April 3, 2017 by Eleanor J. Bader
Thirty-two years ago, 34 artists came together and painted a series of 24 murals on the walls of four buildings surrounding La Plaza Cultural Community Garden in Manhattan’s East Village. By that point the lot was filled with rubble, having been neglected for many years. But Artmakers Inc., an organization formed in 1983 to create public art that addresses community concerns, saw this as a challenge rather than as an impediment.
In fact, participants in the mural project recognized that the garden, on the corner of East 9th Street and Avenue C, was in a rapidly changing neighborhood and they were determined that the paintings would address some of the most burning issues of the 1980s: feminism, gentrification, immigration, and police brutality. They also wanted to convey their opposition to South African apartheid and U.S. intervention in Central America.
These were not unusual subjects for the Artmakers. Indeed, virtually every Artmaker installation tackles political issues, with titles such as “We Shall Overcome,” “When Women Pursue Justice,” and “We’re Still Waiting.”
Artmakers was founded by Eva Cockcroft (1937-1999), a Vienna-born activist artist whose family came to the U.S. after Hitler came to power. Since its founding 34 years ago, the group has created more than 50 murals, most of them in the five boroughs of New York City. Sadly, many no longer exist—some buildings have been torn down, walls have been whitewashed, and weather has taken its toll.
March 3, 2017 by Eleanor J. Bader
The site is called Rewire and its goal is to “rewire the way we think about the news, especially when it comes to reproductive and sexual health, rights, and justice.” It’s obviously a huge mission.
Five days a week, 51 weeks a year (staff take a break in late December) the site publishes original news stories, analyses, cultural critiques, plus podcasts and interviews. On a recent Tuesday, for example, Rewire covered racial disparities in abortion access; the mistreatment of immigrants and refugees who have experienced domestic abuse; Title IX protections for transgender teens; a renewed Republican-led crusade against pornography; the links between the Trump administration and the private prison industry; and a review of Joyce Carol Oates’ latest novel, A Book of American Martyrs.
This is intersectional feminism writ large.
January 31, 2017 by Eleanor J. Bader
As Donald Trump moves forward with plans to build a racist barrier between the U.S. and Mexico, signs Executive Orders barring most refugees from entering the country, and temporarily halts the issuance of visas for people from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, many of us are angry and ashamed.
Historian Libby Garland, a professor at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY, shares these sentiments. At the same time, as a longtime researcher specializing in immigration policy, she is able to put today’s conservative momentum into a broader political context.
Her first book, After They Closed the Gates: Jewish Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1921-1965 [University of Chicago Press, 2014] looks at the impetus behind two exclusionary quota laws passed by Congress in 1921 and 1924 that were meant to limit the number of newcomers entering the United States. “The quota laws grew out of a widespread belief that some kinds of foreigners could be kept out of the nation, and out of a certainty that these groups could be recognized, counted and stopped from entering,” she writes.
January 10, 2017 by Eleanor J. Bader
“I identify as a Black, multi-race, Jewish woman of color,” 31-year-old social worker-teacher-activist Shoshana Brown says by way of introduction. Now active in the Jews of Color Caucus of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice [JFREJ], Bronx-born Brown has many questions about how best to oppose racism and white supremacy. Indeed, Brown’s queries address strategic and tactical concerns that are important for all progressive social justice efforts—religious and secular, Jewish and non—as we enter the uncharted terrain of Trumplandia.
Brown spoke to Lilith reporter Eleanor J. Bader about the Caucus’ ongoing work in late December.
December 6, 2016 by Eleanor J. Bader
When Helena Weinrauch was 88 years old, she found a promotional flyer from the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in her mailbox. The leaflet promised a free lesson followed by a party.
Four years later, Weinrauch has become a Dancing Angel, a title given to her by the Manhattan Ballroom Society, and currently spends five hours a week doing the Fox Trot, Merengue, Samba and Tango.
“When I dance I forget everything that bothers me,” she told Lilith reporter Eleanor J. Bader. “My fear disappears. There was never time in my life for dancing before this. There were always more important things to do, but before I say goodbye to this world I want to do something I always dreamed of doing. I think I’ve earned it.”
November 23, 2016 by Eleanor J. Bader
Shortly before the world’s Jews welcomed year 5777 earlier this fall, National Public Radio’s Leah Donnella published a short personal essay entitled, “Black, Jewish And Avoiding The Synagogue On Yom Kippur.” In it, she described several unsettling incidents that left her feeling unmoored, a biracial Jew without a place in established Judaism. As the 25-year-old daughter of a white Jewish mother and an African-American Catholic father, Donnella says that she hopes the article will prompt American Jews to take stock of their assumptions and treat Jews of color not as strange, out-of-place, curiosities but as members of an increasingly diverse and vibrant spiritual community.
And although Donnella makes clear that she speaks for no one but herself, the fact that there are approximately 200,000 Asian, Black and Latino/a Jews living in the US further shows that her voice needs to be heeded and taken seriously.
Donnella spoke to Eleanor J. Bader by telephone two days after the Presidential election. Both interviewee and interviewer did their best not to dwell on the upsetting outcome.
October 21, 2016 by Eleanor J. Bader
When writer Mary Dingee Fillmore arrived in Amsterdam for a six month stay in 2001, a photograph she happened upon in the city’s Jewish Historical Museum startled her. The picture showed a favorite landmark (De Waag) near the apartment where she and her partner, astronomer Joanna Rankin, were staying, cordoned off by barbed wire.
“I realized that we were living in the Jewish Quarter,” she explains. “My neighbors had been rounded up just a little over 60 years before. Suddenly, the question of what I would have done during the war became very real to me. Would I have helped them and resisted, or joined the colluders and collaborators?”
October 7, 2016 by Eleanor J. Bader
The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that a Tennessee resident earning minimum wage—$7.25 an hour—would have to work 67 hours a week in order to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment in The Volunteer State.
It’s even worse in the capital city of Nashville. There, the NLIHC notes, today’s average market rents require earnings of $12.14 an hour for a one-bedroom flat, or $17.99 an hour for a two-bedroom.
August 29, 2016 by Eleanor J. Bader
Ask most middle-class Americans to conjure up images of college students and they may picture Frisbee-throwing kids on a campus green, political protests, all-night cram sessions in a smoky room and beer. Lots of beer. But for the 50 percent of U.S. students who begin undergraduate life at a community college, more often than not commuting to school from their childhood bedrooms, the campus stereotype is completely disconnected from reality.
And actor-playwright-teacher Ronna J. Levy [ronnalevy.com] wants to be sure you know this.
Her one-woman play “This Gonna Be On the Test, Miss?” introduces audiences to the diverse students who’ve found their way into the developmental – sometimes called remedial – English classes she has taught for more than two decades. It also offers an insightful look into the joys and frustrations of teaching in this setting.
July 6, 2016 by Eleanor J. Bader
Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that “courage is found in unlikely places.” This truism, of course, has been repeatedly proven, as places steeped in poverty, neglect, hunger, and even war have produced unexpected exemplars of valor and fortitude.
Writer-activist Meredith Tax’s latest book, A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State—due out in late August from Bellevue Literary Press—zeroes in on a contemporary example of unanticipated moxie: The successful, if little-known, resistance to Muslim fundamentalism that has developed along the Syrian-Turkish border. In a newly-liberated region called Rojava, the towns of Afrin, Cizire and Kobane are currently under the control of a secular, multiethnic confederation of Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Chechans, Kurds and Turkmen.
Women, Tax reports, make up 40 percent of all organizations in Rojava, including those involved in local administration and decision-making. What’s more, every committee and oversight agency is led by one man and one woman, a conscious effort to promote female leadership and confront patriarchal cultural norms head-on.
Tax sat down with Lilith in late June to discuss activism, social change and women’s empowerment.
EJB: When did you become a feminist?
MT: I grew up in Milwaukee and my family was really sexist. As a kid in grade school I was told that a girl should not be too smart; my parents made it clear that no one would want to marry me if I did not tone it down. I was confused and didn’t understand why a boy wouldn’t want to be with someone who could help him with his homework! In sixth grade I started a petition to demand that girls be allowed to run for class president. As I got older I became more and more disgusted by the limited social possibilities for a girl like me. Reading saved me. Even before I left for college I’d read novels by Louisa May Alcott and plays by George Bernard Shaw that introduced me to feminism. I’d also read about the suffrage movement. Later, I went to Brandeis but even there, among a lot of smart women, our options were limited. After we graduated we could be teachers, social workers, or get a low-level job in publishing. I didn’t want that. I wanted to be a writer.
EJB: And you did! How did you make that happen?