February 13, 2013 by Tara Bognar
February’s ABA Journal ran an excellent article by Kristin Choo about Muslim women practicing law in the United States and abroad.
These women are looking to their interpretations of Islamic scripture and tradition to fight inside and outside: inside to justify their work to Muslims who do not agree that women should have a voice in the legal tradition, and outside to be taken seriously by a mainstream culture that makes many harmful assumptions about Muslims and especially Muslim women’s roles.
Azizah al-Hibri (who wrote “My Muslim Ancestor Hagar” for Lilith in 1997) is a law professor who founded Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. “The chief mission of Karamah is to develop new Islamic jurisprudence from a women’s and human rights perspective, looking with fresh eyes at Islamic religious texts and traditions, re-examining passages and translations, and researching the historical context in which they originated to uncover a faith stripped of patriarchy…the development of new Islamic jurisprudence and the development of a network of jurists trained to apply these new ideas.”
As a Jewish lawyer, feminist, and student of Jewish law, I found this article and the spirit conveyed fascinating and exciting. I wonder whether the idea of developing a new Islamic jurisprudence feels as tremendously ambitious to al-Hibri as the idea of a new Jewish jurisprudence sounds to me. I do not know enough about Muslim law to know whether the idea itself is as groundbreaking and potentially destabilizing in Islam as it promises to be in Judaism, but I am inspired.
February 11, 2013 by Nancy Sinkoff
Dispatches from the New York Jewish Film Festival
Light up a cigarette. Or, better yet, have some charming, young male student acolyte do it for you. There will be smoke in your eyes after you see “Hannah Arendt,” the 2012 German biopic directed by feminist auteur Margarethe von Trotta and starring Barbara Sukowa as Arendt and Janet McTeer as her dear friend Mary McCarthy.
The film’s New York premiere closed the New York Jewish Film Festival to a full house Jan. 24. Its commercial run opens at the Film Forum in New York May 29, followed by national release.
“Arendt” is a sexy film which wants to be a film about ideas.
Retelling the well-known story of the furor created by Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), “Arendt” does so through the lens of friendship and its limits, shot with a “Mad Men” aesthetic in Manhattan and Jerusalem. Dialogue is in English and German, with subtitles as needed.
Arendt, a German-Jewish refugee from Nazism, rose to prominence among the largely Jewish and male group of New York public intellectuals with The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), a penetrating study of Nazism, Stalinism, and the modern state. She taught at the New School for Social Research and at the University of Chicago. Eichmann, Arendt’s report of the 1961 trial, set these intellectuals on edge because of the work’s charge that Jewish leaders had collaborated with the Nazis in the destruction of the Jews and that Eichmann was not a murderous anti-Semite. Arendt depicted him as an ordinary man following bureaucratic orders. His compliance was evil’s “banality.”
February 11, 2013 by Elizabeth Mandel
Raised in a Modern Orthodox home, I have long struggled with the contradictions I have found inherent in being both a committed Jew and a feminist. I have managed to carve my own path, create my own rationalizations, and find a space that makes sense to me at the juncture of my religious practice and my political and personal commitment to gender equity.
I am the mother of three girls, G, aged 5, P, 3, and M, two months old. Parenthood changes and challenges so many things, not the least of which is self-identity. It also requires one to articulate and form a cogent explanation for one’s choices, choices that previously required no justification. Becoming the mother of three girls has brought into high relief for me the challenges of living a life dedicated to both Judaism and feminism, and forced me to reflect closely on my priorities.
When G was born, I was frankly relieved that there would be no bris and that therefore I would not to have to throw a party eight days post-partum. Yet I was also unprepared for the strong sense of exclusion I felt at the lack of a religiously mandated ritual welcoming my precious, perfect first child into the community. What did this say about her value and worth to the community I expected her to cherish as much as I did, and which, I in turn, expected to cherish her?
My husband and I carefully designed a simchat bat (a baby naming ceremony, literally translated as “joy of the daughter”) to welcome G, incorporating ritual with personal expression. We held it in our synagogue, we included the rabbi, and it felt spiritually fulfilling. Yet, I could not escape the fact that it was voluntary, not mandatory, and that it was not something she shared with all other affiliated Jewish females the way a bris binds all affiliated Jewish males together. And indeed, when our second daughter was born, we neglected to hold the same ceremony for her. I justified this by telling myself that it was because I suffered a serious injury just prior to delivery and I was not fully mobile for several months afterwards; but the truth is, we would have held a bris no matter what the circumstances. There is something about a ritual being obligatory that makes it…obligatory.
February 7, 2013 by Yona Zeldis McDonough
The temple my kids grew up in is nicknamed “Temple Beth Showrunner” because the creators of so many television shows attend. But when you sit in the sanctuary year after year you see that loss is loss. That’s what interested me – that in LA where are lives are so disparate, the temple remained a destination of healing and connection.
There is a moment as an adult when you suddenly deeply understand Shehechianu. When you realize how extraordinary a blessing it is to arrive, sustained at this moment. You are keenly aware of the loved ones who did not arrive with you. You make this journey with your community – it would be unbearable without it.
Jewishly, Los Angeles has an incredibly dynamic scene right now there seems to be a real desire to connect and also a vigorous mission of social action. Sharon Brous an LA rabbi was named one of the most influential rabbis in the country. East Side Jews is an organization that creates gleefully irreverent but deeply spiritual gathering for young Jewish people outside of temple. It’s exciting to see how our Jewish lives inform our daily lives – how relevant and useful these rituals are – even now, even in LA.
Do you feel there is a distinct difference between Jews in say, Los Angeles, and Jews in New York City?
Well, I had Zabar’s flown in for my son’s briss. In LA on Simchat Torah they serve sushi to commemorate the scroll. But lox is lox! I think we are less different than we are the same. We are the same in the ways that most matter. Allegra Goodman’s collection Total Immersion is set in Hawaii, but I think that is the same delight of stepping into a temple in a different country or a different community. If you wait a few moments the Shma will be said and you’ll know who you are.
February 6, 2013 by Amy Stone
Dispatches from the NY Jewish Film Festival.
(The 22nd New York Jewish Film Festival, presented by The Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, ran through Jan. 24, 2013. The Ninth Annual Brooklyn Israel Film Festival, ran Jan. 24, 26, 27. For details, visit here.)
[WARNING: If by some long shot you’re planning to see “The Yellow Ticket” do not let this review ruin the plot. Skip to “AKA Doc Pomus.”]
The jaw-dropping happy ending to the 1918 Pola Negri silent film “The Yellow Ticket” (also translated as “The Devil’s Pawn”) is that the super smart and beautiful young Jewess from Warsaw is not Jewish. She’s the love child of the distinguished medical professor whom she’s studying with in St. Petersburg. She then gets to accept the affection of her dashing Russian classmate.
But this OMG-she’s-not-Jewish ending shouldn’t make the film traif. The plot is based on a Yiddish melodrama and is believed to be the earliest film dealing with discrimination against Jews in Czarist Russia.
“The Yellow Ticket” was screened at the NY Film Festival Jan. 10, with a new score by klezmer violinist extraordinaire Alicia Svigals, with Svigals on violin and singing, and Marilyn Lerner on piano.
Amidst the pantomimed over-acting that is the hallmark of many a silent film, Negri plays the brilliant young woman with delicacy, despite the heavy-duty black eye makeup found only on a silent film star or a raccoon.
February 5, 2013 by Mel Weiss
It should be admitted that I am not your average, or ideal, consumer. But sometimes, it seems that I am in the majority in looking at a product and asking, What in the name of all that is holy and sane were these people thinking?
Recently, when Facebook and Twitter both blew up with news of the Jewish costumes in the “Dress Up America” line available through Walmart, everyone seemed to be saying what I was say; namely, “Wha?”
Let’s break it down a little. Fast forward past the creep factor of small children in “Rabbi” and “Grand Rabbi” gear, clearly modeled on the love child of an Eastern European rebbe and Ovadia Yosef. Oh, sorry – did I say children? Because I meant boys. Boys dress up as rabbis (or “rabbis”) and girls can dress up as “mother Rachel” or “mother Rivka.” And you know, keep on fast forwarding past the fact that the “mother Rachel” costume includes what appears to be a nun’s habit, and a picture on the costume itself of kever Rahel, Rachel’s tomb, in Bethlehem.
So, what? Boys can be rabbis – even “grand rabbis” – and girls can be foremothers? How is it possible that it’s 2013 and this still somehow scans as normal?
Happily, perhaps, the company’s bizarre gender-enforcement doesn’t only come down on its Jewish or oddly philo-semitic customers. A quick perusal through Wayfair.com – the website of the retailer – reveals discrepancies between the fire fighter’s costume (labeled “boys”) and a Red Cross nurses costume, which wins this week’s disturbing time-machine award. Or the fact that there are separate boys and girls chef costumes, and the girls version has a skirt, not pants. I want to call up all the fierce women on the ragingly popular Food Network shows, and ask them if they find that skirts work better when they’re throwing knives around the kitchen.
Or at least, that’s what my fiancé – female, and a rabbi – suggested I do.
December 6, 2012 by Liz Lawler
What’s your gut reaction to homeschooling? Did you just wrinkle up your nose?
I know, I know. You picture creepy misfits from huge families who all wear matching clothes. I used to see the same thing. Then I had a kid and I had to contemplate the hornet’s nest that is NYC schooling. The options aren’t great, so let’s just say we’ve settled on homeschooling for now.
And while I’m quite confident in this choice, I still get pretty evasive when acquaintances ask what preschool my kid will be attending. And with good reason. I get a handful of different reactions from people. 1) By far, the most common concern is whether or not my son will be “properly socialized.” Suggest keeping your kid out of school, and people scrutinize your child’s every “please” and “thank you.” God help you if he goes for too long without a haircut. 2) Some people become defensive and/or deeply suspicious. It’s as if our decision is a de-facto judgment upon theirs, or that we are threatening to unravel NYC’s flawless social fabric. 3) Many women act as if I just dumped my college degree in the shredder. “What about your career? WHAT ABOUT HAVING TIME FOR YOU?”
December 6, 2012 by Merissa Nathan Gerson
It was two AM on a Sunday evening, and I found myself with a German woman and a male former U.S. soldier on a Tel Aviv beach. My life has a way of scooping me up and placing me in places, beautiful places, with beautiful but complex people. It was no simple après-midnight gathering. It was a post-bar, post-language-class indulgence in English.
We were in Israeli Ulpan and we were to speak Hebrew, rak iyvrit. But there were not enough Hebrew words to navigate sensitively the space holding three worlds: one German, one Jewish, one American military all in the state of Israel. We wanted, I wanted, not they to talk about the Holocaust.
I don’t know exactly how or why it happened but we had been honest all night and it was just the three of us and they, the German and the solider, were falling in love, and so by osmosis I was falling in love and I needed, desperately, to unveil my little heart.
That unveiling involved shedding a layer and revealing a giant hole left by a trip to Poland. Beneath a blanket of stars on three folding beach chairs I used their ears and my mouth and I poured a tall glass of Holocaust memory. I told them about my father. I told them about the Siberian labor camps and the displaced person’s camp and I told them about Poland, post-war. I told them about my Jewish family having no place in this world until they arrived illegally in America in 1950 with false names. I told them about my father’s favorite party-wear, his DP camp rations card, and I told them about the graves in Poland, about Belzec and the incomprehensibility of everything I was saying. I told them how I was only beginning to understand, only beginning to let the pain in, just in time to let it out.
The soldier was silent for a very long time, and then the German girl spoke and she cried a little and said she knows, she knows it is unknowable. I realized listening to her that she understood what I understood which was that it was all too much to digest with this mind, this heart, this English language. We needed Hebrew and German, military speech, civilian speech and the words of politics, of religion, and beyond to even start to piece things together. We were learning Hebrew to decode the matrix of horror and its delicate entrance into what had become our supremely non-horrific lives.
December 5, 2012 by Amy Stone
Park your Jewish feminist preconceptions at the door of this Israeli “insider film” on life within the world of Tel Aviv Hasidim.
“Fill the Void” (“Lemale et ha’Chalal”) made its U.S. premiere in October at the 50th New York Film Festival, following its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where lead actress Hadas Yaron received Best Actress award. This is the story of a young Hasidic woman pressured to marry her brother-in-law after her sister dies in childbirth.
Don’t expect the bitter tale of a teen-ager whose dreams and youth are sacrificed to an ultra-Orthodox society in need of childcare. This first feature film written and directed by 45-year-old Rama Burshtein, a happily Hasidic New York-born Israeli, is gentle, sweet and totally self-contained. The outside world remains outside the close-knit community of well-dressed Hassids with international connections. Clothed in the time warp of a vanished East European Jewry, the men wear white knee socks, silken holiday robes that anywhere else would be luxe bathrobes, and shtreimels (fur hats) the size of lampshades. The wives cover their heads with stylish turbans – silk wrappings in faux leopard prints. But the feeling is anything but antique; this is an observant way of life that’s alive and well.
December 5, 2012 by Susan Weidman Schneider
Tell me what it is about shoes this season.
The photographs I see in the glossy ads actually scare me — 19-inch heels on 5-inch platforms. (I exaggerate only slightly.) The shoes on women’s feet would be cartoonish — if only they were in a comic strip.
Look, shoes have meaning. Just check out all the recent books about footwear. We know about foot binding. About the iron shoes along a Danube promenade as a memorial to the Hungarian Jews forced to remove their footwear before being shot. About traditional Judaism’s halitza ceremony, in which a childless widow throws a specially designated “halitza sandal” at her unmarried brother-in-law, thus releasing him from his obligation to marry her and continue his brother’s line.