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October 21, 2014 by

Diving Into Charges of Rabbi Barry Freundel’s Voyeurism

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A leading Modern Orthodox rabbi is taken away in handcuffs by police Oct. 14 on criminal charges of voyeurism, more precisely for installing and maintaining an electronic device to secretly record “female complainants using a bathroom or restroom or totally or partially undressed or changing clothes.”  In court the next day, the rabbi denies these charges of deviant acts of seeking out women with a hidden video camera in the mikvah of his own congregation– Kesher Israel in Washington, D.C.

O Rabbi Barry Freundel! If indeed you did this deed, how could you?  

This is the stuff of an Isaac Bashevis Singer story conjuring up the demonic side of shtetl life. Not the schoolboy prank where Yentl the Yeshiva Boy is approached by her bad-boy classmates to join them in spying on naked women in the bathhouse. No. This is something deeper, darker, if indeed true.  It is the kind of unnatural tale that in I.B. Singer’s hands could terminate in damnation.  In our modern demonic world, the damage seems to be spreading beyond the soul of the alleged perpetrator.

The higher the status, the more tragic the fall.

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October 21, 2014 by

The Barry Freundel Case 101

http://www.flickr.com/fmmr

http://www.flickr.com/fmmr

By now we all think we know most of the story.

Rabbi Barry Freundel, longtime spiritual leader of the Modern Orthodox synagogue Kesher Israel in Washington, D.C., has been arrested on charges of voyeurism for having spied upon—and recorded—women undressing and dressing at the mikvah next door to the shul.

Some of the women were preparing to immerse in the ritual bath to mark the end of their menstrual cycle, some as part of the final step in conversion to Judaism, some for reasons of their own accounting perhaps. For all who have used that mikvah in recent months, there’s uneasiness about whose images are on the recording device that Freundel secreted in a digital clock in a mikvah dressing room. But the anxiety—and anger—spread well beyond those who might have been affected directly by the sordid crime of which Freundel is accused.

In brief, and not ranked in order of heinousness, are some of the themes drawn into the web of violations this particular accusation of spying on naked women entails.

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October 20, 2014 by

Lilith Magazine Named One of North America’s Jewish Organizations Having the Greatest Impact on the Lives of Women and Girls

selected-womenandgirls-14-15New York, NY – Lilith Magazine ​was named today as one of 19 leading Jewish organizations committed to having the greatest impact on the lives of women and girls​.​​ ​Lilith is described as “Shaping the gender justice discourse of the Jewish community with fearless journalism and face-to-face salons.​” ​​​​Lilith appears in one ​of three supplements to the Slingshot Guide​ accompanying the tenth annual Slingshot Guide, Slingshot 2014-15. Being honored in this supplement, published for a second year, along with two regionally-focused ones, will help further expand Lilith’s reach and our ability to carry out our mission, as well as to draw in activists and donors looking for new opportunities and projects that, through their innovative nature, will ensure the Jewish community remains relevant and thriving with input from women and girls in very arena.

Selected from among hundreds of finalists reviewed by 112 professionals with expertise in grantmaking and Jewish communal life, ​Lilith is hailed in ​the Guide ​as “a leader in in-depth feminist journalism.”

Organizations included in this year’s women and girls supplement were evaluated on their innovative approach, the impact they have in their work, the leadership they have in their sector, and their effectiveness at achieving results.​ ​”Lilith Magazine is proud to be among the 21 organizations included in the second year of this supplement,” said Susan Weidman Schneider. “The organizations included in Slingshot’s women and girls supplement demonstrate the potential impact on and by women and girls in Jewish life today. Lilith Magazine is thankful that Slingshot continues to highlight women and girls as it expands the scope of its Guide, and we are honored to be part of the community of innovative organizations that have benefited from the Slingshot Guide over the last ten years.” The supplement was supported through a generous partnership with the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York. Joy Sisisky, Executive Director of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York.

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October 15, 2014 by

An Entirely New Sukkot Tradition, Involving—wait for it!–Bras.

bra-sukkahSukkot in October coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness month, and brightly decorated bras inspired by Hadassah’s Project Uplift (the ones shown in this sukkah were decorated by Ellen Ackerman and her card group) made their appearance along with the usual hanging fruits and vegetables and colored paper chains. They enhanced my holiday experience in the Los Angeles sukkah of Teri Cohan Link and Baruch Link, along with great food and great company. 

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October 15, 2014 by

Our Seemingly Micro Tzedakah Decisions Can Power Larger Waves

Reprinted from the Fall 2014 issue’s Letter from the Editor

SWS head shotMaybe you’re like me and you’ve tended to see economic justice in terms of fair labor practices, access to good health care, fresh produce in urban food deserts, affordable housing. Big goals with big consequences. Beyond carrying bills in a pocket to give tzedakah graciously or nervously on the street, what small (or larger) potential acts of the pocketbook have escaped our notice?

Well, you’ve heard the chatter about doing good while buying more stuff. The manufacturer who promises to give a new pair of shoes to a poor child for every pair of its brand you purchase. The company that pledges to donate to breast cancer research an undisclosed portion of its profits from the pink item you’ve just acquired.

Like the rest of us, I figure that I make choices every day—every waking hour, practically—that reflect my values. A lot of these choices are made reflexively, because I’ve practiced them so many times that they’re inadvertent habits. The food I eat—or avoid. Whether I run the water while brushing my teeth or turn off the tap. Which charity solicitations I open and consider vs. which ones I put immediately into the recycling bin. You too?

But there’s another order of choices that feel new to me, a fresh kind of economic consciousness I’ve been thinking about thanks to two women whose actions are worth emulating—and expanding on. These two rabbis have recently been modeling, through their own actions, a different tzedakah. They’re good at remembering that tzedakah comes not out of the idea of charity—giving alms to the poor—but from the root tzedek, righteousness.

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October 13, 2014 by

Excuse Me: Adventures in the Jampacked Streets of Midtown Manhattan

Welcome to another edition of Excuse Me, a new illustrated advice column about maddening things. Installments will be posted here every other Monday. Need advice? Send your questions to liana@lilith.org.

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Liana Finck’s graphic novel is called A Bintel Brief. She writes and draws a monthly column for The Forward and her cartoons appear irregularly in The New Yorker. She often thinks about the age-old question: fight, or flight?

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October 8, 2014 by

What We’ve Been Reading

1280px-Oblique_facade_2,_US_Supreme_CourtT​he ​U.S. ​Supreme Court​ decided Monday not to hear appeals ​that favor upholding bans on same-sex marriage:

A state-by-state breakdown of what the decision really means. [The Guardian]

Tax Advice for Newlyweds,” from Curve magazine. Curve asks, “What does the Supreme Court same-sex marriage appeal denial mean for same-sex couple tax filers?” and details some of the ways in which same-sex couples are discriminated against in the tax-filing process.

California now requires universities receiving state funding to use an “’affirmative consent standard’ for determining whether consent was given by both parties to sexual activity. This move represents a paradigm shift away from women as victims and potential victims encourage​d​ to shout “no” a bit louder to women as agents who have the positive right to engage or refrain from engaging in sexual relations.” [Our Bodies, Ourselves Blog

A North Dakota High School bans yoga pants, leggings, and skinny jeans because they “pose a threat” to male students, effectively teaching their female students body-shame, and their male students that “their inability to respect others is acceptable.” Oh, and the school’s principal compared his female students to sex workers, too. [Salon

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October 7, 2014 by

A “Rescue” Baby, a New Novel

McDonoughFor me, writing a novel usually begins with a character tapping me on the shoulder and whose insistent whisper in my ear urges to me to get the story down, and to get it right. But for my most recent novel, You Were Meant for Me, inspiration came to me in a different way: an actual news event in which a man found a newborn infant on a subway platform and eventually ended up adopting him.

The story would not leave me, and I found myself returning to it again and again in my mind. What had driven that baby’s mother to leave him not in a hospital, police or fire station—safe havens, all—but on a subway platform? And what random stroke of luck or divine intervention averted all the horrific ends to this tale—and there could have been so many—and instead turned it into one of salvation and grace? As I mulled over these questions, it occurred to me that the story was working on another level as well, one that was both mythic and archetypal. The foundling, the infant abandoned and rescued, is motif that occurs over and over in literature and can trace its roots as far back as the Bible.  Wasn’t Moses himself a foundling, set in the ark and concealed in the bulrushes by Yocheved, whose fear for his life was so great that she was willing to give him up to save him? And wasn’t Moses rescued by the most unlikely of saviors, an Egyptian princess who found and then raised him as her own?

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October 3, 2014 by

Jewish Calendar Talk

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http://www.photos-public-domain.com

My high-school educated mother came of age in the days when “gentleman’s agreements” limited Jews’ access to higher education, housing, and the professions.  One of her formative experiences was an interview at what we would now call a major telecommunications corporation.  A clerical position with a decent salary, benefits, even vacation, it was a “good job” for a woman with limited education.  However, there was one catch: she had to work on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  She didn’t have a great deal of formal education but she was no dummy–she knew that this was a less than subtle way to keep Jews out of that particular workplace.  Having been raised in an Orthodox household, she also knew that the choice offered was no choice at all.

We rightfully celebrate that Jews now have full access to higher education, housing, and the professions.  But I wonder if we fully appreciate how, at the holiest time of the Jewish year, Jews are still routinely, subtly and powerfully required to make choices between their Jewishness and their wholesale belonging in various professional, communal, and organizational worlds.  Look at all sorts of calendars (and our rationalizations for them) and you have an important Jewish story in the 21st Century. 

One place to start might be an international body, the United Nations.  For some odd reason, the Jewish High Holidays are not on their list of official holidays.  Of course, Christmas and Good Friday grace that list; Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha were happily and rightfully added in 1998.

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September 29, 2014 by

Introducing “Excuse Me” Mondays

Introducing Excuse Me Mondays, a new illustrated advice column about minutiae. Installments will be posted here every other Monday. It is launching just in time for Yom Kippur, when we question our own behavior, and it will live, we hope, a long, happy, beady-eyed, neurotic life.

excuseme3


Liana Finck’s graphic novel is called A Bintel Brief. She writes and draws a monthly column for The Forward and her cartoons appear irregularly in The New Yorker. She often thinks about the age-old question: fight, or flight?

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