Live from the Lilith Blog

Live from the Lilith Blog

December 19, 2017 by

What “Maoz Tzur” Has To Do With Our #MeToo Moment

Judith with the head of Holofernes, painting by Vincenzo Catena

Judith with the head of Holofernes, painting by Vincenzo Catena

Maoz tzur yeshuati…” rings a song chanted the world over following the kindling of the Hanukkah lights, best known in its translation, “Rock of Ages.” Though it wasn’t my family’s custom to sing this seven-paragraph tribute to Jewish resistance overcoming oppression, I was somewhat familiar with not only the famous first verse, but also with the second-to-last. That penultimate verse is a tribute to opposing the Hellenist oppression featured in the Hanukkah story. It includes a phrase that’s been put to countless Hasidic tunes, and always leaves me jumping with joy inside.

Yevanim nikbetzu alay,” it begins. “The Hellenists gathered against me, in the days of the Hasmoneans.”

Then the language does more than I could ever describe, so let’s go on a journey through the Hebrew:

Upartzu chomot migdalay“—“and they breached the walls of my towers”/
V’timu kol hashmanim“—“and defiled all of the oil.”

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December 18, 2017 by

Hanukkah: Fiery Feminist Holiday or Women’s Consolation Prize?

Print, "Judith with the Head of Holofernes," 19th century, unknown artist.

Print, “Judith with the Head of Holofernes,” 19th century, unknown artist.

Since I was raised as a child in an Orthodox community, Hanukkah was the closest thing I had to a feminist holiday.

I grew up in Australia, where I celebrated Hanukkah at summer camp with a menorah lighting that rivalled Shabbat for its beauty and community. We sang “Hanerot Hallalu” with the traditional Hasidic melody and danced around the dining room with our arms around each other. We played variations of dreidel throughout the festival and doughnuts were currency in the camp black market.

One of the ways we learned of the story of Hanukkah was through children’s story tapes. Along with catchy tunes about spinning dreidels and lighting the candles from left to right, it featured the type of song that was rare in my diet of traditionally Orthodox Jewish children’s media—a homage to women, and their contribution to the Hanukkah story.

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December 18, 2017 by

Songsters: Hanukkah Drama Through the Eyes of a Five-Year-Old

www.flickr.com/cogdog/

www.flickr.com/cogdog/

1.

The Hanukkah candles are lit, and my mother is leaving us. The year is 1986; I am five years old.

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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

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 3.53.37 PM

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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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