Live from the Lilith Blog

Live from the Lilith Blog

October 24, 2017 by

Wedding Brain

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 Rebecca Katz is your average white, Jewish, twenty-something who likes to talk and draw about food, privilege, television, and her period. After six years away, Rebecca has returned home to Brooklyn and lives just three blocks away from where she grew up. Take a look at more of her comics at katzcomics.tumblr.com.


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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October 20, 2017 by

Billie Jean Beats Bobby: Watching Battle of the Sexes in Trumpian Times

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 4.11.23 PMIf Hillary had won, what would it be like watching feminist and queer icon Billie Jean King beat cocky Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes, the film that revisits their spectacular 1973 tennis match?

As the world is—a self-professed pussy-grabber in the White House who isn’t surprised by revelations about serial sexual harasser Harvey Weinstein, employers now having the religious right to prohibit health insurance coverage for birth control, the so-called Justice Department deciding that transgender workers are not protected from employment discrimination, white supremacists marching yet again in Charlottesville—Battle of the Sexes provides some cathartic hope as well as contemporary and historical angst.  

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October 19, 2017 by

#MeToo: My Family’s Been Saying This for One Hundred Years

Photo credit: The People Speak (www.ps.net)

Photo credit: The People Speak (www.ps.net)

My grandmother was a pharmacist in Romania. Day after day in her floor length skirts she would climb a scaffold on a rolling ladder to fetch medicines. Day after day customers positioned themselves to look up her skirts. She told me this story over and over again, blushing every time.

When my mother’s cousin returned from Auschwitz, unrecognizable and mute, he was a guest in my mother’s childhood home, behind the family’s Jew Store in South Bend Indiana. Until he grabbed her and forced his tongue into her mouth.

In the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Presidential Library and Museum, just before Passover in 1960, a man in the dark rotunda called me to him, grabbed my chest and wouldn’t let go. I was wearing a new dress that Mom had sewed me for the Seder.

I won’t tell my older daughter’s story. It is hers to tell, but the setting was a middle school locker room and she was changing out of her swim suit.

I see hundreds of Facebook postings. Me, too, they say.

I don’t see Congress proposing consent based education that would begin in elementary school. All students should be taught about when and how to offer touch and how to refuse it. All students should be taught that any indication of refusal must immediately be accepted.

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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October 18, 2017 by

#MeToo: The Shechinah Is Crying

I said Me Too, and so did a lot of women. And it’s an important conversation. And I want more than men to stop raping people. Or really, people to stop raping people. 

I want men to stop talking over me in conversation. To ask me for my opinion, actually, instead of assuming they know more than me on a given topic. Especially if it’s an expertise of mine.

For that matter, I want to be able to offer myself as an expert in a conversation without being questioned, invalidated, wondered about.

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October 17, 2017 by

Jewish Feminists and Intersectionality: New Word, Old Story

Walk for Women 2013 - Brighton

Walk for Women 2013 – Brighton

As a historian who has written extensively about American Jewish women’s activism, particularly during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I was thrilled to see Maud Nathan and Annie Nathan Meyer on the cover of Lilith.  These powerhouse sisters were important figures in the American Jewish community at the turn of the last century, and they both took full advantage of their privileged status to improve the lives and opportunities of women.  The story of sisters who were both public figures and reformers yet stood on opposite sides of the issue of suffrage should be better known.  Alice Sparberg Alexiou’s article brings them to vibrant life.

However, there are a few issues brought up in the article that deserve further exploration. One is that the successful 1917 New York suffrage referendum campaign that Alexiou so vividly describes followed in the wake of earlier failure.  Only two years earlier New York’s voting men, along with those in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, had defeated a statewide suffrage referendum.  After that failed campaign, some suffrage leaders cast the blame on the immigrant vote, and especially Jews, despite the fact that the Jewish areas of New York City had been the most supportive of enfranchising women.  Jewish suffragists like Maud Nathan felt a special responsibility not only to ensure a victory in 1917 but to demonstrate the support of the broader Jewish community for women’s right to vote.  The American Jewish newspapers of the day, whether published in English, Yiddish, Hebrew, or German, all debated the subject endlessly, and although some voice was certainly given to religious objectors and anti-suffragists, the vast majority of these periodicals endorsed suffrage and rejoiced at the outcome of the 1917 campaign.  Those that had opposed suffrage accepted the results of both the 1917 referendum and, later, the Nineteenth Amendment that enfranchised women on the federal level.  Annie Nathan Meyer herself joined the League of Women Voters immediately after women won the right to vote; it is not entirely accurate to characterize her as remaining an “Anti” for the rest of her life.

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October 17, 2017 by

Stop Victim Blaming: A Response to Mayim Bialik from One Member of the Orthodox Community to Another

Photo credit: Jason Merritt

Photo credit: Jason Merritt

On October 13th, the actress Mayim Bialik wrote an op-ed titled, “Being a Feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s World” about the ways in which she feels that her non-traditional Hollywood appearance, and her “modest” behavior has kept her safe from advances by men like Harvey Weinstein. She wrote, “I still make choices every day as a 41-year-old actress that I think of as self-protecting and wise. I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with. I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.” It’s baffling that someone like Bialik would take a stance like this as a feminist, to put the burden of preventing an assault on the person being assaulted, and not the assaulter. Let’s be clear: this op-ed is the definition of victim blaming. In Bialik’s world, it’s not Harvey Weinstein’s fault for pressing forward as the women said no, but the women themselves for being too conventionally beautiful, wearing too much make-up, or pair of tight jeans. Weinstein’s victims were “asking for it.”

I am also surprised to hear this take from Bialik for another reason—because she is an Orthodox Jew. As such, Bialik should know that sexual assault happens in our community, where many individuals take great care to act and dress according to her definitions of “modesty.” I once had a camp counselor who hesitated to buy a pair of burgundy shoes because they could be misconstrued as immodest. According to Bialik’s philosophy, this careful attention to modesty should equate to a zero percent rate of sexual harassment and violence in the Orthodox community. Sadly, we all know that this isn’t the case.

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October 16, 2017 by

Meet the Heroes Who Performed 11,000 Abortions Before Roe v. Wade

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 3.04.47 PMIn the four years before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, the Chicago-based service collective known as Jane performed 11,000 abortions. At first Jane enlisted doctors to perform the procedure, but when the collective of women found out their chief practitioner was not a doctor after all, a subset of Jane learned to perform abortions themselves, including inducing miscarriages in women with later term pregnancies. The story of Jane—how it was organized, how it evolved, and the lives it changed—is a fascinating document of a vital movement in the history of women’s rights.

Twenty years ago, the paperback edition of The Story of Jane, by Laura Kaplan, was published. Since then, Roe v. Wade has been assaulted at all levels of government, and the book is increasingly relevant to our times. 

PATRICIA GROSSMAN: When Jane first formed, how aware were its members about women’s health issues?

Laura Kaplan: Because we had been powerless, we knew nothing. When we started Jane, there weren’t any self-help books. You couldn’t go into a bookstore and get a book about women’s health. We were barred from this information. And not only were we barred from this information about our own bodies and how they worked, but were given the message that wanting to understand was somehow creepy and unseemly. Our bodies were the purview of men, including doctors, and the doctors were pretty much all men then. 

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October 11, 2017 by

The Loneliness of Yizkor When You’re a Young Woman

Photo credit: Kevin Skobac

Photo credit: Kevin Skobac

With the month of Tishrei upon us, the mourners of Zion are in the midst of a Yizkor double-header.

Jewish mourning liturgy is dauntingly public. In most communities, the mourners stand and recite the prayers aloud or silently, while the rest of the congregation exits the room or sits and waits until it’s over.

Reciting the Jewish prayer of mourning, Yizkor, and its sister, Kaddish, has always been a lonely endeavor for me, because I’m a woman and many daily minyans still cater primarily to men. Even though more women have adopted this tradition in recent years, we are nevertheless an anomaly.

There’s another layer to my solitude. I’m always the youngest mourner—by far. I was 21 when my father died. Seventeen years on, I’m still young to be doing this.

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October 10, 2017 by

Why Are Women Dropping Out of Synagogue Life?

Photo credit: Sharon Riddick Groppi

Photo credit: Sharon Riddick Groppi

One Friday night in an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem 10 years ago, a woman was standing in the back of the sanctuary rocking her hips, soothing her fussy baby. A man walked up to her. She thought to herself, maybe he is coming to welcome me. Instead, he leaned into her and said, “If your baby is making noise, you need to leave the sanctuary.” She left – and never went back.

Exchanges like this have taken place in countless congregations around the world. It is one of the myriad of scenes in which women are made to feel unwelcome. The question is, how are women responding?

In researching this article, the women I spoke to all said that synagogue was once important to them, but that now they are without a congregation to call home. They live in Israel, North America and the UK and are between their twenties to their sixties. They are predominantly Orthodox, but not exclusively. They dropped out of synagogue for a variety of reasons, each of which presents its own biting critique of Jewish communal practices.

“The rabbi noticed I wasn’t there,” reports Aviva, a 40-year-old mother of three from the United Kingdom who stopped going to services two years ago. “He said, ‘We missed you’, but never actually asked the question about ‘why’. I was dying for him to ask. But he never did.”

Consider “Nadia” (name changed at her request, as are those of the other women I interviewed). ) On the Friday night that she led the Kabbalat Shabbat services in her “partnership minyan,” (an Orthodox service that separates the sexes but allows women to lead certain parts of the service). She made a one-word change to the song “Lecha Dodi.” Instead of using the word “ba’alah” (literally, “her owner”) to designate “husband,” she used the word “isha” (literally “her man), a word that is used in many feminist spaces in order to avoid the connotation that women are property. As a result of this change to the liturgy, one man in her shul was incensed. He started circulating around the men’s section in fury, trying to rile people up. Unsuccessful, he simply went to the podium and announced, “This woman does not represent the community. We are not Conservative.” Nobody reacted or told him to stop. Nobody said that it wasn’t his place or his role to speak on behalf of “The Community.” And not one person in the synagogue approached Nadia to apologize for her being humiliated this way. Nadia never returned to the congregation, and nobody seemed to care. The man who humiliated her stayed for many years, and was given many honors. Life went on without her.

These are not stories of cloistered Hassidic women breaking free with great drama. These are educated, modern women who quietly slip away from a communal life in which they feel unwelcome or unwanted. A mid-life rebellion may not even look like one. These quiet, private rebellions—which result from experiences around gender inequality, social isolation, or public shaming—have not evolved into a movement, but they reflect what might be a significant trend in communal life. Tinged with loneliness, frustration, sadness and liberation, their narratives offer a powerful about the tremors beneath the surface of deceptively happy Jewish communities.

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October 9, 2017 by

How I Turned My Father’s Yiddish Book Into a Graphic Novel

Cover art for A Minyen Yidn created by Barbara "Willy" Mendes

Cover art for A Minyen Yidn created by Barbara “Willy” Mendes.

I will never know what possessed my parents to move to South Ozone Park, Queens. Perhaps they thought it was a step up from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where they had lived and met, or perhaps they liked the fact that our house was across the street from a school and within walking distance of another school, where my mother taught second grade. But it was an Irish and Italian Catholic neighborhood in which we were the only Jews for miles, and as a result I grew up always feeling like an outsider, always wanting to belong. I wanted to be like the little girls on my block who dressed up like little brides for their confirmation!

Holidays were the worst: Easter, when all the other girls dressed up and went to mass at Saint Theresa’s, right around the corner; Christmas, when all the other houses—especially the Italian houses—piled on the decorations: Santa and his sleigh and reindeer on the roof, the entire holy family on the lawn, all outlined by colored lights. How could mere candles compete? 

To make matters worse, my father wrote in Yiddish. Brought up speaking Yiddish and Russian, he had come to America on his own at the age of 16, from a little shtetl in what is now Belarus. He’d learned English in night school and was a fluent English speaker and reader, but he wrote in Yiddish—articles for the Yiddish language newspapers that proliferated in New York in those days—and in 1938 he had written a book, titled A Minyen Yidn un Antere Zacken, loosely translated as A Bunch of Jews and Other Stuff

I loved both my parents very much—my mother had taught me to read at the age of four, and my father regularly took me to museums and, despite his hay fever, to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden—but I wanted nothing to do with the Jewish part of them. So, although I knew about the book, I ignored it, had no idea what it was about, and didn’t care.

Years pass, and some people finally grow up, even ungrateful daughters. Almost half a century after my parents’ deaths, my grown daughter, much more interested in our heredity than I had ever been, searched the internet and found A Minyen Yidn, which by then I had decided was lost forever. By then, the years had put some sense into my head and, coincidentally, I was taking Yiddish classes. No, I didn’t translate the book myself—I’m a complete failure in written Yiddish, though I now love speaking it—but with the aid of the Yiddish library, I found Hershl Hartman, a translator living in Los Angeles, who translated it beautifully.

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