Live from the Lilith Blog

July 18, 2016 by

Marching With My Rabbi for #BlackLivesMatter

IMG_7401My daughter Laurie and I arrived at the designated meeting point and found a crowd of at least several hundred strong. About 30 members of my synagogue—Beth David in Gladwyne, PA—were there too. The mood was calm and friendly. 

The march began and we fell into the sea of humanity walking as one: young and old, skin color of all hues, men in kippot walking alongside men in clerical collars, children on scooters, several people in wheelchairs. White people and black people holding signs with the same message.

“This is awesome,” I breathed to my daughter as we stepped along.

“It sure is,” said a voice next to me. The voice belonged to an African American woman walking with a friend. 

I reached out my hand and she clasped it.

“My name is Helene, and this is my daughter Laurie,” I said.

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July 7, 2016 by

Tell Us! What Is a Jewish Feminist Object?

jewfemobjectsMaybe it’s lurking in your basement—or your subconscious. A baby carrier with tzitzit? Your IUD? Your Tia Malka’s cooking spoon? Tefillin Barbie? The pants you wore to your bat mitzvah? 

From the totally transgressive to the completely obvious, we want them all, in the full range of our identities—ethnic, racial, cultural, sexual, geographic, religious, tragical, comical.

Don’t hold back! Baby Jewish feminists need your wisdom. Send nominations to 40objects@Lilith.org with your name and the why behind the object(s). We’re standing by to select 40 for Lilith’s fall issue—kicking off the magazine’s 40th anniversary year.

For some samples of ​Lilith writing on objects and material culture​ (stuff we’ve loved in the past)​, see these articles:

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July 6, 2016 by

Writer-Activist Meredith Tax Gives Voice to the Women Fighting ISIS

Meredith Tax

Meredith Tax

Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that “courage is found in unlikely places.”  This truism, of course, has been repeatedly proven, as places steeped in poverty, neglect, hunger, and even war have produced unexpected exemplars of valor and fortitude.

ROAD UNFORESEEN by Meredith Tax 9781942658108Writer-activist Meredith Tax’s latest book, A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State—due out in late August from Bellevue Literary Press—zeroes in on a contemporary example of unanticipated moxie: The successful, if little-known, resistance to Muslim fundamentalism that has developed along the Syrian-Turkish border. In a newly-liberated region called Rojava, the towns of Afrin, Cizire and Kobane are currently under the control of a secular, multiethnic confederation of Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Chechans, Kurds and Turkmen.

Women, Tax reports, make up 40 percent of all organizations in Rojava, including those involved in local administration and decision-making. What’s more, every committee and oversight agency is led by one man and one woman, a conscious effort to promote female leadership and confront patriarchal cultural norms head-on.

Tax sat down with Lilith in late June to discuss activism, social change and women’s empowerment.

EJB: When did you become a feminist?

MT: I grew up in Milwaukee and my family was really sexist. As a kid in grade school I was told that a girl should not be too smart; my parents made it clear that no one would want to marry me if I did not tone it down. I was confused and didn’t understand why a boy wouldn’t want to be with someone who could help him with his homework! In sixth grade I started a petition to demand that girls be allowed to run for class president. As I got older I became more and more disgusted by the limited social possibilities for a girl like me.  Reading saved me. Even before I left for college I’d read novels by Louisa May Alcott and plays by George Bernard Shaw that introduced me to feminism. I’d also read about the suffrage movement. Later, I went to Brandeis but even there, among a lot of smart women, our options were limited. After we graduated we could be teachers, social workers, or get a low-level job in publishing. I didn’t want that. I wanted to be a writer.

EJB: And you did! How did you make that happen?

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June 29, 2016 by

Policing Girls’ Bodies Part Two: Legs

K2UAX4ERG4I wouldn’t mind reclaiming my high school nickname: Legs. It’s kind of cute. “Hey Legs!” my favorite school administrator would shout when she saw me roaming the halls, having absconded from class. I would look down at my knees feeling all the traits implied by that sassy little nickname: daring, provocative, cute, outrageous. I would grin at her and pull down my skirt a couple inches, as if to say, “Thanks for the heads up.” At Ramaz, the modern Orthodox day school I attended, my knees were absolutely unwelcome. She was saving me from a potential “tzniut (modesty) violation” by a serious dress code enforcer down the hall. 

After davening every morning, one rabbi or another would deliver our morning announcements, which on a typical day went something like this: “There’s cereal in the lunchroom for those who want breakfast. There’s a winter clothing drive going on, so bring coats and scarves to the office. And…girls! Because of recent complaints about dress code, we feel the need to restate the requirements for sleeve and skirt length. The test for shirts is as follows: when you raise your arms above your head, your shirt should not rise to expose your midriff. As for skirts—how many times do we need to say this?!—your skirts should not be above-the-knee, nor should they be to-the-knee. They should cover your knees! If your skirt does not cover your knees, you will be sent to the office.” More than once (hence the nickname), I had been sent to the office, where a huge, shapeless, black garbage bag of a skirt awaited girls convicted of dress code violations.

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June 28, 2016 by

Policing Girls’ Bodies Part One: Bras

Flickr.com, Caitlin Regan.

Flickr.com, Caitlin Regan.

I started wearing bras in seventh grade. I didn’t really need to—I was something like a 32AA—but it felt like at age 13, it was time. I remember how mature and grown up I felt walking down the bra aisle of Target with my mom, selecting the brightest, most ornately patterned bras I could find in my tiny size. She couldn’t understand my fascination with what she often called “boob prisons,” but bought me three. Come the spring, I would often wear shirts that exposed my tiny, 13 year old shoulders as well as (gasp) my hot pink bra straps. I wasn’t purposefully trying to show this new sign of womanhood off (okay, maybe a little), but I didn’t really understand that bra straps were something to be hidden until my Latin teacher held me after class one day.

“Ariel,” she said, “Your bra straps have been showing all class.” She looked at me expectantly. I gave her a blank look.

“Do you have anything you could change into? Maybe a sweater or something?”

I didn’t. She handed me a bright yellow piece of paper with “Dress Code Ticket” written in Comic Sans at the top and I went to the front office, where I was presented with a giant, purple shirt, what the lady at the office called the “disciplinary shirt” and what everyone else referred to as the “shirt of shame.” Throughout the rest of the day, when my classmates asked why I was wearing a shirt that went down to my knees I had to explain to them that my bra straps were distracting to other students. More distracting than an enormous purple shirt, apparently.

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June 27, 2016 by

Why I Hate the Phrase “Jew by Choice”

“You aren’t really a convert, though.” 

I have heard these words numerous times. Usually from friends trying to exclude me from whatever comment they are about to make about converts. Instead of making me uncomfortable, these moments remind me of the varied ways there are to be Jewish.

My Jewish journey isn’t typical—but whose is? My Dad began his conversion to Judaism when I was thirteen, and my Mom followed shortly after, saying she felt like she had discovered that she had always been Jewish late in life. Dad was of Jewish descent on his father’s side, and conversion was like coming home for him.

I spent my adolescent years rebelling against Judaism. Mom forced me to come downstairs on Friday night for our new family tradition—my parents saying Shabbat prayers while I pointedly remained silent. For me, religion was a disingenuous way to make the world easier.

When I started college, Dad persuaded me to go to Hillel for the free food. “Do you really think I’d sell out my principles for free food?” I asked when he first suggested the idea. “Your principles are free food,” he countered. 

Feeling like he had a point, I went.

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June 24, 2016 by

Superstition, Infertility and Healing at the Mikveh

RZGTIF02NBI’m not superstitious. I’ve never knocked on wood with sincerity, I don’t avoid walking beneath ladders, and my only concerns about black cats are allergy-related. And yet, there I stood, an hour from home, inspecting myself in a bathroom. I slipped the pants off my waist and they dropped into a pile onto the floor. I lifted my shirt over my head, folded it, and placed it neatly on the counter. I stared at my naked body in the mirror: my bloated belly covered in blue and purple bruises bleeding one to the next, as though painted in water colors; injection tracks up and down both arms. I turned my attention to the list written on laminated cardstock next to the sink.

Remove all barriers on your body.

Slowly, I ripped the bandaids off my belly, arms, and lower back, adding blotches of pink and red to the color palette on my body.

Remove nail polish. Clip nails.

Lifting my hands out in front of me, I inspected them closely. Engulfed in a flood of anxiety, I had already gnawed the whites off of each nail. There was a time when I had beautifully manicured nails. On my wedding day I had French tips.

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June 22, 2016 by

What Six Words on a Necklace Meant During My Recovery from Breast Cancer

It was the beginning of 2009. I had recently finished active treatment for breast cancer; I had also recently reconnected with a dear friend from college, Marla Wallerstein.

Marla went to the art school of our university and was known for her combination of beauty, humor, and creativity, in everything from her class assignments to her outfits to her presence as a friend. It made sense to find that she’d begun making gorgeous jewelry. She chose as part of her work’s mission to update traditional Jewish-themed pieces (large chai necklaces and the like). She jokes that she decided to take on this task “because someone has to”—but in all seriousness, the objects she creates based around Jewish texts and Jewish faith are quite stunning. 

“I design, cut, hammer, rivet, etch, and solder to create each piece,” she explains on her website. “More than a labor, it’s love.”

Marla chooses for these pieces Hebrew words or parts of prayers that particularly resonate with her. “With all your heart soul might” is etched on a necklace (English on one side, Hebrew on the other). “Where you go, I will go.” “Faith.” “Shemah.”  

marlaThough not surprised by the quality of Marla’s work when I saw it in photos, I was quite surprised when one of her creations arrived at my door, from her studio in Chicago, soon after we’d re-found each other. It’s a round silver pendant on a silver chain. Again in Hebrew and in English, it bears the etched inscription, “Light before darkness, darkness before light”—part of a text referring to the beginnings of the world: “He createth day and night, causing the light to recede before darkness and darkness before light.” 

Marla was telling me that after the darkness of the diagnosis and treatment would come light again; and she was right. In fact, I would realize later, the seeds of the coming light had been planted during the darkest times. 

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June 20, 2016 by

Vivian Gornick on Feminism, Friendship, Gentrification, and Our Mothers

Vivian Gornick. Photo by Mitchell Bach.

Vivian Gornick. Photo by Mitchell Bach.

“I’ve always felt like an outsider,” three-time National Book Award nominee Vivian Gornick confesses. “I used to have a dream, a bad dream, in which I was in a strange building. When I walked through the door I saw that the entire inside had been scooped out and I had to climb a rope to get to the top floor.  Once there I found myself in the Bronx apartment I had grown up in. In the dream I asked myself how I’d gotten there. It was both dramatic and horrible.”

It’s a startlingly honest, if jarring, revelation, for despite the 81-year-old writer’s considerable literary success—and an output that includes dozens of articles and 12 highly-lauded books—Gornick seems genuinely shocked, perhaps even bewildered, by the esteem in which she is held. Throughout our 90-minute conversation—in one of the few diners left in Manhattan—she is warm, thoughtful, witty, and open. Our conversation is sprawling, not only touching upon the recent paperback release of her 2015 book, The Odd Woman and the City, but addressing feminism, Hillary Clinton, friendship, gentrification, walking, teaching and our mothers.  

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June 15, 2016 by

Rebecca Schiff Talks Technology and Illness, Volunteering to Be Objectified, and Writing What You Wouldn’t Say in Polite Company

9781101875414The Bed Moved is Rebecca Schiff’s debut collection of 23 short stories ranging from a few pages to a few paragraphs. Their language and voice are unique; sentences often end in ways that twist their beginnings. In “My Allergies Will Charm You,” the narrator opens with, “He had found me on the internet, and now I was going back to the internet.”

In “Communication Arts,” a teacher corresponds with students A, B, D, and Z, portraying a delicate and bizarre relationship between authority and vulnerability. Many of the characters make statements that are bleak in their honesty, revealing unintentional vulnerability. In “Third Person,” a few paragraphs paint a woman’s intricate but dissociated relationship to sex and connection: “Rebecca wanted to tell them not to worry, she forgot all the sex she had as soon as she had it, she didn’t really have it when she had it, and she hadn’t for a long time.” 

The New York Times Book Review commented on Schiff’s compact language, noting her “almost Nabokovian boldness and crispness of phrase. Nabokov summarized a death in two words: ‘picnic, lightening.’ Ms. Schiff condenses a woman’s college years: ‘Nietzsche, penetration’.”

Often the characters are unintentionally funny. Many deal with illness and death. I met with Schiff in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to speak about her book, the relationship between technology and illness, and the role humor can play when women write about difficult topics. 

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