Author Archives: Cantor Barbara Ostfeld

Live from the Lilith Blog

January 9, 2018 by

When I first chanted Megilah at 19, I was harassed on the bima. I’m still not laughing, decades later.

It is almost the spring of my second year at Hebrew Union College, and I am studying cantillation.

I love it. I feel clever when I get it right and adore picking up the little nuances that only the cognoscenti appreciate.

The faculty chair asks if I will chant an excerpt from Esther on Purim during the school-wide service. I demur a bit, because I have mastered only haftarah chant so far and am just starting on Torah. Esther cantillation is part of next year’s curriculum. Still, I say yes, feeling sure that I can learn it, at least well enough to chant the assigned verses, which are Esther 7:5-10. Only a few verses, with lots of “Hamans,” so there will be lots of traditional noisemaking in the congregation to blot out his villainous name. I am excited.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

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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Live from the Lilith Blog

February 15, 2017 by

“Fat Talk”: Then and Now

I had always believed that my numerical weight was also a measure of my professional dignity, my diligence and my self-control. I’d struggled with my weight since early childhood and had landed my first senior cantorial position immediately after having lost 40 pounds. That was back in 1976.  

I assumed that losing weight and gaining a pulpit were connected. 

Since I thought about my weight constantly, I figured that, despite my best intentions, my young daughters did, too.

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