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January 29, 2015 by

How Safe Does She Feel Walking Down the Street?

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 1.54.46 PMWhen 24-year-old aspiring actor Shoshana Roberts saw an ad soliciting “Female Talent for Anti Street Harassment Viral Video” on Craigslist, she immediately knew that she wanted to apply.

The date was September 12, 2014.

A brief telephone interview with Chicago filmmaker Rob Bliss of Rob Bliss Creative took place a day later, and by the end of October Bliss had captured 10 hours of footage showing Roberts walking through the five boroughs of New York City while being catcalled by dozens of men. He later edited this into a two-minute video that has now been seen by approximately 39 million people in every corner of the world.

The video was a collaboration between Bliss and Hollaback, an international, feminist, anti-street-harassment organization which, since its founding in 2011, has trained activists in 26 countries and more than 80 U.S. cities to oppose anti-woman violence and misogyny. Although Roberts wasn’t familiar with Hollaback when she answered the ad, the issues the group works on resonate deeply for her.

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January 22, 2015 by

A Modest Proposal: Create a Fertility Fund

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 2.30.10 PMThis has been an extraordinary season of news on every front, including (but not limited to) several stories that have had particular resonance for women and for media. Among them: Rolling Stone magazine’s much-discussed coverage of campus rape, followed by an ugly round of victim-bashing after parts of the story were challenged; the resignation of almost the entire staff of the 100-year-old New Republic magazine and the subsequent round of discussions on how a venerable print brand can keep its balance in the roiling mix of digital media sources, and the fact that for many people younger than 100 social media feeds have become their most consistent news feeds as well.

The impact of stories like these loom large for Lilith readers, and some are unprecedented in content and scale. Our national conversation about race, the Barry Freundel mikveh scandal, and the rise of women politicians in Israel and the U.S. as preface to the next round of elections are just three of them. All are subjects Lilith has covered, in print and on the Lilith Blog—and we will continue to write about them with this magazine’s characteristic nuance.

Lilith magazine launched in 1976 with two founding missions: to use the power of independent media to gain greater access for women (and greater value for women’s concerns) in the Jewish world, and to speak with a Jewish voice on urgent women’s issues. I think Lilith’s tagline says a lot about our approach. “Independent, Jewish and frankly feminist,” Lilith charts Jewish women’s lives with exuberance, rigor, affection, subversion and style.

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January 21, 2015 by

New York Jewish Film Festival Opener: “The Muses of Isaac Bashevis Singer”

2-Singer_001_LGThe ghost of Isaac Bashevis Singer got lucky. Two Israeli filmmakers—male – have handed the master of Yiddish tales a posthumous grand slam. He gets the first word and the last cinematic image on his definition of paradise—a harem of translators, all women.

The U.S. premiere of “The Muses of Isaac Bashevis Singer,” the 2014 English-Yiddish-Hebrew documentary directed by Asaf Galay and Shaul Betser, opened the 24th New York Jewish Film Festival on January 14th.

Aside from his first and most famous translator, Saul Bellow (he translated “Gimpel the Fool”), and Singer’s son, seemingly all his dozens of translators were harem material.

We see footage of Singer surrounded by a bevy of young beauties asking him questions like, “Why do you write in Yiddish?” “Because I dream in Yiddish, and you should always write in the language you dream in.”

The 72-minute film brings together a seemingly endless parade of Singer’s translators. It’s a lighthearted journey to honky tonk piano and silent-movie-style scene cards in Yiddish and English.

Few of the women interviewed fault him for his sexual advances, though one, Evelyn Torton Beck, says, “I think I’m very, very lucky he never put the make on me.” (Read what she wrote for Lilith about his misogyny here.) Another translator says, “He slept with all his translators. Except me.” Could the tales of Singer’s irresistible charm have been a bit apocryphal?

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January 16, 2015 by

Keeping the Sabbath Post-Hyper Cacher

762px-נרות_שבתI’m writing this to honor the memory of Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Phillipe Barham, and Francoise-Michel Saada, the French Jewish men who were shopping at the Hyper Cacher in Paris and were murdered by terrorists. Note that I’m not identifying the murderers by name, nor their purported political or religious agendas; there already is and will continue to be plenty of virtual ink spilled on them. No, this is a piece of mourning and an effort to understand and articulate the profundity of the grief that many Jews around the world are feeling right now.

As a feminist, I’m a firm believer in the quotidian and what it signifies. Who does the dishes, who cooks the meals, who buys or bakes the bread, who talks and who is silenced, whose daily lives and deaths are worth recording speak volumes about the world and its values. Traditional Judaism also places great faith in the quotidian. What is often categorized by Jews and non-Jews alike as stringent rules and regulations (or, even less charitably, as obsessions of observance) is fundamentally a world view that the rhythms of daily life and bodies matter and should not be taken for granted. That’s why there are prayers associated with such mundane activities as awakening to a new day, going to the bathroom, baking challah, and consuming food mindfully. Regard for the seeming trifles of everyday life is one of the many places where Judaism and feminism can and do meet.

As the siege at Hyper Cacher (in English, super kosher) unfolded, those who know the rhythms of Jewish time understood that this market would be full of people preparing for the sabbath. They would be shopping for the food that would grace sabbath tables, paradoxically doing the seemingly mundane work that enables a respite from the quotidian and hopefully reaffirms the connections between the trifles of everyday life and the transcendent.

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January 14, 2015 by

Miss America, My Feminist Friend and Mentor

Bess_Myerson_1957Bess Myerson, crowned Miss America in 1945, was the first and only Jewish Miss America. And she became my heroine and close friend despite our 20-year age difference.

I knew her when she was no longer in the limelight. Because both of us were cancer survivors and advocates, a mutual friend introduced us, in the mid-90s. While Bess never went into detail about her fall from stardom, she understood her celebrity, and once said, “I am more infamous these days than I am famous, but, if I can bring attention to the causes I care about, then, that’s OK.”

She did just that as a philanthropist, fundraiser and volunteer. My causes became hers, and I will be forever grateful.

After I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991, I became active with SHARE, a self-help group for women with breast cancer in NYC, as a facilitator, advocate and board member. This work required compassion, an indomitable spirit and a financial commitment. I had the empathy, along with a wobbly sense of self. But despite the fact that I was a fundraiser who respected the impact a gift of money could have, I usually stopped short of being a donor, thinking that being a volunteer was good enough.

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January 12, 2015 by

Three Minutes in Poland

9780374276775_p0_v2_s600When Glenn Kurtz happened upon an old family film in a closet of his parents’ home in Florida, he was intrigued. The film was shot by his grandfather, David Kurtz, during a trip he and his wife made to Europe in 1938—right on the eve of destruction.  Kurtz’s initial interest grew into an almost spiritual quest, one in which he was determined to piece together as much as he could about the Polish town of Nasielsk—and the people who inhabited it.  The result is the sweeping account in his book, Three Minutes in Poland, both a reverent attempt to document a lost history and a fervent desire to animate it once more.  Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough chatted with Kurtz by e-mail.

YZM: How did you research this process of historical reconstruction?

GK: I worked on the book for more than 4 years, though in some sense, the research continues to this day. The images preserved in a photograph or in a film are preserved in a very peculiar way. They are both extraordinarily specific (individual people in a particular place at a specific moment), and at the same time utterly enigmatic. If you don’t already know what or who you’re looking at, the information in the image immediately becomes general, unspecific, and almost mythological (or in the case of old photos and films, nostalgic). Instead of seeing, say, “Chaim Nusen Zwajghaft, gravestone carver in Nasielsk in August 1938,” we see “prewar Polish Jews.” The general description is not inaccurate. But it does not convey information on the same scale as the image itself. It makes the image less specific. 

When I first discovered my grandfather’s 1938 home movie, I knew almost nothing about it. I didn’t even know the town in Poland that appears in the film. The great difficulty, then, was to unlock the information contained within the images.

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January 8, 2015 by

Found in the Lilith Slush Pile

snafuOver a decade ago, Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough received a story called “Roadkill,” submitted unsolicited. The story dealt with the plight of Ella, a 30-ish Israeli woman who accidently hits a dog while driving. The dog’s last moments and subsequent death are woven in with other losses, and other sorrows; altogether it was a haunting, powerful work that appeared in the Spring 2003 issue. Ever since then, McDonough has followed the career of the story’s author. Now spelling her first name with a “y,” Miryam Sivan lives in the Galilee but writes in English. Sivan’s new collection, Snafu, contains “Roadkill,” “City of Refuge” (which appeared in the Spring 2011 issue), and 10 other bristling, animated and highly intelligent stories. McDonough recently caught up with Sivan, who was happy to share her thoughts on “street Hebrew,” the role of dogs in our lives, and the tricky, shifting dance—or sometimes battle—between the sexes.

YZM: Tell me about living in Hebrew and writing in English.

MS: I just gave a talk about this…. it’s not a simple phenomenon for a number of reasons. When a Jew moves to Israel, she returns not only to her people’s ancient homeland, replete with many wonderful and seriously challenging dimensions, but she also “returns” to Hebrew. Since I don’t write in Hebrew, I experience myself as an artist-outsider.  And this creates a kind of dissonance, since I am a Jew in Israel. I belong and don’t belong, simultaneously.

Years ago a German colleague of mine asked me if I was an Israeli writer or an American one. I honestly didn’t know how to answer. Finally I asked him why I had to choose…. why couldn’t I be both? A hybrid — an American writer who writes about Israel, an Israeli writer who writes in English?

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January 7, 2015 by

A Daughter’s Take on Her Red Father

Filmmaker Tova Beck-Friedman (left) and Janet Naava Ades. Photo by Amy Stone.

Filmmaker Tova Beck-Friedman (left) and Janet Naava Ades. Photo by Amy Stone.

“Red Father” documents the life of Bernard Ades, American Communist, with the major voice that of his daughter Janet Ades.

The son of a Russian immigrant who was the first Jew to own a bank in Baltimore, Bernard Ades was galvanized by the Depression to become a Communist. With a law degree from the University of Maryland, he joined the Communist Party’s International Labor Defense anti-lynching campaign, defending African Americans in the South. He fought in the Spanish Civil War as a member of an elite Communist cadre. Right up to his death in 1986, he remained an unflinching party loyalist, never faulting Stalin.

The 55-minute documentary by Tova Beck-Friedman is the Israeli-born sculptor’s first major film, and it’s been getting a good run at special event screenings. [See link below for future screenings.] 

The many interviews with Janet Ades are buttressed with redacted FBI documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Beck-Friedman brings together music and archival footage—the haunting “Strange Fruit” hanging from the poplar trees over images of lynched black men; Spanish songs, the din of warfare over Spanish Civil War footage. Just one quibble, and correct me if I’m wrong: the footage of black men laboring in the fields looks more like the deep South than the 1930s truck farms of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

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January 6, 2015 by

More Women Making Decisions in Israel

Last month, the Israeli government announced that it is establishing a team to formulate a working plan to advance UN Resolution 1325 in Israel—the resolution that calls for women’s equal inclusion in all aspects of decision-making, especially around issues of peace and security.

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The team will be comprised of senior representatives from almost all government offices, including the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the Ministry for Internal Security, and the perhaps more obvious Welfare Ministry and Education Ministry. It will be headed by Vered Swid, the Director of the Office for Gender Equality of the Prime Minister’s Office (until recently titled The Office on the Status of Women) and will also include academics, researchers, and representatives from NGOs working on issues of gender, equality and social justice.

The purpose of the committee, according to the announcement, is to ensure that Israel complies with UN Resolution 1325. This means ensuring women’s representation in all areas of decision-making, promoting women’s safety and security, and redefining “security” to include a more holistic understanding of women’s lives.

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January 5, 2015 by

Excuse Me: Some Self Defense Moves

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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