Live from the Lilith Blog

May 26, 2017 by

Where Your Sense of Adventure Went

eiffel-tower-1784212_1920It’s not who I am, it’s just a sickness.

These are the words you want to protest to your five roommates in Florence, Italy, when they bring up the idea for a weekend getaway to Paris. Who says no to Paris?

Evidently, you do—when “travel expenses” mean hitchhiking and “hotels” mean couch-surfing: the trendy practice of seeking out strangers to, literally, sleep on their couches, saving greatly in dollars but risking expensive compromises to personal safety.

“Come on,” they urge you. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

This is the reality, despite all the adventurous heroines you love and admire in books and movies: you don’t actually have any sense of adventure. At all. That’s because you have anxiety instead. 

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 25, 2017 by

A Philanthropy Office That’s a Performance Space, Too

Puffin Foundation, Ltd. Executive Director Gladys Miller-Rosenstein and President Perry Rosenstein during renaming of E. Oakdene Ave. to Puffin Way by the Town Council of Teaneck

Puffin Foundation, Ltd. Executive Director Gladys Miller-Rosenstein and President Perry Rosenstein during renaming of E. Oakdene Ave. to Puffin Way by the Town Council of Teaneck.

Once upon a time, the orange-beaked puffin—native to the waters of the Northern United States—was on the verge of extinction. But after concerted efforts by a slew of determined people, the puffin population is again flourishing.

The founders of the Teaneck, New Jersey-based Puffin Foundation see the bird’s resurgence as a metaphor and they have made it their mission to support movements that might otherwise falter. As their website explains, the Foundation strives to “open doors of artistic expression by providing grants to artists and arts organizations that are often excluded from mainstream opportunities due to their race, gender or social philosophy.”

In practical terms, the 37-year-old philanthropy has supported a wide array of visual artists, writers, filmmakers, poets, musicians, journalists, and photographers. Among them are names that are likely familiar to Lilith readers, including Agnes Adler, Alice Matzkin, and Lilly Rivlin. Groups—and media—have also benefitted from the fund’s largesse: The Nation, In These Times, Jewish Currents, Mother Jones, Salon, and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice have received grants.

The Puffin Foundation’s Executive Director, Gladys Miller-Rosenstein, met with Lilith reporter Eleanor J. Bader in mid-May in the group’s spacious award-and-art-filled office. 

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 24, 2017 by

When You’re a Woman and You Need to Say Kaddish

generic prayerIt was November, 2013, my first week back at work after my father’s rapid death from a fall two weeks before. On my lunch break, I was in the middle of a very crowded crosswalk on 6th Avenue, in the West 40s of Manhattan, when my cell rang. It was from my synagogue; Rabbi Felicia Sol was returning my call after I had left a voice mail message informing the “life cycle emergency” department of Dad’s death. Not being a regular attendant at Sabbath services, I was touched that she had reached out to me. I ducked into a glassed-in corporate garden on the corner of 6th and 43rd, where we spoke in the relative privacy of that very public space.

I have never been that religious a Jew; I was raised in the Reform tradition by a mother who’d been raised Orthodox and a father who’d been raised an ethnic, secular Jew. Though Reform, my mother always lit the candles and said the Sabbath blessings before dinner on Friday nights. Despite my dad’s upbringing, his wishes were for a traditional Jewish burial, complete with a cotton shroud and a shomer—a volunteer to guard the body from hospital deathbed to grave. Our family had completed the one-week shiva tradition the week before.

I told Rabbi Sol that the hardest thing at that moment was being surrounded by people going about their business. They seemed rushed and focused, certainly unaware of the heartbreaking pain and loss I felt inside, which was surely not evident on my face.

Rabbi Sol said, “That’s what saying kaddish is for.”

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 23, 2017 by

Witness to Mass Incarceration

 

barbed-wire-960248_1920At the age of three, Evie Litwok used to watch her father pray. Every day, she would stick her arm out and he would put the leather strap around both their arms. Her parents were Holocaust survivors, and during the war her father had looked up to G-d and said, “If you allow me to live, I will honor you every day.” He kept his promise, davening daily, always with a smile. When Evie grew up, she was not particularly religious, attending temple only on the High Holidays. Yet the day she went to prison, she knew she wanted a siddur. She needed to pray. 

In 1995, Litwok was arrested for tax evasion and mail fraud. It took 12 years for her case to go to trial. She ended up in prison twice (2009–2011 and 2013–2014) as two counts of her charge were vacated and then retried. She had never imagined herself incarcerated, much less—for seven weeks in 2014—in solitary confinement.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 22, 2017 by

The Ring Box

better ring box imageI lived most of my life with only one grandparent—my mother’s mother. My other grandparents passed away either before I was born or while I was still too little to have many memories of them. But my grandmother loved me enough for all of them every single day. In my eyes she was pure love, pure giving, the very incarnation of what a devoted Jewish woman should be. We were close. When she passed away at age 93, I was already an adult in my mid-twenties—but that night I cried like a child.

My grandmother outlived her husband, my grandfather, by over 20 years. She was not always in good health, but she always had a smile for me and said that she was going to live to dance at my wedding. When she died before I had even come close to finding the right guy, I was broken-hearted. 

It would be another few years before I met my husband, but when we got engaged it was decided that instead of buying a new ring, I would wear my grandmother’s engagement ring. More than an “heirloom,” as my friends and family called it, the ring was a meaningful connection to the grandmother I had loved and the Jewish womanhood she had modeled for me.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 19, 2017 by

Handbag History: How Judith Leiber Came to Create Her Famous Purses

cropped watermelonThe impetus for Judith Leiber’s game-changing minaudières, exquisite mini-handbags, came not from a carefully thought-out and executed design plan, but from a blooper. Let’s go back to the beginning though: born Judith Peto and raised in Budapest, the fabled handbag designer first studied chemistry in London (to prepare for a career in cosmetics) and then apprenticed at the Hungarian Jewish firm of Pessl, where she learned to cut and mold leather, make patterns, frame and stitch handbags. She was the first woman graduated to master craftswoman, and the first woman to join the Hungarian Handbag Guild in Budapest.

When the Nazis put her country in a chokehold, the company was shut down, but Judith was able to escape the war and, in 1947, moved with her husband, American-born Gerson Leiber, to New York. She soon found work with the fashion house Nettie Rosenstein and rose steadily through the ranks. Mamie Eisenhower wore a Leiber-designed Nettie Rosenstein bag to the presidential inauguration, putting Leiber squarely on the fashion map. After 12 years with Rosenstein, Judith went out on her own, forming Judith Leiber handbags in 1963.  She created some 3,500 handbags in such materials as leather, suede, needlepoint, fur and Lucite. But the bags that arguably made her name and her reputation were the jewel-encrusted minaudières that Leiber began making in the late 1960s when an order of gold-plated brass frames arrived damaged; in order to salvage them, she used rhinestones to cover the discoloration. The rest is handbag history, as the current Museum of Art and Design exhibition Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story (April 4, 2017 to August 6, 2017) can attest.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 18, 2017 by

How Animals Teach Us

karen winnick photoCreating children’s books about animals has allowed me to express the wonderment I feel when I watch and learn from them.

When I first met Gemina at the Santa Barbara Zoo I knew I wanted to tell her story. Born healthy, the giraffe was three when a bump appeared on her neck. Over time it grew, causing her neck to become severely crooked. Perhaps the bump came from an injury, though the veterinarians would never know for sure. Gemina didn’t allow her disability to prevent her from doing what the other giraffes did. And they accepted her without reservation as part of the herd. Gemina captured the hearts of many visitors.

gemina coverAfter my book Gemina, The Crooked-Neck Giraffe was published, I received an email from a young mother in Spain. “When my (four-year-old) son was born, we were told he was deaf. After many tests and surgery, he was implanted with a cochlear implant . . . Every night he wants to see the book. He loves to explain every page. I just want to thank you for writing a wonderful story that is allowing my son to learn new words and teaching about disabilities and how in the eyes of Gemina, we are all the same.”

Animal stories provide gentle ways of helping children feel better. A child with a disability can relate to an animal facing obstacles, one whose determination has helped them to adjust and thrive. Such a story is a boost to a child’s self-image. For a child without a disability a story such as Gemina’s helps to develop sensitivity and compassion for others. For parents there’s an opportunity to open a dialogue.

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Feminists In Focus, Live from the Lilith Blog

May 16, 2017 by

Two Films Expose Anti-Sephardi and Anti-Mizrahi Racism in Israel

The Women's Balcony

The New York premier of “The Women’s Balcony” was at the NY Jewish Film Festival in January, and the film was also screened as part of the New York Sephardic Film Festival at the American Sephardi Federation in April. The JCC Manhattan will show the film this Sunday, May 21 and it will officially open in Manhattan on May 26 at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and The Quad. 

Dimona Twist and The Women’s Balcony (both 2016 releases) are two fine new films grappling with the status of Sephardim and Mizrahim in Israeli society. Screened at the New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival at the American Sephardi Federation in April, they both seek to uncover the obliteration of Oriental Jews in Israel since the creation of the State. Both discredit long-established stereotypes while puncturing the myth of a Jewish homeland equally welcoming to Jews of all ethnic backgrounds.

Michal Aviad’s revelatory Dimona Twist is a documentary focusing specifically on women of Moroccan and Tunisian descent who immigrated to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s. It is the companion piece to The Women Pioneers (2013), which elucidated the trajectory of Jewish women from Eastern Europe to Mandate Palestine in pursuit of a utopian society. In both films, Aviad excels at capturing the experience of immigration from a female perspective. She strikes a pitch-perfect note when speaking of the disillusionment experienced by these women upon arrival at the Promised Land. Her latest documentary also comes in the wake of a new wave of films, such as Kamal Hashkar’s From Tinghir to Jerusalem (2013), that strive to challenge the official Israeli narrative regarding North African Jews, who were often portrayed by Zionist propaganda as victims of Arab enmity in order to encourage them to emigrate to Israel.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 12, 2017 by

Two Jewish Moms. One Mischievous Toddler. And Mothers’ Day.

It’s the first year I have to really enjoy the geeky, subtle cognitive dissonance. Last year, when my daughter was still just emerging from the “fourth trimester,” I was too exhausted to think much past diapers. This year, though, with a mischievous toddler who imitates us and giggles with glee, it’s staring me right in the face. The world celebrates Mother’s Day, but in my house, it’s Mothers’ Day.

I trust the cohort of women and others who make up Lilith’s readership to be more than canny enough to catch and appreciate that tiny apostrophic migration, the thing that technically loops me into the equation in the first place. My wife and I don’t really do much for secular holidays—she can never keep track of when they are, anyway—but I feel like for our first real Mothers’ Day, we might have to mark the occasion in some manner. We have a daughter, and she has two moms. Two seriously Jewish mothers.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 11, 2017 by

What a Papaya Has to do with Jewish Feminism

better papayaOne of the first pieces I ever wrote for the Lilith blog, in April 2013, was about how to perform a manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) abortion on a papaya. An MVA is one type of early abortion, and a papaya is a realistic model for a uterus. I wanted to write in order to at least begin to break apart some of the stigma around abortion­—in this case that it’s dirty, dangerous, and that doctors who perform it aren’t legitimate. As long as the procedure remains a mystery, the stigma continues to be perpetuated. 

When I pitched the piece to the blog’s then editor Sonia Isard, she did not ask, “How is this Jewish?” There was no need to sell an angle, to summon a Jewish connection, because there already was one—Jewish people have abortions. That reality was, and is, enough for an article. The importance was understood, there was no need for proof.

I wrote other pieces after that were less explicitly political—about my mother, her early death, and what that death prevented me from knowing about her, and by extension, about myself. Again, there was no questioning or demand to “make this Jewish.” The strength of an identity does its own work—folding in on, pressing, infusing. How fear is inherited, what we forget, what we mistake, what we’re never told—those are experiences that are universal, but are also certainly impacted by my Jewish imprint.

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