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.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a legendary figure in the women’s rights movement, has embarked on a new crusade on behalf of sick individuals and the people who care about them.
Her new book, “How To Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick” (PublicAffairs) pinpoints the awkwardness and inadequacy that many people feel when trying to comfort their sick and bereaved loved ones. “Illness is friendship’s proving ground,” she writes. Yet why do so many of us fail that basic test?
Pogrebin, 73, came up with the idea for a book about “illness etiquette” while she was being treated for breast cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. In the waiting room, she conducted dozens of interviews with her fellow patients about the ways their friends and family both supported and failed them during their illnesses. These interviews, plus Pogrebin’s reflections on her friends’ responses to her own diagnosis, make up the backbone of the book, a “dos and don’ts” of comforting the sick that includes her mantras: “act and ask” and “ask and act.”
Pogrebin talked with the Forward’s Naomi Zeveloff about her policy of total transparency, her relationship with her mother and Judaism’s conflicting messages on caring for others.
NAOMI ZEVELOFF: Why are people inadvertently insensitive to their sick friends?
LETTY COTTIN POGREBIN: We don’t really get beyond a kind of basic illness etiquette in this culture. We say things like, “I’m sure you’ll be okay” or, “God only gives you as much as you can handle,” or all the clichés that you and I have probably said and have certainly heard that aren’t helpful. You say them because you are at a loss for words; you are afraid of being too positive because that is fake. But you are afraid of being too honest; how dare you ask questions about their test results or symptoms?
My bottom line in this book is to hope that there is a new illness etiquette that simply goes straight for the candor and says from the minute someone is diagnosed and they tell you about it, that you ask that you can establish a policy of absolute honesty. You say to your sick friend, “Tell me what you want and what you don’t want, because if I am going to have to guess I am going to get it wrong and it may become burdensome to you.”
For example, Jewish people are taught to visit the sick, bikur cholim. But what if bikur cholim is in conflict with Hillel, who says do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you? What if you don’t want to be visited because you are in a funk and the idea of seeing anyone is anathema or you are feeling hideous or you are oozing and strung up and in bandages and you don’t want to be seen? If you have established this honesty policy you won’t visit inappropriately. The person won’t feel they have to receive you because otherwise it looks unfriendly. You will be on a plane of absolute sincere communication from the start.
Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, Montreal’s largest and oldest Ashkenazi synagogue, has become the first Canadian congregation to hire a graduate of Yeshivat Maharat, the Bronx yeshiva that ordains women.
Rachel Kohl Finegold, 32, is one of three graduates of the yeshiva’s inaugural class. She will be moving with her family from Chicago to Montreal, where she will begin serving as Shaar Hashomayim’s director of education and spiritual enrichment on August 1. In Chicago, she has been the education and ritual director of the Orthodox Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation for the past six years.
Although graduates of Yeshivat Maharat may assume the honorific of “Rabba,” Finegold has chosen to be known as “Maharat,” which is a Hebrew acronym for “manhigah hilchatit ruchanit Toranit,” a teacher or leader of Jewish law and spirituality.
Last week, I wrote a piece for TODAY.com about a man in Chicago named Jason Methner, whose incredibly elaborate proposal to his now-fiancee involved an original kids’ book and some collusion from the Chicago Public Library. While most of the comments on the article were positive, quite a few people were unhappy. However, it wasn’t the proposal itself they were angry about — it was the barrage of attention paid to the story, particularly on social media (the Chicago Library had requested permission to post photos of the proposal on its Facebook page, which helped the story go viral).
“It’s bad enough that this guy has to ruin marriage proposals for everyone else,” one guy fumed to me in a personal email, “but they’re just doing it for attention and you’re giving it to them.”
Now that Pinterest and Facebook have turned wedding planning into a competitive public sport, it seems only logical that marriage proposals would follow. It’s increasingly common for couples to have the moment itself photographed, leaving them with dozens of pictures of the man down on one knee and even more close-up shots of the ring.
The Sisterhood has covered Haredi exclusion of women from the Israeli public sphere for some time now. When it comes to the removal of women’s images from public view, we’ve seen the disappearance of women from advertisements; the photoshopping of female leaders like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton out of news photos; the blurring of women’s and girls’ faces on memorial notices and even the erasing of a pair of women’s shoes from an innocuous photo of a family’s shoe drawer.
But now this practice has reached a high — or, rather low — point with the blurring out of the face of a woman in a Holocaust-era photo. Ynet reported that the Haredi newspaper “Bakehillah” (In the community) censored the face of Matilda Goldfinger, the woman who appears to the left of the little boy wearing a yellow star with his hands raised in the iconic photo documenting the final liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto in May 1943, following the Jewish uprising there that began on the first night of Passover that year. Goldfinger’s daughter Henka (Hannah) was killed moments after the photograph was taken.
Jess Grose, writing at the New Republic, has kickstarted a provocative discussion about partnerships and housework with a piece called “Cleaning: The Final Feminist Frontier.” She notes that the culture shift that has brought about many men’s newfound willingness to help cook and parent has not been matched by an eagerness to scrub the darker, grimier corners of the home. And she notes that for women, the desire to clean is often driven by social pressure: “Unfortunately, the notion that women will be the first to be judged for a messy home and the first to be commended for an orderly one isn’t much of an incentive for men to pick up a mop.”
Jonathan Chait responds that the problem is overly sparking standards of cleanliness. He argues if women were content to be messier, the work level would slide to 50-50. Case in point: stacking magazines. He doesn’t care about stacking and his wife does, so when she stacks, that’s optional work, not bedrock housecleaning. In other words, “the assumption of much of the feminist commentary [is] there is a correct level of cleanliness in a heterosexual relationship, and that level is determined by the female.”
My story about the crushing pressures ultra-Orthodox women face to raise large families touched a raw nerve. The story went live on the Forward’s web site on Monday, March 11. By that night, I was sorting through an avalanche of emails from people within and out of the community, from those who sympathized, and those who were enraged.
My words seemed to evoke a strong, visceral reaction. By Tuesday morning, there was an online response written by Rachel Freier, a Hasidic mother and practicing lawyer.
The article was a sincere but formulaic repeat of the worldview I’d grown up in, the very one that led to the nightmare I found myself in as a young, Orthodox mother. Rachel explains that orthodox women feel that it is the greatest blessing to have many children; it is our joy, our purpose, our legacy. She said Orthodox women celebrate this decision, and do not want the kind of life led by secular women, one invested only in her career and profession, something that does not bring true happiness.
I agree. I never wanted a career. I never desired a profession, nor thought it would bring me happiness.
I am not a lawyer. I am a stay-at-home mother of three children. I write my articles starting 9 pm, after my children are fast asleep. But I still do not want a large family.
Within the regimented mindset of the ultra-Orthodox world, there is a neat and tidy summation of the outside world, one that is repeated like a mantra. That wholly inaccurate mantra is that all secular women pursue full time careers, eschew children like the plague, and in the end live lonely, empty lives regretting the happiness they could have had.
All the while, they stare in envy at ultra-Orthodox women and their 57 grandchildren.
We all know that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is straight to the point when it comes to politics, but many of us were caught off guard when he used this same bluntness to describe a woman’s backside in front of a journalist.
As recounted in a recent New York magazine profile of New York City Council Speaker and mayoral front runner Christine Quinn:
My friend and I followed the host over, shook Bloomberg’s hand, and my friend thanked him for his position on gun control. Without even acknowledging the comment, Bloomberg gestured toward a woman in a very tight floor-length gown standing nearby and said, “Look at the ass on her.”
As the New York Times reports, Bloomberg denies saying this, though New York magazine says they stand by their reporting. But if you check out the history of Bloomberg’s sexist behavior put together by Gawker, you would be likely to take New York magazine’s word for it.
When do you become a woman? As in, someone that your friend or colleague actually refers to as a “woman.” It is is certainly not after your Bat Mitzvah (will get back to that later), nor is it when you graduate from high school, or even college.
Today, the age of a woman who most of us feel comfortable calling a “woman” is being pushed further and further back; I personally hesitate or feel awkward using the term for anyone under 45. The issue is, many of us also feel the same about using “girl” for anyone over 25, and even that feels a little iffy. So basically for approximately 20 years there seems to be no appropriate term to describe people with vaginas.
Women long for an analog to “guy,” something that messages mature but not stuffy. “Gal” would technically fit the bill, but it hasn’t made much traction.
Nearly every month, it seems, there is troubling news relating to the status of women in Israel. Late last year it was women forced to sit at the back of public busses, and then Haredim attacking schoolgirls in Beit Shemesh for being insufficiently modest. In October the leader of Women of the Wall was arrested and allegedly mistreated by police for leading others in prayer at the Kotel. And recently, according to the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, Knesset candidate Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan declared that the agunah issue is caused by women’s groups trying to besmirch the rabbinical courts, rather than by husbands who refuse to divorce their estranged wives.
JOFA brought together some of the women involved in confronting these issues, both in the U.S. and Israel, for a roundtable discussion on November 28 in midtown Manhattan.
Israeli feminist leaders Hannah Kehat, founder and executive director of Kolech: Religious Women’s Forum and Susan Weiss, founder and executive director of The Center for Women’s Justice participated, along with Americans Nancy Kaufman, director of the National Council of Jewish Women; JOFA founder Blu Greenberg and Forward Editor-in-Chief Jane Eisner.
These days, news of a woman’s pregnancy elicits all sorts of shameless demands from people with voyeuristic drives to see her naked stomach. I should know; I’m pregnant.
This is the first time that people I hardly know have asked me to reveal my bare mid-section on social networking sites for all of my so-called friends to see. What was previously an indecent form of exhibitionism has become a standard behavior, the expected conduct of pregnant women. It’s your obligation to show us your stomach, the voyeurs suggest, and it’s our right to see! Instead, I flash a well-practiced look that says, Surely you jest.
I’ve watched others do the opposite. Many conservative women who won’t even wear swimsuits in public jump at the chance to bare their skin on the Internet. I find it particularly puzzling when women only a few weeks along snap photos of their flat naked stomachs in the bathroom mirror, yoga pants pulled so low one can make out the top of whatever Victoria’s Secret underwear they’re wearing, and ask the world to comment on their so-called “baby bump.” And many women post photos weekly or daily, transforming social networking pages into a breeding ground for their new all-consuming identity as a mother.
And you know what? That’s perfectly fine. There’s nothing wrong with proudly self-identifying as a mother. But why must this identification begin with baring our stomachs? Have we no shame? It seems we have forgotten that we are more than just physical bodies, more than receptacles for new life.
This is worth highlighting, particularly as the Jewish Federation of North America’s General Assembly gets down to business today in Baltimore (it runs through November 13). The presently dismal rate of hiring women at the top of large Jewish federations “paint[s] a picture of an institution out of touch with some of the key trends in today’s Jewish world,” Rettig Gur writes.
The issue in the organized Jewish world is not limited to federations, of course. In the most recent of its annual surveys of compensation in 76 national Jewish organizations, The Forward found “a picture of communal stagnation in gender equality, as the number of women in leadership roles remains at the same low level, and the gap between male and female salaries has grown even larger.”
That there are even two women heading the largest federations is a recent development. San Francisco’s federation appointed the first woman to head one of the “big 19” in 2010, and Montreal’s hired a woman at its helm last year.
Around the 1992 election, like the political junkie-in-training I was, I walked around my grade-school wearing campaign buttons featuring the dynamic duo of Jewish female California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, plus new First Lady Hillary Clinton. It was the Year of the Woman, a historic moment for women in politics — and a backlash to the Anita Hill fiasco — that hasn’t been replicated since.
Last night’s election may be remembered as a similarly banner moment, an example of, as social media would quaintly put it, “revenge of the ladyparts.”
The story of last night begins with resounding defeats for some of the most extreme and obnoxious anti-women Tea Party type candidates: Todd “legitimate rape” Akin, Richard “God’s Will” Mourdoch, Joe “abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother” Walsh and more. Even the shell-shocked folks on Fox News acknowledged that a lot of these races had been the GOP’s to lose, and the candidates’ outmoded, offensive — but deeply revealing — beliefs about gender, abortion and rape lost it for them.
But the losses for (“team rape”)[http://jezebel.com/5958480/team-rape-lost-big-last-night] were women’s gains. This widely-circulating photoset shows a montage of some of the amazing women who were elected or re-elected last night — 19, possibly 20 women in the Senate, a new high.
Women are running a growing number of Jewish organizations, at least those represented in “Slingshot: A Resource Guide to Jewish Innovation.” While about half of the groups selected in recent years for the annual guide of 64 innovative Jewish organizations have been led by women, this year the percentage has shot up to 64%, or nearly two-thirds.
It’s no accident that the groups selected for Slingshot, which tend to be relatively young and small organizations, place a premium on women’s professional leadership, said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, whose organization is one of those chosen for the guide.
“Slingshot highlights organizations outside the traditional mainstream, working with younger populations or social justice or the arts,” she said. “Mainstream Jewish organizations haven’t been as open to women’s leadership. So women realize we need to create a different kind of community and are creating what we want it to be,” she said.
This is the eighth annual guide put out by Slingshot, a New York-based organization of “next gen” funders, most of whom are in their 20s and 30s. This year, the guide includes 64 organizations — 50 in the main list, plus 14 more-established groups in a category called “standard bearers.” The guide will be published November 5, when a PDF download will be made available. The printed book, delayed by Hurricane Sandy, will be sent out to some 7,500 philanthropists a short time later.
Jami Attenberg is the author of “Instant Love,” “The Kept Man,” “The Melting Season” and, most recently, “The Middlesteins,” which Interview magazine called “juicy, delicious, dark smorgasbörd of a novel. (It is that and more.) “The Middlesteins” is the story of a Midwestern Jewish family’s relationships, realizations and appetites. Attenberg spoke with The Sisterhood about loving her characters, connecting to the past, and writing a Jewish book.
THE SISTERHOOD: Whenever I read your books, I have the experience of things being revealed in such a clever and graceful way. I see so much in “The Middlesteins.” It’s about missing each other in spite of being present in each other’s lives. It’s about how much we don’t know about people we love. And it’s about ritual, surprise and hunger. What does “The Middlesteins” mean to ou?
JAMI ATTENBERG: Oh gosh, it’s about so many things. When I look at my favorite parts of it now, I go back to the bits that were about passion and excess. So I love all the eating scenes, for example. I wrote all those with love. But also it’s about communication, or lack thereof. The hard conversations we don’t want to have — and often don’t have - are hovering around the edges of this book for me. For such a loud culture, we often remain too silent.
I’ll be transparent here. I’ve read “The Melting Season,” “The Kept Man” and “Instant Love,” all ravenously, and I’m curious as to what brought on, well, the surge of Judaism. It’s so present throughout your new book. I know that as a writer it’s complicated; sometimes you get attacked by characters, sometimes they creep in slowly. How did you decide to follow this particular thread?
Last night’s Foreign Policy debate was all about swing — the candidates taking final swings at each other and aiming for the hearts and minds of swing voters. And conventional polling wisdom tells us who the most important “swing voters” are, particularly for the President: that’s right, the women.
For President Obama, this is a major opportunity to hone in on the group that may be most important to his election: women. As pointed out by Ron Brownstein, one of the nation’s best students of the interplay of politics and demography, Obama can win the election if he wins over more college-educated women in the Southeast and more non-college educated women in the upper Midwest. He has already made strong inroads with both, but needs a little more heft.
Obama’s best way to do that is to convince women that he will not only protect our security but he will keep us out of war. He has argued in the past that he is doing just that by getting bin Laden and by extracting the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan.
There’s a reason for that: Nate Silver noted this week that a particularly pronounced “gender gap” has emerged this year: “if only women voted, President Obama would be on track for a landslide re-election [but] if only men voted, Mr. Obama would be biding his time until a crushing defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney.”
A few weeks ago I was at a Rosh Chodesh gathering, and as it often happens in a room filled with women, the conversation turned to families and babies. I began to feel pangs of jealousy immediately. I was jealous of the ease with which women who are married to (or in relationships with) men can have babies. When you’re in a loving and committed heterosexual relationship and both people decide they’re ready to have children, you simply slip into bed together. When you’re in a loving and committed gay relationship and both people decide they’re ready to have children, the next steps are far more complicated.
I am fully aware that many couples, both gay and straight, have trouble conceiving, and I do not make light of the complexities that often arise when trying to conceive. But in discussion these complexities as a gay woman, a completely different set of reasoning is used. It has very little do do with my age or health and everything to do with the fact that a woman is trying to have a child without help from a man.
I’m often reminded that it’s hard for my partner and me to have a child because so many people out there think it is unnatural, wrong, even sinful. But, it’s not just lesbian women who seek out donors, IVF or adoption; many straight couples take the same journey for a variety of reasons. I’ve been reading the “Single Mother by Choice,” a blog series penned by Kveller’s Emily Wolper. In it she shares her very personal journey through donor shopping, IVF treatment and now DWP (dating while pregnant), plus her choice to mother as a single woman — and in the process gives a peek inside of the many, varying ways one can become a parent and create a family. The parenting website Off Beat Mama is another wonderful source for parents who fall out of the “mother, father, 2.5 children and dog” paradigm.
I read these story not only to see my life experience represented, but for support. Because I’m at the point in my life where my ovaries and uterus have launched a full-fledge assault on the rest of my body. The once rationally minded woman I was has been replaced by a woman with a singular focus: having a baby. This singular focus has resulted in a variety of missteps, some innocent and some well-intentioned, all a bit awkward.
As a Jewish woman who prefers work to cooking, the Hebrew calendar determines most of the time I spend in the kitchen. Certainly I cook year round — especially for shabbos — but for me, serious cooking happens over the Jewish holidays. While most Jewish women would probably claim Pesach as the ultimate in holiday work, I am most challenged by the fall holidays, when my professional world collides with my Jewish world.
In the heart of the summer months, from Shavuos until mid-Elul, I don’t do much cooking. I take summers off from teaching English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and I use that time to study, write and catch up on reading. And without festive holidays all summer, most substantial cooking goes on hiatus.
But by late summer, I am swept up by a whirlwind of obligations as the new college semester crashes into the fall holidays. The Jewish calendar calls me back to my kitchen, but I’m no foodie. I am a simple cook, and so I pull out my worn 1987 edition of Joan Nathan’s “The Children’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen.” From my dusty spiral recipe notebook, I peel apart recipes glued with dried honey and find holiday menus and to-do lists that go back over 25 years. At the top of each page of notebook paper is a list of Rosh Hashanah guests, written in my hand or my daughter’s; I leaf through each one, noting the passing of time and family.
For me, this period has always been a time of balance and reflection. While I weigh in on the past year and ask people I may have wronged for forgiveness, composition papers pile up, awaiting my thoughtful grading. At least I can work at home and hold Skype office hours while honey cakes turn golden brown in the oven.
The holiday weeks continue compressing my workweek into precious few days. It’s a month-long accordion existence — from work, to preparing at home, to work, to the holiday itself, to shul, and then all over again. I find ways to make it work, but when Simchat Torah ends, I’m ready for what comes next. Not only do we hear Breisheit on Shabbat, but we also welcome my favorite month of the year: Cheshvan.
This past summer, Anne-Marie Slaughter shook up the national feminist conversation with her provocative Atlantic piece “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Writing about the challenges she faces balancing her role as a mother and a professional, she argued that systemic changes must be made in both the workplace and society for women to finally achieve equality with men. Her piece sparked a wide debate, naturally, and as I begin my junior year of college at Johns Hopkins, I can’t help but ask myself, where do I fall in all of this? What choices do I face as a 20-year-old Jewish American female student?
In one of my sociology classes this semester, we began to analyze the concept of “family through a post-modern perspective.” As a history and sociology major, I have encountered post-modernism many times, yet this was the first time that the theory struck an incredibly personal note.
Post-Modern theorists embrace the notion that the world has changed so much from previous eras, that today individuals must make choices about virtually all aspects of their lives. Before, choices were limited and one’s life was generally pre-determined from history, tradition and custom. Now, when it comes to questions of self-identity, we increasingly rely upon our own construction of reality to dictate who we are. These choices range from big life decisions about relationships, religion and careers to the most trivial questions — what should I tweet? What should my profile picture be?
In all of my years of schooling, and now in my time at college, I have been taught to work hard for success, to learn avidly, and to not settle for anything less than what I’m capable of achieving. I have been raised to respect those who use their talents to improve the world.
I recently discovered, and promptly became obsessed with, Emily Matchar’s blog New Domesticity. On the blog and in her upcoming book due out next year, Matchar explores the recent-ish explosion of “lost” domestic arts like bread-baking, bee-keeping and serious DIY laundry (handmade washboard, anyone?). I’d been noticing the popularity of this return to the ways of yore for quite a while — in the steady stream of beautiful food blogs and online crafting tutorials and magazine articles about topics like urban gardening. When I belatedly acquired a Pinterest account, I saw that millions of people were spending their waking hours on virtual bulletin boards, collecting recipes and home improvement projects.
As any woman with an Internet connection has probably noticed, for every lovingly photographed artisanal cupcake, there’s an equal and opposite critique. Some of the criticism (on Matchar’s blog and elsewhere) has to do with the humblebragging nature of all this creating and photographing, not to mention the implied pressure to measure up. Some comes from a more straightforward feminist perspective: Our forebears had to wash clothes by hand and would have killed for a washing machine that enabled them to work an office job — you want to go back to that?!
And then there’s what I think of as “the rich white lady thing.” I mean, who can even afford to stay home knitting scarves, growing heirloom tomatoes, making baby food and photographing it all with a shiny new DSLR? It’s not hard to see that these women — and their exquisite creations — tend to look very much alike. Of all the reasons to be wary of the new avalanche of craftiness, this posh sameness is probably the one that resonates with me the most. But it also makes me laugh. Because take out the aesthetically pleasing documentation and you’ve got my working class Jewish ancestors.
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