Live from the Lilith Blog

August 19, 2014 by

Tender is the Brisket

71DqiaiNVuLPhiladelphia-based humorist and freelance writer Stacia Freedman has a knack for one-liners and her snappy new novel, Tender is the Brisket, is peppered with them.  The recession must have ended while I was on the crosstown bus, reflects one character.  Adorable was the term Katya used to describe things that were too small for her, be they apartments, diamonds or men.

The author of numerous feature articles and essays, Friedman has tried her hand at writing for film and television and pursued graduate studies in screenwriting.  In Tender is the Brisket, as well as her earlier book, Nothing Toulouse, she hones in on women writers who are, in her description, “on their way up, down and sideways.” Lilith Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough recently caught up with her and her witty aperçus on topics as diverse as Jane Austen, Nora Ephron and The Lucy Show.

YZM: How did you made the leap from nonfiction to fiction?

SF: I actually started out as an aspiring TV and film comedy writer without any serious literary ambitions. I didn’t want to be Jane Austen. I wanted to be Nora Ephron. After five years in the “biz” in LA, I returned east and started taking freelance writing gigs. I wrote humor pieces for newspapers, features for magazines, anything that paid the bills.  But I never gave up The Dream. I kept churning out comedic screenplays, plays and eventually novels.  After all these years, it’s gratifying to discover that there is an appreciative audience for my style of social satire. And if one of my novels were to be adapted to TV or film? That would be fine!

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Live from the Lilith Blog

August 12, 2014 by

My Political Evolution

Elana Sztokman-E (1)I remember when I fell in love with Zionism. It was 9th grade at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, the course on Zionism with the legendary Yotav Eliach. Yotav was a great teacher – clear, impassioned, relevant, and totally unconcerned with things like attendance and grades. He would just sit there, sometimes eating his pizza, and talk. He made everything seem so easy, neat and uncomplicated, and he gave us purpose and identity. He taught us that Zionism Is Jewish Nationalism, that Jordan is really Palestine, that there is no such thing as a Palestinian nation, that self-determination is a smokescreen, that anti-Zionism is just a reincarnation of anti-Semitism, that Jews have always lived in the land that we now call Israel, that there are Jewish responses to claims about Deir Yassin, and more. It was like preparing for an AIPAC convention, or for being Israel advocates on campus – in fact both AIPAC and Israel advocacy were important parts of my life so many years ago.

For me, Yotav’s class was a big part of the reason why I decided to live in Israel. By the time I was 16 I was telling people that I planned on making Aliyah, and in fact I was here by the time I was 23, married with a baby. Everything seemed right.

So in some ways, I’m still that Zionist and part of me still loves what Yotav did for me. I’m still living in Israel where I pay mortgage and taxes, conduct my life in Hebrew, argue with taxi drivers, and watch my kids serve in the army. And parts of the narrative about why Jews need and deserve a state of our own in this space still stick with me. I get emotional at Zionist events, I feel a thrill seeing my children in uniform, and I get excited by things like Israeli doctors saving victims of a tsunami. Still, with all that Israel pride, many aspects of Yotav’s Zionism have been replaced in my consciousness by a different kind of Zionism, as I started asking questions about truth and illusion, about polemics versus reality, and about the difference between having justice on your side versus having compassion on your side. Something was missing from the Brooklyn Zionism I was brought up on – even if that is, in some ways, the same Zionism that Prime Minister Netanyahu practices, along with a majority of Israelis today. I found cracks in the narrative that wore down the pretty montage. Perspectives seemed muted. The story was too effortful, as if we were taught to answer the questions before we had a chance to ask them.

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August 8, 2014 by

Dear Fish in My Daughter’s Aquarium

800px-Fish_bowl2

Wikimedia

This week in Sydney, teenage youths boarded a bus full of Jewish primary school children and yelled ‘Heil Hitler!’ and ‘Death to Jews’, threatening to cut the children’s throats. My mother fled to Australia after WWII, as a refugee from Bergen Belsen. Aged 21, she was the sole survivor of her family and wanted “to get as far away as possible from anti-Semitism.” She always upheld Australia as a safe sanctuary; a tolerant and multicultural society. She encouraged me to train as a doctor, and I worked in Israel for 10 years, through two Gulf Wars and two intifadas, with patients from all faiths – Baha’is, Christians, Muslims, Jews and Druze – focusing on what binds rather than divides us. I have been horrified—and at the same time silenced–by all the hate-mongering and polarization of views around the world in the wake of the latest horror in Gaza. Perhaps naively, I never thought it would reach the quiet shores of Australia, where I chose to raise my children.

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July 17, 2014 by

In Wartime, a Surreal Modesty Contest

PICTURED: The #1 existential threat to Israel's safety.

PICTURED: The #1 existential threat to Israel’s safety.

Political pundits of the world, pay attention: while you’ve been trying to make sense of the bloody conflict in Israel and Gaza, an unidentified group of women in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, has identified its cause—and laid out a solution.

Or, as the web page blares in all-caps: “AS WAR RAGES IN THE HOLY LAND… IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE WE CAN DO TO HELP OUR BROTHERS IN THEIR TIME OF NEED?”

Project EDEN (standing for, bizarrely, “Eat ice cream, while helping Defend Eretz Yisrael Now) is a local initiative with grandiose goals: inspired by “talks of the Rebbe,” the Chabad-affiliated project aims to single-handedly “influence the safety of the Yidden [Jews] in Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel]” and provide “sure-fire protection.”

So how, exactly, do these dairy-product enthusiasts plan to hold Hamas missiles at bay from faraway Brooklyn?

By policing women’s bodies, of course. 

The unidentified brain trust has begun a “Tznius [modesty] campaign for girls” – and don’t worry, it has “great prize incentives, in the merit of the safety of Israel.”

 

“Every girl who comes to day camp dressed in Tznius attire (i.e. clothing which keep necklines, elbows, knees and feet covered at all times) will receive an EDEN card,” according to COLLive.com, a Chabad-affiliated community news website.

Eight EDEN cards are redeemable for ice cream and entry in a $100 raffle—and, of course, the eternal knowledge that flashing your elbows has not caused Jews to die in the Middle East.

The group is soliciting donations to spread this project to as many summer camps as possible, lest even a single prepubescent girl in Crown Heights be unaware of the lethal power of her knees, feet, and collarbones.

It’s kind of an ingenious system, once you accept the premise that female bodies are capable of such massive destruction. (No wonder governments worldwide have such a vested interest in controlling them.) It combines ice cream and summer fun with punishing modesty standards and a veritable blitzkrieg of collective guilt.  One wonders, if this were implemented more widely, what the next Iron Dome defense system would look like: perhaps a series of opaque, but breathable, literal iron domes for females to wear from the moment of birth? (The dimpled elbows of toddler girls have long been underestimated in their potential for causing death.)

Clearly, as Israeli troops enter Gaza, modesty is needed as never before: not prayers, not kindness, not good deeds or mutual understanding, and certainly not carefully considered compromises from politicians in positions of power. The way to “help our brothers in their time of need,” apparently, is to suppress every inch of skin their sisters possess.

And then give them some ice cream.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

July 9, 2014 by

On Mothers, Sisters, Narrative and War

 My twin sister, my little sister, and my best friend are all in Israel right now.

“Should I cancel my aliyah anniversary party Friday?” my twin just asked on Gchat. “So few people RSVPed…”

“I don’t know about the protocol for parties in the middle of a rocket war,” I answered.

Israel's Iron Dome defense system (Wikimedia Commons)

Israel’s Iron Dome defense system (Wikimedia Commons)

“Don’t be melodramatic,” she said.

I have tried not to be. My younger sister, who is twenty; my twin sister and her husband, a former IDF officer and current reservist; my older sister’s husband, another former officer and current reservist; and my best friend are all in Israel, for vastly differing reasons, and there are rockets flying everywhere at cross-purposes, but I am trying not to be melodramatic.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

July 2, 2014 Olivia Spencer

Can a Non-Jewish Spouse “Step Away” From Jewish Fears?

 << I’m lucky that I could step away from it if I wanted to. It’s no secret that Jews are still subject to racial prejudices and abuse – something that will never be directed at me – only to the people I love.>>

  “Mummy…MUMMY…I’m Jewish!”  My four-year-old daughter has just returned from nursery and is prancing around the kitchen looking for something to do, expertly avoiding her younger brother, who is trying to get her to ‘read’ him a story.

  “Yes darling. You are.”

  “And my brother’s Jewish.  And Daddy’s Jewish.  And you’re Jewish.” 

  “No, I’m not Jewish.  Daddy is, but I’m not.” 

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Link Roundups, Live from the Lilith Blog

July 2, 2014 by

Your Guide to the Hobby Lobby Case and Its Crushing Consequences

Thousands of women may now face restrictions on access to contraceptives. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thousands of women may now face restrictions on access to contraceptives. (Wikimedia Commons)

Curious–or confused–about the fallout from Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby, a case decided this week by the Supreme Court with potentially massive consequences for women’s health in the United States? Here’s a Lilith-curated roundup of articles on the subject, discussing consequences for religious minorities (including Jews); Ruth Bader-Ginsberg’s dissent on the ruling; and the fallout for women’s reproductive (and medical) choices in the United States.

Live from the Lilith Blog

July 1, 2014 by

Golden Words: Q&A With Author, Editor, Activist Nora Gold

Nora Gold (source: NoraGold.com)

Nora Gold (source: NoraGold.com)

Nora Gold’s recently published Fields of Exile, a pathbreaking novel about anti-Israelism in academe, was picked by The Forward as one of “The 5 Jewish Books to Read in 2014,” and has received enthusiastic praise from many quarters.

But this is not the first time Gold has received acclaim for her work; Marrow and Other Stories won a Canadian Jewish Book Award, and was praised by Alice Munro. And Gold’s story, Yosepha, appeared in the spring 1985 issue of Lilith.

Gold is also the creator and editor of the online literary journal Jewish Fiction.net, a blogger for “The Jewish Thinker” at Haaretz, and Writer in Residence and an Associate Scholar at the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education at OISE/University of Toronto. She and Lilith’s fiction editor Yona Zeldis McDonough discussed the role ideas play in the creation of a novel, the meaning Zionism continues to have in the Diaspora and the siren song of the short story.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 25, 2014 by

When Her Persian Father Wouldn’t Let Her Go to College…

Esther Amini (courtesy author)

Esther Amini (courtesy author)

Rabbi Sholem Cohen, the new Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and successor to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has just released his first ruling.

The verdict?  ”Women’s participation in academic pursuits, including in haredi colleges, is a violation of Jewish law,” Cohen wrote. Apparently, even in ultra-Orthodox educational institutions, women put their “pure” mindset at risk by coming into contact with potentially college-educated instructors.

Esther Amini, a writer and psychotherapist, shared her own experience being discouraged from higher education as a young woman in a piece that will be featured in Lilith’s Summer issue. Amini’s courageous pursuit of an education has paid off in spades, as her writing has been featured in publications from Elle to Tablet Magazine.

 

  Under the Sheets

        Every night, after house patrol, Pop marched into my room shouting, “Enough books!” and flicked off my lights before slamming the door. He thought that by turning off lights he was turning me off, ridding me of curiosity and saving me from what would become a home-wrecking narcotic: books.

            But by age 13, I was already a pro at reading with my head tucked under the sheets. I’d reach for my flashlight, dive head-first under the covers, and read voraciously. Beneath layers of bedding, with labored breathing, I silently turned pages. My squinting eyes, acclimating to the circle of light on each page, devoured the words. Eventually I’d re-surface for a deep inhale and then slide back down.  

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 20, 2014 by

A Feminist Camp Counselor Unpacks Her Baggage

Photo credit: Foundation for Jewish Camp

Photo credit: Foundation for Jewish Camp

Summer camp. For some kids, a yearly ritual that fills them with dread; for others, a place of infinite possibility. How can we bridge the gap between kids who were “born ready” for camp, and kids who feel marginalized there? Some camps institute a “no body talk” policy, so kids can relate to other (and to their own emerging identity struggles) in ways that are more than skin deep. Lilith intern Maya Zinkowjust out of Barnard and now a unit head at summer camp, has lots of ideas about how camp can be a more welcoming place for those kids who question everything–from gender norms to religious tradition.

The summer after my sophomore year at Barnard, I had just begun to crack open this thing called gender, hearing and welcoming the exciting voices that are part of the canon of a women’s college curriculum . I learned a new language, that of Virginia Woolf and Betty Friedan, Judith Butler and Alice Walker, and became more fluent with every class discussion, every conversation with friends over potluck dinners of quinoa, Brussels sprouts bathed in balsamic vinegar, and vegan desserts. The glossy Barnard brochures had assured me that I would become the women I saw in the pictures: confident, well-read, transformed. Finally, after two years, it was beginning to happen.

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