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October 19, 2017 by

#MeToo: My Family’s Been Saying This for One Hundred Years

Photo credit: The People Speak (www.ps.net)

Photo credit: The People Speak (www.ps.net)

My grandmother was a pharmacist in Romania. Day after day in her floor length skirts she would climb a scaffold on a rolling ladder to fetch medicines. Day after day customers positioned themselves to look up her skirts. She told me this story over and over again, blushing every time.

When my mother’s cousin returned from Auschwitz, unrecognizable and mute, he was a guest in my mother’s childhood home, behind the family’s Jew Store in South Bend Indiana. Until he grabbed her and forced his tongue into her mouth.

In the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Presidential Library and Museum, just before Passover in 1960, a man in the dark rotunda called me to him, grabbed my chest and wouldn’t let go. I was wearing a new dress that Mom had sewed me for the Seder.

I won’t tell my older daughter’s story. It is hers to tell, but the setting was a middle school locker room and she was changing out of her swim suit.

I see hundreds of Facebook postings. Me, too, they say.

I don’t see Congress proposing consent based education that would begin in elementary school. All students should be taught about when and how to offer touch and how to refuse it. All students should be taught that any indication of refusal must immediately be accepted.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.  

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October 18, 2017 by

#MeToo: The Shechinah Is Crying

I said Me Too, and so did a lot of women. And it’s an important conversation. And I want more than men to stop raping people. Or really, people to stop raping people. 

I want men to stop talking over me in conversation. To ask me for my opinion, actually, instead of assuming they know more than me on a given topic. Especially if it’s an expertise of mine.

For that matter, I want to be able to offer myself as an expert in a conversation without being questioned, invalidated, wondered about.

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October 17, 2017 by

Stop Victim Blaming: A Response to Mayim Bialik from One Member of the Orthodox Community to Another

Photo credit: Jason Merritt

Photo credit: Jason Merritt

On October 13th, the actress Mayim Bialik wrote an op-ed titled, “Being a Feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s World” about the ways in which she feels that her non-traditional Hollywood appearance, and her “modest” behavior has kept her safe from advances by men like Harvey Weinstein. She wrote, “I still make choices every day as a 41-year-old actress that I think of as self-protecting and wise. I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with. I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.” It’s baffling that someone like Bialik would take a stance like this as a feminist, to put the burden of preventing an assault on the person being assaulted, and not the assaulter. Let’s be clear: this op-ed is the definition of victim blaming. In Bialik’s world, it’s not Harvey Weinstein’s fault for pressing forward as the women said no, but the women themselves for being too conventionally beautiful, wearing too much make-up, or pair of tight jeans. Weinstein’s victims were “asking for it.”

I am also surprised to hear this take from Bialik for another reason—because she is an Orthodox Jew. As such, Bialik should know that sexual assault happens in our community, where many individuals take great care to act and dress according to her definitions of “modesty.” I once had a camp counselor who hesitated to buy a pair of burgundy shoes because they could be misconstrued as immodest. According to Bialik’s philosophy, this careful attention to modesty should equate to a zero percent rate of sexual harassment and violence in the Orthodox community. Sadly, we all know that this isn’t the case.

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October 16, 2017 by

Meet the Heroes Who Performed 11,000 Abortions Before Roe v. Wade

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 3.04.47 PMIn the four years before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, the Chicago-based service collective known as Jane performed 11,000 abortions. At first Jane enlisted doctors to perform the procedure, but when the collective of women found out their chief practitioner was not a doctor after all, a subset of Jane learned to perform abortions themselves, including inducing miscarriages in women with later term pregnancies. The story of Jane—how it was organized, how it evolved, and the lives it changed—is a fascinating document of a vital movement in the history of women’s rights.

Twenty years ago, the paperback edition of The Story of Jane, by Laura Kaplan, was published. Since then, Roe v. Wade has been assaulted at all levels of government, and the book is increasingly relevant to our times. 

PATRICIA GROSSMAN: When Jane first formed, how aware were its members about women’s health issues?

Laura Kaplan: Because we had been powerless, we knew nothing. When we started Jane, there weren’t any self-help books. You couldn’t go into a bookstore and get a book about women’s health. We were barred from this information. And not only were we barred from this information about our own bodies and how they worked, but were given the message that wanting to understand was somehow creepy and unseemly. Our bodies were the purview of men, including doctors, and the doctors were pretty much all men then. 

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October 11, 2017 by

The Loneliness of Yizkor When You’re a Young Woman

Photo credit: Kevin Skobac

Photo credit: Kevin Skobac

With the month of Tishrei upon us, the mourners of Zion are in the midst of a Yizkor double-header.

Jewish mourning liturgy is dauntingly public. In most communities, the mourners stand and recite the prayers aloud or silently, while the rest of the congregation exits the room or sits and waits until it’s over.

Reciting the Jewish prayer of mourning, Yizkor, and its sister, Kaddish, has always been a lonely endeavor for me, because I’m a woman and many daily minyans still cater primarily to men. Even though more women have adopted this tradition in recent years, we are nevertheless an anomaly.

There’s another layer to my solitude. I’m always the youngest mourner—by far. I was 21 when my father died. Seventeen years on, I’m still young to be doing this.

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October 10, 2017 by

Why Are Women Dropping Out of Synagogue Life?

Photo credit: Sharon Riddick Groppi

Photo credit: Sharon Riddick Groppi

One Friday night in an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem 10 years ago, a woman was standing in the back of the sanctuary rocking her hips, soothing her fussy baby. A man walked up to her. She thought to herself, maybe he is coming to welcome me. Instead, he leaned into her and said, “If your baby is making noise, you need to leave the sanctuary.” She left – and never went back.

Exchanges like this have taken place in countless congregations around the world. It is one of the myriad of scenes in which women are made to feel unwelcome. The question is, how are women responding?

In researching this article, the women I spoke to all said that synagogue was once important to them, but that now they are without a congregation to call home. They live in Israel, North America and the UK and are between their twenties to their sixties. They are predominantly Orthodox, but not exclusively. They dropped out of synagogue for a variety of reasons, each of which presents its own biting critique of Jewish communal practices.

“The rabbi noticed I wasn’t there,” reports Aviva, a 40-year-old mother of three from the United Kingdom who stopped going to services two years ago. “He said, ‘We missed you’, but never actually asked the question about ‘why’. I was dying for him to ask. But he never did.”

Consider “Nadia” (name changed at her request, as are those of the other women I interviewed). ) On the Friday night that she led the Kabbalat Shabbat services in her “partnership minyan,” (an Orthodox service that separates the sexes but allows women to lead certain parts of the service). She made a one-word change to the song “Lecha Dodi.” Instead of using the word “ba’alah” (literally, “her owner”) to designate “husband,” she used the word “isha” (literally “her man), a word that is used in many feminist spaces in order to avoid the connotation that women are property. As a result of this change to the liturgy, one man in her shul was incensed. He started circulating around the men’s section in fury, trying to rile people up. Unsuccessful, he simply went to the podium and announced, “This woman does not represent the community. We are not Conservative.” Nobody reacted or told him to stop. Nobody said that it wasn’t his place or his role to speak on behalf of “The Community.” And not one person in the synagogue approached Nadia to apologize for her being humiliated this way. Nadia never returned to the congregation, and nobody seemed to care. The man who humiliated her stayed for many years, and was given many honors. Life went on without her.

These are not stories of cloistered Hassidic women breaking free with great drama. These are educated, modern women who quietly slip away from a communal life in which they feel unwelcome or unwanted. A mid-life rebellion may not even look like one. These quiet, private rebellions—which result from experiences around gender inequality, social isolation, or public shaming—have not evolved into a movement, but they reflect what might be a significant trend in communal life. Tinged with loneliness, frustration, sadness and liberation, their narratives offer a powerful about the tremors beneath the surface of deceptively happy Jewish communities.

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October 9, 2017 by

How I Turned My Father’s Yiddish Book Into a Graphic Novel

Cover art for A Minyen Yidn created by Barbara "Willy" Mendes

Cover art for A Minyen Yidn created by Barbara “Willy” Mendes.

I will never know what possessed my parents to move to South Ozone Park, Queens. Perhaps they thought it was a step up from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where they had lived and met, or perhaps they liked the fact that our house was across the street from a school and within walking distance of another school, where my mother taught second grade. But it was an Irish and Italian Catholic neighborhood in which we were the only Jews for miles, and as a result I grew up always feeling like an outsider, always wanting to belong. I wanted to be like the little girls on my block who dressed up like little brides for their confirmation!

Holidays were the worst: Easter, when all the other girls dressed up and went to mass at Saint Theresa’s, right around the corner; Christmas, when all the other houses—especially the Italian houses—piled on the decorations: Santa and his sleigh and reindeer on the roof, the entire holy family on the lawn, all outlined by colored lights. How could mere candles compete? 

To make matters worse, my father wrote in Yiddish. Brought up speaking Yiddish and Russian, he had come to America on his own at the age of 16, from a little shtetl in what is now Belarus. He’d learned English in night school and was a fluent English speaker and reader, but he wrote in Yiddish—articles for the Yiddish language newspapers that proliferated in New York in those days—and in 1938 he had written a book, titled A Minyen Yidn un Antere Zacken, loosely translated as A Bunch of Jews and Other Stuff

I loved both my parents very much—my mother had taught me to read at the age of four, and my father regularly took me to museums and, despite his hay fever, to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden—but I wanted nothing to do with the Jewish part of them. So, although I knew about the book, I ignored it, had no idea what it was about, and didn’t care.

Years pass, and some people finally grow up, even ungrateful daughters. Almost half a century after my parents’ deaths, my grown daughter, much more interested in our heredity than I had ever been, searched the internet and found A Minyen Yidn, which by then I had decided was lost forever. By then, the years had put some sense into my head and, coincidentally, I was taking Yiddish classes. No, I didn’t translate the book myself—I’m a complete failure in written Yiddish, though I now love speaking it—but with the aid of the Yiddish library, I found Hershl Hartman, a translator living in Los Angeles, who translated it beautifully.

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October 3, 2017 by

Improving the Lives of Ethiopian Women with Fistula: An Interview with Dr. Gladstone

This is a photo of one of the nurses and the fistula patients in her group, taken at the final group meeting, which is a celebration.

One of the nurses and the fistula patients in her group, taken at the final group meeting, which is a celebration. Photo courtesy of Dr. Gladstone.

When Dr. Tracy R.G. Gladstone visited Ethiopia’s Gondar Fistula Center in 2015, her goal was to train medical providers to address depression and anxiety in women with obstetric fistula: a hole in the tissues that separate a woman’s vagina, bladder and rectum. Fistula develop during obstructed childbirth when a timely caesarian section is not performed. 

“Over the past several years I’ve seen growing recognition of obstetric fistula as a medical issue—non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have begun bringing mobile health units into rural areas to provide free repair surgery to women who need it—but not as much attention has been paid to pre- or post- surgical psychological health,” Gladstone, Associate Director and Senior Research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, told Lilith.

Nonetheless, as the connection between physical and emotional health is better understood, Ethiopian medical workers have become increasingly receptive to learning concrete strategies to help women deal with their post-traumatic stress and other psychological problems the condition triggers.

That said, obstetric fistula remains a serious problem throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, though it is almost never seen in North America. It is estimated that 39,000 Ethiopian women suffer from fistula.  According to The Fistula Foundation, the country has just one physician per 10,000 people. What’s more, 41 percent of Ethiopian women are illiterate and female life expectancy is 67.4 years.

Gladstone became interested in the psychological issues surrounding fistula in 2010, after her pre-teen daughter, Sarah, read Sheryl WuDunn and Nichola Kristof’s book, Half the Sky. Sarah, Tracy Gladstone reports, was so incensed by what she’d read that she decided to raise money for fistula repair as a Bat Mitzvah project. Since then, Sarah has raised more than $10,000 for the effort.

In tandem with Sarah, Tracy Gladstone has created the COFFEE Project: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with Obstetric Fistula for Education and Empowerment. She recently spoke to Eleanor J. Bader about her work.

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October 3, 2017 by

Marching for Racial Justice on Yom Kippur

Photo credit: Susan Wasserkrug. The red signs was created by Lynna Schaefer. Carrying the red sign on the left: Rabbi Amber Powers. Carrying the Tsedek sign: Betsy Teutsch.  Carrying the red sign on the right, Lynna Schaefer

Photo credit: Susan Wasserkrug. The “tzedek, tzedek tirdof” was created by Lynna Schaefer. Carrying the red sign on the left: Rabbi Amber Powers. Carrying the Tsedek sign: Betsy Teutsch. Carrying the red sign on the right, Lynna Schaefer

Ironically, I heard about the March for Racial Justice via an explosion of disapproval and upset on the Sisters of Salaam Shalom Facebook group. Member after member expressed outrage that the march’s organizers had ignored Jewish needs when scheduling the march.*  Learning that the march was sparked in response to the acquittal of Philando Castile’s killing by a police officer, streamed by his girlfriend sitting next to him in his car, I instantly decided to go.

Marching as a white Jewish ally to African-Americans traumatized by generations of systemic brutality struck me as a constructive, stirring way to observe Yom Kippur. September 30th was also the anniversary of the Elaine Massacre in 1919.

Full disclosure: After 40+ years of sitting in shul by my rabbi husband’s side on holidays and 52 shabbat mornings a year at our Minyan, Dorshei Derekh, I get pretty restless spending all day in shul on Yom Kippur. Opportunities to pray with my feet appeal to me.

Yes, Jews were allies in the Civil Rights era. But we can’t just rest on that cred. That was in my childhood—and I am 65 years old!

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October 2, 2017 by

An Interview with Eva Schloss, Anne Frank’s Stepsister

Eva Schloss

Eva Schloss

Eva Schloss is an Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor, author, Holocaust education activist — and stepsister to Anne Frank. She travels the world to tell her story, and on September 7 she was at a Western Michigan University event presented by the Chabad of Kalamazoo.  She was interviewed by her close friend and now co-presenter, Dr. Tami Weiss, Professor of Art Education at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.  Weiss met Schloss in 2015 when she produced a play about Eva’s life, And Then They Came For Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank by American playwright, James Still.  

Schloss told about how she escaped Vienna after the Auschluss with her parents, Erich and Elfriede (Fritzi) Geiringer, and her older brother Heinz. They eventually settled in Amsterdam, where she became friends with her neighbor, Anne Frank, who was the same age. In 1942 the family went into hiding, and in 1944 they were betrayed by a Dutch nurse who had pretended to be helping but who was really a double-agent for the Gestapo. It was Schloss’s 15th birthday.

On the train to Auschwitz, Heinz told Schloss about paintings he’d made in hiding and had concealed below floorboards. Erich and Heinz perished days before liberation, and when Schloss later went in search of her male relatives in the men’s part of the camp, she came across Anne’s father Otto Frank instead. The three survivors—Schloss, Fritzi and Otto Frank — eventually drew close, and Fritzi and Otto married, thus making Schloss Anne’s stepsister.

After liberation, Frank came into possession of his daughter’s diary, crying repeatedly as he read it over the course of three weeks. Schloss, meanwhile, found her brother’s hidden paintings right where he’d said they’d be—under the floorboards of the place where he was in hiding. Schloss’s books, Eva’s Story and The Promise tell this story, and more. I asked Schloss about her experiences.  

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