Outcry from Jews in Israel and the Diaspora has led the rabbi in charge of policies at the Kotel to back down from his plan to have women arrested for saying Kaddish, says Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall.
At a meeting Thursday with Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch “assured Sharansky that, contrary to the letter [sent by Jerusalem police chief to Women of the Wall], no woman would be arrested for reciting Kaddish at the Western Wall.”
The Jewish Agency made that announcement by posting a note on its Facebook page, which was illustrated with a photo of young women praying at the Kotel.
After The Sisterhood broke the story Wednesday of the police chief’s letter indicating that women would be arrested and charged for saying Kaddish, as well as wearing a tallit, it was covered extensively by the Israeli media, Hoffman said.
The connection between Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is one that I learned of during my conversion process. When only one month a year is given to Black History, certain events are sure to be left out. While my parents did an amazing job sharing their personal insights and memories of the Civil Rights movement, much of my learning happened while studying Black History in college. Still, it wasn’t until I started studying Judaism that I learned about the partnership between King and Heschel.
On April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King opened his “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church in New York City by welcoming Rabbi Heschel.
“I also want to say that I consider it a great honor to share this program with Dr. Bennett, Dr. Commager, and Rabbi Heschel, and some of the distinguished leaders and personalities of our nation.”
Add Kaddish to the list of Jewish prayers and ritual objects women are not allowed to be engaged with at the Western Wall, according to the commander of the Jerusalem police.
In a March 14 letter to Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, Yossi Pariente wrote that he met with a deputy attorney general for the government of Israel to go over the rules pertaining to Women of the Wall, which include prohibitions on:
…Wrapping yourselves in tallitot [prayer shawls], holding a minyan [prayer quorum] of women including the Kaddish or Kedusha prayers, and reading from the Torah.
Pariente warns that, starting on the next Rosh Chodesh, which falls on April 11, Women of the Wall will be arrested and charged with breaking the law for doing any of these things.
Dancing with the Stars is no stranger to cheese, and this week the show laid it on thick its theme: Prom Week. Because of her age, Aly Raisman looked somewhat less ridiculous than, say, Wynonna Judd did in her poufy dress, but it was still kind of a cornball way to come up with a dance. And when your dance starts with a woman in a Cupid outfit shooting arrows into you and your partner, “cornball” is definitely a fair word to use.
This week, Aly and her pro partner Mark Ballas danced the Viennese waltz. This is one of my favorite ballroom dances, because it involves a lot of fluid motions and dancing in hold — that is, connected to each other rather than breaking apart and doing parallel moves. I was nervous about how Aly might do with such a fluid dance, considering that what won her a gold medal for floor exercise was her tumbling, not her grace.
Anyone who’s been pregnant, or knows someone who’s been pregnant, has probably been exposed to the terrifying list of dos and don’ts that accompanies bringing a child into the world. It’s bad enough to be deprived of wine, imported cheeses, wine, smoked salmon, coffee, and did I mention wine? But the most frustrating thing is that these dos and don’ts often contradict each other, which is the whole point of a recent Jezebel post about how to have the best pregnancy ever.
Take fish, for instance. Women are told to eat a lot of it during pregnancy, but they are also told not to eat too much because of dangerous mercury levels. And then there’s the question of alcohol — some doctors say an occasional glass of wine is fine and possibly even beneficial if it decreases stress levels, while others make pregnant women feel as if their babies will be born with an extra limb if they have a single sip. The same goes for drinking coffee. Many doctors and researchers say it’s perfectly fine to have one cup a day, but they also remind us that drinking coffee during pregnancy doubles the risk of miscarriage.
In other words, trying to do the right thing during pregnancy is an exercise in madness, and it will probably result in tremendous anxiety — which, of course, is not good for the baby.
It’s no surprise to voracious readers of female-authored fiction that the magical realism genre has flourished by the pens of the fairer sex. Readers with some enthusiasm for the genre may associate it with women of color in particular. For example, there’s Isabel Allende and Laura Esquivel, following in the Latin American tradition of Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Alice Walker and Toni Morrison incorporating folklore into African-American fiction.
It isn’t hard to think of Jewish men who weave mysticism and fantasy into their works, either — Isaac Bashevis Singer, Jonathan Safran Foer, Bernard Malamud and Franz Kafka. But the Jewish women of this genre are not as well known, though they are certainly present. Jewish studies and comparative literature students — you’ve got an enormous body of work to sift through from around the world to create compelling academic theses, and for everyone else, there’s a place on the couch waiting for us to curl up with one of these fabulous stories.
Here’s a list of eight female Jewish authors and their Jewish-themed magical realism novels, with just a bit about each book. This list is not comprehensive, of course, so please share your favorite authors in this deep and growing category.
I’ve never given much thought to Jehovah’s Witnesses. I also have a knack for avoiding them on the streets of New York as easily as I can dodge canvassers in Union Square. I don’t open my door for them, and after dating an ex “Jdub” I was pretty sure they were a religious group I just couldn’t quite understand.
All that changed this past Saturday. I was waiting for deliveries from Fresh Direct, FedEx and USPS and, when the doorbell rang, I flew down the stairs and flung open the door expecting to see a courier. Instead, a girl about seven or eight years old reached into her purse and pulled out a pamphlet with an earnest looking, fair-skinned, long-haired drawing of Jesus on the cover below the words “Watch Tower.”
I’d opened the door for Witnesses.
Once, I went to a job interview on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in a fancy office building. On my way out, I noticed a Weight Watchers office on the same floor. I was so provoked by yet another message that people should be skinny — that if you are skinny, you are in control and will get everything you deserve, because skinny equals all things moral, happy and good. But in that moment, I held back. I didn’t even take out the Post It notes and marker I carry around in my purse so that I can place notes on advertisements in the subway that are sexist, racist and homophobic. Instead, I growled, then kept walking.
A recent New York Times article profiled the United States introduction of Slim Peace, a nonprofit organization that brings Israeli and Palestinian women together around the universal theme of weight-loss support. The group has plans to expand around the country, meeting in the context of eating well, losing weight and learning about Israeli, Jewish, Arab and Palestinian cultures.
My reaction to this project is complicated. I don’t want to yell like I did at that Weight Watchers office — or at the weight loss ads that populate the margin of my Facebook page. But there is something deeply wrong here.
Thinking ethically while grocery shopping or eating out has become, for many of us, part of our lives in the past decade. We fill up cloth sacks of local organic apples at our farmers’ markets, and show more concern than ever over the provenance of our chickens.
But many of us who would rather starve than eat a Big Mac are still — often unknowingly — buying clothes made in sweatshops. According to a recent story on Alternet by Jake Blumgart, the majority of our clothes are still produced in conditions that would make us shudder, decades after the anti-sweatshop movement that swept college campuses in the early ’90s.
There’s something incredibly powerful about stepping, a form of percussive dance in which the participant’s entire body is used as an instrument to produce complex rhythms and sounds through a mixture of footsteps, spoken words and hand claps. These rhythmic stomping and beats can have a profound effect on the listener as well as the stepper. I should know; I grew up in a household where stepping was the norm.
My father, an active member of a national black fraternity often had brothers over, especially during pledging. Some of my favorite memories are the sounds of combat boots on the pavement that would lure me out of the house and into our back yard. I’d watch with the young men currently on line (pledges) as members of the frat stepped and chanted. Stepping is ancient. It’s culture. It’s a history that lives in the people and communities who make step a part of their lives.
An American Jewish World Service AJWS event was the last place I expected to see stepping, but last week night at the Green Space I experienced the familiar rhythm that puts my mind at ease as much as it screams, WAKE UP! The event, held in conjunction with Global Circle, featured the amazing ensemble Girl Be Heard, a multi-ethnic, youth-led organization that uses theater, song and step to empower girls to write about and overcome violence, gender discrimination, poverty, lack of opportunity and rape as a weapon of war. The performance included 19 original pieces which started with Tikkun Olam, a piece written and performer Monica Furman, a Jewish women living in Brighton Beach.
I’m not normally a fan of diets, though I have on occasion ventured into the world of trendy eating plans. There was the one from Seventeen Magazine (at the time I was much younger than 17) that introduced me to the dubious concept of eating breakfast. There was an attempt at that cabbage soup fad in college; my roommate and I made the soup and were instantly so disgusted by it that we left it in the fridge untouched for I don’t remember how long. And there was that moment when seemingly all of America went on the South Beach Diet. South Beach food was extremely healthy, but — as I coincidentally learned in South Beach — the cumulative effects of several months without starchy carbs means a drastically reduced tolerance for alcohol.
But for the most part, I ignore dietetic quick-fixes, not to mention their adjunct large-print paperback books. Instead, I stick to the boring stuff. I count calories. I don’t allow tempting foods into my cupboards. I give up treats that are more trouble than they’re worth. (Popcorn, for instance. Who needs a bowl full of empty calories that can slice your gums?) I understand that being thin, or in my case being less than extremely fat, is not something one achieves in a week. It’s a life-long mundane struggle.
Except every spring, I find myself looking at Passover’s eight breadless days and suddenly, all of that knowledge goes out the window. I think, Hey! Maybe I can lose some weight!
On Monday night, the first night of Pesach, many of us will sit around a table telling stories. The primary narrative of the evening — the exodus of the Jews from Egypt — is pretty much the same at every gathering, as is the basic framework of the haggadah from which we’ll tell the story. Drink wine, dip greens, break matzah, eat bitter herbs, make Hillel sandwich, drink wine, drink wine. Dayenu! And so on.
But the diversity of our personal narratives impacts how we each understand this story. We all carry a legacy of distinct experiences and backgrounds that shapes how we understand what it means to be enslaved. For women especially, remembering the exodus can be complex. Women start to become insignificant immediately following the exodus as stories of military might become the stuff of which Torah is made. In her book “The Nakedness of the Fathers,” Alicia Suskin Ostriker explains that it is in “the life of Moses that we see the women disappear. We see the flash of their backs as they dive, like dolphins, beneath the agitated surface of the text.”
I wasn’t going to host a seder this year. No way, no how.
I just came off a year during which I moved three times while pregnant and had my first child in the middle of a hurricane. Then there were the problems breastfeeding and my foolish resistance to getting any help during my baby’s first couple of months. And now there is the constant biting off more than I can chew work-wise during the 20 hours of nanny-time I have a week. This is all to say, I am pretty tired.
Then last week, while while scrolling through my emails with one hand while my baby slept in the other, I saw that Fresh Direct was offering a pre-made seder plate. I could get delivered to my front my door each of the five symbolic foods pre-prepared and rolled up in plastic and an actual seder plate that they all will neatly fit on for $19.99. Okay, I thought, I’m in.
I called my in-laws up in the Berkshires, my aunt in Manhattan and my friends around the corner in Brooklyn. I was having a seder.
Every Seder has its own story. There was Passover circa 1960, when Uncle Buddy stood in for Elijah. Or the Passover of 1985, when we started the Seder as we got up from sitting shiva for my father. I will never forget the Passover Seders when each of our children recited the Four Questions for the first time. Or the Passover when our first grandson made his appearance, and we all were transformed in our familial relationships and identities.
But no matter what the backstory, for each Seder it was clearly understood where the event should take place. For example, in my childhood, my parents lovingly prepared and led the Seder in our apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens, which was filled with family members and friends. And for the past 30-odd years, the Seder has taken place at our home on Long Island, with our own children, grandchildren, my mother-in-law and friends showing up faithfully each year, celebrating amidst the cacophony of generations.
Of course, there were occasional outliers, like the year our older daughter got married and she and her husband made their own Seder. “So, are the newlyweds coming to you this year?” friends asked with a smile. I forced a smile back. “They are making their own Seder. Isn’t that amazing and beautiful?” I opined. I felt it was true, but another part of me wasn’t quite ready for the separation. (Ironically, I then remembered that my husband and I had also created our own gestalt-experiential vegetarian Seder for our friends in graduate school when we were first married.)
President Obama’s visit to Israel was nothing less than inspiring. He met with many people, enjoyed Israeli music, was inspired by Israeli innovative high-tech technology, and made an inspirational, heartwarming speech in front of young students who applauded his every word. If any of us doubted Obama’s obligation to Israel in the past couple of years, our doubts dissolved over the past few days.
But as perfect as his visit was, one thing bothered me: Where was Michelle Obama? A few weeks ago, it was reported that the First Lady would probably join her husband on this historic visit. But when President Obama stepped down from his plane and waved to the crowd, I noticed that the woman by his side, well, wasn’t… When asked, he replied that Michelle wanted to come but felt obligated to stay with their daughters.
Of course eyebrows were raised at the First Lady’s absence. Some argued that it was not important because it was Obama’s presence in Israel, not Michelle’s, was all that mattered. I disagree. She was needed here, right by her husband’s side.
Eight days without leavened bread is no easy task for any Jew. No whole-wheat bagels with scallion cream cheese! No chewy chocolate chip cookies! No soy sauced-drenched rice! But it is especially trying for me; I am 29 years old and eight years recovered from a decade-long eating disorder. Each year, Passover’s food restrictions — a triggering behavior for any recovered bulimic or anorexic — challenges my footing.
I grew up in a reform Jewish home, and my parents encouraged my siblings and me to forge our own paths regarding Jewish customs and rituals. I quite liberally pick and choose from Halachic law at my leisure; for instance, I fast each Yom Kippur and keep each Passover. In order to honor these food-related traditions, I embrace pikuach nefesh (the saving of a soul or life) because, even though I am fully recovered, it lets me cut myself slack and ensure that my health takes precedence over Pesach’s rigorous demands.
While my eating disorder began as anorexia at age 11, it morphed into bulimia when I finished eighth grade, continuing until I was 21. I inhaled food as a metaphor for my emotional deprivation, then purged it in an effort to stop feeling so overwhelmed. Because this binge/purge cycle dominated my adolescent development, restricting food in my adult life — like bread on Passover — can reactivate these feelings, especially during emotionally volatile times. Fasting, on the other hand, doesn’t stimulate the now very ancient desire to starve myself.
Happy 7th birthday, Twitter!
If the social media network were a student in a Yeshiva day school, right about now would be the moment its mother brought in a tray of donuts for the rest of its social media classmates to share.
And so, in honor of Twitter’s 7th birthday (only 5 years till its Bat Mitzvah!), here is a list of seven Jewish women you should be following on Twitter. Of course, the list could go on and on, but these women will bring a full array of different topics into your Twitter feed and keep you informed on current events, Jewish themes and women’s issues.
Passover. The word itself makes me shudder. If this holiday is about celebrating the redemption of the Jewish people and the renewal of a nation, why, year after year, do I feel shackled by its very presence?
My earliest memory of Passover goes something like this: There I sat, age four, happily playing with my Polly Pocket when my mother tapped me on the shoulder, handed me a toothbrush, and ordered me to scrub the tires of our station wagon.
Years later, when I asked my mother why she burdened me with that seemingly pointless task, she explained that I needed to understand the “spirit” of the holiday. In other words, I couldn’t just sit around playing with my toys while the rest of the family slaved away.
Ironic as it is, the word “slaving” best describes my family’s Passover prep: The Jews were saved, and in celebration, we turn ourselves into slaves during the Jewish month of Nissan. Before you call me a heretic for having such cynical feelings, allow me to share a typical Passover prep schedule from my childhood.
Last week I was marooned on my couch with a virus and finally watched the first season of “Girls,” Lena Dunham’s HBO drama about twentysomethings finding their way in New York City. Dunham is very serious about her enterprise, and even the show’s light-hearted moments — which are few and far between — are laden with meaning. At times, watching the series felt more like homework than entertainment.
But I had heard so much about Hannah Horvath, Dunham’s alter ego, that I needed to meet her myself. Like many women in middle age, I wasn’t resistant to looking back at my youth. I’m not like the doctor who examines Hannah for an STD, who swears she’d never want to go back to her 20s. If anything, I’m jealous of the limitless sky, the time that drains into more time of your 20s. Maybe that’s glossy hindsight, but it’s also the truth.
In this week’s cover story in New York magazine, Lisa Miller profiles women whose decision to leave work and become stay at home moms is seen by them as a fulfillment of the grand feminist desire to “have it all.” Jessica Grose over at Slate’s DoubleX does a great job at explaining why the journalism in the piece is a little unsteady. Miller only has one example of a real life feminist housewife and recent Censes Bureau Statistics tell us that these feminist housewives are rare birds after all.
Even if Miller’s claims are untrue, the story still left me thinking about whether the choice to stay at home can really be interpreted as feminist. It might be the best thing for some families, and even necessary for a few. But feminist? Not sure.
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