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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.


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 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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December 30, 2014 by

Sheltering Those at Risk—Rabbi Linda Holtzman and a Jewish Sanctuary Movement

tumblr_ncomckRoJD1sw9peyo8_1280When Philadelphia Rabbi Linda Holtzman hears that a person has risked life and limb to cross a border into the United States, she immediately thinks of her maternal grandmother.

“She came to America early in the 20th century, before World War I,” she begins. “The rest of her siblings, five brothers and sisters, stayed in their small town in Poland. Years later, when they wanted to leave, they no longer could, and all five of them were killed by the Nazis. Today, when I hear someone say that they don’t feel safe in their homeland, I feel an imperative to do something. As a Jew, I hear the word unsafe as a call to action, a mandate to err on the side of welcome.”

Holtzman is part of Philadelphia’s New Sanctuary Movement [NSM], a growing faith-based network of religious leaders and congregations dedicated to changing an immigration system they see as badly broken. And despite recent promises by the Obama administration to go after “felons, not families,” the 120 congregations that presently comprise the NSM nationwide believe that deportations from the U.S. – 368,644 in fiscal 2013, or nearly 1100 a day – must stop.

Toward that end they not only support immigrant rights more generally, but also support efforts to shelter people who are about to be removed — a strategy predicated on the belief that Immigration officials will not enter a sacred space and forcibly take someone from safety. The strategy has led NSM members to provide sanctuary to nine undocumented immigrants, not only in Philadelphia, but also in Chicago, Denver, Portland, Oregon, and Tempe and Tucson, Arizona.


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December 25, 2014 by

May Her Brisket Be for a Blessing

IMG_20141211_203033Grieve. Cook. Bond.

By the time my buddy Susan’s father died, the parental East Side Manhattan apartment was getting to look like an assisted living center, housing Susan’s elderly father, mother and aunt, assisted by the team of helpers.

This was the long goodbye to a once powerful man.

Not exactly your traditional Jewess, Susan knew she had moved beyond immediate grief when she turned to Jerusalem A Cookbook. The gorgeously complex recipes of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi are our psalms. Preparation is all consuming and the results must be rejoiced over with friends.

A single Ottolenghi recipe is a major commitment. Three dishes are a triathalon. The recipes: baby spinach salad with dates and almonds, mejadra (lentils with spices) and roasted chicken with lemon and Jerusalem artichoke (forego that last ingredient, unfindable even on the Upper West Side). Susan gathered together buddies who go back to sleep-away camp and Fieldston then Volunteers of America and more recent buddies of the current century. We ate. We drank. We summarized our life stories. And Girls’ Night In was born.

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December 24, 2014 by

Know This Already?

Gloria Steinem said it well: ”Lilith offers scholarship for argument and women’s personal voices for enlightenment; and it does all of this with anger and delight, good writing and humor.”
But you knew that already.
On every page, Lilith boldly explores the lives of Jewish women and men: from Jewish feet to why Beyonce matters to how to do justice with our money to mikveh rights to what our clothes signify about us.


In Lilith you encounter the life stories of women like–and decidedly unlike–yourself. 
Lilith illuminates paths to a female-friendly Judaism:
  • One former Lilith intern says she never would have spoken at her grandmother’s funeral if not for the permission she received from Lilith’s articles.
  • A culture-shaper in her 30s writes that “Reading Lilith I knew that I didn’t have to leave the Jewish world to be a feminist.
  • A well-known painter tells Lilith, “Thank you for provocative, sensitive stories. I find inspiration for my imagery in your words.”
  • A literature professor says she can introduce her students to Israeli women writers because Lilith translates and publishes their short stories.
And Lilith does this on a bare-bones budget, with a small and devoted staff.
Be part of this exciting work. 
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We thank you deeply for you support, and so do the thousands of readers and thinkers who appreciate the magazine as you do. 

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