Sisterhood Blog

Let's Talk About Incarcerated Women on Passover

By Sarah Seltzer

Thinkstock

During Passover it’s our obligation to think about all the people who are in chains who should be free — whether they are Jewish or not. Today, as I sit at my desk longing to munch on anything but another matzo sandwich (how oppressed my taste buds are!), I’m thinking not just about frightening instances of anti-Semitism at home and abroad, but also about two innocent women who are unfairly caught up in America’s frightening, ballooning criminal justice system. I would like to see more Jewish groups, energized by the Passover message, engage with our terrifying “prison-industrial complex,” particularly the way that system targets marginalized groups.

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Why HBO's 'Doll and Em' Deserves To Be Renewed

By Elissa Strauss

A recognizable portrayal of mid-30s to early 40-something women on TV is a rare thing. When we do see women of this age they tend to have incredibly intense jobs like “Scandal’s” Olivia Pope or “Homeland’s” Carrie Mathison or they are, well, a character on “Sex and the City.”

This is what makes the new HBO series “Doll & Em,” which just concluded its first and possibly last season, such a rare treat. The show is about a pair of friends who see middle-age around the corner and try their best to figure out what that means for themselves as individuals and as best friends. There are no terrorists or presidential scandals or even rows upon rows of suitors to choose from, just the regular horrors of coming to terms with your life decisions and the feeling of not youngness that particularly afflicts women around this time.

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Happy Equal Pay Day!

By Elissa Strauss

Thinkstock

Happy Equal Pay Day Ladies! Today marks how long into this year women must work in order to make how much men made last year when you adjust for how much money we lose because of the 23% gender wage gap. Feels good, right?

Equal Pay Day was started by the National Committee on Pay Equity in 1996 as a way to spotlight the fact that men still earn more than we do, and is based on Census statistics from the previous year. Today represents the median gap for all women, but if we observed one just for women of color it would be even later in the year: Hispanic women would have to wait until mid-July.

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Where Are the Israeli Female Small Business Owners?

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Renee Ghert-Zand // Israeli women network at the business conference

Israeli women, like their counterparts in the United States are, in parlance popularized by Sheryl Sandberg, leaning in. However, although Israel is “start-up nation,” it is no leader when it comes to women and business. I got a chance to learn more about this at a conference I attended last week in Jerusalem.

Onlife, an Israeli news and content website for women, partnered with the Jerusalem Municipality to bring an annual conference on small businesses owned by women to the Jerusalem. It was held at The First Station, Jerusalem’s old train station, which has been renovated in to a culture and entertainment venue, and was attended by 1,000 women from around the country.

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Shameful in Beit Shemesh

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

(Haaretz) — It was as frightening as any terrorist attack, recounted the young woman assaulted in broad daylight at a bus stop in Beit Shemesh last week.

But in fact, it was probably worse.

After all, one might presume that if an Israeli Jewish woman had been attacked by a Palestinian in the middle of the street, the bystanders around her would have rushed to her assistance, or at the very least, hastened to call the police. But that’s not what happened when this 25-year-old woman sitting at a bus stop with a toddler on her lap was verbally and physically assaulted by an ultra-Orthodox man last week who cursed at her and screamed that she wasn’t dressed modestly enough.

No one, she said, came to her aid or called for help, when he pulled her by her hair and threw her on the ground.

The attack was reported in the print media, but the young woman who was attacked at a bus stop in the haredi neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet went on television this week and related the full harrowing story herself. Her face was blurred on camera, but her story was clear and detailed, and painted a troubling picture of life in Beit Shemesh only a few weeks after its ultra-Orthodox mayor was reelected. The event turned the national spotlight on Beit Shemesh once more, has reinvigorated the struggle of a group of Beit Shemesh women to fight against intimidation in their city through the legal system, and revived discussion of whether coexistence is possible in Beit Shemesh or whether the non-haredi population would be wise to either pack their bags or divide their city in two, that is attempt to formally secede from the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

The woman was sitting at a bus stop with her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, dressed in a skirt with her head covered, when she was accosted by a haredi man. “He put his face right in front of mine and shouted “Slut! You weaken men!” she said in her Channel 2 news interview. “I was completely frightened by him, and I screamed.”

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Why Are Strong Female Characters So Thin?

By Elissa Strauss

Lionsgate Publicity // Jennifer Lawrence as “The Hunger Games’” Katniss Everdeen

Over at the Atlantic, Julianne Ross has a piece about the predominance of scrawny women in young-adult fiction. From “The Hunger Games” to “Divergent,” a new wave of popular books features skinny girls acting tough.

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My Most Important Friendships

By Frimet Goldberger

Thinkstock

Female friendships are difficult to understand. The bonds that women forge — the really close friendships — are almost invincible. Although I hesitate at stereotyping female friendships, I nevertheless believe some of the stereotypes to be true.

Maybe it’s because I have recently realized that my daughter is treating her friendships differently than my son is, and that to her, finding new friends and forming strong bonds with them is an important process. Or maybe it’s because my own process of finding and maintaining friendships has evolved lately, that I find myself contemplating the connection with the women in my life often.

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Standing Up for Agunot

By Martyna Starosta

Martyna Starosta

Shira Dicker protests the plight of chained women, or agunot, whose husbands refuse to grant them religious divorces, during a small Times Square gathering on International Agunah Day.

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Throwback Thursday: Queen Esther in New York City

By Chana Pollack

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

Forward Association

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How Friday Night Dinner Can Save Us All

By Elissa Strauss

When I spoke to Jennifer Senior, author of the new book “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood”, I told her that my experience reading her book felt much like the state of being she describes in the title. As a mother of 15-month-old, I am still in denial about the long term struggles inherent to this whole parenting thing and it was often painful to accept her smart analysis of the topic.

The book looks at all the reasons we are less happy than we’d like to be, or at least thought we would be. Some of these, like the fact that toddlers are incapable of rational thinking, we can only battle through acceptance, while others are things we can actually do something about. The one that stood out to me was the decline in community, best known as the “bowling alone” phenomenon, and how the resulting isolation only works to make parents’ lives even less fun than they need be.

I spoke with Senior about why parents are so much lonelier these days and how Shabbat dinner might save us all.

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A Mother and Daughter, Raised Worlds Apart

By Frimet Goldberger

Last Sunday, in a glittery princess frenzy, we ushered in my daughter’s seventh year. I love children’s birthday parties and all the fabulous will-certainly-break-tomorrow presents that abound. Yes, I shamelessly admit that I ogle the gifts, lick icing off the birthday cake and become a member of the children’s club, for two kids, twice a year.

Frimet Goldberger’s daughter, Ruchy

My husband likes to tease me, “You are probably more excited than the kids are.”

Much as I love birthdays, I do not enjoy watching my little ones grow up. Accuse me of being an archetypal Jewish mother, but I can’t help worrying about all the little things growing up in a modern environment entails — all the things I know so little about.

I worry because my daughter’s experiences are and will be radically different from my own, having grown up in a strict Hasidic environment. I worry because no self-help parenting book can prepare you to deal with the unforeseen future of a life you have never lived. I worry because I will need to grow up with her, to learn what it is like to be a teenager in this world, to understand the complexities and challenges of a girl’s life. I will relive my childhood vicariously through my daughter’s. In some ways I already am.

Rachel, or as we call her by her Hebrew nickname, Ruchy, is a little photocopy of myself. She has my green eyes, my auburn hair and my freckles; she relishes her food the way I do, is a pleaser by nature, makes friends easily and digs into those relationships. According to her bubbe, she even has my figure, and embraced the challenges of toilet training just the way her mommy did, eons ago. She is a bubbly, independent and loving child who has brought so much light into our lives. She amazes us daily with her maturity and ability to be assertive beyond her years.

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Sarah Silverman Ends 'Are Women Funny?' Debate

By Elissa Strauss

“Okay, last night I was visited by Jesus Christ, like the Jesus Christ. And he told me he was really bummed by all these people who use my name for intolerance and oppression.”

And so begins Sarah Silverman’s latest viral video, in which Christ comes to Sarah’s living room to tell her that she has been chosen to deliver his message about personhood. “Fertilized eggs aren’t people. People are people. But people who believe fertilized eggs are people are people too, and you have to love them, and you’re not better than them.”

Silverman then goes on to explain that the lines between religion and state have been increasingly blurred over the past fifty years, and how women are paying the price for the ongoing erosion of our reproductive rights.

I love this woman.

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14 Jewish Women To Watch in 2014

By Sarah Seltzer

Here’s a list of 14 Jewish women to watch in 2014. Some of them are rising stars, others are big names already who are likely have a lot of weight on their shoulders in 2014.

Full disclosures: This is a biased list, tilted towards the media and social justice sectors including several organizations I’m loosely or less loosely affiliated with. I see it as a jumping off point, and I strongly encourage you to add your own Jewish women to watch in the comments.

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Throwback Thursday: The Cosmetics Queen

By Chana Pollack

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

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Women Are Women's Harshest Judges

By Elissa Strauss

The New York Times recently ran a story about an experiment testing the competitiveness of the human female. For it, researchers had a woman, who “embodied qualities considered attractive from an evolutionary perspective,” interrupt a lecture about female friendships. Sometimes she was dressed casual, in a T-shirt and jeans, and other times she wore a low-cut blouse and a short skirt.

When she wore the jeans the female students took little notice of her. When she wore her sexy duds almost all of the students reacted negatively.

Their researchers conclusion? Stigmatizing female promiscuity, what the kids are calling slut-shaming, is something women, and not men, do to other women. Why?

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The Jewish World's Pay Gap

By Naomi Zeveloff

One of the most important components of the Forward’s annual Salary Survey — in which we research and publish compensation figures for the leaders of American Jewish organizations — is looking at gender disparity. In fact, as Jane Eisner, our editor-in-chief wrote in the Washington Post today, she got the idea for the survey after meeting with male leader after male leader when she first started at the Forward in 2008.

As in years past, the 2013 Salary Survey found that there are many fewer women than men running Jewish organizations. On top of that, female executives make less than their male counterparts. One reason for this is that some of them run smaller organizations that pay less. But as a first-ever analysis showed, even when controlling for organizational size, women still earn less — 81 percent of what men earn.

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Q&A: "The New Soft War on Women" Authors

By Elissa Strauss

In their latest book, “The New Soft War on Women”, academics Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett take on the notion that the end of men is imminent — as posited in Hannah Rosin’s book. They argue that while women have made some gains, particularly early on their careers, we are still a long, long way from parity.

The Sisterhood emailed with Rivers and Barnett about what women are still up against and what we need to do about it.

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Pressure for Mastectomies

By Tamar Fox

The recent New York Times story about breast cancer in Israel focused, in part, on the low percentage of women who undergo the surgery after being told they’ve tested positive for BRCA1 or 2, which indicate a much greater risk for breast cancer. The story suggests that this is in part because doctors in Israel are reluctant to recommend women get mastectomies, because the (mostly male) doctors in Israel are sexist, and don’t want women to remove their breasts. The article also mentions how the Times op-ed written by Angelina Jolie about her own double mastectomy sparked a lot of debate in Israel, and caused many women to start thinking about and asking for the surgery.

Implicit in the article is a message that high risk women like myself are told over and over again: get a double mastectomy to save your own life. Angelina Jolie did it — why shouldn’t Israeli women? (Other things Angelina Jolie has done: have six children, wear a vial of blood around her neck, wear black rubber pants at her first wedding.)

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Where to Give on Giving Tuesday

By Elissa Strauss

The holiday season tends to be the time of year when many of us feel the urge to give a little. For some, it is a way to pay forward the abundance of love and joy they are experiencing themselves. For others, it is a way to temper the guilt from all that conspicuous consumption. And for those who give Jewishly, it is out of an obligation to creating a fairer, more just world rather than an act of goodwill.

Whatever drives you to give, and for many of us it is a combination of all three, it can be hard to find a cause worthy of your hard-earned dollars. So, just in time for Giving Tuesday, the Sisterhood put together a list of lesser-known, mostly smaller, but still very worthy organizations that work to create tzedek in the world around us:

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Birth Stories Are the New War Stories

By Elissa Strauss

The fact that birth stories are almost always intense and captivating is common-knowledge among women. The same goes for abortion stories, though those are less-frequently shared.

The comings and goings that occur in a woman’s womb are as dramatic and emotional as what happens on the battlefield. As entertaining, too.

There are moments of despair and moments of triumph, all bound up in feelings of doubt, confusion and relief. Every delivery story, every abortion story, every miscarriage story is epic in nature, perfectly capturing the tug-of-war between fragility and resilience that marks our experiences as human beings.

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