Live from the Lilith Blog

June 18, 2014 by

The Poem that Went Viral, and the Woman Behind It

 Anna Binkovitz, 21, is a proficient slam poet and author of a published chapbook, The Love Hypothetic. At a national slam poetry competition in March, Anna performed a poem called “Asking For It” that addresses a refrain perpetually directed against rape victims: that by dressing provocatively, they invite sexual predation.

The poem invites viewers to “a strange world in which all of us…can only express our wants and needs through our clothing” – a dystopian, darkly comic imagining, in which nudity—during bathing, changing, or even childbirth—always signifies wanting sex.

 

Last week, the poem went viral—at 400,000 YouTube views and counting—after news blog Upworthy reposted a video of Binkovitz’s performance; Jezebel and the Huffington Post, among others, marked it as an important contribution to a heated cultural conversation about consent. So Lilith’s Malka Editorial Fellow, Talia Lavin, took the opportunity to have a conversation with the outspoken poet, rape survivor, and activist.

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June 12, 2014 by

Author Q & A: The Many Faces of Sonia Taitz

Essayist, playwright, author of a well-received book on mothering and winner of the Lord Bullock Prize for Fiction, Sonia Taitz is nothing if not nimble as a writer.  Although she trained as a lawyer—at Yale no less—the pursuit of a legal career held little appeal for her and she soon returned to her first loves, reading and writing. Mothering Heights: Reclaiming Parenthood from the Experts, is both political satire and heartfelt memoir about the changing role of mothers. The Watchmaker’s Daughter is another sort of memoir, detailing her “binocular” life as the American child of European, Yiddish-speaking concentration camp survivors.  Taitz’s novels include In the King’s Arms, a coming-of-age story that has been called a cross between Evelyn Waugh and Philip Roth. And in her forthcoming novel Down Under she takes on Mel Gibson, reinventing the famously anti-Semitic movie star’s past to include an early, pre-fame romance with a Jewish girl.  Fiction editor Yona Zeldis McDonough asks Taitz some questions about her wide-ranging literary output and the scarred but heroic parents who shaped her life.  

Sonia Taitz (courtesy author)

Sonia Taitz (courtesy author)

YZM: What inspired you to make the leap from lawyer to writer? 

My adventures in law originated in the mind of my father. A Holocaust survivor whose own education had stopped at age 13, he was determined that I have a careerwhich put me in “a place of importance” in society. He felt that with a law degree I would be armed—at least verbally—if danger reared its head again. Somehow, he equated me with Queen Esther—able to eloquently step into the corridors of power and avert imminent disaster. Because I was good in school (in my case, yeshiva through 12th grade), and because the Torah we analyzed prepared me well for verbal debate, I thought my father’s vision suited me. 

But from the time I started college, more creative instincts began to take me over. I didn’t want to win arguments or massage facts; I wanted to weave spells with words, to compose in utter freedom. I didn’t want to be cunningly adversarial, but creative and connective. It didn’t hurt that my mother was a concert pianist (providing Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu as theme song to my childhood) or that my father wrote poetry in Dachau. Transcendence was as much my legacy as Talmud, or torts.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 11, 2014 by

On Sex and Silence

I sometimes find talking about sex uncomfortable. There’s so much at stake — power, identity, transcendence, and raw humanity. I wasn’t raised gabbing like Barbara Streisand’s Roz Focker, the sex therapist with an uncontainable comfort with sex. So how did I wind up talking about sex professionally? When I came to feel like the only thing more uncomfortable than talking about sex was not talking about it.

(Flickr: Ariel Waldman, photo illustration)

(Flickr: Ariel Waldman, photo illustration)

In my 20s, I started to see our not-talking-about-sex problem: the mismatch between Americans’ comfort consuming women’s sexuality and our silencing of women’s communication about sex. Sexy billboards freeze-frame a moment without words, but we’re free to look a model up and down, knowing her without knowing her. Real teenagers make grown-up decisions about sex every day, but as eager as we are to second-guess their sexual behavior or clothing, we don’t want to hear why they make the choices they do. And if they speak up about their lived experience, why are we prepared to shame them for acknowledging what everyone already knows that teenagers do? Shame makes it extremely hard to learn the healthy communication that’s needed for respectful, enjoyable sexual encounters, whether at age 16 or 60.

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June 10, 2014 by

Golem on the rise, female in the lead

Punk-klezmer fusion band Golem has been shocking and delighting audiences for 14 years. But with their latest album, ‘Tanz,’ they’ve hit it big. The album, released by Mexican label Discos Corazon, has been featured on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ and — as of last night — FX’s hit show ‘Louie.’ Lilith’s Talia Lavin sat down with Golem bandleader Annette Ezekiel Kogan to talk about the unique challenges a female rocker faces, and the heartfelt emotion behind Golem’s wild sound.

Golem with comedian Louis C.K. on the set of "Louie." (Facebook)

Golem with comedian Louis C.K. on the set of “Louie.” (Facebook)

 

 For Annette Ezekiel Kogan, founder, vocalist and accordionist for the punk klezmer band Golem, being the female bandleader of an all-male band is a complicated balancing act.  “I feel like I go in between worlds – I’m the sexy singer, and then I’m conducting, running the show. I’m the band mother to all the guys.”

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Live from the Lilith Blog, Nothing New Under the Sun

June 6, 2014 by

Lego’s New Female Scientist Characters!! Did They Take Lilith to Heart?

LEGO-female-scientist-set

Credit: Ellen Kooijman/ Lego Ideas

The Lilith blog has legs! Also arms and brains. Check out this news, and read a Lilith blogger’s advice to young scientists. 

This week Lego announced a new collection with female-only figures called “Research Institute.” with–wait for it!!–three female scientist figures: an astronomer, a paleontologist and a chemist. It was inspired by an idea submitted to Lego by Swedish geochemist Ellen Kooijman to show that “girls can become anything they want, including a paleontologist or an astronomer.” More about this new collection, releasing August 2014, at PolicyMic.
 
On the Lilith blog just a few weeks ago, twentysomething research scientist Hillary Green-Lerman wrote about her “unofficial job” encouraging young women to major in STEM fields. She offers some contrarian advice for young women leaning toward a career in science. Read her post here.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 14, 2014 by

For all you aspiring female scientists out there

What’s it like to be a woman in science?

Hillary Green, a research scientist, offers advice to other young women in STEM fields.

Hillary Green-Lerman, a research scientist, offers advice to other young women in STEM fields.

Sometimes, it’s like having two jobs.  My first job is to analyze computer simulations of drug molecules interacting with proteins.  My second job is to run an unofficial public relations campaign that promotes women in science.  Some days, I kind of want to quit that second job.

I’ve traveled around the country giving scientific talks aimed at inspiring young women to major in STEM fields.  I visit my company’s hiring office to find out how I can help with efforts to increase diversity at our office.  On days like these, I feel like my second job is really important, and that I’m actually helping to mentor the next generation of young scientists. 

There are plenty of good reasons to be a scientist: great pay, intellectually challenging work, a chance to make a difference.  But what we don’t always tell young women is that it’s also really hard.  I loved having long discussions about quantum mechanics with my college professors, but I wasn’t so happy when those same professors told me that most women in our department were a drain on university resources.  Now that I’m 25 and 4 years out of college, I enjoy asking questions during our chemistry team meetings, but I’m not so thrilled that anything I say or do at these meetings is a reflection on ALL women because I’m the ONLY woman.  Today, I’m excited to be working crazy hours on my research, but I worry that, in the future, this kind of schedule just won’t be compatible with being a good mother to my hypothetical children.

So, which story should I tell about being a woman in science?  The one where I’m thrilled to be working on cutting-edge projects that might someday cure diabetes or lupus?  Or the one where I’m frustrated with the family-unfriendly male-dominated culture of scientific research?

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May 8, 2014 by

Counting the Omer Through Poetry

Barley sheaves (Wikimedia Commons)

Barley sheaves (Wikimedia Commons)

Lilith editor in chief Susan Weidman Schneider asks, “Is counting a women’s preoccupation? Counting days before one’s period, counting the months of pregnancy, counting the years til menopause. Perhaps counting the Omer, the days between Pesach and Shavuot, can become a time when the counting provides another kind of embodied pacing.”

Harvard Divinity School student Molly Moses has a unique approach to counting and contemplating the Omer, which she’s shared with us.

Molly Moses: Counting the Omer through Poetry

The Omer is a 49-day period–a period of seven weeks–leading from the second night of Passover to the holiday of Shavuot, which today serves annually to commemorate God’s giving of the Torah to Israel. (The word “omer” itself refers to the measurement of barley offered up at the Temple on the first day of this period.) Both Leviticus and Deuteronomy relate a commandment to count these days. Some people choose to enhance their counting with reflection and self-cultivation in preparation for receiving the Torah. Rabbi Karyn Kedar’s new book “Omer: A Counting” offers a spiritual guide. 

Like Advent and Lent within the Christian tradition, the counting of the Omer, for me, is a practice in mindful, measured anticipation. Having benefited from short courses taught by Alicia Ostriker and the KlezKanada Poetry Retreat team of Adeena Karasick and Jake Marmer, I decided to write a poem to mark each day of the Omer last year. Drawing inspiration from poet Hank Lazer’s experimentation with form, I decided that each line would have the same number of words as the number of the day. My two other rules were that I could not write in advance and that I could not edit afterward; day-ness became both a discipline and a meditation. The resulting poems varied in quality as well as content, reflecting both my passing thoughts and the ebbs and flows of time and energy resources. I often used kabbalistic concepts associated with each day as prompts, making heavy use of Rabbi Jill Hammer’s “Omer Calendar of Biblical Women.” In what is now an annual practice, my Omer poetry has acted as a deeply personal, yet public journal, a way to make myself externalize thoughts on–and thus to keep wrestling with–God, doubt, truth, beauty, ritual, human relationship, and other experiences of daily life that, without the encouraging structural rigor of this time period, I find hard to record and contemplate with diligence.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 7, 2014 by

A Personal Lens on the News from Ukraine

On May 2nd the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa saw its first major outbreak of violence since the turmoil in Ukraine began a few months ago. A Ukrainian-unity rally led to clashes between pro-Ukrainian protesters and pro-Russian separatists, and several hours of street violence ensued. The two sides hurled cobblestones, bricks and Molotov cocktails at one another.  A raging fire that ignited the city’s Trade Union Building killed 31 people. Bloodied bodies lay in the city center, on Kulikovo Street. 

Odessa, which sits on the lip of the Black Sea, has long held a unique place in the hearts and minds of those who inhabit, or study, the Former Soviet Union. From its founding in 1794, the city’s thriving role in commercial trade attracted a cosmopolitan and multiethnic populace. The city became famous, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for its humor, earthiness, and vibrant commercial endeavors—both legal and illegal. Due to Catherine the Great’s liberal policies towards Jews in the city, Odessa also attracted a massive—and largely secular—Jewish population. Its reputation for secularism led rabbis of the time to state that the fires of hell burned around Odessa. Poetry and prose in Hebrew, Russian and Yiddish shot out from Odessa’s many presses at the start of the 20th century, penned by the likes of Bialik and Babel; dubbed “The Gate to Zion” in the nineteen-teens, the city was a hotbed of Zionist idealism.

The author with a statue of Isaac Babel in Odessa. (Talia Lavin)

The author with a statue of Isaac Babel in Odessa. (Talia Lavin)

I first visited Odessa in the summer of 2011, working as a volunteer tour guide in the city’s cramped but charming Jewish museum. Pursuing the ghosts of literary men I studied and loved, I walked alone through cobbled streets lined with lindens, practiced my fledgling Russian and swam in the Black Sea off Odessa’s shining cliff-lined beaches. Cafes and bars in the central streets were filled at all hours with revelers drinking sweet Crimean wine.

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May 6, 2014 by

Jill Smolowe on Four Funerals and a Wedding

Jill Smolowe, author of "Four Funerals and a Wedding." (Courtesy Phyllis Heller)

Jill Smolowe, author of “Four Funerals and a Wedding.” (Courtesy Phyllis Heller)

Jill Smolowe, a journalist and memoirist, had her own annus horribilis, only hers lasted a year and a half.  In that short span of time, she endured the deaths of her beloved husband, Joe, her mother-in-law, and her own mother and sister.  Smolowe kept waiting to fall apart in the wake of such loss, and yet she didn’t. Some untapped reserve of strength and resilience kept her going, and able to find meaning and even joy again.  In this interview, she shares her hard-won wisdom about grieving with Lilith fiction editor Yona Zeldis McDonough.

YZM: What made you decide to write and publish your book Four Funerals and a Wedding?

JS: Like so many Americans, I had a set idea that grief involves specific stages. Yet I went through no denial, anger, bargaining or depression. Instead, as I lost my husband, sister, mother, and mother-in-law over a period of 17 months, my focus was on putting one foot in front of the other and figuring out how to reconnect with the joy in life. The more friends told me I was “amazing,” the more I wondered if there was something wrong or abnormal about my sorrow. Then I came across the work of George Bonanno, one of the country’s leading bereavement researchers. That’s when I learned that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five-stage cycle of grief has long since been discredited. (She intended her cycle to apply to the dying, not the bereaved.) Research from the last 20 years identifies three distinct groups: those who are overwhelmed by grief upwards of 18 months; those who recover within 18 months; and those who return to normal functioning within six months, and even within days. This last group is labeled “resilient” and–surprise, surprise–these people constitute a majority of the bereft. My book aims both to put a face on this group and to challenge misconceptions and assumptions about grief.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 1, 2014 by

Protecting Anne Frank

Anne_FrankI’ve never been able to keep a diary. When I was young, I often tried over and over again; I made New Year’s resolutions to write every day, bought beautifully decorated journals, kept pens on my bedside table in the hope that they would remind me to jot down my thoughts just before sleep. I always had a penchant for writing, but there was something about the commitment to a notebook, something about being accountable to an object that always kept me from harnessing a routine.

In eighth grade, we were assigned to read The Diary of Anne Frank, a ritual for most (if not all) American children. I was eager to delve into the mind of the girl who, for me, had become the face of the Shoah, that famous photo – eyes looking upward, thick hair perfectly pinned, a hopeful smile spread across her face – forever imprinted in my memory. I read hungrily, turning each page with an expectation to find something extraordinary, something that I was not expecting.

While undeniably astute for her age, I recall my disappointment and discomfort in the realization that this girl was just like me. She had a crush, she had fears, she had questions about growing up, she had problems with her mother. When we discussed the book in class, I felt panicked; as the only Jew in my class, it suddenly felt as if my classmates were reading my diary, were reading my personal thoughts and fears and talking about what themes they found in my writing, what interesting tidbits stood out. But it isn’t meant to be read like this, I thought. This is her diary. I felt invasive, sad, and protective of this girl who had lived in a different place and a different time. This girl whose thoughts had become America’s gateway into Holocaust education.

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