Live from the Lilith Blog

Live from the Lilith Blog

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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November 30, 2017 by

Can We Harness the Power of #MeToo To Smash Patriarchy At Its Core?

wall street broadway signEvery time I log on to Twitter, I see new male names pop on that left-hand “trending” column and I cringe. Sometimes the newest harassment scandal comes and goes so fast I miss an entire news-cycle—for instance, I was watching the American Music Awards and Ryan Seacrest came on screen: “Accused of sexual harassment,” said my viewing companion. What? Him too? It keeps feeling like the deluge of stories is going to stop—it has to stop at some point, right?—yet it keeps…not stopping.

In fact, several weeks in, this moment (or movement?) still feels like it’s snowballing, because anyone who is privy to conversations among women knows that for every name that floats to the surface, there are at least a handful that haven’t been exposed, at least not yet.

And still, the questions can’t be avoided: How long do we have until our time to flood the airwaves with our truth is deemed “up”? What is our window to make a difference? And…what is actually going to change?

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November 28, 2017 by

Your Jewish and Frankly Feminist Review of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

Screen Shot 2017-11-28 at 3.25.54 PMAmazon announced that it has ordered up an unprecedented two seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a television drama from Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls, Bunheads) about a young Jewish woman who finds herself becoming one of the first female comedians.

The first season airs November 29, 2017. Is it stunning and slightly problematic? Yes. Should you still watch it? Yes.

It’s the 1950’s, and Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan, House of Cards) has everything she’s ever wanted, or at least everything she thought she ever wanted: a seemingly nice and funny Jewish husband (Michael Zegen); two healthy, if not beautiful children (one has a forehead large enough for her to question); and an apartment on the Upper West Side spacious enough to get lost in and close enough to the home of her parents (Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle) that she can cavort downtown while they babysit. And by “they,” we mean Zelda, the maid. To top it all off, they finally got the rabbi to say yes to Yom Kippur break-fast.

But in the first episode, which aired on March 17, life forever changes for Midge. She’s been going downtown, taking vigorous notes for her husband Joel’s act (Joel is the first one to dream of comedy), only to discover that not only has he been stealing Bob Newhart’s jokes, but he is struggling to do them at all. And after bombing a set in front of his wife and friends, he decides that his life is not what he thought it would be, and tells Miriam that he is leaving her. He can’t stand to be a failure in his wife’s eyes. Oh and also, he’s been sleeping with his secretary. What a guy.

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November 28, 2017 by

Feeling Alive Within Jewish Rituals

Photo credit: Inna Shnayder

Photo credit: Inna Shnayder

We should be playing more.

This is the formative idea behind the Well of Wills Ritual Lab. Hannah Roodman, an artist and experience designer from Richmond, Virginia developed the concept of the Well of Wills, “intimate and immersive experiences designed to help boost creativity and strengthen self-trust.” Last December I journeyed with Hannah for the first Well of Wills retreat, where 30 Jewish women spent a weekend in the Hudson Valley for workshops to explore the concept of divine Jewish femininity, and empower ourselves through creativity. We were divided into groups, and by the end of the weekend each group had created a unique performance piece on topics ranging from vanity to jealousy. We also participated in a photo series considering our past, present and future selves, ate wholesome and delicious food, danced and connected with each other. It was pure magic.

When Hannah invited me to join the next installment of the Well of Wills series, a day of experiences designed to “explore how personal and co-created prayer and ritual can impact change in our daily lives,” I jumped on the opportunity to play some more.

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November 27, 2017 by

Changing the Lives of Women in Prison: An Interview with Merle Hoffman

Photo credit: Vanessa Valenti

A photo of Merle Hoffman, founder and CEO of the Choices Women’s Medical Center. Photo credit: Vanessa Valenti

When the Rose M. Singer Center opened on New York City’s Rikers Island in 1988, it was touted as a “state of the art” facility where women prisoners would get training in the culinary arts, horticulture and sewing. According to the Center’s official history, the new center was expected to provide the correction facility’s staff with a chance to implement innovative programs—with an emphasis on vocational skill-building—that would lead to jobs when the women were released. In addition, the Center boasted of creating the nation’s first jail-based nursery, where new mothers and their babies could spend time together.

Fast-forward three decades. While the nursery remains open, few other innovations remain. In fact, many of the 800-plus women housed in the medium security prison have multiple gripes—from the food, to the boredom they experience, to the lack of access to medical and mental-health care.

Merle Hoffman, founder and CEO of the Choices Women’s Medical Center, heard these complaints and, with several clinic staff, recently went into the prison and met with some of the women who are incarcerated there.

She spoke with Eleanor J. Bader about what they found, and what they hope to do to ameliorate these difficulties.

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November 23, 2017 by

Why Jews Shouldn’t Stress About Thanksgiving

1200px-TraditionalThanksgivingIt seems like you’ve just recovered from the lightning round of Jewish holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Sukkot, Sukkot, Sukkot, Sukkot, Sukkot, Sukkot (did I get all the Sukkot days in there?), Shmini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, and a collection of four or so Shabbatot – when you start seeing pilgrims and turkeys everywhere, and people start long text message chains about who is and isn’t coming “home” for Thanksgiving. The prospect of cooking a massive meal – AGAIN – isn’t something you have a lot of strength for. But here are five reasons why you – as a person who observed Jewish holidays a mere four weeks ago – shouldn’t stress over Thanksgiving.

1. You’ve already been through basic training. The Jewish holidays was your 80s training montage: rapid-fire holidays, coordinated menus, and if you’re observant of holiday restrictions, you’ve likely been trapped in the house or in synagogue for days on end. Thanksgiving is only a few hours long, you’re not racing any setting suns or candle lighting times or anything. People come, they eat, they leave. It’s the easiest holiday you’ll observe all year.

2. Provides opportunities for secular and halakhic debates. Are we celebrating the pillaging of a land and the slaughter of its indigenous people with every bite of cranberry sauce? Do you say Hallel – a prayer only traditionally said on Jewish holidays of celebration – on Thanksgiving? Do you add “shir hama’alot” to grace after meals? Is turkey even kosher? Just because it’s an American holiday doesn’t mean you can’t argue with your fellow Jews about it. And if those are boring, here’s one I just made up: kosher marshmallows are often made with fish gelatin; can you serve a marshmallow-and-sweet-potatoes dish at the same meal as a turkey? And what if there’s also beef? Do you need a separate fork to not mix poultry or meat with fish? Confused? Perfect – that’s how you know it’s working.

3. The election was last year. What this hopefully means is that political clashes will be fewer this year than they were last year, so everyone can focus their energy on spotlight issues like sexual harassment and assault, Twitter moving to 280 characters, and criticizing your family’s single or most financially unstable members. (That last one was a joke. Please don’t. I ALREADY TOLD YOU, I HAVEN’T MET THE RIGHT PERSON AND I’M A FREELANCER!!!)

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November 21, 2017 by

“Humorless Prig”? “Game Girl”? No One Escapes Toxic Misogyny

Leon Wieseltier didn’t harass all the women he worked with. For him, wrote Michelle Cottle in her bombshell Atlantic piece about the fabled editor: “Women fell on a spectrum ranging from Humorless Prig to Game Girl, based on how much of his sexual banter, innuendo, and advances she would put up with.”

There’s nowhere on that spectrum that’s a comfortable place to be.

Like many have this month, I found myself on an email thread with a group of women discussing our respective experiences with a known harasser in our circle. During the course of our chat, we asked a question many women have been asking: why some of us and not others? How do some people get lucky, and others get victimized?

Because when you read about widespread abuses that seem to hit every industry, every workplace, every woman, you can’t help but wonder: Why me, then? Why not me, the other time? While some misguided voices chimed in early on in this discussion to discuss women’s own behavior as a factor in this fight, we know from too many anecdotes that modesty is hardly a preventative shield, nor is age—nor even perceived beauty.

So what is it? In this particular case, it comes down to power and luck, as it almost always does: women in long-term partnerships, with notable networks of personal and professional support, had been largely left alone by this guy—while women directly reliant on him were targeted. And yet here we all were on the email thread, in solidarity with each other, in shared anger.

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November 20, 2017 by

Jewish, Feminist, and Into Star Wars? There’s a Podcast for That.

From left to right: Tamar Herman, Michal Schick, and SM Rosenberg at New York Comic Con 2017.

From left to right: Tamar Herman, Michal Schick, and SM Rosenberg at New York Comic Con 2017. Photo credit: Avi Weinberg

Let’s do a bit of math: What do you get when you add together three Jewish girls and an array of opinions on Princess Leia, Stranger Things, and sci-fi? One revolutionary podcast that documents the intersection between Jewishness and fandom.

Nice Jewish Fangirls is a collaboration among Michal Schick, 30, Tamar Herman, 26, and Sarah Meira (SM) Rosenberg, 28, Modern Orthodox millennials who are as passionate about the feminism of Hermione Granger as they are inquisitive about how Judaism plays a part in the Harry Potter franchise. (If only J.K. Rowling would write a spin-off called Anthony Goldstein and the Magical Menorah.)

“There’s not many public forums for women in fandom, especially for Orthodox women,” Michal informed Lilith during a meeting. Before the podcast, Michal began the Facebook group Orthodox Ladies United by Fandom (OLUF). Michal’s group now has close to 2,000 women (of various Jewish affiliations) who eagerly test each other’s knowledge of Doctor Who and discuss why they’ll be watching Star Wars and Captain America over Chanukah.

Through OLUF, Michal formed a bond with Tamar and SM, two other self-professed geeks. Together, they partnered with Jewish Coffee House and created their podcast. “People don’t identify their Jewish identity or female identity with fandom, but we wanted to encourage people to do that,” said Michal.” Their platform validates Jewish fangirls’ obsessions and also works to address two levels of disenfranchisement.

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