June 2, 2016 by Amy Stone
Ronit Elkabetz is gone.
The Israeli film star, writer and director is dead at 51, from cancer that she concealed till the end. Following her death on April 19, her body lay in state at the Tel Aviv Cinamatheque, showcase for independent and controversial film.
In what turned out to be her final film, just last year Americans saw Elkabetz as the long-suffering wife in “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem.” The grinding depiction of a woman’s years’ long struggle against her unyielding husband and an Israeli religious court to grant her a gett, a writ of divorce, was the final film in the trilogy starring Elkabetz as Viviane Amsalem. Loosely based on the unhappy marriage of her Moroccan-born parents, Elkabetz co-wrote and co-directed the trilogy with her brother Shlomi, starting with “To Take a Wife” in 2004, then “Shiva” in 2008. The sister-brother collaboration was intense. As she described writing “Gett,” they’d hole up in a hotel room, cut off from the world, and create the film. On the set, they were in total sync.
“Gett,” Israel’s 2015 Oscar entry for best foreign-language film, ignited major protests in Israel, where civil marriage and divorce do not exist.
As Elkabetz told the Israeli newspaper Maariv back in 2010, “I am not here to get pleasure from acting. As much as it may sound bombastic, I would like to make a change.”
May 26, 2016 by Rebecca Halff
Take a minute and Google “abortion stories.” See that? They’re everywhere. You can read 173 of them on NARAL Pro-Choice America’s website alone. “Sharing your story is a powerful way to speak out for choice,” NARAL tells women. “It can inspire another person to speak out, and it could even help pass a pro-choice bill.” This is typical of how the sharing of abortion “stories” is usually framed: as a pro-choice, pro-reproductive rights political action. Sometimes, these testimonies do serve an explicitly political purpose—as when, in February of this year, women told the Supreme Court about their abortions in an effort to convince the court to protect women’s reproductive rights. Other times, the mission of those sharing their stories is less specific, albeit just as politically and culturally important: women are aiming to achieve the destigmatization and normalization of abortion, a shift in cultural attitudes that has the potential to change policy and lives. Our Bodies, Ourselves views the sharing of abortion stories as a caring act in the spirit of women’s solidarity. “Hearing women’s stories of having an abortion can help us know what to expect and reassure us that our experiences are not unique,” OBOS’s website explains.
Women who want to share their abortion experiences with the world—for whatever reason at all—should be able to do so without fear of being shamed and stigmatized. But please, media outlets. Stop asking for my abortion story. My medical history and reproductive health are none of your business.
All over the Internet, abortion stories are being coaxed out of—and sometimes demanded from—women. The 1 in 3 Campaign (referring to the one in three U.S. women who will have an abortion in her lifetime, according to the Guttmacher Institute) takes one of the more appropriate approaches to asking for such personal and private information by suggesting rather than demanding that women participate in the project. “The [campaign] is a grassroots movement to start a new conversation about abortion—telling our stories, on our own terms,” the website explains. Other campaigns, like #ShoutYourAbortion, are neither as diplomatic nor as respectful of a women’s right to choose—in this case, our right to choose not to share our medical history with the general public. Their verb of choice is actually in the imperative.
May 24, 2016 by Leeron Hoory
L.A.-based filmmaker Jessie Kahnweiler does not shy away from controversy. She has just released a new video where she confronts men who’ve sent her online sexts on Tinder. In the video she confronts these men in person—men unprepared for her experiment—to have them read their online sexts to her in person. Even they are embarrassed by their communication, and it’s clear from the exercise that the men treat women in person differently than online.
This video can be seen as a continuation of “The Skinny,” Kahnweiler’s recent dark comedy series. Produced by Jill Soloway’s Wifey.TV and Refinery29, the web series premiered at the Sundance. The episodes follow Jessie’s life as a feminist and striving YouTube star in L.A., yet the series is unsettling; it deals with the realities of battling bulimia, based Kahnweiler’s own 10-year struggle with the eating disorder.
May 11, 2016 by Merri Ukraincik
As maiden voyages to Israel go, mine was more or less typical. My family toured and ate falafel and crisscrossed the country, stopping one afternoon in the Old City of Yafo. It was there the trip diverged from the ordinary. While the rest of our tour group shopped for artwork and souvenirs, I got my first period.
Though my body ached, my entire being was elated. My cycle—newly minted in no place other than the Jewish homeland, a powerful omen if I ever heard one—belonged entirely to me. I didn’t have to share it. I didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to keep it. Still, I’d been caught off guard without supplies and needed my mother’s help.
The moment she entered the W.C., she slapped me. I shouted in my head, and my shock and anger made their way into the narrow space between us, like mortar setting two stones. We stood so close together in the small space that an onlooker might have mistaken the proximity for an embrace.
May 7, 2016 by Sara Nuss-Galles
Mother’s Day was a complicated time in my childhood. My mother had survived World War II in Europe, and she had difficulty taking joy in life. For me, Mother’s Day was an opportunity to heal my mother’s pain and make her happy.
Making-do was a credo in our house and I learned young that frivolous spending relegated one to share a circle in hell with sinners who left food on their plates. So I strove to make my presentation special.
In Chicago, Mother’s Day coincides with the bloom of spring. We lived in an apartment, so I often appropriated gifts from other people’s property.
One year, I settled on lush purple lilacs hanging over a chain link fence and returned on Sunday morning to “shop.” A curler-crowned, housecoat-clad woman came out dragging trash and spotted me in flagrante delicto. She chased me down the block, yelling and waving the lid.
“I call principal. What school you go?” she scolded in the Polish-accented English of our immigrant neighborhood.
“St. Pat’s,” I chirped. The St. Pat’s kids treated us public school kids like gutter snipes and I felt proud to imagine a snooty St. Pat’s girl suffering for me.
At home I presented my mother with a pickle jar full of lilacs. My mother inhaled their perfume and rewarded me with a smile. Two days later, as the blossoms dropped onto the kitchen table, I heard her mumbling as she cleaned up.
Another bitter-sweet spring I admired my classmate’s pin. No sooner did I finish than she offered it to me for fifty cents so that she could buy her mother a gift. The pin was a flamboyant purple enameled flower, studded with rhinestones, only a couple of them missing. A tiny spring made the stamen “boing” when touched. It was irresistible, and I wanted it for my mother.
May 3, 2016 by Mara Levine
Sarah Sarah shtetl child
of peddler Sholem, sheytled Mintzi,
you bore the griefs of history to Brooklyn,
hungry for the taste of liberation
in the cage of a tenement
where you sang your exiled songs.
Sarah of dark curls and heart-shaped face,
what a beauty you were, girl of seventeen
smiling under April blossom trees
with Sam, namesake of your father;
in you he saw the Medina’s promised gold.
The litany of your three day labor,
your apocalyptic screams
while Bubbe Sonia muttered in his ear
bad luck to kiss before a birth.
His male hesitation
his fear of uncleanness
The kiss too late.
April 28, 2016 by Eleanor J. Bader
Marlene Gerber Fried, Faculty Director of the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program at Hampshire College, and a founder both of the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts and the National Network of Abortion Funds, has been a reproductive justice activist since the 1970s. You’d think she’d be burned out by now, but she’s not, and despite a flurry of recent legislative setbacks—the Guttmacher Institute reports that 57 new abortion restrictions passed statehouses in 2015—she’s not even discouraged.
“Sure, I sometimes shake my head in disbelief that we still have to fight these battles, but no one working for social justice should expect their opponents to just go away,” she begins. “You have to have a long view.”
That attitude has allowed Fried to celebrate both small, incremental victories and the positive ideological shifts that she’s seen over the past several decades.
She is heartened, for example, by how much the reproductive rights movement has changed, moving from the single issue of abortion to reproductive justice, an anti-racist, anti-sexist framework that includes trans rights, sexual justice for the disabled, and support for programs that support childbearing—from quality public schools, to nutritious, affordable food and clean water and air. In addition, the growing number of R.J. organizations, many of them led by young people of color, inspires Fried and keeps her energized and optimistic.
April 27, 2016 by Leeron Hoory
Ayelet Tsabari’s award-winning debut book, The Best Place on Earth (Random House 2016), is an illuminating collection of stories about the lives of marginalized members of Israeli society. The stories are mostly about the lives of Mizrahi Jews, many of them descendants of Jews who came from Yemen, Tsabari’s country of origin. In a review, Publisher’s Weekly notes that “Whereas David Grossman and Amoz Oz have been adept at writing about a narrow segment of Israeli society, Tsabari’s first collection is rich with many stories from across all of Israel—and beyond.”
In “The Poets in the Kitchen Window,” a high school boy is passionate about poetry, but without a role model, it doesn’t occur to him to take this interest seriously until his sister gives him a book of poetry by an Iraqi Jew. In “Brit Milah,” a grandmother travels from Israel to Canada to visit her daughter, who has recently married a Canadian and has just given birth to a boy. When she finds her daughter chose not to circumcise her grandson, she is filled with rage, betrayed beyond speech, and is forced to grapple between the abandonment she feels and her love for both her daughter and her new grandson.
The story “Invisible” features Rosalynn, a caretaker from the Philippines, who develops a romantic relationship with her younger Israeli neighbor. The relationship provides each of them solace at the same time that it’s disorienting, and it ends before it fully starts.
The Best Place on Earth, which won the Sami Rohr prize in 2015, deals with the human capability to overcome social conditioning and the ways in which we nevertheless often fail at this.
Born in Israel, Tsabari moved to Canada in her twenties and lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter. (The collection was originally published by HarperCollins, Canada in 2013.) Lilith spoke with Tsabari about her book’s recent release in the U.S., Mizrahi identity, and writing this novel in her second language.
April 26, 2016 by Yona Zeldis McDonough
It is the summer of 1941 and Abe Auer, a Russian immigrant and small-town junkyard owner, has become disenchanted with his life. So when his friend Max Hoffman, a local rabbi with a dark past, asks Abe to take in a European refugee, he agrees, unaware that the woman coming to live with him is a volatile and alluring actress named Ana Beidler. Ana regales the Auer family with tales of her lost stardom and charms and mystifies Abe with her glamour and unabashed sexuality, forcing him to confront his own desire.
As news filters out of Europe, American Jews struggle to make sense of the atrocities. Some want to bury their heads in the sand while others want to create a Jewish army that would fight Hitler and promote bold, wide-spread rescue initiatives. And when a popular Manhattan synagogue is burned to the ground, the characters begin to feel the drumbeat of war is marching ever closer to home.
Lilith’s fiction editor, Yona Zeldis McDonough, talks with debut novelist Kim Brooks about how she finds hope even in the most hopeless of stories.
YZM: What inspired you to write The Houseguest?
KB: I began writing not long after I read Daniel Mendelssohn’s The Lost, about his struggle to uncover the specific fates of his family members killed in Europe during the war. One part in particular stayed with me. Mendelssohn reflects at one point that we always think of the Holocaust as something that happened, when really it never stops happening, because our present is shaped by the negative space of what was destroyed. In an alternative present where the Holocaust never happened, he thinks about how he’d grow up going to Eastern Europe every summer to visit the cousins that were never born, the ones who would have been born to his murdered relatives. I’d never thought of it in that way, but through this expression of sadness and longing, it occurred to me that there’s a way in which American Jews are cultural orphans, a way in which we live with the shadow of what’s not there. That was the moment, if I had to pick one, when I became focused on (or obsessed with) this question of the American experience of the Holocaust.
April 25, 2016 by Sharon Goldman
Several times a month I stand on a small stage, acoustic guitar slung across my chest, singing songs I have written to a couple of dozen attentive listeners.
I could not have imagined that scene 23 years ago, when I was an intern at Lilith and about to get married to a man who had attended my Modern Orthodox yeshiva high school on Long Island.
Editor Susan Schnur interviewed me for an article about the handmade quilt we used as our chuppah. Family and friends had lovingly decorated squares and we stitched them together at a quilting bee the week before the wedding. I stood in a poofy ’90s wedding dress under that quilt with my soon-to-be husband, while a rabbi I knew through the Jewish Theological Seminary, where I was working on a Master’s degree in Jewish literature, conducted the ceremony. In a few years, I assumed, I would be moving forward with the settled-down life that seemed the fate of most I knew—kids, house, synagogue sisterhood, PTA.
Two decades later, my life could not be more different. I am a singer-songwriter and performer. I have no children. I do own a house and am married, but not to that man with whom I stood under the chuppah quilt. He and I divorced—complete with a get—nine years later, and since 2008 I have been married to a man who is not Jewish.