Live from the Lilith Blog

July 1, 2014 by

Golden Words: Q&A With Author, Editor, Activist Nora Gold

Nora Gold (source: NoraGold.com)

Nora Gold (source: NoraGold.com)

Nora Gold’s recently published Fields of Exile, a pathbreaking novel about anti-Israelism in academe, was picked by The Forward as one of “The 5 Jewish Books to Read in 2014,” and has received enthusiastic praise from many quarters.

But this is not the first time Gold has received acclaim for her work; Marrow and Other Stories won a Canadian Jewish Book Award, and was praised by Alice Munro. And Gold’s story, Yosepha, appeared in the spring 1985 issue of Lilith.

Gold is also the creator and editor of the online literary journal Jewish Fiction.net, a blogger for “The Jewish Thinker” at Haaretz, and Writer in Residence and an Associate Scholar at the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education at OISE/University of Toronto. She and Lilith’s fiction editor Yona Zeldis McDonough discussed the role ideas play in the creation of a novel, the meaning Zionism continues to have in the Diaspora and the siren song of the short story.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 25, 2014 by

When Her Persian Father Wouldn’t Let Her Go to College…

Esther Amini (courtesy author)

Esther Amini (courtesy author)

Rabbi Sholem Cohen, the new Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and successor to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has just released his first ruling.

The verdict?  ”Women’s participation in academic pursuits, including in haredi colleges, is a violation of Jewish law,” Cohen wrote. Apparently, even in ultra-Orthodox educational institutions, women put their “pure” mindset at risk by coming into contact with potentially college-educated instructors.

Esther Amini, a writer and psychotherapist, shared her own experience being discouraged from higher education as a young woman in a piece that will be featured in Lilith’s Summer issue. Amini’s courageous pursuit of an education has paid off in spades, as her writing has been featured in publications from Elle to Tablet Magazine.

 

  Under the Sheets

        Every night, after house patrol, Pop marched into my room shouting, “Enough books!” and flicked off my lights before slamming the door. He thought that by turning off lights he was turning me off, ridding me of curiosity and saving me from what would become a home-wrecking narcotic: books.

            But by age 13, I was already a pro at reading with my head tucked under the sheets. I’d reach for my flashlight, dive head-first under the covers, and read voraciously. Beneath layers of bedding, with labored breathing, I silently turned pages. My squinting eyes, acclimating to the circle of light on each page, devoured the words. Eventually I’d re-surface for a deep inhale and then slide back down.  

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 20, 2014 by

A Feminist Camp Counselor Unpacks Her Baggage

Photo credit: Foundation for Jewish Camp

Photo credit: Foundation for Jewish Camp

Summer camp. For some kids, a yearly ritual that fills them with dread; for others, a place of infinite possibility. How can we bridge the gap between kids who were “born ready” for camp, and kids who feel marginalized there? Some camps institute a “no body talk” policy, so kids can relate to other (and to their own emerging identity struggles) in ways that are more than skin deep. Lilith intern Maya Zinkowjust out of Barnard and now a unit head at summer camp, has lots of ideas about how camp can be a more welcoming place for those kids who question everything–from gender norms to religious tradition.

The summer after my sophomore year at Barnard, I had just begun to crack open this thing called gender, hearing and welcoming the exciting voices that are part of the canon of a women’s college curriculum . I learned a new language, that of Virginia Woolf and Betty Friedan, Judith Butler and Alice Walker, and became more fluent with every class discussion, every conversation with friends over potluck dinners of quinoa, Brussels sprouts bathed in balsamic vinegar, and vegan desserts. The glossy Barnard brochures had assured me that I would become the women I saw in the pictures: confident, well-read, transformed. Finally, after two years, it was beginning to happen.

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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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Live from the Lilith Blog

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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Live from the Lilith Blog

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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Live from the Lilith Blog

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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