Live from the Lilith Blog

June 24, 2016 by

Superstition, Infertility and Healing at the Mikveh

RZGTIF02NBI’m not superstitious. I’ve never knocked on wood with sincerity, I don’t avoid walking beneath ladders, and my only concerns about black cats are allergy-related. And yet, there I stood, an hour from home, inspecting myself in a bathroom. I slipped the pants off my waist and they dropped into a pile onto the floor. I lifted my shirt over my head, folded it, and placed it neatly on the counter. I stared at my naked body in the mirror: my bloated belly covered in blue and purple bruises bleeding one to the next, as though painted in water colors; injection tracks up and down both arms. I turned my attention to the list written on laminated cardstock next to the sink.

Remove all barriers on your body.

Slowly, I ripped the bandaids off my belly, arms, and lower back, adding blotches of pink and red to the color palette on my body.

Remove nail polish. Clip nails.

Lifting my hands out in front of me, I inspected them closely. Engulfed in a flood of anxiety, I had already gnawed the whites off of each nail. There was a time when I had beautifully manicured nails. On my wedding day I had French tips.

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June 22, 2016 by

What Six Words on a Necklace Meant During My Recovery from Breast Cancer

It was the beginning of 2009. I had recently finished active treatment for breast cancer; I had also recently reconnected with a dear friend from college, Marla Wallerstein.

Marla went to the art school of our university and was known for her combination of beauty, humor, and creativity, in everything from her class assignments to her outfits to her presence as a friend. It made sense to find that she’d begun making gorgeous jewelry. She chose as part of her work’s mission to update traditional Jewish-themed pieces (large chai necklaces and the like). She jokes that she decided to take on this task “because someone has to”—but in all seriousness, the objects she creates based around Jewish texts and Jewish faith are quite stunning. 

“I design, cut, hammer, rivet, etch, and solder to create each piece,” she explains on her website. “More than a labor, it’s love.”

Marla chooses for these pieces Hebrew words or parts of prayers that particularly resonate with her. “With all your heart soul might” is etched on a necklace (English on one side, Hebrew on the other). “Where you go, I will go.” “Faith.” “Shemah.”  

marlaThough not surprised by the quality of Marla’s work when I saw it in photos, I was quite surprised when one of her creations arrived at my door, from her studio in Chicago, soon after we’d re-found each other. It’s a round silver pendant on a silver chain. Again in Hebrew and in English, it bears the etched inscription, “Light before darkness, darkness before light”—part of a text referring to the beginnings of the world: “He createth day and night, causing the light to recede before darkness and darkness before light.” 

Marla was telling me that after the darkness of the diagnosis and treatment would come light again; and she was right. In fact, I would realize later, the seeds of the coming light had been planted during the darkest times. 

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June 20, 2016 by

Vivian Gornick on Feminism, Friendship, Gentrification, and Our Mothers

Vivian Gornick. Photo by Mitchell Bach.

Vivian Gornick. Photo by Mitchell Bach.

“I’ve always felt like an outsider,” three-time National Book Award nominee Vivian Gornick confesses. “I used to have a dream, a bad dream, in which I was in a strange building. When I walked through the door I saw that the entire inside had been scooped out and I had to climb a rope to get to the top floor.  Once there I found myself in the Bronx apartment I had grown up in. In the dream I asked myself how I’d gotten there. It was both dramatic and horrible.”

It’s a startlingly honest, if jarring, revelation, for despite the 81-year-old writer’s considerable literary success—and an output that includes dozens of articles and 12 highly-lauded books—Gornick seems genuinely shocked, perhaps even bewildered, by the esteem in which she is held. Throughout our 90-minute conversation—in one of the few diners left in Manhattan—she is warm, thoughtful, witty, and open. Our conversation is sprawling, not only touching upon the recent paperback release of her 2015 book, The Odd Woman and the City, but addressing feminism, Hillary Clinton, friendship, gentrification, walking, teaching and our mothers.  

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June 15, 2016 by

Rebecca Schiff Talks Technology and Illness, Volunteering to Be Objectified, and Writing What You Wouldn’t Say in Polite Company

9781101875414The Bed Moved is Rebecca Schiff’s debut collection of 23 short stories ranging from a few pages to a few paragraphs. Their language and voice are unique; sentences often end in ways that twist their beginnings. In “My Allergies Will Charm You,” the narrator opens with, “He had found me on the internet, and now I was going back to the internet.”

In “Communication Arts,” a teacher corresponds with students A, B, D, and Z, portraying a delicate and bizarre relationship between authority and vulnerability. Many of the characters make statements that are bleak in their honesty, revealing unintentional vulnerability. In “Third Person,” a few paragraphs paint a woman’s intricate but dissociated relationship to sex and connection: “Rebecca wanted to tell them not to worry, she forgot all the sex she had as soon as she had it, she didn’t really have it when she had it, and she hadn’t for a long time.” 

The New York Times Book Review commented on Schiff’s compact language, noting her “almost Nabokovian boldness and crispness of phrase. Nabokov summarized a death in two words: ‘picnic, lightening.’ Ms. Schiff condenses a woman’s college years: ‘Nietzsche, penetration’.”

Often the characters are unintentionally funny. Many deal with illness and death. I met with Schiff in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to speak about her book, the relationship between technology and illness, and the role humor can play when women write about difficult topics. 

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June 14, 2016 by

Brock Turner, Donald Trump, Omar Mateen: Our Deepest Spiritual Challenges

Flickr.com, Karl Schneider

Flickr.com, Karl Schneider

A slap on the wrist for a convicted rapist caught in the act. A presidential candidate who campaigns on anger, fear, misogyny, and building walls. A gunman who joins the ranks of the countless gunmen before him by mowing down civilians with weapons designed for a war zone.

These stories filling our facebook feeds are emblematic of our political, economic, and social struggles. Yet, at their core, they demonstrate the deepest spiritual challenges we face today.

Hate is a spiritual challenge.

Treating others as less than human is a spiritual challenge.

Defensiveness is a spiritual challenge.

The beautiful, prayer-filled vigils that have been organized in the aftermath of recent tragedies are absolutely necessary for our collective mourning—but they are a downstream spiritual solution. I am tired—we are bone-crushingly tired—of gathering together and weeping over the bodies of raped women and murdered innocents.

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June 2, 2016 by

Shiva for Film Force Ronit Elkabetz

Ronit Elkabetz, Israeli film star, writer and director in her last film, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.”

Ronit Elkabetz, Israeli film star, writer and director in her last film, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.”

Ronit Elkabetz is gone.

The Israeli film star, writer and director is dead at 51, from cancer that she concealed till the end. Following her death on April 19, her body lay in state at the Tel Aviv Cinamatheque, showcase for independent and controversial film. 

In what turned out to be her final film, just last year Americans saw Elkabetz as the long-suffering wife in “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.” The grinding depiction of a woman’s years’ long struggle against her unyielding husband and an Israeli religious court to grant her a gett, a writ of divorce, was the final film in the trilogy starring Elkabetz as Viviane Amsalem. Loosely based on the unhappy marriage of her Moroccan-born parents, Elkabetz co-wrote and co-directed the trilogy with her brother Shlomi, starting with “To Take a Wife” in 2004, then “Shiva” in 2008. The sister-brother collaboration was intense. As she described writing “Gett,” they’d hole up in a hotel room, cut off from the world, and create the film. On the set, they were in total sync. 

“Gett,” Israel’s 2015 Oscar entry for best foreign-language film, ignited major protests in Israel, where civil marriage and divorce do not exist.

As Elkabetz told the Israeli newspaper Maariv back in 2010, “I am not here to get pleasure from acting. As much as it may sound bombastic, I would like to make a change.”

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May 26, 2016 by

Stop Asking for My Abortion Story

giphyTake a minute and Google “abortion stories.” See that? They’re everywhere. You can read 173 of them on NARAL Pro-Choice America’s website alone. “Sharing your story is a powerful way to speak out for choice,” NARAL tells women. “It can inspire another person to speak out, and it could even help pass a pro-choice bill.” This is typical of how the sharing of abortion “stories” is usually framed: as a pro-choice, pro-reproductive rights political action. Sometimes, these testimonies do serve an explicitly political purpose—as when, in February of this year, women told the Supreme Court about their abortions in an effort to convince the court to protect women’s reproductive rights. Other times, the mission of those sharing their stories is less specific, albeit just as politically and culturally important: women are aiming to achieve the destigmatization and normalization of abortion, a shift in cultural attitudes that has the potential to change policy and lives. Our Bodies, Ourselves views the sharing of abortion stories as a caring act in the spirit of women’s solidarity. “Hearing women’s stories of having an abortion can help us know what to expect and reassure us that our experiences are not unique,” OBOS’s website explains.

Women who want to share their abortion experiences with the world—for whatever reason at all—should be able to do so without fear of being shamed and stigmatized. But please, media outlets. Stop asking for my abortion story. My medical history and reproductive health are none of your business.

All over the Internet, abortion stories are being coaxed out of—and sometimes demanded from—women. The 1 in 3 Campaign (referring to the one in three U.S. women who will have an abortion in her lifetime, according to the Guttmacher Institute) takes one of the more appropriate approaches to asking for such personal and private information by suggesting rather than demanding that women participate in the project. “The [campaign] is a grassroots movement to start a new conversation about abortion—telling our stories, on our own terms,” the website explains. Other campaigns, like #ShoutYourAbortion, are neither as diplomatic nor as respectful of a women’s right to choose—in this case, our right to choose not to share our medical history with the general public. Their verb of choice is actually in the imperative.

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May 24, 2016 by

Jessie Kahnweiler Confronts Online Dating App Sexters

L.A.-based filmmaker Jessie Kahnweiler does not shy away from controversy. She has just released a new video where she confronts men who’ve sent her online sexts on Tinder. In the video she confronts these men in person—men unprepared for her experiment—to have them read their online sexts to her in person. Even they are embarrassed by their communication, and it’s clear from the exercise that the men treat women in person differently than online.

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This video can be seen as a continuation of “The Skinny,” Kahnweiler’s recent dark comedy series. Produced by Jill Soloway’s Wifey.TV and Refinery29, the web series premiered at the Sundance. The episodes follow Jessie’s life as a feminist and striving YouTube star in L.A., yet the series is unsettling; it deals with the realities of battling bulimia, based Kahnweiler’s own 10-year struggle with the eating disorder. 

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May 11, 2016 by

“My Transition to Womanhood Left Only a Smarting Handprint on My Cheek”

Flickr.com, Bruna Schenkel.

Flickr.com, Bruna Schenkel

As maiden voyages to Israel go, mine was more or less typical. My family toured and ate falafel and crisscrossed the country, stopping one afternoon in the Old City of Yafo. It was there the trip diverged from the ordinary. While the rest of our tour group shopped for artwork and souvenirs, I got my first period.

Though my body ached, my entire being was elated. My cycle—newly minted in no place other than the Jewish homeland, a powerful omen if I ever heard one—belonged entirely to me. I didn’t have to share it. I didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to keep it. Still, I’d been caught off guard without supplies and needed my mother’s help.

The moment she entered the W.C., she slapped me. I shouted in my head, and my shock and anger made their way into the narrow space between us, like mortar setting two stones. We stood so close together in the small space that an onlooker might have mistaken the proximity for an embrace. 

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May 7, 2016 by

Mother’s Day Was Complicated for the Daughter of a Survivor

The author and her mother in Bergen Belsen Displaced Person’s Camp.

The author and her mother in Bergen Belsen Displaced Person’s Camp.

Mother’s Day was a complicated time in my childhood. My mother had survived World War II in Europe, and she had difficulty taking joy in life. For me, Mother’s Day was an opportunity to heal my mother’s pain and make her happy.

Making-do was a credo in our house and I learned young that frivolous spending relegated one to share a circle in hell with sinners who left food on their plates. So I strove to make my presentation special.

In Chicago, Mother’s Day coincides with the bloom of spring. We lived in an apartment, so I often appropriated gifts from other people’s property.

One year, I settled on lush purple lilacs hanging over a chain link fence and returned on Sunday morning to “shop.” A curler-crowned, housecoat-clad woman came out dragging trash and spotted me in flagrante delicto. She chased me down the block, yelling and waving the lid.

“I call principal. What school you go?” she scolded in the Polish-accented English of our immigrant neighborhood.

“St. Pat’s,” I chirped. The St. Pat’s kids treated us public school kids like gutter snipes and I felt proud to imagine a snooty St. Pat’s girl suffering for me.

At home I presented my mother with a pickle jar full of lilacs. My mother inhaled their perfume and rewarded me with a smile. Two days later, as the blossoms dropped onto the kitchen table, I heard her mumbling as she cleaned up.

Another bitter-sweet spring I admired my classmate’s pin. No sooner did I finish than she offered it to me for fifty cents so that she could buy her mother a gift. The pin was a flamboyant purple enameled flower, studded with rhinestones, only a couple of them missing. A tiny spring made the stamen “boing” when touched. It was irresistible, and I wanted it for my mother.

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