Live from the Lilith Blog

Live from the Lilith Blog

March 10, 2017 by

Layning Megillah for My Daughter

Photo credit: Chefallen

Photo credit: Chefallen

On Purim night, for the eleventh year in a row, I will be chanting portions of Megillat Esther for a women’s only reading at The Stanton Street Shul, a modern Orthodox synagogue on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Every year I feel a special privilege to be able to participate in what is still, to my knowledge, the only such megillah reading by women and for women in Lower Manhattan. But this year feels especially important. First, because it will be my first Purim as the mother of a daughter. Suddenly I evaluate everything I do in relation to what kind of example I am setting for her. Second, because in our current political moment—a bitterly divided country, religious and ethnic minorities being openly targeted, and a president with authoritarian inclinations— both the lessons of the Purim story and the lessons I have learned from reading that story aloud feel especially relevant.

When we began the Stanton Women’s Megillah reading, back in 2006, I was a newly married 24-year-old, just beginning to find my identity as an adult while still living in the same neighborhood and the same Jewish community in which I had grown up. Stanton was not the shul I had attended as a child but the one I chose to join as a grown-up. I liked Stanton because it was laid-back and eclectic, a place where everyone seemed to be accepted no matter how strictly they observed outside of shul, or how closely they hewed to the normative Orthodox mold. 

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March 9, 2017 by

Megillah 101: Purim Lessons for the Trump Era

Photo Credit: Rebecca Siegel

Photo Credit: Rebecca Siegel

We often think that the book of Esther has one heroine, the queen herself, or perhaps two if we include her relative Mordechai who pushed her to act. But the difficult truth—the one we don’t like to admit—is that if we examine the book more closely we learn that it is the Jews of Persia themselves who went out rioting in the streets, with the permission of the king. The Jews massacred 75,000 individuals the Biblical text tells us (Esther 9:16), while not stealing any plunder. 

This is an oddity of Jewish history, that Jews, with full permission and ratification of the ruling power, were able to go out and defeat their enemies, a rarity in Jewish history, yet one that has taken hold (see Bar Ilan University historian Elliot Horowitz’ book Reckless Rites for more on this).  

Trying to get behind the difficult and profoundly uncomfortable morality of this aspect of the story undoes many of our assumptions of understanding ourselves as that Jews who are commanded and understood to be “rachmanim benei rachmanim” merciful people children of merciful people. This account of the Jews of Persia out on a killing spree is a text— along with the Levites’ killing of three thousand men after the Golden Calf was erected (Exodus 32: 28), or the deaths of many Egyptian first born in the plagues, or of the men of Shechem at the hands of Shimon and Levi (Genesis 34), or the story of Pinchas, killing others in his zealotry for the Lord (Numbers 25:7-10)—that is hard to understand. How could a merciful or fair God allow so many, some of whom are presumably innocent and were not afforded any kind of due process in a trial, to die?

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March 7, 2017 by

Why We Have to Learn About Sephardic Holocaust Stories

Sephardic women would often feel like outsiders in the camps; linguistically and culturally isolated. “They did not believe we were Jewish” is a much repeated phrase in their testimonies.

Sephardic women would often feel like outsiders in the camps; linguistically and culturally isolated. “They did not believe we were Jewish” is a much repeated phrase in their testimonies.

One of the more ambitious tasks of Holocaust research in recent years has been to enhance our understanding of the diversity and complexity of what went on during this dark period of human history. Without seeking to minimize any one specific experience, the assumption that the “typical” Holocaust account is represented by the Ashkenazi (male) experience is being adjusted, slowly but surely, by research that focuses on the war-time experiences of women and children, as well as that of other ethnic, religious or types of “minorities” subjected to the horrors of the Nazi machinery.

During a 2010 summer workshop on Sephardic Jews and the Holocaust at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I had the opportunity to search in the archives for information on how Jewish women from North Africa (a longstanding research interest of mine) experienced this devastating historic event. I realized that through the oral testimonies collected in the U.S.C. Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, as well as the collection at the Fortunoff Video Archive of Holocaust Testimonies housed at Yale, I would be able to locate information on this minority experience. Being a Norwegian Jew myself, I am acutely aware of the danger and tragedy of dismissing a minority narrative in favor of the majority. I have been on the receiving end of comments about how “few” Norwegian Jews there were. The implication is that in the larger scope of Holocaust history, this story is hardly central or representative to the Eastern or Central European Jewish war experience, even though nearly 50% of Norway’s approximately 1400 Jews were deported and killed, mostly in Auschwitz.  Hence, with the acute awareness of and sensitivity to the dangers of occluding minority narratives in favor of majority ones, my research strives to bring other stories to light.

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March 6, 2017 by

Upon the Desecration of Hundreds of Jewish Tombstones

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 3.50.35 PMMy two dogs are enjoying their Saturday post-breakfast walk, sticking their noses in the snow, still pristine from the night before.

“See the doggies?”

I look up to see a beautiful young mother, with long brown hair, tilting her stroller so her baby can get a better look at the dogs. Her husband, standing beside her, smiles. I notice his yarmulke; they are Orthodox Jews walking home from synagogue.  

Usually I feel a sense of otherness when I encounter the many Orthodox Jews who live in my neighborhood. For one, my father raised me to be repelled by any type of extremism, particularly of a religious nature. I feel some embarrassment at the the large numbers of children many of these families have, the way the women cover their hair, arms and legs, their insularity—their kids go to private Jewish schools. The Orthodox Jews in my neighborhood, I don’t believe, view secular Jews as their people any more than we do them. One day, when I greeted a woman with a “Gut Yontiff,” her jaw dropped, and a bemused smile crossed her face.

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March 3, 2017 by

Meet the Publication Taking on Anti-Choice Propaganda

Jodi Jacobson is Rewire's Editor in Chief. Photo Credit: Greg Schaler.

Jodi Jacobson is Rewire’s Editor in Chief. Photo © Greg Schaler.

The site is called Rewire and its goal is to “rewire the way we think about the news, especially when it comes to reproductive and sexual health, rights, and justice.” It’s obviously a huge mission.

Five days a week, 51 weeks a year (staff take a break in late December) the site publishes original news stories, analyses, cultural critiques, plus podcasts and interviews. On a recent Tuesday, for example, Rewire covered racial disparities in abortion access; the mistreatment of immigrants and refugees who have experienced domestic abuse; Title IX protections for transgender teens; a renewed Republican-led crusade against pornography; the links between the Trump administration and the private prison industry; and a review of Joyce Carol Oates’ latest novel, A Book of American Martyrs.

This is intersectional feminism writ large.

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March 1, 2017 by

Why Being a Union Member is a Jewish Value

Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 5.43.10 PMMy grandfather was a union-buster. He was the oldest son of Eastern European immigrants, and he simply needed a job. The job he found was working for a consortium of Chicago businessmen to cook up confusion and skepticism among Chicago’s workers, misinforming them about the benefits of coming together to negotiate for better working conditions. I think of my young grandfather’s methods and realize that not much has changed in union-busting techniques since his day: divide the workers, one against the other; make workers think that the company cares about them, and that a union would hurt this special relationship; denounce the motives of the union organizers—as outsiders, an alien third party. 

Ninety years later, I’m part of the Duke faculty union, proud to work together with my colleagues and SEIU Faculty Forward as we go through the collective bargaining process with the administration to seek clear, fair standards and a way forward for “contingent” faculty (adjunct teaching staff and the like) to have more job stability. Our union organizing campaign last year faced the same exact techniques my grandfather used to suppress union organizing back in the 1920s. But we did win our union, solidifying our view that universities should resist an increasingly corporate model of higher education that sets aside the leadership and scholarly concerns of faculty in favor of an ever-growing, top-heavy structure of administrators. March 1, 2017 is a national day of campus resistance, demonstrating our continued commitment to worker organizing. At Duke, we are gathered today directly outside our President’s office to make our voices heard. 

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February 28, 2017 by

Remarks from the (First-Ever) Lilith Launch Party

Rebecca Katz, former Lilith intern and current Lilith cartoonist, speaking at the launch party. Photo Credit: Joan Roth.

Rebecca Katz, former Lilith intern and current Lilith cartoonist, speaking at the launch party at the JCC Harlem. Photo Credit: Joan Roth.

Lilith decided that in these chilly times we need the warmth of one another’s company. It’s a great time to have feminist friends! For the first time in our 40-year history, we held a party at the new JCC Harlem celebrating the launch of an issue our magazine. In case you missed it, here’s a chance to sample some of what was said. 

Rebecca Katz on What It Means for a Workplace to Be Feminist
“That’s when I learned what a feminist environment was. What it meant to be in a group of women who support each other, who lift each other up, who support and drive each other to be better.”

Elizabeth Mandel on Embracing Judaism and Feminism
“When I was growing up in the 1970’s, my mother, like so many women of her generation, didn’t finish college, stayed home when her three daughters were small, later worked part time as my father’s assistant in his medical office, and then, when we were in middle school, went back to school to finish her college degree, got her Master’s in international affairs and went on to a successful and inspiring career. She was—is—strong and determined, a role model for me and for my sisters—but, also like so many women of her time, she insisted that she was not a feminist. 

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February 27, 2017 by

Breaking Boundaries and Building Bridges

May Aihua Ye (right) and Nancy Hammoudah (left). Photo Credit: Aaron Van Heest.

May Aihua Ye (right) and Nancy Hammoudah (left). Photo Credit: Aaron Van Heest.

On Thursday, January 26th, I sat at the piano bench in the dismal practice rooms of the school of music at Western Michigan University. My eyes would often wander from the Brahms sheet music in front of me to the stained orange carpet. Lately, I’d been struggling to find purpose in what I do. With less than one hundred days until I perform my senior recital in pursuit of a Bachelors of Music degree in Piano Performance, it doesn’t feel right to practice the music of eighteenth-century aristocrats which once provided me with joy and peace. I can no longer justify creating this art I once found so powerful. Now, I feel guilty spending hours every day in practice rooms.

The calm I once experienced is now overpowered by an awareness of the tremendous suffering and pain felt in my country and across the world, the fear felt by so many who are being marginalized and oppressed. There was a time when I was content in my career path. I dreamed of using music as a means to conflict resolution in the Middle East. I deeply believed in its ability to unite people, to heal and to bring comfort. Watching the week of January 20th unfold, manipulating beautiful melodies out of black and white keys was no longer possible. With a major recital looming, I found myself unable to focus on this important last requirement of my degree. I took my phone off of the music rack and typed a message to my friend: “Will you come if I organize a rally against Islamophobia?” A minute later, I texted my friend back: “I AM organizing a rally against Islamophobia for next Sunday. Hope you’re in!”

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February 24, 2017 by

Soviet Daughter: An Interview with Julia Alekseyeva

soviet daughter coverJulia Alekseyeva’s memoir-cum-history, Soviet Daughter, chronicles major events—including the Russian Civil War, the Revolution, and World War II—through the eyes of her rebellious, Jewish great-grandmother, Lola, who was born in 1910. Lola would become a secretary for the NKVD (later the KGB) and a Lieutenant in the Red Army. Towards the end of her life she began to write down her story in a memoir that contained a note at the front specifying that it should not be read until after her death, which is when her great-grand daughter first saw Lola’s writings.    

Alekseyeva, who immigrated to Chicago with her family in 1992, weaves her own story into this narrative, describing her experience with immigration, assimilation into American culture, and radical politics. Today, she lives in Brooklyn, teaches Japanese cinema and documentary film at Brooklyn College, and is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at Harvard.

I met up with Julia in downtown Manhattan, after a Jewish solidarity rally for refugees in Battery Park. We talked about Russian history, Soviet feminism, intergenerational friendships, and the importance of immigrant literature in the current political context.

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February 23, 2017 by

How Repealing the ACA Could Specifically Impact Jewish Women

medical-563427_1280Since the beginning of the Trump administration, we’ve seen the destruction of social safety nets that benefit the most vulnerable Americans, particularly women and folks of color. This destruction isn’t even limited to the U.S.—as one of his first executive actions, Trump reinstated the Global Gag Rule, a policy dictating that no federal funding will be given to non-governmental organizations around the world providing abortion counseling or support for abortion in any way, without including the usual exemptions that even anti-choice administrations typically make available. 

In the U.S., the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as ObamaCare has allowed 20 million Americans who previously did not have health insurance to access it. The A.C.A. has always been under attack, but Trump has vowed to take it apart completely, and the process to repeal and replace has already begun. The language around health care policy isn’t necessarily accessible to the average person, but one thing is clear about what the dismantling of the A.C.A. and the defunding of Planned Parenthood means: people who need preventative care the most, including Jewish women, won’t be able to afford it, and the results of that fact will be devastating.

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