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August 18, 2016 by

Learning to Feel My Worth as a Jew — In Spite of the Gawks and Sneers

Suzie Tremmel

Suzie Tremmel

In typical Catholic-school fashion, I began resisting my religious education in middle school. But while my teachers might have thought differently, I never meant to disparage Catholicism. I asked questions because I craved answers, not because I wanted to be confrontational or facilitate classroom disruption. I had misgivings about Jesus, and longed for a more nuanced relationship with G-d that didn’t fixate on sin and the afterlife.

During my sophomore year at a secular high school, a friend invited me to her family’s Passover Seder. After one night of following along in the Haggadah and listening to everyone chant in Hebrew, I felt something inside me roar to life. I had never felt so enthusiastic in my 16 Christian years, and drove home afterwards trying to hold onto the spark of fascination, worried that it might somehow escape. It never occurred to me that Judaism was something I could join; I resigned myself to the fact that in spite of my deep admiration and curiosity, my relationship with Judaism would be limited to admiring it from the outside. When I finally learned that I could convert, that spark that I’d felt before grew even stronger. But my omnipresent anxiety made it seem too good to be true—almost too easy.

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August 17, 2016 by

Tattooing Family Memories

anna lily“They are beautiful,” an elderly relative once admitted to me at a family gathering, “but now you have to find a nice Jewish man who will accept both you and your tattoos.”

I thanked her and laughed, genuinely surprised her reaction was not as harsh as I had imagined. Still, I wanted to play it safe and avoid any awkwardness, so I redirected our conversation accordingly.

While these words were coming from a good place, and from someone who values my happiness and wellbeing, they implied several things. First, that my tattoos are a detriment to my femininity. Second, that it will be difficult to find a man of my culture who will marry me with my now tainted skin. And, finally, that I am even looking for a man.

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August 11, 2016 by

This Jewish Women’s Foundation New Grant Policy Is Already Spurring Change

Screenshot 2016-08-11 11.49.09

On August 4, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York (JWFNY) published an editorial in The Forward explaining a dramatic new policy to award grants only to organizations offering their employees at least four weeks of paid parental leave.

The response on social media was positive––and swift. And, significantly, the editorial also caught the attention of employers. “Three organizations have already talked to me saying that they’re going to revisit their policy,” says Stephanie Blumenkranz, Assistant Director of JWFNY.

The changes decided on by the JWFNY board were driven, says Blumenkranz, by a desire to take concrete action. “We’ve advocated for paid parental leave for a few years now, and for us to be true advocates we can’t just talk about it. We have to do something about it. Because we’re a foundation, we felt that the best way to bring about change was with our grantmaking dollars.”

Julie Sissman, a JWFNY member who was part of crafting the new policy, noted the significance of specifying parental leave as opposed to just maternity leave. “It is important to be bold and not stand on the sidelines of the national conversation about parental leave. To achieve gender equity we need systems in place that break women and men and people of all gender identities out of gender-stereotyped silos and assumptions. All employees starting their lives as new parents need equal support. Paid parental leave is a key component of creating real change,” says Sissman.

Blumenkranz called the response to the new policy very positive. “A lot of people, especially in the Jewish community, felt like this was really needed.”

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August 9, 2016 by

When They Mess Up Your Daughter’s Ice Cream Order

Ice cream photoA friend of mine—let’s call her Naomi––was in the local ice-cream store with her six-year-old daughter—Claire, for the purpose of this narrative. Claire, in her polite six-year-old voice, asked the woman behind the counter for chocolate-chip-cookie-dough topping on her cone.

Here’s what happened next.

The server, hearing “chocolate chip,” proceeded to dole out a generous spoonful of chocolate chips on top of the scoop. Naomi turned to Claire. “You wanted chocolate chip cookie dough, honey, not chocolate chips, right?” Claire: “Yes, but it’s OK. Chocolate chips on top are fine.” The server overheard, smiled, apologized for the error, and said she was happy to remake Claire’s cone. The little girl again said it was OK, it didn’t matter, she was fine with chocolate chips. She insisted on eating the cone as it was.

This isn’t a story about ice cream, of course.

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August 8, 2016 by

I Don’t Want My Daughter to Have My Holocaust Nightmares

Flickr.com, Philip Jones.

Flickr.com, Philip Jones.

My mother claims she didn’t know about my reoccurring nightmares. I can’t imagine that I didn’t tell her, as I told her everything then. Has she forgotten? Or did I keep these dreams to myself because she’d already lived through that particular fear? I don’t know if I was aware of protecting her, or the need to do so. It’s possible that the dreams dissipated into my Midwestern morning routine—unloading the dishwasher, breakfast at our round kitchen table, the hilly trek to school where I was always the only Jewish child in my class. That is, until the next time.

In the dreams, I’m being chased, though at first it’s not clear by whom. As I run, I’m scanning for a hiding place, somewhere I won’t be detected by the men and their barking dogs. Sometimes this dream takes place in the outdoors, in woods not unlike those in my backyard—with its old hickory trees and oaks, low brush and vines that bottom out at a thin, patchy tributary to Hinkson Creek. In my waking life, I like to walk along the creek, watching water bugs skim the surface and thinking up story ideas. But in the dreams, the trees I love are too thin to hide behind, the lowest branches too high for me to reach.

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August 5, 2016 by

Yellow Rose of Texas: 100 Birthday Candles in Panama

Panama City from the rooftops of the old quarter.

Panama City from the rooftops of the old quarter.

The D.J. at the end of the room has been instructed to open with “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and to play tía Adelaide’s old favorites. I look up. You can’t avoid looking up. The ceiling is as tall as a palm tree. We are in Casco Antiguo, the old, colonial quarter of Panama City where buildings date back as early as the 1600’s. My American husband and I took an Uber so as not to drive the narrow brick roads in the dark. The venue for the party is a bank built in 1904 that had been involved in the financing of the Panama Canal. Family have helped Adelaide with the preparations. Her sister-in-law, Connie, 92, brought Adelaide weeks before to taste the food and to approve the flowers. 

When she called me in New York several months ago, a Adelaide had said, “I invited all the people I care about. Will you come?” She’d insisted on a party on her 99th the year before, “in case I don’t make it to three digits.” I’d flown in for that too. It’s not every day that a family member becomes a centenarian. 

Since Adelaide arrived in Panama in 1935, the Jewish community has changed dramatically. Our group—Kol Shearith Israel—is the smallest, descendants of Spanish-Portuguese Jews who arrived in Panama in the 1850s. There are now three Jewish congregations and six synagogues with a total of 15,000 members, the majority families of Sephardic Jews who emigrated from Arab countries—and from Israel after World War II. In recent years there have been waves of immigrants from Latin American nations in periods of trouble: Colombia, Argentina, and now Venezuela.

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August 3, 2016 by

We’ve Got Issues—And We Want to Share Them

Lilith magazine​, turning 40 this fall,​ is moving to a lovely new office in ​two weeks. ​Please help us find an appropriate home for some of ​​our cherished back issues. (Alas, we can’t take them all with us.)

Do you teach a class that ​would enjoy having a print copy of a classic back issue? Are you part of a Lilith salon, writers group or rosh hodesh group that would appreciate these vintage issues? 

We’ll gladly send ​boxed ​magazines ​of whatever issue you choose (or tell us to choose) ​in minimum quantities of 30 ​each. Please help us by sharing this offer widely.

You can choose from these (click on the links to see the full table of contents of each issue): 

Winter 1976-77: Why did Golda Meir leave us a legacy of Zionism without feminism? The politics behind the Conservative movement’s endless debate over ordaining women rabbis. Cynthia Ozick argues brilliantly for women’s rights in Judaism. A vindication! Time to explore how I.B. Singer’s adored work is soaked through with misogyny. ​

23-1989-spring_smallSpring 1989: Family systems: ​P​ioneer therapist Olga Silverstein on life, love and Jewish identity; Harriet Lerner on sisters pressed to achieve. The hit drama “Shayna Maidel” and its fractured families. Campus life for Jewish women: our insider’s guide. Gender, politics and power in Jerusalem through the eyes of E.M. Broner, Bella Abzug and more.

Winter 2002-03: Jewish daughters and their African-American nannies tell stories of love and intimacy. Being the Catholic mother in a Jewish family. Praying for protection: sexual abuse by a Jewish father. The matronymic metamorphosis: what to name your child, and the importance of a mother’s surname. 

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July 26, 2016 by

Wendy Brandmark on How Cities Have Become Characters in Her Fiction

Wendy Brandmark lives in London, but still thinks of herself a New Yorker.

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Her first collection of short stories, He Runs the Moon: Tales from the Cities, charts the stories of thieves and outsiders, lost children and refugees. “My Red Mustang,” included in this collection, appeared first in Lilith’s fall 2012 issue. Brandmark talks to Lilith fiction editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about her winding journey, both on and off the page.

YZM: You’ve lived in New York, in Boston, where you were an undergraduate, in Denver, where you did an MA in creative writing, and now London. Have these different cities informed your fiction?

WB: I have always lived in cities and in the case of both New York and Denver, the city itself has an identity, a character in my fiction. I grew up in New York, in the Bronx, and I think my memories of childhood, while not necessarily unhappy, have a kind of darkness and anxiety that colors my New York fiction. It is also the city I associate most with my Jewish origins and the immigrant experience in America, both of which feature in my writing.

I lived for two years in Denver in the 1970s and never returned. For me it was an alien uncomfortable city, an odd mixture of bland and raunchy, violent and gothic. This discomfort inspired stories about outcasts and thieves, dislocation and alienation. It seems remarkable to me that some 40 years later I’m still writing Denver stories. I think there is something about my experience of the city that gives me the freedom to explore characters on the edge. I’m waiting for there to be an end to the Denver stories, but this hasn’t happened yet.

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July 22, 2016 by

Sunday in Humboldt Park

It was a mid-September Sunday in 1950s pre-air conditioning Chicago. Most days, my siblings and I zigzagged between school, our third-floor apartment, and our parents’ convenience store a block south on Western Avenue. Seven days a week my parents toiled in the “Milk Depot,” selling glass gallons of milk so rich there was a layer of cream on top. In addition to the walk-in cooler’s array of dairy products, the shelves sagged with canned goods, loose cookies at 29 cents a pound, fresh bread and rolls, and $2.19 cartons of cigarettes. The loss leader milk and cigarettes often drew customers for a regular priced item or two, but the trade mostly came after the nearby A&P Supermarket closed.

I attended Casimir Pulaski School, several blocks away, and walked there in rain, shine, snow, and ice, annually garnering perfect attendance awards. In warm weather, the classrooms and halls teemed with the eau de toilette of kids—kids, like me, who ran and played every minute of recess and lunch hour. Back in class, sweated up and raring for freedom, I daydreamed about being transported to the park.

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July 18, 2016 by

Marching With My Rabbi for #BlackLivesMatter

IMG_7401My daughter Laurie and I arrived at the designated meeting point and found a crowd of at least several hundred strong. About 30 members of my synagogue—Beth David in Gladwyne, PA—were there too. The mood was calm and friendly. 

The march began and we fell into the sea of humanity walking as one: young and old, skin color of all hues, men in kippot walking alongside men in clerical collars, children on scooters, several people in wheelchairs. White people and black people holding signs with the same message.

“This is awesome,” I breathed to my daughter as we stepped along.

“It sure is,” said a voice next to me. The voice belonged to an African American woman walking with a friend. 

I reached out my hand and she clasped it.

“My name is Helene, and this is my daughter Laurie,” I said.

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