Author Archives: Sonia Isard

Live from the Lilith Blog

July 15, 2013 by

Lamentations for Trayvon Martin

220px-TrayvonMartinHooded

In preparation for tonight’s Tisha B’av services, I’ve been re-reading Eykha (Lamentations)—the text we chant each year to mourn and commemorate the destructions of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.  It’s one of my favorites of the canonical texts—there’s always something I’ve never noticed before, some new line jumps out and gets stuck in my head.  The poetry is dramatic and compelling, rich with imagery and shading. 

Reading over my JPS translation this weekend, one eye on my book and one eye on my Twitter feed, it was almost too easy to read the Trayvon Martin case into the text. Too easy to feel that, in addition to commemorating the Temples of old, we should be in mourning for the justice system of today.

I saw Trayvon Martin in the lines about suffering at the hands of unjust tormentors.

My foes have snared me like a bird,
Without any cause.
They have ended my life in a pit
And cast stones at me.

I read the failure of our courts in the tales of Jerusalem’s crimes and punishments.

Jerusalem has greatly sinned, 
Therefore she is become a mockery.
All who admired her despise her,
For they have seen her disgraced;
And she can only sigh
And shrink back

I heard echoes of my own disillusionment in our justice system.

To deny a man his rights
In the presence of the Most High
To wrong a man in his cause—
This the Lord does not choose.

In anger and in sadness, I’ll be thinking about Trayvon tonight.  Anger because I have witnessed unabashed disregard for the way racism continues to permeate our American systems. Deep sadness because Trayvon died so young, amidst such venom.  Fury because George Zimmerman killed a young black man and was acquitted. Our American justice system endorsed this injustice.

My children are forlorn,
For the foe has prevailed.


Sonia Isard is Lilith’s associate editor.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

October 18, 2011 by

Occupy Your Mind

http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org

Looking for a little light reading as you Occupy [Wall Street/Judaism/what have you]? You’re not alone. Elizabeth Gumport reports back on “the missing—or lost!—link between health class and internet pornography” that is Our Bodies, Ourselves.  Thank you, People’s Library, for reminding us to find new meaning in the classics!

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Live from the Lilith Blog

October 17, 2011 by

What's the Impact of Praying in Public?

Forward editor Jane Eisner’s incisive commentary on Occupy Judaism: She says Kol Nidre at OWS marked “a small but significant turning point for both Jews and progressive causes, a sign of arrival for Jews and a return to the historic place that religion played in the public face of progressive activism.” I’m also interested in (and more ambivalent about) the public face of progressive Judaism –  how does the meaning of Jewish practice change when the deeply moving yet sort of raw and untamed Kol Nidre liturgy rings out across Zuccotti Park? 

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Live from the Lilith Blog

October 11, 2011 by

Paint Yourself Out

Eva Hesse, No Title (detail), 1960. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org

“The hell with them all. Paint yourself out, through and through, it will come by you alone. You must come to terms with your own work not with any other being.”  You tell ‘em!  Read this excellent piece about the new Eva Hesse exhibit (and about her family’s escape from Europe in 1938), and then go right away to see the show at the Brooklyn Museum.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

October 4, 2011 by

Lilith Intern Takes the Stage!

92YTribeca

Elissa Goldstein emerged victorious! Her six-word story was a winner at the recent Jewish memoir competition run by Tablet magazine and Smith magazine.  See below for more pics from the occasion, which also featured Deborah Copaken Kogan and Walter Mosley! Congratulations, Elissa!

92YTribeca

92YTribeca

92YTribeca

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Live from the Lilith Blog

July 26, 2011 by

The Anxiety of Influence: Amy Winehouse and the Power of Pop

Amy Winehouse made pop music into magic, into high art. She had a genius for rhythm, an uncanny ear for melody, and an extraordinary knowledge of how to take advantage of her matchless voice.

From the first time I heard Back to Black (2006), what grabbed me about Winehouse’s music was the richness of the production—she understood that the heart of great pop is the depth, the layering, of its sound. Because of her ability to build her music like the layers of an oil painting, every song on that album is drenched in the abundant influences of pop music history—from blues to rap to R&B to jazz. It’s not just that her music is beautiful, catchy, entertaining, ridiculously funny, chilling—her music is smart. As Sasha Frere-Jones writes, “She sounded like an original sixties soul star, developed when the landscape had no rules.”

The complexity of her identity—Jew, Brit, unabashed adorer of Black American music—was part of what gave her enigmatic presence so much power and so much productive tension. Her fearlessness in her music allowed her to play with nostalgia while fundamentally changing the face and direction of women’s blue-eyed soul (see: Adele, Duffy) and maybe popular music entirely.

Her death on Jul 23, 2011, was heart-breaking, and tragic, and horribly unsurprising. May her memory be for a blessing.  

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The Spin Cycle

May 11, 2011 by

The Spin Cycle: Another Look at Hillary Clinton and the Photoshop Fiasco

In the immediate aftermath of Bin Laden’s death, the meme-conducive photo of Obama, et. al., in the Situation Room quickly made the rounds. Some of the digital manipulations were quite satisfying— President Obama holding a video game controller, or Keanu Reeves sitting at the table, calmly participant-observing.

Then, whoops! Just as fast as a squirrel can photobomb your vacation shot, it turns out women can be taken out of the picture.

NPR and the Washington Post reported that Di Tzaytung (a Brooklyn-based Orthodox weekly) had deleted Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason from the now-famous photo. This got picked up in the Jewish blogosphere and in the feminist blogosphere and pretty much everywhere else—it’s such a clunky and unsophisticated example of tsnius that it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to mock. I mean, talk about low-hanging fruit! There’s nothing as funny as an obviously botched and misguided photoshop job.

Di Tzaytung responded to the uproar, writing: “Our editorial policies are guided by a Rabbinical Board and because of laws of modesty, does not allow for the publishing of photos of women.” Which, hmmm.

But ok, big surprise, some Orthodox men are trying to efface women from the big picture. What else is new?

I think this event reflects more our ever-changing ideas of evidence and proof—the role of imagery in today’s information-rich architecture of communication. Incidentally, the larger coincident debates—whether or not to release photos of Osama Bin Laden’s corpse, or President Obama’s decision to release his long-form birth certificate—are another side of the same coin. By now, the photoshopped slimming down of models and actresses is taken for granted. But the realization that “facts” can be manipulated as easily as women’s bodies? That’s just starting to sink in.

Why is this a feminist issue? For me, it brings to mind some of Judith Butler’s writings on censorship. “Censorship is a productive form of power: it is not merely privative, but formative as well. I propose that censorship seeks to produce subjects according to explicit and implicit norms…” That’s the formation of discourse that she’s talking about—and we’re talking about a stark reminder of how powerful the patriarchal system is in Orthodoxy.

This censorial act was a reminder that politicized censorship has a role, and that it has broad implications for the dispersal of power within and across communities, both Jewish and non. This case just happens to have been ridiculously obvious.

Photography is far more manipulable than we tend to remember, especially in this day and age, when everyone has a point and shoot and their very own mouse to then point and click with. Roland Barthes wrote in Camera Lucida, “The Photograph is violent: not because it shows violent things, but because on each occasion it fills the sight by force, and because in it nothing can be refused or transformed…”  Oh dear…   Those were the days…

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The Spin Cycle

October 11, 2010 by

The Spin Cycle:Happy National Coming Out Day…?

Welcome back to The Spin Cycle, Lilith’s online forum for media analysis.

KraussI think it started with an article in The Nation. Or maybe it was over at good ol’ HuffPo. Or maybe it was Ellen DeGeneres? I’m not sure. All I know is that one particular topic sure is getting a lot of coverage these days. Seriously. It’s all over my newsfeed.

The amazing thing is the tech piece. Good things: Dan Savage initiating the creation of an archive of personal stories on YouTube. The extraordinary Make It Better project. Sarah Silverman’s badass indictment of anti-gay policy, also a YouTube victory. Bad things: The (gay) president of the University of Michigan student assembly getting harassed by the state’s assistant attorney general, via a blog dedicated solely to that appalling purpose. The secretly recorded video of the student at Rutgers, which, blame-games aside, seems to have provided the impetus for a young man to take his own life.  (more…)

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The Spin Cycle

July 23, 2010 by

The Spin Cycle: Shirley Sherrod Shifts the Paradigm

Welcome back to The Spin Cycle, Lilith’s online forum for media analysis.

Shirley Sherrod

Racism, sexism, and the real-life political power of modern media played out with a vengeance this week in the total horror-show of Shirley Sherrod’s firing from her position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Over twenty years ago, this woman of color publicly struggled to come to terms with the personal implications of the systemic racism that defined her childhood and later civil rights work.

Then, this week, Fox News repeatedly aired a decontextualized and heavily edited clip, purporting to prove Sherrod’s anti-white racism, based on a lecture she had given at the NAACP.  Sherrod was then summarily hung out to dry by the conservative media machine, the federal government, and the NAACP.

Later retractions aside, these initial reactions mark a gut-wrenching willingness to willfully ignore the past and present role of race and racism, and gender and sexism, in American society.

(more…)

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The Spin Cycle

July 13, 2010 by

The Spin Cycle: Man Walks into a Blurb

Hi again, and welcome back to The Spin Cycle, Lilith’s online forum for media analysis. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Krauss Say you’re a man. Say you’re an Israeli man. Say you’re an Israeli man writing a novel in Hebrew. Say the novel’s about a woman. Say you’d like some people to buy your book. Who writes your blurb?

I was taken aback over the weekend when I read on the Guardian’s book blog about some recent writing from Nicole Krauss. Not about her new novel, or a rehash of her “Twenty Under Forty” short for the New Yorker, but about a blurb she wrote for David Grossman’s new novel. A blurb?

The Guardian, a massive British news outlet, found Krauss’s blurb “strikingly effusive,” and, apparently, pretty hilarious. “Our challenge for you today is to outdo Krauss,” the moderator urges, inspiring tons of comments parodying Krauss.

I’d expect this kind of gleeful snark from the gossip blogs, where mockery is the money-maker. But here we have the intersection of the old media Guardian meeting its new media offspring, meeting serious literature, meeting a publishing industry that is literally dying to sell its books in print.  (more…)

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