Live from the Lilith Blog

May 18, 2017 by

How Animals Teach Us

karen winnick photoCreating children’s books about animals has allowed me to express the wonderment I feel when I watch and learn from them.

When I first met Gemina at the Santa Barbara Zoo I knew I wanted to tell her story. Born healthy, the giraffe was three when a bump appeared on her neck. Over time it grew, causing her neck to become severely crooked. Perhaps the bump came from an injury, though the veterinarians would never know for sure. Gemina didn’t allow her disability to prevent her from doing what the other giraffes did. And they accepted her without reservation as part of the herd. Gemina captured the hearts of many visitors.

gemina coverAfter my book Gemina, The Crooked-Neck Giraffe was published, I received an email from a young mother in Spain. “When my (four-year-old) son was born, we were told he was deaf. After many tests and surgery, he was implanted with a cochlear implant . . . Every night he wants to see the book. He loves to explain every page. I just want to thank you for writing a wonderful story that is allowing my son to learn new words and teaching about disabilities and how in the eyes of Gemina, we are all the same.”

Animal stories provide gentle ways of helping children feel better. A child with a disability can relate to an animal facing obstacles, one whose determination has helped them to adjust and thrive. Such a story is a boost to a child’s self-image. For a child without a disability a story such as Gemina’s helps to develop sensitivity and compassion for others. For parents there’s an opportunity to open a dialogue.

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Feminists In Focus, Live from the Lilith Blog

May 16, 2017 by

Two Films Expose Anti-Sephardi and Anti-Mizrahi Racism in Israel

The Women's Balcony

The New York premier of “The Women’s Balcony” was at the NY Jewish Film Festival in January, and the film was also screened as part of the New York Sephardic Film Festival at the American Sephardi Federation in April. The JCC Manhattan will show the film this Sunday, May 21 and it will officially open in Manhattan on May 26 at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and The Quad. 

Dimona Twist and The Women’s Balcony (both 2016 releases) are two fine new films grappling with the status of Sephardim and Mizrahim in Israeli society. Screened at the New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival at the American Sephardi Federation in April, they both seek to uncover the obliteration of Oriental Jews in Israel since the creation of the State. Both discredit long-established stereotypes while puncturing the myth of a Jewish homeland equally welcoming to Jews of all ethnic backgrounds.

Michal Aviad’s revelatory Dimona Twist is a documentary focusing specifically on women of Moroccan and Tunisian descent who immigrated to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s. It is the companion piece to The Women Pioneers (2013), which elucidated the trajectory of Jewish women from Eastern Europe to Mandate Palestine in pursuit of a utopian society. In both films, Aviad excels at capturing the experience of immigration from a female perspective. She strikes a pitch-perfect note when speaking of the disillusionment experienced by these women upon arrival at the Promised Land. Her latest documentary also comes in the wake of a new wave of films, such as Kamal Hashkar’s From Tinghir to Jerusalem (2013), that strive to challenge the official Israeli narrative regarding North African Jews, who were often portrayed by Zionist propaganda as victims of Arab enmity in order to encourage them to emigrate to Israel.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 12, 2017 by

Two Jewish Moms. One Mischievous Toddler. And Mothers’ Day.

It’s the first year I have to really enjoy the geeky, subtle cognitive dissonance. Last year, when my daughter was still just emerging from the “fourth trimester,” I was too exhausted to think much past diapers. This year, though, with a mischievous toddler who imitates us and giggles with glee, it’s staring me right in the face. The world celebrates Mother’s Day, but in my house, it’s Mothers’ Day.

I trust the cohort of women and others who make up Lilith’s readership to be more than canny enough to catch and appreciate that tiny apostrophic migration, the thing that technically loops me into the equation in the first place. My wife and I don’t really do much for secular holidays—she can never keep track of when they are, anyway—but I feel like for our first real Mothers’ Day, we might have to mark the occasion in some manner. We have a daughter, and she has two moms. Two seriously Jewish mothers.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 11, 2017 by

What a Papaya Has to do with Jewish Feminism

better papayaOne of the first pieces I ever wrote for the Lilith blog, in April 2013, was about how to perform a manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) abortion on a papaya. An MVA is one type of early abortion, and a papaya is a realistic model for a uterus. I wanted to write in order to at least begin to break apart some of the stigma around abortion­—in this case that it’s dirty, dangerous, and that doctors who perform it aren’t legitimate. As long as the procedure remains a mystery, the stigma continues to be perpetuated. 

When I pitched the piece to the blog’s then editor Sonia Isard, she did not ask, “How is this Jewish?” There was no need to sell an angle, to summon a Jewish connection, because there already was one—Jewish people have abortions. That reality was, and is, enough for an article. The importance was understood, there was no need for proof.

I wrote other pieces after that were less explicitly political—about my mother, her early death, and what that death prevented me from knowing about her, and by extension, about myself. Again, there was no questioning or demand to “make this Jewish.” The strength of an identity does its own work—folding in on, pressing, infusing. How fear is inherited, what we forget, what we mistake, what we’re never told—those are experiences that are universal, but are also certainly impacted by my Jewish imprint.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 11, 2017 by

On the Importance of Being Women of the Books

books-1655783_1920Every day we get further into this madness that is the Trump Administration, the pile of books on my windowsill grows. Never mind that I have no room in my apartment for them, that I had switched to an e-reader several years ago in an effort to keep my shelves from overflowing. All that decluttering effort is officially over. Now I am collecting them like talismans: essays, writers on writing, novels and more novels. As a harried working mom, I have almost no time to read except my commute, but I am slowly making my way through the pile, even as I add to it. 

If the apocalypse comes, which it looks like it might, I will be buried in a pile of new releases. 

Unlike newspaper articles, tweets, and cable news which agitate us with a certain kind of harsh everyday truth, books allow us to see darkness, but through a softer lens of imaginary experience.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 10, 2017 by

A Mother’s Day Love Letter to My Daughters-in-Law

puzzle

“The DIL/MIL relationship is a new piece in the universe of connections.”

We begin by sorting and piling up the tiny cardboard pieces. Emily searches with her eagle eye for textures—the folds of fabric in a velvet gown. Brushstrokes. Hair. Kelly looks for like-minded colors; I, for the straight-edge pieces. Daydreaming, one of us will catch sight of a perfect interlocking pair in the chaos of the box. “First One!” 

During school break in December, our sons and their families land at our small house in New York. The rooms fill with children’s voices, Lego parts and Barbies. We eat serial breakfasts that last all morning, bake walls and roofs for the gingerbread houses the children will decorate with miniature candy, and manage to subdue any uncomfortable disagreements among the children or adults. Inevitably, someone has brought a 2000-piece puzzle, and during the visit, Emily, Kelly, and I lock ourselves in mind-numbing togetherness at the glass coffee table in my living room. 

Emily and Kelly are my DILs. I’m their MIL. I have two daughters-in-law, two sons, and four grandchildren. Until recently I didn’t use the shortcut DILs; I learned this from the young. When Kelly said two years ago only half jokingly, “My MIL would not want that,” I got a surprising hint at the filter through which she was seeing me.

Could it be that the discomfort between in-laws lies in the name? Mother-in-law becomes not-like-mother, mother-once-removed, mother-to-beware-of…. Same for DILs.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 9, 2017 by

This Jewish Cowgirl Never Got the Blues

Photo courtesy of the Witte Museum

Question: What do Sandra Day O’Connor, Georgia O’Keefe, Patsy Cline, Annie Oakley and Frances Rosenthal Kallison have in common? Answer: They’re all inductees in the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. And Kallison, who died in 2004 and was inducted posthumously, was the first Jewish woman ever to join these ranks.

A third-generation Texan and the only child of Mose A. Rosenthal and Mary Neumegan, Kallison was born in 1908 and grew up in Fort Worth, riding the horses that hauled her family’s furniture wagons. According to Hollace Ava Weiner, writing in the Western States Jewish History, “The city’s Jews were mostly haberdashers, liquor distributors, saloonkeepers, livery men, tailors, grocers and junkmen, although three of the founding fathers operated legitimate theaters.”  

Young Frances went to synagogue first in a horse and wagon and then, because her mother was one of the first women in Fort Worth who learned to drive, a Studebaker.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 8, 2017 by

A Rant Before Mother’s Day

mother's day photoPeople raising young children can use all the enthusiastic appreciation and thoughtful support they can get for the rewarding—but also exhausting—caregiving challenges they face. Those of us on the sidelines might certainly lend a hand, cheer them on, and let them know we value what they do. But sometimes peers, well-intentioned relatives, and even educators and others unwittingly add to parents’ self-doubts and uneasy self-scrutiny by accidentally reinforcing outdated notions of what families are and how households are “supposed” to function.

Young children today are being raised by (choose one or more): single parents, two parents, a different-sex unmarried couple, same-sex couples, at-home parents, working parents, parents who work at night, parents who work during the day, long-distance-working parents, grandparents, foster parents, separated parents, divorced parents, parents in the military, incarcerated parents and parents with more than one child in different educational settings. And sometimes young children, no matter what the configuration at home, have to cope also with having a deceased parent. The permutations and combinations are myriad.

So let’s make sure that in all the anticipatory hoopla connected to Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day) we don’t raise another generation of children with antiquated, ignorant and unintentionally hurtful notions about the truly diverse nature of human families.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 4, 2017 by

What Do Jews Do? Reflections on the Strangeness of Death

When it was clear that my father was about to die (we were going to remove life support after he suffered a major heart attack), my mother called her rabbi to tell him that death was near. She wanted the rabbi to have enough time to schedule the funeral, which in Judaism typically occurs as soon as all the relatives are able to arrive. 

The rabbi already knew that my father was seriously ill and probably would not recover or even emerge from a coma. He told us that it is customary to recite one of the psalms just before a person dies. And so my mother, brother, and I went out into the hall at a New York City hospital to say the prayer together. It was no doubt the strangest of the many unfamiliar moments we would experience over the next few weeks.

We are not a particularly religious family. None of us knew the prayers that the rabbi was referring to. We had to Google it.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 3, 2017 by

Crises in Jewish Early Child Care

Photo Credit: Talya Oberfield

Photo Credit: Talya Oberfield

I have been involved for years in Jewish early childhood education (teacher, then preschool director, director of an early childhood department, consultant, college instructor, supervisor of education students for local college), so I am well aware of the problems in this field. 

Just a quick glance at Glassdoor profile for Jewish Community Centers shows that early child care professionals are paid less than many other staff members. Most workers in this field are women (and for some, perhaps, their pay is considered a supplemental income; it would be impossible to support a family on this salary). In some states, in facilities at JCCs in particular, salaries are beginning to rise, although not enough to compete with salaries in public and/or other programs, such as church-related facilities, since many churches subsidize their schools. 

But the crisis that concerns me beyond salaries is the lack of Jewish literacy among teachers/staff in non-Orthodox schools. Oftentimes, attempts are made to give staff rudimentary knowledge of Jewish holidays and rituals, but this only goes so far.

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