — getting glower, in spite of the plethora of brilliant suggestions published by every news-source ever. As a bride, I get it.

I spent half of my wedding-planning months scheming how my fiancé and I could elope. Not only would it be easier, we argued, but it would be so much cheaper. A quick trip to Atlantic City, a cute hotel on a beach, no fuss. When we presented the idea to our parents, half (but only half) jokingly, they played along. Sure, they said, why not? You’ll save us money and headaches! Inevitably one of the siblings would jump in: “But you’ll bring us along, too, of course.” They couldn’t imagine not being present at our wedding. And if they had to come, then our closest friends had to come, and if we were inviting our friends, then relatives would be hurt … and so it was just a case of giving a mouse a cookie — they’ll want milk and, eventually, a wedding invitation.

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Hello Husband, Goodbye Friends?

By Simi Lampert

Thinkstock

This post is the eighth in “Feminist, Orthodox and Engaged,” a series by Simi Lampert on love, sex and betrothal in the life of a Modern Orthodox woman.

I got a text the other day from a friend: “Try not to become one of those mundane married people like everyone else.” He and I had been talking about marriage, vaguely, so it wasn’t necessarily out of the blue, but it really hit home.

I wasn’t so much offended by the implications of the message as I was worried about the potential accuracy of the prediction. Will I become one of those boring married people? The type of woman who never leaves the house and whose only Facebook posts consist of pictures of the food she made that night for her husband? I have too many Facebook friends blocked from my newsfeed for doing just that to think it’s just a stereotype. This happens. And I’m dangerously close to becoming That Woman.

I could already see it happening, and I wanted to take future married Simi and shake her by the shoulders and shout, “Go out! See your friends! Do something immature and stupid that you’ll regret in the morning, and for God’s sake don’t come home before midnight!”

Many of my friends are college students, and from their perspective even the most boring night includes visiting friends all over the dorm, so married life probably seems the height of dullness. Where was the adventure, the carpe diem that couples had before they got married? Why do married people all talk about cooking and new dishes and work? How could they be satisfied just curling up at the end of the day and watching TV when there was so much to do outside? (And then, eventually, the horror of becoming the couples who only talk about their kids!)

Not all married couples are like this, and even when they are, who’s to say they’re boring and not happy with the simple pleasures in life?

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Why I Love/Hate the Millionaire Matchmaker

By Emily Shire

Getty Images
Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger

When it’s approaching 1:00 a.m. and I’m simultaneously going through OkCupid profiles, receiving texts from someone entered in my phone as “Jason LES?” and wondering at what age I should consider freezing my eggs, I yearn for the days when matchmakers were the norm. My mind drifts back to the Eastern European shtetls. “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” from Fiddler on the Roof, begins to play in my head. Then, before I even get to the verse about being potentially betrothed to a drunken wife-beater, I see Patti Stanger flash across my TV and realize that a modern matchmaker won’t necessarily solve my dating woes.

Unlike the many reality television stars that fill my viewing hours, I have a complex, emotionally-charged love-hate relationship with Stanger, a Jewish New Jersey native who has her own Bravo reality TV show, “Millionaire Matchmaker.” Each episode features millionaires who generally all want the same thing: a hot chick of various hair color and breast size with the IQ of a grapefruit who will mother them and provide round-the-clock sexual favors. My friends and I watch the series not to ogle millionaires, but to see Stanger execute her romantic proscriptions as decisively and meanly as the Soup Nazi doles out cheddar broccoli chowder.

Entertaining as she may be, spend a little time with Ms. Stanger and you’ll realize there are more intelligent reasons to dislike her than there are cocktails thrown in a single season of “Real Housewives.” In one talk-show appearance, Stanger said that single women in New York were too brainy and intimidated men of marriage material; gay men had unmanageable libidos that made them ill fit for monogamy, and Jewish men lie. Most recently, her attempt to explain the Will Arnett-Amy Poehler divorce not only demeaned both parties, but also offended anyone who liked good comedy and/or feminism. Arnett’s primal instincts, Stanger argued, prevented him from accepting his wife’s greater success; moreover, since Poehler had achieved so much professionally, she probably wasn’t paying enough attention to the old hubby, anyways. Stanger’s analysis includes at least a dozen points that are either ludicrous or based in really bad pop science.

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Most Women Lie About Shopping

By Simi Lampert

Thinkstock

The number one point of conflict in most marriages is money, so much so that six out of 10 people who get divorced and enter a new relationship choose not to combine finances the second time around. And a new study by a leading coupon code Web site reveals what might be a contributing factor to this trend: women who hide purchases from significant others.

CouponCodes4u conducted an online survey of over 2,000 American women to determine their shopping habits. The most unexpected finding was that 63% of women hide “fashion purchases” from their partners — and 88% of those women did it in order to avoid a fight.

If these results reflect accurately on the wider population, more than half of women in this country feel the need to lie to their spouses about the clothing they buy, just to avoid an argument. There are definite problems to mention in the survey — men weren’t questioned, leaving any potential secretive shopping on their part unmentioned. (And let’s be real; if a gaming or tech site were to conduct a survey, I’m sure more than a few secrets would be dug up.) Still, the data this survey provides is rather disheartening.

How effective is this method of avoidance? Spouses have to be rather oblivious to new outfits — unless the wife plans on sneaking it out of the house in her purse like a rebellious teenager hiding clothing her parents wouldn’t approve of. And the women have to be certain their spouses won’t check the bills or credit card statements. Whether it works or not, the approach can’t be healthy at all.

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What's the Point of Girlfriends?

By Chanel Dubofsky

Thinkstock

I think it’s important, before going any further, to level with you about what I did last weekend. I watched “Bridezillas.” A lot. If you’re not familiar with this show (and if you’re not, I don’t suggest rushing about trying to remedy that), it’s marketed as a program about spoiled, bitchy, selfish, insane women who make the lives of their fiancés and other loved ones miserable in the name of having the so-called perfect day. In actuality, it’s a show about how the wedding industrial complex — and all the toxicity it’s fed women for our entire lives — makes us crazy. (Okay, it’s possible that these women may have had a touch of the crazy to begin with, but buying into the myth that a wedding and a husband will fix all of your problems is not helping anything.)

In this particular episode, there was a scene in which two women get into a fight over the bouquet. And when I say fight, I mean scratching and hitting and hair pulling. Why? Because as every single or unmarried woman knows, the person who catches the bouquet will be the next one to get married. And according to this “reality” television show, this ritual is enough to send women — not just any women, but those who are friends and relatives — into a public, physical altercation. Since “Bridezillas” belongs to the sorority of “reality” shows about women, sex and marriage, I’m sure this scene was encouraged, if not outright staged. Regardless, it’s a stereotypical portrayal of women’s relationships as being predicated on achieving a man.

Female friendships live a curious life in the sexist imagination. For a while, they’re allowed to be fierce and tight, a source of deep strength. But at a certain point, this bond is supposed to be replaced by a boyfriend, and then by a husband. Female friendships are seen as a holding pattern (like roommates) until the real deal (marriage) happens, and then … what?

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