Author Archives: Eleanor J. Bader

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October 26, 2017 by

America’s Home Care Crisis—And the Filmmaker Trying to Change It

When Deirdre Fishel—director of CARE, a highly-lauded documentary about the growing home care crisis in the United States—was an undergraduate at Brown, she saw a film called We Will Not Be Moved. The movie addressed gentrification in Cincinnati, Ohio, and as she watched the footage, Fishel says that she became enraged that developers wanted to displace long-term residents to make way for the construction of high-end housing. In short order, Fishel found an internship in Cincinnati and spent a semester renovating housing for low-income people.

It was 1982 and serendipitously, she says, she met Tony Heriza, the filmmaker who directed We Will Not Be Moved. “He became my mentor,” Fishel told Lilith reporter Eleanor J. Bader. “We’ve had a long history together and thanks to him, I became dedicated to using film as an organizing tool.” Heriza was the producer of CARE, Fishel’s fourth film. (Earlier works include Risk; Still Doing It: The Intimate Lives of Women Over 65; and Sperm Donor X.)

Fishel and Bader recently spoke in Fishel’s light-filled Brooklyn kitchen.

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October 25, 2017 by

Bhopal Dance: The 2017 Novel With Political Lessons from a 1984 Catastrophe

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 4.51.28 PMWhen Jennifer Natalya Fink was in her first semester of college, she says that two events made her feel as if the end of the world was imminent. The first was the November, 1984, re-election of Ronald Reagan. The second was an explosion of a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, that began on December 2 that year, and spewed 30 tons of the highly-toxic gas methyl isocyanate into the air. Thirty-three years later, Bhopal remains the worst industrial disaster in world history.

Fink’s latest novel, Bhopal Dance, explores this environmental calamity through the eyes of three young North Americans, one man and two women, who want to see Union Carbide prosecuted for poisoning thousands. The three are intimately involved—as lovers and as political comrades—and their strategic plan to avenge the deaths can be seen as both a call to arms and a cautionary tale. Winner of the 2017 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize by FC2/University of Alabama Press, Bhopal Dance will be released in March 2018.

Fink recently met with Eleanor J., Bader to discuss the book, her fourth. (Her other books include BURN, V, and The Mikvah Queen, which won the Dana Award and was nominated for both a National Jewish Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.) Over tea, coffee, and bagels, their conversation touched on a wide range of topics: The ongoing need for non-violent activism to promote social justice, living as a secular Jew, and juggling writing, parenting, and teaching.

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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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August 2, 2017 by

Meet Bryna Wasserman: The Award-Winning Director Revitalizing Yiddish Theatre

Photo credit: Joan Roth

Photo credit: Joan Roth

When award-winning theatre director Bryna Wasserman—her accolades include the 2000 Montreal English Critics Circle Award of Distinction, the 2010 Mlotek Prize for Yiddish and Yiddish Culture, and the 2011 Quebec Drama Federation Award “in recognition of immense contributions to and support of the development of theatre in Quebec”— took the helm of the New York City-based National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF) in 2011, she had three goals.

The first was to find NYTF a permanent home. “We’d been wandering Jews for a century, going from one theatre to another,” she says. “There was an urgent need to change this.” The second goal was financial: to put the non-profit NYTF on solid footing. Lastly, she wanted the company’s 2015 centennial to foster a contemporary appreciation of Yiddishkeit.

All of this, of course, had to be done while making sure that the theatre staged at least one annual production and brought performances to diverse communities throughout, and beyond, the five boroughs of New York City.

Wasserman sat down with Eleanor J. Bader to discuss the overall state of Yiddish theatre and the ups-and-downs of running the NYTF. Along the way, the conversation touched on the plight of immigrants under Trump and the challenges facing all non-profit theatres.

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July 4, 2017 by

The Anthology Giving Voice to the Labor of Caregivers

clift cover v6b- approved cover.inddThe numbers are mind-boggling: According to a 2015 report issued by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 39.8 million Americans—the lion’s share of them female—are providing unpaid care for someone aged 50 or older. Another two million people—again, most of them women—work as paid in-home health aides, administering medication, cooking, shopping, and providing oversight and companionship for adults needing assistance.

Writer Elayne Clift’s latest anthology, Take Care: tales, tips and love from women caregivers (June 2017, braughlerbooks.com) provides a forum for caregivers to address what it means for them—as daughters, daughters-in-law, nieces, friends, wives, or grandchildren—to tend to elders and the sick. For most, it’s a labor of love, and as they outline both the joys and hardships of providing care, they are, for the most part, the epitome of grace under pressure. But that’s not to say that the job is easy.

Take Care is a slim volume—28 brief essays and poems—and while it touches numerous aspects of caregiving, it is not comprehensive. Instead, it movingly zeroes in on what it means to be there for someone else, whether for the long haul or for a shorter stint. Harvard professor Paula J. Caplan, calls the collection “a sorely needed jewel that helps and heals.”

Clift spoke to Eleanor J. Bader by telephone a few weeks ago, from her Vermont home.

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June 15, 2017 by

Creating Art for Our “Dire Times”

Dusk, Railroad - 2008 - 30 x 48 - Oil: Canvas

Dusk, Railroad – 2008 – 30 x 48 – Oil: Canvas

Like many of us, artist Marcia Annenberg is worried. First, there’s climate change. Then there’s the growing erosion of U.S. democracy—including the loss of many long-held civil liberties—and the tendency of mainstream media to replace hard news with entertainment and fluff.

“We’re in dire times,” the Manhattan-based Annenberg begins. “It’s frightening. The only consolation is that the American system of government was developed to protect us from efforts to subvert our institutions in negative ways.”

Annenberg’s work—color-driven abstracts and installations and paintings meant to jolt the viewer’s political awareness—are in numerous permanent collections: The London Jewish Museum; the Vad Yashem Art Museum in Jerusalem; the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum in Lithuania; and the Florida Holocaust Museum, among them. In New York City, she is represented by the Flomenhaft Gallery, one of Chelsea’s most respected women-owned exhibition spaces.

Annenberg sat down with Eleanor J. Bader on a blisteringly hot June morning. Surprisingly, despite the heavy subject matter, the pair found a great deal to laugh about as they discussed what it means to call oneself a progressive, humanist, activist-artist at this particular moment.

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June 2, 2017 by

How This Jewish Glass Artist Juggles Work and Family

legos
The first thing I notice about artist Dena Pengas is her asymmetrical, bold, and multi-colored jewelry. At first glance, it appears as if her necklace is made of Lego pieces, but as I get closer I realize that each rectangle is, in fact, glass. The overall effect is elegant, whimsical, and wonderfully cheerful. Later, when we talk, she tells me that she hopes that this piece—one of many that she has created—will “spark nostalgia is the wearer and viewer.”

The 38-year-old Brooklyn-based Pengas recently spoke to me about her work. As the conversation moved from topic to topic, we touched upon parenthood, marriage, work-family balance, and what it means to be socially responsible in a time of backlash and retrenchment.

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May 25, 2017 by

A Philanthropy Office That’s a Performance Space, Too

Puffin Foundation, Ltd. Executive Director Gladys Miller-Rosenstein and President Perry Rosenstein during renaming of E. Oakdene Ave. to Puffin Way by the Town Council of Teaneck

Puffin Foundation, Ltd. Executive Director Gladys Miller-Rosenstein and President Perry Rosenstein during renaming of E. Oakdene Ave. to Puffin Way by the Town Council of Teaneck.

Once upon a time, the orange-beaked puffin—native to the waters of the Northern United States—was on the verge of extinction. But after concerted efforts by a slew of determined people, the puffin population is again flourishing.

The founders of the Teaneck, New Jersey-based Puffin Foundation see the bird’s resurgence as a metaphor and they have made it their mission to support movements that might otherwise falter. As their website explains, the Foundation strives to “open doors of artistic expression by providing grants to artists and arts organizations that are often excluded from mainstream opportunities due to their race, gender or social philosophy.”

In practical terms, the 37-year-old philanthropy has supported a wide array of visual artists, writers, filmmakers, poets, musicians, journalists, and photographers. Among them are names that are likely familiar to Lilith readers, including Agnes Adler, Alice Matzkin, and Lilly Rivlin. Groups—and media—have also benefitted from the fund’s largesse: The Nation, In These Times, Jewish Currents, Mother Jones, Salon, and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice have received grants.

The Puffin Foundation’s Executive Director, Gladys Miller-Rosenstein, met with Lilith reporter Eleanor J. Bader in mid-May in the group’s spacious award-and-art-filled office. 

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April 3, 2017 by

Making Murals in the Public Interest

La-Lucha-Continua_promo5x7-v2Thirty-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.

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March 3, 2017 by

Meet the Publication Taking on Anti-Choice Propaganda

Jodi Jacobson is Rewire's Editor in Chief. Photo Credit: Greg Schaler.

Jodi Jacobson is Rewire’s Editor in Chief. Photo © Greg Schaler.

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.

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