Live from the Lilith Blog

November 25, 2014 by

Fabulous Hair!

leah lax photo w grey hair us“Fabulous hair!” That came from a neighbor I barely knew while I was out walking our Airedale Gracie through our neighborhood lined in old live oaks, their bent branches arching the street like the protective arms of old crones. Her hair was short, straight, and unnaturally blonde, and she was a little older than me, with a determined look on her face as she strode past carrying a tall cup of Starbucks. I just shook my head. This had been happening ever since I started letting it go gray.

I do not have fabulous hair. I have unmanageable Jewish hair with waves in all the wrong places that tends to frizz in humid Houston, where I live. A hairbrush or blow dryer just makes it worse, so I resort to getting out of the shower and raking it back with my hands, then letting it fall where it falls, which is often in my face.

I used to dye my hair back when I was a covered Hassidic woman, even though I had to keep it hidden at all times. I would clip it short so it wouldn’t be a nuisance under the scarves and wigs I wore day and night, then I avoided the mirror except when I was wearing my very-expensive wig, as if that way I would only see who I was supposed to be.  

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Live from the Lilith Blog

November 21, 2014 by

DOWN UNDER and BACK UP again

An author talks about her fascination with Mel Gibson, and how it became a novel.

DOWN_UNDER_COVER-330When a Jewish author, daughter of Holocaust survivors, writes a novel inspired by the life of Mel Gibson, there must be a good story attached. And there is. In fact, there are two parallel stories, one concerning the notorious international superstar, and one about his fan, that daughter of Yiddish-speaking, Orthodox, Lithuanian immigrants. The child of survivors of Stutthof and Dachau.

Let’s start with the second strand. The child, of course, is me – author of a recent memoir called The Watchmaker’s Daughter, which told of my life as the daughter of heroes. My parents met at a Lithuanian Survivor’s Ball in New York City. At the moment they took to the floor in a Viennese waltz, they’d already endured the ghetto, the camps, four years in Germany as DPs, and the arduous process of starting anew in America. My mother had been about to debut as a pianist when her world fell apart. Her father and two brothers were killed, and her mother sent to the “bad” line, marked for death. My mother heroically got her out, keeping her alive until liberation. My father had a similarly valiant tale. Years before the Nazis invaded, his father was killed by the Cossacks.  This tragedy had forced him, at 13, to apprentice as a watchmaker — and that trade saved his life at Dachau.  Germans needed someone to repair their timepieces. My father, by that time a master watchmaker, did that, and more. He saved lives as a prisoner in pajamas, bringing other Jews into his workshop whether they could fix watches or not.

These were my parents, people who could walk through hell, and do it helping others.  They were also people who could really dance. When they fell into each other’s arms at the Survivors’ Ball, when they sailed across the floor to Strauss, or flew in the air in a polka, they recognized each other. Kindred spirits who could live like that and hope like that and dance like that must marry.  Soon after, they did.  And not too long after, they had a boy and a girl – a New World family dream come true.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

November 20, 2014 by

The Very Surprising History of Jewish Women in Comic Books

272646_147053512036600_8128239_oJewish creators like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (creators of Superman) and Art Spiegelman (of Maus) have had a strong influence on comics, but not so much attention has been turned on female Jewish comics creators. After Michael Kaminer  wrote a piece on Jewish women’s comics for The Jewish Daily Forward, Sarah Lightman reached out to him about making a museum exhibit of female Jewish comics creators.

The result was “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women.” The exhibit, which is currently in London, shows the work of 18 Jewish women, including Lightman, Miriam Katin, Ariel Schrag, Trina Robbins, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Vanessa Davis.

The success of the exhibit has led to the recently released book Graphic Details: Jewish Women’s Confessional Comics in Essays and Interviews (McFarland $49.95), which Lightman had previously discussed with Lilith. This anthological book takes an academic approach to the intersection of women, Judaism and comics. All the women from the exhibit take an important place in these pages through biographies and work samples, including beautiful full-color spreads. Some of them are interviewed about their work, and essays by other comics scholars discuss the meaning, influence and strength in the creators’ comics. However, the book does not stop here: it also details the lives and works of other female Jewish comics creators.

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November 18, 2014 by

Hollywood Princess

3771076Although born and raised in New York City, Dana Aynn Levin always considered herself a California girl at heart. So after graduating from Vassar College, where she studied economics and psychology, she headed out to the land of sunshine, oranges and, of course, movie magic. After a brief detour in DC to earn an MBA, Levin headed back to the beach, where she became a film production accountant working on, in her words, “films you’ve never heard of.”  She wrote her first novel at the age of six, and then did not attempt it again until five or so decades later. Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough asked Levin to talk about her enduring love for Tinseltown, and how those screen dreams informed the conception and execution of Hollywood Princess.

YZM: What’s behind the fascination Los Angeles has always had for you?

DL: The history of my fascination with Los Angeles sounds so hokey and not at all intellectual. It’s rooted in pop culture. Growing up, so much of the music I enjoyed either came from artists based in Los Angeles, (Beach Boys, Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, etc.) or the songs referenced the city. California Dreaming? I was. And when I was trapped in Malibu for two weeks by mudslides my first winter, I laughed at the absurdity of “It Never Rains in California.” Seriously, Albert Hammond? He had obviously never experienced an El Nino.

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November 17, 2014 by

Excuse Me: When a Stranger Says “Good Morning”

Welcome to another edition of Excuse Me, a new illustrated advice column about maddening things. Installments will be posted here every other Monday. Need advice? Send your questions to liana@lilith.org.

excuseme2


Liana Finck’s graphic novel is called A Bintel Brief. She writes and draws a monthly column for The Forward and her cartoons appear irregularly in The New Yorker. She often thinks about the age-old question: fight, or flight?

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November 12, 2014 by

Street Harassment, Seat Harassment and Women’s Bodies

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALet’s conduct a thought experiment. A far right wing Christian preacher claims a direct revelation from God, and it goes something like this: Jews are the chosen people. So chosen, so holy, the group from whose midst Christ emerged, that they cannot be touched.

Literally.

So, says the preacher to his congregation, if you find yourself next to a Jew on a train or an airplane, you should ask to change seats immediately. Get up, stand in the aisle, change seats. Ask nicely, of course! Really, it’s not discrimination, they assure the rest of us. It’s personal religious practice. And Jews, if you get this request from a sect member, just try to be cool about it, okay? Let’s not reinforce the reputation that we Jews are pushy and difficult and always angry about anti-Semitism. It’s not an insult from these folks, it’s an honor.

I doubt my fellow Jews would heed calls to “tolerate” this treatment, and the embedded insults, in the name of religious freedom?

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November 11, 2014 by

Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power

Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Helena Rubinstein XIX 27-11-1955, 1955. Conté crayon on paper, 17 1/4 x 12 5/8 in. (43.8 x 32.1 cm). Himeji City Museum of Art, Japan. © 2014 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Helena Rubinstein XIX 27-11-1955, 1955.
Conté crayon on paper, 17 1/4 x 12 5/8 in. (43.8 x 32.1 cm). Himeji City Museum of Art, Japan. © 2014 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

You knew Helena Rubinstein. That is, even if you didn’t actually know her, you know her type: the smart, feisty, implacably-willed Jewish woman who just goes ahead and does what she wants, no matter what the world tells her. Like others of her ilk—Estée Lauder, Georgette Klinger, Beatrice Alexander and Ruth Handler—she made her name in an arena—cosmetics—where being a woman was an advantage, not a liability.  The newly opened show at the Jewish Museum, interdisciplinary in nature, offers a fascinating glimpse into the life the Jewish girl with humble roots in Poland who grew up to become, “a global icon of female entrepreneurship and a leader in art, design, fashion and philanthropy.”

Born in 1872, Rubinstein fled an arranged marriage in 1888. By 1896, she had gone from Krakow to Vienna and then to Australia, where she established her first business. She flat-out rejected the notion that only prostitutes and women of questionable virtue wore make up, and instead built an empire on the premise that wearing make-up was a self-assertive, empowering act, one that allowed a woman to literally create the face that she showed to the world. The title of the show is a tag line from one of Rubinstein’s own advertising campaigns, and the exhibition’s wide-ranging offerings—primarily artwork, but also clothing, jewelry, packaging and advertising, and miniature rooms—demonstrate the many ways that statement can be interpreted.

As a collector, Rubinstein was both canny and idiosyncratic in her taste; her acquisitions include works by Pablo Picasso, Elie Nadleman, Frida Kahlo, Max Ernst, Leonor Fini, Joan Miró, and Henri Matisse and when she was alive, they graced the homes she kept in London, Paris, New York, the South of France and Greenwich, CT. Also represented are 30 pieces from her visionary collection of African and Oceanic art, a collection that ultimately helped to reshape the way this work was viewed—and valued—in the west.

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October 27, 2014 by

Excuse Me: Supermarket Line Etiquette

Welcome to another edition of Excuse Me, a new illustrated advice column about maddening things. Installments will be posted here every other Monday. Need advice? Send your questions to liana@lilith.org.

excuseme2


Liana Finck’s graphic novel is called A Bintel Brief. She writes and draws a monthly column for The Forward and her cartoons appear irregularly in The New Yorker. She often thinks about the age-old question: fight, or flight?

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October 23, 2014 by

Beyond Pinktober

Pink_ribbon.svgThe world (or in other words, journalists and the blogosphere) is officially disenchanted with Pinktober.
 
Of course, Breast Cancer Awareness Month does have its merits: pink lip gloss, pink sneakers, pink tote bags, pink key chains,pink tee-shirts, pink pens, and pink punching gloves. Also, all pink stuff. 
 
Seriously, though: women learning how and being reminded to perform breast self-exams is amazing. Increasing “awareness,” whatever that means exactly, is not the worst thing that could happen, either. Increased funding for research on the prevention and treatment of breast thing is decidedly a very good thing.
 
But we’re used to all this by now. We’re asking: What does Breast Cancer Awareness month actually accomplish? What and/or whom does it ignore? What are Pinktober’s limitations?

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October 22, 2014 by

What the Wicked Witch Taught Her

512ZYHvHmyLTaken together, the pieces by Bonnie Friedman in Surrendering Oz: A Life in Essays, just out from Etruscan Press, form an autobiography of sorts, one in which we follow the progress of a shy, bookish Jewish girl as she slowly but surely comes into her own. From the Bronx bedroom she shares with her older sister to the thoroughfares and cities of the wider world, we watch as the girl grows and gains confidence, both as a writer, and as a woman.  The essays that chart her growth—she’s now 56—have an internal sequence all their own, determined by their emotional valence, not the calendar. Dorothy from Kansas and Gertrude Stein, Victoria’s Secret and bedbugs—in Friedman’s skilled hands, the quotidian stuff and mess of the world come together in a benign—and even divine—order. Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough asked Friedman about the singular faith that infuses every single page of this indelible book: 

YZM: Did you write these essays with the goal of gathering them into a book? Or did their coming together in a single volume happen after they had been written? 

BF: I wrote these essays over many years, always in the grips of a presiding passion — something I needed to figure out in my own life but that I thought reflected something unspoken or unresolved in the lives of other women. Late in the process I saw that the essays connected up – they all concern how one learns to think for oneself, how one gains possession over one’s own life. Once I saw that, I believed I might have a book.

YZM: You offer a brilliant, feminist interpretation of the film The Wizard of Oz; do you feel its messages have particular meaning for Jewish women?

 BF: Historically, shtetl women were allowed take on a larger role in running the family and even the business so as to free up the husband to study Torah, if possible. The spiritual was privileged over the pragmatic, and to some extent this allowed women to take on a more vigorous role out in the world. But gender roles in America were different. I grew up in the Bronx in a Jewish neighborhood, and I marveled at the version of femininity I saw on TV and in old movies, with its demure reticence and picturesque helplessness. It didn’t match up with the way I saw women behaving in the streets and classrooms around me. And yet, of course, television is our school, especially when we are young, and we unconsciously absorb its values. In The Wizard of Oz, Aunt Em talks about how, being a “good Christian woman,” she can’t tell the town bully, Elvira Gulch, what she thinks of her dominating ways. Nor can she advocate for Dorothy. Many of us Jewish girls, to be acceptable, learned to muffle and constrict ourselves.

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