Live from the Lilith Blog

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December 15, 2017 by

Ode to the New Year’s Tree

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December 14, 2017 by

Not Alone: “Righteous Gentiles” Protected Me at Charlottesville

Muslims form a protective circle around Jews praying at a synagogue in Oslo, Norway, 2015.

Muslims form a protective circle around Jews praying at a synagogue in Oslo, Norway, 2015.

It was a buggy, Wednesday evening on August 9 in Charlottesville. I stood in the parking lot of Sojourners Church after attending one final, non-violent direct action training prior to August 12. There was a sense of fear and trepidation in the thick humid summer air. Perhaps you felt it too, wherever you were.

I had a plan for August 12. I would stand on the steps of First United Methodist Church, often called FUMC, bear witness to the rally in the park, just across the street, and drown out the sound of hate with music of peace and love. But I was afraid to station myself so close to the park. My Muslim friend, who initially planned to sing on the steps with me, decided that it would be too dangerous for her to be visible wearing her hijab, so she took another important—but less public—role that day. I wondered if I should follow her lead, and get out of sight. What if neo-Nazis or white supremacists attempted to enter the church? What if they stormed the steps where I would be standing in my tallis and kippah?

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December 13, 2017 by

#MeToo: The Saga of Bilhah, Zilpah, Hagar, and the List Goes On…

MetooAt its best, Judaism offers me an existential anchor in life’s difficult times­–for example, in the laws and customs dealing with death and mourning. But at its worst, Judaism’s patriarchal underpinnings and assumptions cause me both grief and anger. The Torah portions in the book of Genesis, which we read at this time of the year, are filled with stories of creation, of the world, of families, of nations and of the Jewish people.

But in full sight are numerous heart-rending #MeToos, sexually questionable and at times sexually abusive relationships between the men and women who are our forebears; for example, between Abraham and Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar, and between Jacob and the handmaidens of Rachel and Leah, namely Bilhah and Zilpah.  In both narratives, the wives offer up their slaves to become impregnated by their husbands. The slave becomes a kind of surrogate mother, enacting the hope that the “real” wife will thereby become a mother.

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December 12, 2017 by

A Conversation With Anca L. Szilagyi

daughters of the airTatiana “Pluta” Spektor was a mostly happy, if awkward, young girl—until her sociologist father was disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War. Sent a world away by her grieving mother to attend boarding school outside New York City, Pluta wrestles alone with the unresolved tragedy and at last runs away: to the streets of Brooklyn in 1980, where she figuratively—and literally—spreads her wings. Told with haunting fabulist imagery by debut novelist Anca L. Szilagyi, this searing tale of love, loss, estrangement, and coming of age, Daughters of the Air, is an unflinching exploration of the personal devastation wrought by political repression. Szilagyi, whose story “The Street of Deported Martyrs,” won Lilith’s 2017 Fiction Contest, talked with fiction editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about what drew her to this brutal period, and, on a lighter note, about her ongoing romance with food.

YZM: Tell us about Argentina’s Dirty War, and how you became interested in it. 

ALS: Argentina’s Dirty War occurred roughly from 1976-1983 (the exact beginning is fuzzy). In this time, a right-wing military dictatorship “disappeared” up to 30,000 people; that is, anyone suspected of dissent was arrested or kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, murdered. Suspicion of dissent was quite wide-ranging. One could simply be in the wrong profession (writers, journalists, lawyers, professors, students, activists) or in the wrong person’s address book or in the wrong group of people. Jews were disproportionately targeted. 

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December 11, 2017 by

The Hanukkah Fire, 1992

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December 8, 2017 by

Stop Telling Me I Can’t Sing Because It Distracts Orthodox Men

audio-2941753_1920Kol Isha—the voice of a woman. In many Orthodox circles, it is forbidden to hear the voice of a woman singing publicly.

I was not expecting concerns around kol isha to come up in the egalitarian community where I have been blessed to serve a congregation for 18 years. Yet when a community-wide Chanukah menorah lighting was being planned, it was pointed out that if I were to sing the Orthodox community would not be able to be a sponsor of the event. 

I have been a cantor over 40 years—since the age of 19. I’m a fourth-generation cantor whose family was almost completely destroyed in the Holocaust.

You’re really going to tell me I can’t sing in public?

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December 7, 2017 by

Your Jewish and Frankly Feminist Review of “The Wolves”

A scene from the Lincoln Center Theater production of "The Wolves." Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes.

A scene from the Lincoln Center Theater production of “The Wolves.” Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes.

Nine high school girls on a soccer team somewhere in suburban America are discussing, of all things, the Khmer Rouge, during the opening scene of “The Wolves.” This 90-minute wonder of a play is now running at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.

One girl admits to never having heard of the Khmer Rouge, a regime that murdered 1.5 to 3 million people before losing power in 1979.

“They’re like Nazis in Cambodia,” answers another.            

“But in the 70s,” adds another girl.

“That’s not quite…” chimes a third, before getting cut off, something that happens often as these girls chat without regard for finished sentences or thoughts. Menstrual blood and other topics are interspersed in their conversation, peppered with outbursts like “omigosh” and frequent four-letter words.

The part that stood out for me was that, confused as many of the girls were about world history, they used Nazis as their touchstone for defining evil. No one argued that point.

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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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December 1, 2017 by

Why We Still Haven’t Truly Heard Dinah’s Story—And Never Can

We’d been steadily progressing through the Chumash in school since the first grade. We’d covered the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs, Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rivkah and now, in fourth grade, we were in the thick of Jacob’s ever-expanding family of tribes. He’d spent 21 years working for the privilege of marrying his two wives, sisters Rachel and Leah, and had just met up with—and reconciled with—his estranged twin brother.

Then our teacher invited us to close our books for this lesson.

“I’m going to tell you a story,” she said to our all girls class “And in the meantime, you can draw pictures.”

And so I heard the story, the one we sometimes criticize our teachers for skipping, of the abduction and rape of Dinah, daughter of Jacob. I scoffed in later years at the sanitization of Jewish memory, at that decision to take one of the most troubling, disturbing and triggering stories of the Bible and sterilize it for our nine-year-old ears. It’s only now, decades later as I dig into my feelings around this story, that I recognize with some gratitude the wisdom of hearing about this rape through the ancient feminine modes of storytelling and discussion.

When I continued my studies, I found that the midrash provides layers of context – some informative, some challenging, some seriously disturbing. In Anita Diamant’s acclaimed The Red Tent, Dinah grows into a maiden with personality beyond the rabbis’ broad strokes. And yet, I sometimes regret that additional knowledge has colored my perspectives, and wonder how I personally would have perceived this story without the interpretations of others, as my teacher asked me to on that day two decades ago.

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December 1, 2017 by

Your Jewish and Frankly Feminist Review of “The Parisian Woman”

parisian woman photoA female nominee to chair the Federal Reserve. A male contender for a federal Court of Appeals position. A striving young some-day female president. And, at the center of it all, movie star Uma Thurman making her Broadway debut as Chloe—a conniving political wife doing her utmost to secure a powerful position for her husband.

“The Parisian Woman,” a snappy, entertainingly slimy 90-minute comedy that has just opened on Broadway, certainly has many characters and themes for a feminist to ponder. It’s set in Washington, D.C. in the “present”—yes, right in the middle of the ever-evolving Trump presidency.

While it makes no overt references to Jews aspiring to or attaining high office, that doesn’t mean there is nothing for Jewish feminists to gnaw on.

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