Author Archives: Eleanor J. Bader

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January 31, 2017 by

“Not too long ago, some of the people who broke U.S. law to come into the country were Jews.”

Screen Shot 2017-01-31 at 11.13.46 AMAs 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. 

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January 10, 2017 by

The Transformative Work of JFREJ’s Jews of Color Caucus

Seven members of the Jews of Color Caucus were arrested on a sit-in, blocking traffic in front of the NYPD 6th Precinct in the West Village to mark  the culmination of the Jews4BlackLives month of action. As the Jewish community in NYC approached Tisha b’Av, JFREJ — led by the Jews of Color Caucus — along with hundreds of neighbors and advocacy groups, held an action and vigil in support of Black Lives Matter to demand an end to police violence against People of Color and the passage of the Right To Know Act in the New York City Council. Photo credit: Erik McGregor.

Photo credit: Erik McGregor.

“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.

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December 6, 2016 by

Holocaust Survivor Helena Weinrauch on Trauma and the Joy of Dancing

helena

Helena Weinrauch. Photo courtesy of Karen Goldfarb.

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.”

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November 23, 2016 by

NPR’s Leah Donnella on Being a Biracial Jew

Photo Credit: Caitlin Sanders

NPR’s Leah Donnella wrote a short personal essay entitled “Black, Jewish And Avoiding the Synagogue On Yom Kippur.” Photo Credit: Caitlin Sanders

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.

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October 21, 2016 by

What Inspired This Non-Jew to Write Amsterdam Holocaust Fiction?

Mary Fillmore, the author of "An Address in Amsterdam"

Mary Fillmore, the author of “An Address in Amsterdam”

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?”

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October 7, 2016 by

Homeless and Hungry: How One Nashville Doctor Reaches Out

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.

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August 29, 2016 by

Community Colleges Are Often Ridiculed. This One-Woman Show Prods Us to Value Their Students More.

ronnalevy.com

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.

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July 6, 2016 by

Writer-Activist Meredith Tax Gives Voice to the Women Fighting ISIS

Meredith Tax

Meredith Tax

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.

ROAD UNFORESEEN by Meredith Tax 9781942658108Writer-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?

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June 20, 2016 by

Vivian Gornick on Feminism, Friendship, Gentrification, and Our Mothers

Vivian Gornick. Photo by Mitchell Bach.

Vivian Gornick. Photo by Mitchell Bach.

“I’ve always felt like an outsider,” three-time National Book Award nominee Vivian Gornick confesses. “I used to have a dream, a bad dream, in which I was in a strange building. When I walked through the door I saw that the entire inside had been scooped out and I had to climb a rope to get to the top floor.  Once there I found myself in the Bronx apartment I had grown up in. In the dream I asked myself how I’d gotten there. It was both dramatic and horrible.”

It’s a startlingly honest, if jarring, revelation, for despite the 81-year-old writer’s considerable literary success—and an output that includes dozens of articles and 12 highly-lauded books—Gornick seems genuinely shocked, perhaps even bewildered, by the esteem in which she is held. Throughout our 90-minute conversation—in one of the few diners left in Manhattan—she is warm, thoughtful, witty, and open. Our conversation is sprawling, not only touching upon the recent paperback release of her 2015 book, The Odd Woman and the City, but addressing feminism, Hillary Clinton, friendship, gentrification, walking, teaching and our mothers.  

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April 28, 2016 by

“No One Working for Social Justice Should Expect Their Opponents to Just Go Away”

Marlene Gerber Fried

Marlene Gerber Fried

Marlene Gerber Fried, Faculty Director of the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program at Hampshire College, and a founder both of the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts and the National Network of Abortion Funds, has been a reproductive justice activist since the 1970s. You’d think she’d be burned out by now, but she’s not, and despite a flurry of recent legislative setbacks—the Guttmacher Institute reports that 57 new abortion restrictions passed statehouses in 2015—she’s not even discouraged.

“Sure, I sometimes shake my head in disbelief that we still have to fight these battles, but no one working for social justice should expect their opponents to just go away,” she begins. “You have to have a long view.”

That attitude has allowed Fried to celebrate both small, incremental victories and the positive ideological shifts that she’s seen over the past several decades. 

She is heartened, for example, by how much the reproductive rights movement has changed, moving from the single issue of abortion to reproductive justice, an anti-racist, anti-sexist framework that includes trans rights, sexual justice for the disabled, and support for programs that support childbearing—from quality public schools, to nutritious, affordable food and clean water and air. In addition, the growing number of R.J. organizations, many of them led by young people of color, inspires Fried and keeps her energized and optimistic.

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