Live from the Lilith Blog

July 17, 2014 Talia Lavin

In Wartime, a Surreal Modesty Contest

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.”

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

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

 

“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 Talia Lavin

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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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.

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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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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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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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June 18, 2014 by

The Poem that Went Viral, and the Woman Behind It

 Anna Binkovitz, 21, is a proficient slam poet and author of a published chapbook, The Love Hypothetic. At a national slam poetry competition in March, Anna performed a poem called “Asking For It” that addresses a refrain perpetually directed against rape victims: that by dressing provocatively, they invite sexual predation.

The poem invites viewers to “a strange world in which all of us…can only express our wants and needs through our clothing” – a dystopian, darkly comic imagining, in which nudity—during bathing, changing, or even childbirth—always signifies wanting sex.

 

Last week, the poem went viral—at 400,000 YouTube views and counting—after news blog Upworthy reposted a video of Binkovitz’s performance; Jezebel and the Huffington Post, among others, marked it as an important contribution to a heated cultural conversation about consent. So Lilith’s Malka Editorial Fellow, Talia Lavin, took the opportunity to have a conversation with the outspoken poet, rape survivor, and activist.

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June 12, 2014 by

Author Q & A: The Many Faces of Sonia Taitz

Essayist, playwright, author of a well-received book on mothering and winner of the Lord Bullock Prize for Fiction, Sonia Taitz is nothing if not nimble as a writer.  Although she trained as a lawyer—at Yale no less—the pursuit of a legal career held little appeal for her and she soon returned to her first loves, reading and writing. Mothering Heights: Reclaiming Parenthood from the Experts, is both political satire and heartfelt memoir about the changing role of mothers. The Watchmaker’s Daughter is another sort of memoir, detailing her “binocular” life as the American child of European, Yiddish-speaking concentration camp survivors.  Taitz’s novels include In the King’s Arms, a coming-of-age story that has been called a cross between Evelyn Waugh and Philip Roth. And in her forthcoming novel Down Under she takes on Mel Gibson, reinventing the famously anti-Semitic movie star’s past to include an early, pre-fame romance with a Jewish girl.  Fiction editor Yona Zeldis McDonough asks Taitz some questions about her wide-ranging literary output and the scarred but heroic parents who shaped her life.  

Sonia Taitz (courtesy author)

Sonia Taitz (courtesy author)

YZM: What inspired you to make the leap from lawyer to writer? 

My adventures in law originated in the mind of my father. A Holocaust survivor whose own education had stopped at age 13, he was determined that I have a careerwhich put me in “a place of importance” in society. He felt that with a law degree I would be armed—at least verbally—if danger reared its head again. Somehow, he equated me with Queen Esther—able to eloquently step into the corridors of power and avert imminent disaster. Because I was good in school (in my case, yeshiva through 12th grade), and because the Torah we analyzed prepared me well for verbal debate, I thought my father’s vision suited me. 

But from the time I started college, more creative instincts began to take me over. I didn’t want to win arguments or massage facts; I wanted to weave spells with words, to compose in utter freedom. I didn’t want to be cunningly adversarial, but creative and connective. It didn’t hurt that my mother was a concert pianist (providing Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu as theme song to my childhood) or that my father wrote poetry in Dachau. Transcendence was as much my legacy as Talmud, or torts.

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June 11, 2014 by

On Sex and Silence

I sometimes find talking about sex uncomfortable. There’s so much at stake — power, identity, transcendence, and raw humanity. I wasn’t raised gabbing like Barbara Streisand’s Roz Focker, the sex therapist with an uncontainable comfort with sex. So how did I wind up talking about sex professionally? When I came to feel like the only thing more uncomfortable than talking about sex was not talking about it.

(Flickr: Ariel Waldman, photo illustration)

(Flickr: Ariel Waldman, photo illustration)

In my 20s, I started to see our not-talking-about-sex problem: the mismatch between Americans’ comfort consuming women’s sexuality and our silencing of women’s communication about sex. Sexy billboards freeze-frame a moment without words, but we’re free to look a model up and down, knowing her without knowing her. Real teenagers make grown-up decisions about sex every day, but as eager as we are to second-guess their sexual behavior or clothing, we don’t want to hear why they make the choices they do. And if they speak up about their lived experience, why are we prepared to shame them for acknowledging what everyone already knows that teenagers do? Shame makes it extremely hard to learn the healthy communication that’s needed for respectful, enjoyable sexual encounters, whether at age 16 or 60.

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