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September 19, 2017 by

What It’s Like to Celebrate Rosh Hashanah When You Have OCD

apple-195628_1280About six years ago, in an act of confused desperation, I awkwardly left my Acting I class early and went to Hillel to attend Rosh Hashanah services for the first time in my life.

I had just started my first year of college—and was suffering from a debilitating sense of guilt. The summer before, every time I’d hit a pothole or a speed bump I’d look behind me to make sure I hadn’t actually killed someone. Occasionally, I’d circle back around just to make sure. Multiple times. And then in a panicked, fearful daze I’d Google “hit and runs in Atlanta” and see if any of them were near where I was.

This wasn’t new for me. The first time I remembered having this specific sort of debilitating long-lasting “guilt attack” was a few years prior, at the beginning of high school, though I had always been anxious as a kid. I freaked out when I turned a penny green after learning that it was illegal to deface US currency, and felt nauseated whenever I saw FBI copyright warnings pop up on the VHS movies we’d rent from Blockbuster.

The problem was, as much as I would try to find ways to sooth my fears, a new one would immediately take its place. No hit and runs that day in Atlanta? Fine. But I sure as hell didn’t deserve to be going to Swarthmore College, because I had had a sip of beer and wasn’t yet 21.

The High Holidays initially offered relief. I could apologize to anyone for anything and it wouldn’t be weird, because it was a religious obligation. Plus, the prayers specified sins committed in thought and in deed, known and unknown. It covered everything my brain could think of.

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September 18, 2017 by

Don’t Miss This “Quietly Devastating” Film on Home Health Care Workers

care photoHere are two things to know about Deirdre Fishel’s film, Care (which you can watch here for the time being): It is quietly devastating. And it is essential viewing for everyone.

Care is about the experiences of 4 home health care aides,the folks they take care of, their families, and the realities of the industry. Providers, who are usually women of color, are living at or under the poverty line. The caregivers we meet in the film are skilled practitioners who love their jobs, yet they struggle to ensure that their own families provided for.

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September 12, 2017 by

Defying DeVos

Photo source: Wikipedia

Last Thursday, Betsy DeVos stated that she would rewrite the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), a powerful document directed to K-12 and university administrations that clarified schools’ obligations under Title IX (a federal civil rights law) to combat sexual violence and to support survivors. In announcing her decision, DeVos claimed that the original Dear Colleague Letter – and federal enforcement of Title IX – did everyone a disservice.

DeVos’s justifications for dismantling Title IX protections couldn’t be further from the truth.

Before the Obama Administration took sexual violence seriously and enforced Title IX, schools were able to get away with mistreating student survivors. The stories of institutional abuses are horrific. One university told a student that she should work at Starbucks until her rapist graduated. Another student was told by an administrator that “rape is like a football game, if you look back on the game and you’re the quarterback, is there anything that you would have done differently?” Another university refused to take action while fraternity members marched around the freshman halls chanting, “No means yes, yes means anal.” Other survivors of sexual violence were forced to drop out when their school failed to address the violence, apparently because they did not know Title IX existed.

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September 8, 2017 by

New Portraits

A couple of months before the most recent US presidential inauguration, I had the pleasure of attending Annie Leibovitz’s photography exhibit, Women: New Portraits, at Lola Montez, the small, cement-walled art museum under the Honsell Bridge in Frankfurt’s East End. The photographs were stunning, as I had expected, but also surprisingly personal despite the star status of many of Leibovitz’s subjects.

Venus and Serena Williams share a powerful, intimate embrace. A young Meryl Streep tugs at the edges of her face, painted like a pantomime’s. Olympian Katie Ledecky swims on her back in a color photograph that, for a moment, seems to move. Many of these pictures I had seen before, as has anyone who has picked up a copy of Rolling Stone, Vogue or Vanity Fair in the last few decades, or for that matter, stood in line in a grocery store. John Lennon wrapped naked around a clothed Yoko Ono? Pregnant Demi Moore, caressing her magnificent belly? What’s so new about these, I wondered.

In a zigzag shuffle among the other stargazers in this hip art house built into the underside of a bridge, I walked along the rows of images, trying to discover what made them so vital again in our particular moment. Was it simply the abiding beauty of the subjects, or Leibovitz’s virtuosity and endurance in a project begun over 15 years ago? Was it the united feminine strength, here quite literally forming a wall, in the face of our increasingly masculine zeitgeist? I paused in a clearing in front of the large black-and-white headshot of Jane Goodall, and quite unexpectedly broke into full-on tears.

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September 7, 2017 by

Due on Tuesday: Lesson Plans and a Xanax. The Challenges Facing One Female Teacher.

Photo credit: Kevin Dooley

Photo credit: Kevin Dooley

“You need to clap harder if you want the class to shut up and listen!” pointed out Michael, one of my most challenging students.

“I’m trying my best to clap loudly, but my hands are not that strong,” I replied. I demonstrated another clapping in front of the class, but the sound that emanated from my delicate palms was, frankly, pathetic. Michael giggled.

It was at that moment that I became frustratingly aware of my dainty femininity, and how it was no match for the adolescent cacophony of slang, whooping, taunts, and laughter.

“You need to yell!” piped up Eva, another student who can summon the gall to critique my classroom management techniques publicly. “Intimidate us!” With the steady rise of 35 teenage voices threatening to overpower my authority, I finally did yell.

“Enough!” I shrilled, while slamming a textbook on my desk.

My voice, filled with bone-shaking ire, silenced even the loudest student. Michael and Eva were correct: I needed to establish a dominant physical and audible presence if I wanted this class to finally shut up and listen.

After I dismissed the class, I sighed and sank my body on a chair. I felt firm stress knots criss-crossing across the expanse of my shoulder blades, an MTA-like subway grid of burnout and despair.

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September 6, 2017 by

A Stranger in a Strange Land

Photo Credit: Harrie van Veen

Photo Credit: Harrie van Veen

I am a Jew. I am a Latina. I am a mother. These are the most salient components of my identity. The order of importance of these identities changes, sometimes daily or hourly, depending on the circumstance. But, yesterday, September 5, I felt all those parts of my identity, simultaneously and acutely.

I don’t usually post on live Facebook video feeds. However, yesterday I received a text from a young woman I have known for 10 years. She is a Dreamer (an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the United States as a child) and currently studying at a university. She is like a daughter to me. I have known her since she was in elementary school. I have followed her academic career and have served as a friend, mentor and advisor.

She texted to let me know that she was participating in a pro-DACA demonstration in front of the White House. I went to social media and watched a live feed and posted the following: “Stand Up, Fight Back!” which I knew she would see. Unfortunately, many others also saw my post. I began to receive vitriolic responses from random people telling me to “Go back to where you came from.” “Your kind doesn’t pay taxes.” And “You illegals.” These are the only invectives suitable for print.

I was flabbergasted. These people don’t know me or know my narrative. Yet they feel emboldened to say such things to a complete stranger. A Stranger.

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September 4, 2017 by

Lilith Labor Day Articles Through The Years

1280px-Abolish_child_slavery 2The Triangle Fire—Through the Eyes of a Cartoonist (1978) 
An important part of Jewish history and the labor movement retold as you’ve never seen it before. 

You Are What You Wear (1997) 
A report on the proliferation of sweatshop labor in the garment industry, and the coalition of Jewish women in the spirit of the ILGW who came together to try to stop it. 

Labor Pains (2010-2011)
Lilith’s report on the creation of the Freelancer’s Union, and the state of women in the gig economy. 

Jewish Women on Rampart for Graduate Worker Unions (2017)
Why graduate workers at universities across the U.S. are coming together to form unions, and how Jewish women see it as connecting with their heritage. 

Head of Workmen’s Circle on Strike Solidarity, Yiddish and Fighting Fascism this Labor Day (2017)
Ann Toback of the Workmen’s Circle talks about the future of the labor movement, the continued influence of Jewish radical women and High Holidays with Lilith.  

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September 1, 2017 by

Head of Workmen’s Circle on Strike Solidarity, Yiddish, and Fighting Fascism this Labor Day

Ann Toback, executive director of the Workmen's Circle, with Rita Margulies, Clara Lemlich's daughter.

Ann Toback, executive director of the Workmen’s Circle, with Rita Margulies, Clara Lemlich’s daughter.

While marked by many as the unofficial end of summer, Labor Day also has a radical history that began 135 years ago. On September 5, 1882, thousands took to the streets to demand better working conditions, an eight-hour workday and a Labor Day. Twelve years later, in an attempt to defuse tensions following the Pullman strike, the first Monday in September would become officially recognized by the federal government as a holiday for workers. 

In honor of this history, Lilith’s Amelia Dornbush interviewed via email the executive director of the Workmen’s Circle, Ann Toback. The conversation ranged from the future of the labor movement to the continued influence of radical Jewish women and what lessons from 5777 to carry into the New Year.

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August 30, 2017 by

What’s a Jewish Ritual Doing at a Confederate Monument?

Photo credit: Martin Kraft

Photo credit: Martin Kraft

Where might it be appropriate, in this day and age, to say a prayer for the destruction of idols? For Abby Weaver, a student at Smith College who grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the best site for this prayer is the student sit-in in front of UNC Chapel Hill’s “Silent Sam”—a confederate monument.

Undergraduates at UNC are holding vigil at Sam’s feet—sleeping out on air mattresses, talking to passersby during the day and drunk students at night, and occasionally confronting white nationalist counter-protestors. Weaver, along with a group of others from the local Jewish community, led Shabbat services at the site of this protest.

Silent Sam was erected in 1913 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy as a monument to UNC students who served as confederate soldiers in the Civil War—and as a warning to Black North Carolinians, in the Jim Crow South, that UNC was still an institution of white supremacy. At the monument’s dedication, Julian Carr proudly told a story of anti-Black violence: “100 yards from where we stand, less than 90 days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a Negro wench, until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.” For decades, Silent Sam has stood at the heart of UNC’s campus as a monument to racial oppression:  in fact, Alice Sparberg Alexiou, writing in Lilith last year, remembers how Silent Sam inflected her mother’s experience of anti-Semitism at UNC in the 1940s. For decades, Black students have organized to demand the statue’s removal.

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August 29, 2017 by

The Unsung Jewish Woman Who Helped Found Planned Parenthood

Fania Mindell, 1917, outside of a courthouse in New York, NYThe name Margaret Sanger will forever be linked to Planned Parenthood; she was the engine and the driving force behind the organization that was once seen as radical and transgressive—and may in fact seem so again in the very near future since many Republicans are rabid to defund Planned Parenthood using any justification possible. But when I began researching the history of Planned Parenthood for a project of my own, I learned that there are two other lesser known names associated with the founding of this irreplaceable organization: Sanger’s sister, Ethel Higgins Byrne, and an unsung Jewish woman named Fania Mindell.

Mindell was born in Minsk, Russia on December 15, 1894. She emigrated to Brooklyn, New York in 1906 with her family. She was an accomplished artist, and became a set and costume designer for Broadway theaters in New York, and her theatrical interests extended to translations of dramatic materials from Russian to English. Her version of Maxim Gorky’s play, “Night Lodging,” was performed at the Plymouth Theater in 1920; Edward G. Robinson was among the performers. A woman of many interests and talents, Mindell was also the proprietor of Little Russia, a small boutique in Greenwich Village, just off Washington Square, which featured curios from Russia, but her true passion was for feminist and progressive causes.

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