On a quest to explore the age-old Jewish tradition of finding a “nice Jewish boy” or “nice Jewish girl,” I recently wrote about my own partnership for the Sisterhood, as well as the experiences of a few single Jewish friends. But I wanted to understand, more deeply, how being with a Jewish partner — which feels so innate to me — is not an indigenous need for others.
What is it like when two parts of one partnership grow up in two different households with two different understandings of god or gods or neither? How do couples create one household with space for this plethora of ways in which to interpret both the tangible and intangible? To answer these questions, I turned my attention to interfaith couples.
Andrew and Jennifer Walen, of Baltimore, Md., are committed to building community, both within their relationship and beyond. Andrew, Founder and psychotherapist at The Body Image Therapy Center, grew up in a reform Jewish family where religion was generally tossed to the side as something to be chuckled at. Meanwhile, Jennifer, who works in development at the Baltimore Community Foundation, was raised a Southern Baptist in Texas. Her church mentors taught her to think, which ironically prepared her to embrace the diverse world into which she was flung as both an undergraduate in Boston and a graduate student in Nashville, where she studied religion and the Hebrew bible — and ultimately met Andrew.
“I got really weirded out,” Andrew said about the first time he learned Jennifer was Christian. He had dated other non-Jewish girls in Nashville who broke up with him because he was “Jewish and going to hell.”
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.
The “What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?” Tumblr is the latest project from Lean In, the global community born out of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s book of the same title. The blog is inspired by studies showing that although women are graduating college with higher GPAs than their male peers, they are avoiding leadership roles and report being afraid to speak up. In response, the Lean In team asked women in and around New York City to tell them what they would do if they weren’t afraid.
So far, many of the answers are about work. Women report that they would “use their voices more in the workplace” and “ask for more money.” They would also quit their jobs and pursue more creative lives. They’d use the word “artist” and “writer” to describe themselves. Another trend are women who say that if they were not afraid they would live alone, travel alone and even leave the house alone at night. Others would call themselves feminists and speak undeterred about their political beliefs.
If you haven’t already, it’s worth taking a stroll through the blog; it is troubling and illuminating, and says a lot about the priorities of a capitalist society. A job, for example, should look a particular way: 9 to 5, at the very least; in an office; with a certain dress code; in a corporate culture (even for non profits), and with a salary at a certain level. It’s hard to take the leap that comes with living outside of this paradigm — it often means being without steady income and health insurance, as well as pushing back against assumptions about productivity and legitimacy.
When people ask what kind of a Jew I am, I tend to answer, “just Jewish.” It’s easier than explaining the Refoconservadox-style of Judaism I practice, and by that I mean that I pray in Conservative synagogue, keep what some would call eco-kosher (which does not abide by any halachic standard for kashrut) and wear pants and tank tops as often as I wear skirts that cover my knees. I’ve often described my way of moving within the different denominations of Judaism as wrapping myself in the traditions that speak the most to me, which is interesting when contemplating how, when and why I wrap my hair.
Whenever I think of the similarities between Jewish women and black women, hair is always high on my list. Like many black women, I relaxed mine for years. Seven years ago I stopped chemically straightening it, allowing it to grow in its natural coiling, zig-zagging state. I love my hair — most of the time — and when I don’t, I wrap it in a scarf.
Wrapping my hair is less about covering it and more about putting something on my head as a physical reminder of greater spiritual power. I don’t think my hair is particularly sexual or that it’s a private thing between my partner and me, but I’m admittedly intrigued by the religious significance of married women covering their hair. Something about wearing a scarf paired with a long skirt just makes me feel more Jewish.
After years of cajoling, protesting, advocating and pleading from women’s health advocates, Plan B, the most commonly-used brand of emergency contraception, has been released from legal limbo. Hopefully this morning after pill will now be able to spend the rest of its days in the friendlier, more accessible haven of the pharmacy shelf rather than behind the counter.
This victory only came after Edward Korman, a Reagan-appointed judge, slammed the Obama administration for stonewalling and politicizing the issue after the FDA’s recommendation that the pill be available to women regardless of ability to furnish proof of age. The administration, loath to appeal the ruling further and alienate its base, caved.
I’ve been following the story here at the Sisterhood, continually baffled that a supposedly pro-science administration would embrace the conservative position on an issue of reproductive health. Should we credit this moment to the Obama administration finally seeing the light or, more cynically, should we note that the administration has done the right thing the very week they are under fire for the NSA snooping scandal?
Esther Goldberger’s fashion philosophy sounds almost sexy: “We should enjoy our clothes to the point we forget we’re wearing them.”
But designs for Dellasuza, her three-month-old Montreal clothing label, take a less sultry approach. An Orthodox convert from Brazil, Goldberger creates clothing that fits specifications for tzniut, or modesty — with what she calls a “trendy” twist.
“We value your femininity while maintaining your mystery,” Dellasuza’s Web site promises.
Tzniut standards can vary, but the most widely accepted rules mean covered arms, legs and torsos. “All women and girls, married or unmarried, must cover all parts of their main body (torso) plus parts of their arms and legs when in public or in the presence of individuals outside their immediate family,” writes Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk in “Modesty: An Adornment for Life,” considered an authoritative treatise on the subject.
Goldberger’s entering a crowded category. Sites like Tznius.com, KosherCasual, ModestWorld, and Leelach hawk modest clothing that ranges from nouveau-Amish to neo-Jersey Shore. Dellasuza’s web site touts a range of simple, patterned shells and dresses from about $50. An unscientific survey of women at Forward HQ, however, deemed the designs “awful,” but Goldberger’s seeing orders from around the world.
With summer approaching, the Forward checked in with Goldberger about modesty, comfort, and style.
Like in much of the pundit world, those who opine on Israel and the Middle East tend to be disproportionately male. According to the OpEd Project, men continue to be 80-90% of key contributors to opinion forums, guests on TV talk and new shows and authors of editorials in newspapers and magazines. The OpEd Project also found that when it comes to international politics, women’s opinions only account for 13% of commentaries.
So, we created a list of nine Jewish women who we believe should be more regularly quoted, published and interviewed on Israel and the Middle East. Next time you are putting together a panel, looking for an oped or just some smart insight on all things Israel, we suggest you reach out to one of these women.
Please, if you haven’t yet, go watch “Inside Amy Schumer,” the new show on Comedy Central right now. On the show, Schumer, who was raised Jewish on Long Island, plays with topics like sex, body image and relationships through skits, stand-up and man-on-the-street interviews.
The show, beyond being friggin’ hilarious, inadvertently makes one of the most compelling arguments about why we need more female comedians: so us ladies can laugh at ourselves. Previous discussions on women in comedy have criticized the gender disparity in the field on the simple terms that it is just messed up and wrong. And it is. But what also stinks about men getting to make most of the jokes, beyond the sexism it reveals, is that women never get the piss taken out of them by someone who gets it.
And then came Schumer.
Recently the Internet decided it knew a few things about me.
The first was that I’m into Jewish news. Yahoo, a site I visit frequently to check my email, started personalizing the news stories it shows me. (And not just me; the company introduced increased personalization on the site several months ago.) What struck me was the bizarre focus of the customized news in my feed. Interspersed between the usual celebrity gossip and natural disaster coverage, there would be a story or two about Israel.
Now, I am interested in what goes on in Israel. But the headlines on my screen were not the sort I would usually click on — about Israeli tourism, say, or terror attacks, or for that matter Jewish life in America and around the world. Instead, they centered almost exclusively on obscure developments in the Knesset or nasty little tempest-in-a-teapot scandals. At first the stories came from Reuters and AP, but then it seemed any media outlet would do: RT.com, an English-language Russian news site; the Times of India; even the noxiously anti-Israel (many say flat-out anti-Semitic) mondoweiss.net. (The Yahoo newsfeed also now includes “relevant” tweets.)
While this was going on, the Internet suddenly decided that I wear, or at least want to shop for, plus-size clothes. I think I know how this happened.
According to Ann Friedman in her post “Shine Theory: Why Powerful Women Make the Best Friends,” over at NYMag.com, we should seek out women who are more together or successful than we are. She writes:
Approaching and befriending women who I identify as smart and powerful (sometimes actively pursuing them, as with any other crush) has been a major revelation of my adult life. First, there’s the associative property of awesomeness: People know you by the company you keep. I like knowing that my friends are so professionally supportive that when they get a promotion, it’s like a boost for my résumé, too, because we share a network and don’t compete for contacts. Also, it’s just plain tough out there — for all the aforementioned reasons about the economy and the dating scene and body-image pressures. I want the strongest, happiest, smartest women in my corner, pushing me to negotiate for more money, telling me to drop men who make me feel bad about myself, and responding to my outfit selfies from a place of love and stylishness, not competition and body-snarking.
The sentiments behind Friedman’s argument are nice ones. Competition is lame. Confidence is contagious. We are stronger together. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a little icky by the piece’s end.
My favorite Young Adult novels when I was a young reader were the ones that I now think of as “my summer of death and kissing” novels. Sound morbid? It’s not, really. It’s about a certain kind of melancholy grandeur. The way I see it is: If art, like life, boils down to sex, death and family, then the best YA novels are the ones that describe initiation into the complexities of all three.
One of my most dog-eared in that category was Madeline L’Engle’s “A Ring of Endless Light,” where our heroine learns about death, dolphins and boys, and the other was Judy Blume’s “Tiger Eyes,” where our heroine encounters death, canyons and boys. This latter novel, my favorite by Blume, has now been made into a feature film by Blume’s son Larry — remarkably, the first feature adaptation of a Blume novel — with his famous mom’s collaboration on the screenplay. It arrives in theaters and on-demand TV on June 7.
“Tiger Eyes,” which I’ve probably read upwards of six or seven times, is told from the perspective of Davey, a teenager in Atlantic City, who must face life without her father after he is murdered tending his 7-Eleven store and her family relocates to Los Alamos. Davey is aided in her grieving process by Wolf, an older boy she meets in a canyon (only this week did a friend of mine point out the Freudian implications of the canyon) who is also losing his father to illness.
Everyone is talking about me. They’re analyzing my behavior and criticizing my attitude (namely my narcissism). They’re pitying my inability to connect with people in a “real” way. They’re worried about my job prospects and financial future, but they champion my optimism and are in awe of my resiliency. Oh, and by the way, I mean the royal “me” of my generation, the Millennials.
Since the media seems to think everyone born between the early 1980s and early 2000s share the same exact traits and lifestyles, it seems fitting to take all of their chastisement and praise very, very personally.
I don’t know what exactly has gotten me so defensive about being a Millennial. If I could give all the credit to Joel Stein’s already well-lambasted cover story in Time, I would. However, there’s been a recent obsession with both tearing down and raising up the Millennial generation.
The old second-wave feminist slogan goes: “Not the church; not the state; women must decide our fate.”
The horrifying case occurring in El Salvador today is an example of both church and state brutally interfering in the endangered life of a woman for the sake of misogynistic ideology.
Beatriz is a young mother in heavily Catholic El Salvador with a number of severe medical conditions and carrying a non-viable pregnancy. In her strictly anti-abortion country, doctors still advised a therapeutic termination — as did a number of international human rights agencies — but the procedure has been repeatedly denied.
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.
In the last few weeks, I’ve written about military sexual assault and high-profile gendered kidnapping and rape cases, discussing how they fit into a broader pattern of rape culture in which women are treated as commodities and sex a transaction.
But last week’s shocking stories show how rape culture has seeped into tech and online culture, adding a gross violation of privacy to the inherent violation of sexual assault.
Would you rather be beautiful and stupid or ugly and brilliant? Think about it for a moment.
As a high-achieving high school student, I remember considering it a no-brainer: It was better to be beautiful and stupid. Today, studies have shown that people react differently to others based on looks, with attractive people benefiting in hiring, promotions and pay. And lest we think that’s a culturally conditioned response, even babies prefer beautiful faces. It seems that my basic assumption that life is, on average, easier for beautiful people was correct.
While stupid could easily be seen as a negative, as a high school student, I didn’t assume it was a bad way to live; I pictured a movie star who was professionally successful, but neither intellectually curious nor terribly deep. I figured a stupid person who wasn’t book smart might be less likely to notice or be upset by things that bothered the brilliant person, who might or might not have been emotionally intelligent.
This all seemed rather straightforward and obvious to me until I had a daughter. Lila, who recently turned two, is her own little person. She has always been incredibly outgoing and loves talking to strangers, so she makes friends and earns fans wherever she goes. As her mother, that makes me proud, but I’m also quietly aware of the compliments paid to my daughter. Many people remark that Lila is “so cute” or “beautiful.”
Resting on the butcher block in my Brooklyn kitchen are seven black and white napkins with the name “Caroline” written on them in a cloud of polka dots. I found the napkins — leftovers from my bat mitzvah — four years ago while combing through the attic as my parents prepared to sell my childhood home. My boyfriend and I used most of the napkins the following year. Two apartments later, we have seven left, all tangible remnants of the day I became a Jewish adult. Seven reminders my parents threw a kick-ass party organized by a top-notch party planner, who I didn’t realize was also a top-notch wedding planner until he kissed me on the cheek at my friend’s wedding.
I’m concerned that 17 years later, these napkins are the primary reminder of my becoming a bat mitzvah — the day I chanted 40 verses of Torah and led the service, an overachieving upgrade from the usual eight verses read, not chanted, at my Reform synagogue.
In the United States, especially amongst Reform and Conservative Jews, we all too often focus on the party and on ourselves, rather than the actual responsibility of becoming a Jewish adult. In the past few months, video invitations to Jorel and Daniel’s bar mitzvahs went viral on YouTube. While the videos are adorable testaments to the boys’ precocious playfulness, as well as their parents’ deep pockets, they epitomize the ongoing clash between American and Jewish values.
When my husband and I were dating and first began talking about having children, he said that he wanted three kids.
“Three biological kids?” I asked.
“Yeah. That’s what my parents had,” he reminded me, “and I like having two siblings.”
“I like having one,” I replied. “Maybe we have two biological children and adopt the third? Or just two kids, either bio or adopted?”
“Maybe,” he agreed, and the conversation moved to what we would name our very hypothetical offspring. I argued for Jack, he cast a vote for Tino and we were even further apart on our preferred names for girls.
Still, we eventually got married and began talking in more seriousness about having children.
It was after many brutally honest conversations that we decided to have only one child. There was a long list of reasons why this made sense, including finances, age and my impressive collection of chronic health problems. Indeed, it is a continued source of amazement to both of us that my pregnancy was completely uneventful and our daughter was born healthy. Neither my husband nor I want to see if we’d be so lucky a second time around.
Why did I find the image of a faceless man in a tush-in-the-air submissive pose so much more shocking than that of a woman? Have I become so saturated by ubiquitous tasteless American Apparel ads that I have become inured to just how disgusting they are?
American Apparel is famous for featuring, in its advertising, barely-clad young women who appear to be on the wrong side of the age of consent posing in overtly sexual ways.
A small Swedish clothing retailer, byPM, recently did its own photo shoot showing company owner Petter Lindqvist posing in a manner characteristic of women in the American Apparel pictures. I found the resulting image, viewed up against the female version, shocking. Even more startling was realizing that the image of the woman in the same pose didn’t give me a moment’s pause — which shows, perhaps, just how inured I have become to the sight of women in such positions.
Disney has come under fire for “feminizing” and “sexing up” Merida, the spunky Scottish princess of the Pixar film “Brave,” in order to add her to its much-maligned princess collection.
Martha Kempner describes the abortive makeover perfectly:
Disney changed her hair from wild curls to silky tresses that cascade suggestively over one shoulder. Her simple dress was replaced with an off-the-shoulder gold and turquoise number that includes a low-slung belt to emphasize her now thinner waist. Her skin exchanged its ruddy red hue for porcelain white. She’s wearing lipstick and rouge. There were also changes to Merida’s demeanor; she now stands with one hip out and her head cocked seductively to one side. Her bow and arrow are nowhere to be seen.
Everyone, including the character’s creator, Brenda Chapman, chastised the company, forcing it to pedal backwards with the promise that we’d see the old, spunky Merida soon.
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