April 28, 2017 by Aileen Jacobson
Who would ever have imagined that a sequel based on any play by Henrik Ibsen could be a nearly nonstop laugh fest? But “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” now playing on Broadway, is just that—and without being disrespectful toward the serious feminist themes in Ibsen’s 1879 drama, a benchmark in its examination of women’s struggles in a male-dominated environment and an affirmation of a woman’s right to go her own way. As Karl Marx said about history, theater sometimes covers the same ground twice, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
Actually, the new work by Lucas Hnath, a 37-year-old playwright who has written several well-received Off-Broadway plays, doesn’t repeat Ibsen’s plot, though it does revisit the views toward women that Nora Helmer, the play’s heroine, rebelled against when she famously slammed the door on her house, husband and three children, and left to explore the possibilities of an independent life. Now it’s 15 years later, and there’s a knock on the same door Nora had used to escape what would have been her fate of continuing to be treated as a “doll,” cared for and condescended to by a tradition-bound husband. Is she in trouble? Yes, but not in a way you might anticipate.
Nora strides in, beautifully dressed and loudly assertive, a successful and wealthy author of books about “the way the world is towards women and the ways in which the world is wrong,” as she tells Anne Marie, the elderly nanny who stayed with the family to raise her children. One novel is autobiographical and has encouraged other women to leave their husbands, she says. She uses a pseudonym, but an angry husband tracked down her real name, and that has led to her discovery that her husband, Torvald, never divorced her, which she had assumed he had. A revelation that she is still married would brand her as a hypocrite. Worse, it would make her a criminal. She has “signed contracts, done business, had lovers—all sorts of things that a married woman isn’t allowed to do, that are illegal, that amount to fraud.” A divorce would straighten things out. (Illegally signing a document, though for a good reason, got Nora into hot water in Ibsen’s play—but you don’t have to know the original to understand this one.)
My thoughts turned to the Orthodox Jewish stricture through which a woman is not divorced unless her husband gives her a document called a gett. A man gives the gett to the woman. There is no vice versa.
April 27, 2017 by Barbara Stock
I struggle to see the good in Donald Trump. His words and actions frighten me. Early in the campaign, my husband described him as a used car salesman. Now we don’t joke. I still sometimes wake in the night with images of gravestones overturned, children passing out from gassed or polluted air, backroom abortions.
So, I was surprised when I realized the huge positive effect this presidency has brought to our marriage.
My husband and I married 21 years ago, well into middle age. Like most second-marrieds, we treasure what we have together and give each other lots of space to grow individually.
My husband is an extreme introvert. He is happiest reading action mysteries, watching tennis, nature films or action movies—not my genres. I’m happy he’s happy.
I, too, am an introvert. My work as a therapist precludes my discussing the details of my day. I’ve always appreciated our silence. We’re not exactly the most exciting couple, but as we’ve moved into our seventies and eighties, we’ve anchored each other well. I never questioned our rhythm. Happily, we’ve hugged, cuddled, shared occasional observations and appreciated our quiet space.
Until January 21. Trump’s inauguration changed our daily lives.
April 25, 2017 by Rachel Sandalow-Ash
On my grandmother’s wall, a black-and-white photograph of an old, bearded man stares down at me. “Do you know who that is?” she asks.
“Yes, Grandma,” I sigh. She asks me this question every time I go to her apartment. “That’s our ancestor, the Chofetz Chaim.”
“A great tzadik,” a righteous man, she agrees. “He preached about the dangers of gossip, of lashon hara.”
In 1873, my great-great-great grandfather, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, wrote a book on the biblical laws prohibiting gossip and slander. The book was called Chofetz Chaim, “Seeker of Life,” and his followers started calling its author by the same name. When I first learned about the Chofetz Chaim, I thought his opposition to gossip made sense; after all, nobody likes to be talked about behind their back.
But growing up, I realized that in day-to-day life, people rarely characterize remarks made by men as gossip. And then I wondered, is gossip just a derogatory term for women’s speech? And are prohibitions against gossip just another way to silence women?
In the Chofetz Chaim’s Orthodox, Eastern European world, women did not study Talmud in Yeshiva; and they were excluded from political activity. So women talked about work, family, and the ins and outs of everyday life. In other words, when and where women could not talk about ideas, they talked about people: a topic of conversation that the rabbis termed gossip.
However, women didn’t and don’t just gossip when we lack access to highbrow intellectual conversations. We also engage in gossip in order to effectively combat injustice. We talk about people, rather than simply talking to them, because in a world of patriarchy and power imbalances, directly addressing those who harm us is often a futile or counterproductive strategy. Women, and all people in subaltern positions, gossip because we find strength in numbers.
April 24, 2017 by Bonnie Morris
As a feminist scholar whose specialty is the women’s music movement of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, I’m starting to do more and more work with museums and archives, making certain that our aging radical foremothers aren’t forgotten. Devoted fans and audiences who lived through and participated in the women’s music revolution, and who flocked to concerts and festivals just to meet other bold Amazons in the years before any LGBT rights were enshrined, may find it hard to realize our era is now historical. But the women’s music movement has just passed the 45-year mark—a timeline which really began with the energy and inventiveness of Jewish lesbian artists, producers and songwriters. In one dramatic year, 1972-73, Maxine Feldman released the lesbian anthems “Amazon” and “Angry Atthis;” the Olivia Records collective formed; and Alix Dobkin released the world’s first full-length lesbian album, “Lavender Jane Loves Women.”
How should we mark this unique legacy? Early in 2017, I had the unique opportunity to present an exhibit and lecture at the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C., showcasing feminist songsheets and rare albums. The exhibit, three glass cases in the Great North Hall of the original Jefferson Building, allowed visitors to see the arc of vocal activism from suffrage songs to the founding of Olivia Records to the era of vinyl albums, as well as excerpts from women’s music books and magazines that reported on concerts and festivals in the era of lesbian feminism. With the invaluable support and assistance of Library of Congress staff specialist Meg Metcalf, whom I met through D.C.’s Rainbow History project, we put together a display that thousands of visitors encountered from January 27 to April 2.
My recent book The Disappearing L makes clear that this movement of woman-identified music began with Jewish leadership.
April 21, 2017 by Rebecca Krevat
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As a survivor and survivor advocate, I struggle during this time with the way media portrays us. While individual stories of survival and victimhood are critical, far too often some of us feel boxed in by what we call the “sad rape girl” narrative. This is what happens when journalists reduce survivors down to their narratives of victimhood, of loss of control, of lack of agency, and refuse to let us share how we’re fighting back, of how we’re experts in law or advocacy around sexual violence.
This is part of why I was so interested in attending the recent public conversation “Consent/Dissent,” between by Emma Sulkowicz and Aliza Shvarts, two artists who challenged the status quo of survivor and victim narratives through performance art.
Emma Sulkowicz is best known for her “Mattress Performance” held at Columbia University. She carried her dorm mattress around with her each day her rapist still attended the University. During this time, Emma noticed that suddenly everyone was an expert about her rape—that everyone had all these ideas about what rape survivors would and would not do. Emma was provoked by these commentaries to do something that a “real” rape survivor would never, ever do – in “Ceci N’Est Pas Un Viol” (2015; “This Is Not a Rape”) she recreated her rape experience on camera as a performance piece.
April 20, 2017 by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Long before Martha Stewart and Marie Kondo showed up on the scene, there was Sara Berman (1920-2004), an avatar of order who might have taught even those two domestic goddesses a thing or two. Berman, mother of artist Maira Kalman, is now the subject of an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that will run from March 6 through September 5, 2017. Or rather, it’s Berman’s closet, recreated by Kalman and her son Alex, that is the subject; the artfully arranged and preternaturally tidy shelves and hanging rods offer us a privileged view of Berman, literally, from the inside out.
Nestled in between a spacious and low-slung room designed and decorated by Frank Lloyd Wright and the ornate dressing room of Arabella Worsham-Rockefeller, the closet represents Berman’s life from 1982 to 2004, when, as a divorced woman, she inhabited a studio apartment at 2 Horatio Street in Manhattan. Shoes, clothes, linens, beauty products, luggage, and other necessities are organized and arranged with unerring precision, exactitude and love. From this collection, humble and yet somehow sacred, we can read between the lines of the story outlined in the wall notes composed by Kalman and her son:
April 19, 2017 by Stephanie Baric
A couple of years ago as my mother was browsing Serbian shows online, she stumbled across “The Scent of Rain in the Balkans,” a Serbian television series based on the bestselling novel of the same title by Gordana Kuic, centering on the tragic destiny of a poor Sephardic family from Sarajevo between 1914 and 1945. As the series opened with the song “Adio Querida,” a famous Ladino song titled “Goodbye My Beloved” in English, my Serbian Jewish mother forced me to watch the opening episode about, as she put it, “our beloved but forgotten Sephardic Jews.” I was hooked. “Scent of rain” is a Serbian metaphor for an impending disaster, an appropriate title for a Sephardic family attempting to survive wars and social upheaval in their community and the Balkans after World War I. Like most Serbian television series, which draw on the internationally acclaimed film industry in Yugoslavia following World War II, the adaptation of Kuic’s blockbuster novel is both beautiful and painful to watch.
Inspired by the life of Kuic’s mother, the series is narrated by the elderly Blanka as she tells her family’s story during one of the most turbulent periods in Europe’s history, marked by political conflict, social instability, and–during WW II–the almost complete annihilation of Yugoslav Jewry.
April 18, 2017 by Amelia Dornbush
As Passover comes to an end, and we anticipate the return of the hametz, I think it’s worth taking a moment to pause and reflect on what exactly happened during the story of Exodus.
Some might have you believe that this is a story of liberation, with a hero named Moses, who brought his people out of slavery and into promised land.
They are agents of the patriarchy and not to be trusted.
Consider. There is no doubt that things were bad in Egypt. But what was the plan? Was it to organize the Israelites to realize their collective power labor and #ShutShitDown? No. It was to have a closed-door negotiation between one male palace insider and another.
April 17, 2017 by Elana Sztokman
Simcha Sharona Massil Galsurkar is busy. The 37-year-old mother of three, who works as a full-time Jewish teacher and is one of the pillars of the Mumbai Jewish community, spends every spare second preparing educational materials. A member of India’s 2,000-year-old Bene Israel community, Sharona works on a range of projects, from organizing learning groups to collaborations with local organizations like the JDC and Chabad, to ensuring that her three daughters ––Tiferet,13, Tehilla,11, and Emunah,8 ––don’t miss any aspect of a Jewish upbringing.
This time of year, though, she is even busier than usual. Like so many Jewish women around the world, she had been getting ready for Passover. But her task is particularly heavy: not only hosting a Seder for 80 to 100 people, but also assigning herself the task of keeping this holiday alive in a community where Jewish connections are fading.