Author Archives: Susan Weidman Schneider

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December 4, 2017 by

Three Weddings and a Statement

Photo credit: Joan Roth

Photo credit: Joan Roth

Three couples unable to marry in Israel celebrated their Jewish weddings at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan Sunday, December 3.

Because of the stranglehold the Orthodox rabbinate has over personal status—marriage, conversion to Judaism and divorce, for example—an Israeli Jew whose conversion to Judaism was not according to Orthodox standards can’t have a Jewish ceremony in Israel. Neither can a lesbian couple. Nor can an egalitarian-minded heterosexual couple who want to avoid the “man buys his wife” construct of the Orthodox ketuba, or marriage certificate.

So, the rabbis at the Reform Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan joined with the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform movement (yes, the same people you may have seen getting arrested as they try to make prayer services more inclusive at Jerusalem’s Western Wall) to create a Jewish wedding ceremony for three couples, each of whom falls into one of the “forbidden” categories. You can meet them and listen to them tell their stories of love and frustration here

The event, which included as officiants Reform and Conservative rabbis, was advertised as “Three Weddings & a Statement” and drew about 1500 “guests.” As one of the rabbis present said to those watching from the pews, “You have to be partisans, not [just] witnesses.”

After the six glasses (in white cases) were stomped on and broken by each of the marriage partners (not just by the groom, as is traditional), all the rabbis in the sanctuary—including Modern Orthodox rabbis—were invited up to bless the couples.

These images, by Lilith photographer Joan Roth, capture the strikingly theatrical setting and the joy both of the six celebrants and of the six rabbis marrying them.

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October 31, 2017 by

My Jewish, Canadian Halloween

pumpkin fieldsUnderneath the pirate costume, dug out of the attic, I’m in my brown snowsuit, hood, mittens and all. In the already dusky-dark late afternoon I walk with my grownup (my mother? my Zayde? my much-older brother?) through the snowy air and around the corner to a few nearby neighbors, Jews and non-Jews. I shout gleefully from each front path, “Hallow-een A-pples” at the top of my four-year-old lungs. (The chant’s irresistible combo of anapest and that assertive iamb is so compelling that I can still holler it pretty authentically even now.)

By October, evening sets in very early in Winnipeg, and what stays with me is the season’s imprint. Instead of looming ghosts and goblins, Halloween and its early dark—and the possibility of snow—plus the adventure of being out in the crisp air, felt very gentle. Growing up, not a single household I knew celebrated what’s now called “Canadian Thanksgiving” (usually the same weekend as Columbus Day in the U.S.), so Halloween is my cool-weather holiday of record.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

December 31, 2016 by

What To Do Next: A New Year Letter from the Editor

I recall vividly both the JFK assassination and the attacks of 9/11, and a good deal about the emotional response to our current moment feels eerily similar, though no lives have [yet] been lost. The disbelief. The comments that so many feel we should have a shiva ritual for our collective mourning and fear of what’s to come. 

As women and as Jews we have experienced enough frightening statements, real threats, vile ideation and a torquing of our expectations these past few months to leave us vertiginous, angry and grieving as toxic strains of misogyny, anti-Semitism, bigotry and bias move rapidly through our world.

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December 29, 2016 by

Eavesdrop on What They Said to Us

quotes 1Dear Lilith Reader,

You know the feeling of whiplash. We do, too.

On the one hand, we’re delighted to open for readers like you a window on Jewish women’s lives you see nowhere else. The magazine’s perspective is feminist, its filter is Jewish, and you tell us again and again that Lilith’s award-winning content is unique and memorable.

On the other hand, this is no time to rest on these or any other laurels, dear reader.

The progress Lilith has helped spur in 40 years of fearless writing, and the changes the magazine has witnessed and helped bring about—both in Jewish life and the world at large — has got to keep on keeping on. A toxic blend of misogyny and anti-Semitism is on the rise. More than ever, we need to nurture the next generation of women to engage actively in feminist reporting and nuanced writing on the women’s issues — those human issues — that matter most to us.

Help Lilith continue to publish stories about everything from rabbinic sexual misconduct to radical Jewish women from the 1880s, from genderfluid teens to why Jews have a special stake in reproductive rights.

quotes 3We appreciate the enthusiastic voices you’re hearing in this letter, from Lilith readers like you who state frankly: We Need More of This! More voices, more unusual perspectives, more good writing and thinking to help us all make sense of what’s coming next. Your support is needed now more than ever as women face dragons we couldn’t have predicted would again need confronting 40 years after Lilith’s launch.

That’s why Lilith invites you to help fund a feminist future. I trust you will be part of insuring that future by contributing to Lilith today. Women like us—you and me—need Lilith’s inclusive, big-tent Judaism and feminism now more urgently than ever.

Your support will sustain Lilith’s work and women’s rights. Rights like respect for women’s aspirations and our bodies, access to safe and legal abortion care and the freedom to worship where and how we choose.

You’re hearing from a wide spectrum of women in this letter telling their friends online about Lilith and why they support this magazine’s crucial work. I hope you’ll do as they did, and give as generously as you can right now.

Because in addition to publishing the award-winning writing and cutting-edge thinking in the print magazine, Lilith is a matrix for emerging writers and thinkers on the Lilith blog, and face-to-face in intergenerational Lilith “salon” groups meeting around the world. Lilith has proudly crafted — some say invented — the banner of Jewish feminism. In Lilith, you see women’s issues through a Jewish lens and Jewish concerns through our unique feminist filter. Lilith inspires action and—importantly—empathetic understanding of lives like and unlike your own.

Your support helps make possible groundbreaking reporting, like these recent pieces:

The paradoxical experiences of a volunteer who returned to her father’s Vienna (from which he was expelled by the Nazis) to help feed and clothe its Syrian refugees.

Feminist therapists on what keeps Israeli women less fulfilled in bed, in a cover story on “Sex in the Promised Land.”

The challenges a lesbian couple face as they search out a welcoming Jewish school for their two sons; “we don’t want them to be tokens.”

Stepmothers! Throwing back the cape to reveal the misogyny behind the sinister stereo- type! Add to the mix religious differences, just to spice up the blended family.

“Why the Jewish Community Should Fund Fertility,” a poignant call for IVF and adoption support; this may be better for the Jews than sending students on free trips to Israel, argues the author.

How a Moroccan Jew merges her identities — and her words — in “Choosing Which Language to Live In.”

Read the first-hand struggle against the prejudices that a twenty-something Jewish woman who uses a scooter and an oxygen tank faces as she confronts barriers both social and physical in her Jewish world

quotes 2How will Lilith continue to nurture new voices as well as writers like these? The support you give now will help Lilith to discover, teach and nurture a new generation of trouble- makers, nasty women, strident women—all of them terrific writers and incisive reporters. And you’ll be able to read more of their work at Lilith in print and online.

Many, many thanks for helping Lilith create a viable feminist future.

Susan Weidman Schneider

P.S. Please give generously now, so that Lilith can recruit the next generation of iconoclasts.


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December 14, 2016 by

You’re the Chief Procurement Officer of Your Life

Screen Shot 2016-12-08 at 3.20.50 PMA large screen shows a small girl whose skin shimmers. She is standing outside of a “rat hole” mine for mica. “The sparkle in lipstick, in nail polish” comes in part from her labor, Justin Dillon, founder/CEO of Made in a Free World, announces to the Jewish women philanthropists.

Another story mentions a five-year-old boy who works diving for fish. If he surfaces too quickly, to breathe, he is beaten on the head with a wooden oar. 

Dillon is speaking about slavery and human trafficking to the Lions of Judah, Jewish women philanthropists from around the world who are gathered at their conference, “Hear Us Roar” in Washington, D.C., in 2016. Susan Stern, past chair of National Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federations of North America, describes the participants to the speakers in this session as “the top women philanthropists in the world. They happen to be Jewish.” 

“There are huge profits from slavery, so charity alone won’t make a dent,” said Dillon, who has been tasked by the government to “purify the government supply chain,” making sure that none of its suppliers use trafficked labor, “making sure that there isn’t slave labor going into farming the fish. You are the chief procurement officer in your life — with every transaction think about who makes what you’re buying.” Stern added that the atrocities of human trafficking and sex trafficking were very profitable because of the demand for consumer sex and ever cheaper consumer goods.

Lilith asked, “How can intervention occur? What do you say if you suspect that someone brought in by a third party to clean your house or rake your leaves might be a labor slave?” Susan Stern replied, “I ask in the nail salon: ‘Where do you go at night? Do you ever go to the movies?’ in order to give people an opening to say a little bit about their lives.” Stern also suggested hotline stickers in “every synagogue bathroom, every summer camp bathroom, because camping brings in foreign counselors and you want to make sure they’re protected.”

 Amelia Dornbush also contributed to this article. 

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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November 10, 2016 by

A Post-Election Message from Lilith

Banner_Nov9On Monday, lots of you pledged to advocate for a feminist agenda on November 9 and beyond. Some also wrote us to reveal why they were signing on. “Because Jewish tradition tells us that we must ensure we are counted and accountable.” “Our voices must be loud and clear.” And “the struggle is not over.”

After the U.S. presidential election on November 8, women urgently posted, emailed and phoned their friends with some variant on this anxiety: “I’m afraid women will lose the right to decide what happens to our own bodies.” And afraid that some people they know and love will be sent away, deported. Afraid as Jews, because anti-Semitism unleashed during the election season echoes what we’ve seen before.

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March 30, 2015 by

Food: Gender, Power and More

Food—yum!—opens us up to similarity and diversity, generosity and self-interest, gender and power. So naturally Lilith’s readers are interested.

Passover is the holiday with the most relentless attention to foods, and to the memories they conjure. But it’s also about the politics of the kitchen—about similarity and diversity, gender and power. Each choice we make can stake out a spiritual, ideological or political position. 

For me, it’s also often about phone conversations, since so many of the people I like to connect with—near and far––are cooking at the same time.

When the phone rang with a graduate student on the other end, I was surprised. Not by the call, since we get queries all the time at Lilith, but by what she wanted to know. Could she interrogate me about Lilith’s reporting on food? In her research into feminist publications, Lilith had emerged as an outlier. Why was this magazine the only one with a positive view of cooking? All others viewed food as a tool for oppressing women or as a toxic substance triggering eating disorders. 

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January 22, 2015 by

A Modest Proposal: Create a Fertility Fund

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 2.30.10 PMThis has been an extraordinary season of news on every front, including (but not limited to) several stories that have had particular resonance for women and for media. Among them: Rolling Stone magazine’s much-discussed coverage of campus rape, followed by an ugly round of victim-bashing after parts of the story were challenged; the resignation of almost the entire staff of the 100-year-old New Republic magazine and the subsequent round of discussions on how a venerable print brand can keep its balance in the roiling mix of digital media sources, and the fact that for many people younger than 100 social media feeds have become their most consistent news feeds as well.

The impact of stories like these loom large for Lilith readers, and some are unprecedented in content and scale. Our national conversation about race, the Barry Freundel mikveh scandal, and the rise of women politicians in Israel and the U.S. as preface to the next round of elections are just three of them. All are subjects Lilith has covered, in print and on the Lilith Blog—and we will continue to write about them with this magazine’s characteristic nuance.

Lilith magazine launched in 1976 with two founding missions: to use the power of independent media to gain greater access for women (and greater value for women’s concerns) in the Jewish world, and to speak with a Jewish voice on urgent women’s issues. I think Lilith’s tagline says a lot about our approach. “Independent, Jewish and frankly feminist,” Lilith charts Jewish women’s lives with exuberance, rigor, affection, subversion and style.


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October 21, 2014 by

The Barry Freundel Case 101

By now we all think we know most of the story.

Rabbi Barry Freundel, longtime spiritual leader of the Modern Orthodox synagogue Kesher Israel in Washington, D.C., has been arrested on charges of voyeurism for having spied upon—and recorded—women undressing and dressing at the mikvah next door to the shul.

Some of the women were preparing to immerse in the ritual bath to mark the end of their menstrual cycle, some as part of the final step in conversion to Judaism, some for reasons of their own accounting perhaps. For all who have used that mikvah in recent months, there’s uneasiness about whose images are on the recording device that Freundel secreted in a digital clock in a mikvah dressing room. But the anxiety—and anger—spread well beyond those who might have been affected directly by the sordid crime of which Freundel is accused.

In brief, and not ranked in order of heinousness, are some of the themes drawn into the web of violations this particular accusation of spying on naked women entails.

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October 15, 2014 by

Our Seemingly Micro Tzedakah Decisions Can Power Larger Waves

Reprinted from the Fall 2014 issue’s Letter from the Editor

SWS head shotMaybe you’re like me and you’ve tended to see economic justice in terms of fair labor practices, access to good health care, fresh produce in urban food deserts, affordable housing. Big goals with big consequences. Beyond carrying bills in a pocket to give tzedakah graciously or nervously on the street, what small (or larger) potential acts of the pocketbook have escaped our notice?

Well, you’ve heard the chatter about doing good while buying more stuff. The manufacturer who promises to give a new pair of shoes to a poor child for every pair of its brand you purchase. The company that pledges to donate to breast cancer research an undisclosed portion of its profits from the pink item you’ve just acquired.

Like the rest of us, I figure that I make choices every day—every waking hour, practically—that reflect my values. A lot of these choices are made reflexively, because I’ve practiced them so many times that they’re inadvertent habits. The food I eat—or avoid. Whether I run the water while brushing my teeth or turn off the tap. Which charity solicitations I open and consider vs. which ones I put immediately into the recycling bin. You too?

But there’s another order of choices that feel new to me, a fresh kind of economic consciousness I’ve been thinking about thanks to two women whose actions are worth emulating—and expanding on. These two rabbis have recently been modeling, through their own actions, a different tzedakah. They’re good at remembering that tzedakah comes not out of the idea of charity—giving alms to the poor—but from the root tzedek, righteousness.

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