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October 3, 2017 by

Improving the Lives of Ethiopian Women with Fistula: An Interview with Dr. Gladstone

This is a photo of one of the nurses and the fistula patients in her group, taken at the final group meeting, which is a celebration.

One of the nurses and the fistula patients in her group, taken at the final group meeting, which is a celebration. Photo courtesy of Dr. Gladstone.

When Dr. Tracy R.G. Gladstone visited Ethiopia’s Gondar Fistula Center in 2015, her goal was to train medical providers to address depression and anxiety in women with obstetric fistula: a hole in the tissues that separate a woman’s vagina, bladder and rectum. Fistula develop during obstructed childbirth when a timely caesarian section is not performed. 

“Over the past several years I’ve seen growing recognition of obstetric fistula as a medical issue—non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have begun bringing mobile health units into rural areas to provide free repair surgery to women who need it—but not as much attention has been paid to pre- or post- surgical psychological health,” Gladstone, Associate Director and Senior Research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, told Lilith.

Nonetheless, as the connection between physical and emotional health is better understood, Ethiopian medical workers have become increasingly receptive to learning concrete strategies to help women deal with their post-traumatic stress and other psychological problems the condition triggers.

That said, obstetric fistula remains a serious problem throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, though it is almost never seen in North America. It is estimated that 39,000 Ethiopian women suffer from fistula.  According to The Fistula Foundation, the country has just one physician per 10,000 people. What’s more, 41 percent of Ethiopian women are illiterate and female life expectancy is 67.4 years.

Gladstone became interested in the psychological issues surrounding fistula in 2010, after her pre-teen daughter, Sarah, read Sheryl WuDunn and Nichola Kristof’s book, Half the Sky. Sarah, Tracy Gladstone reports, was so incensed by what she’d read that she decided to raise money for fistula repair as a Bat Mitzvah project. Since then, Sarah has raised more than $10,000 for the effort.

In tandem with Sarah, Tracy Gladstone has created the COFFEE Project: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with Obstetric Fistula for Education and Empowerment. She recently spoke to Eleanor J. Bader about her work.

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October 3, 2017 by

Marching for Racial Justice on Yom Kippur

Photo credit: Susan Wasserkrug. The red signs was created by Lynna Schaefer. Carrying the red sign on the left: Rabbi Amber Powers. Carrying the Tsedek sign: Betsy Teutsch.  Carrying the red sign on the right, Lynna Schaefer

Photo credit: Susan Wasserkrug. The “tzedek, tzedek tirdof” was created by Lynna Schaefer. Carrying the red sign on the left: Rabbi Amber Powers. Carrying the Tsedek sign: Betsy Teutsch. Carrying the red sign on the right, Lynna Schaefer

Ironically, I heard about the March for Racial Justice via an explosion of disapproval and upset on the Sisters of Salaam Shalom Facebook group. Member after member expressed outrage that the march’s organizers had ignored Jewish needs when scheduling the march.*  Learning that the march was sparked in response to the acquittal of Philando Castile’s killing by a police officer, streamed by his girlfriend sitting next to him in his car, I instantly decided to go.

Marching as a white Jewish ally to African-Americans traumatized by generations of systemic brutality struck me as a constructive, stirring way to observe Yom Kippur. September 30th was also the anniversary of the Elaine Massacre in 1919.

Full disclosure: After 40+ years of sitting in shul by my rabbi husband’s side on holidays and 52 shabbat mornings a year at our Minyan, Dorshei Derekh, I get pretty restless spending all day in shul on Yom Kippur. Opportunities to pray with my feet appeal to me.

Yes, Jews were allies in the Civil Rights era. But we can’t just rest on that cred. That was in my childhood—and I am 65 years old!

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October 2, 2017 by

An Interview with Eva Schloss, Anne Frank’s Stepsister

Eva Schloss

Eva Schloss

Eva Schloss is an Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor, author, Holocaust education activist — and stepsister to Anne Frank. She travels the world to tell her story, and on September 7 she was at a Western Michigan University event presented by the Chabad of Kalamazoo.  She was interviewed by her close friend and now co-presenter, Dr. Tami Weiss, Professor of Art Education at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.  Weiss met Schloss in 2015 when she produced a play about Eva’s life, And Then They Came For Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank by American playwright, James Still.  

Schloss told about how she escaped Vienna after the Auschluss with her parents, Erich and Elfriede (Fritzi) Geiringer, and her older brother Heinz. They eventually settled in Amsterdam, where she became friends with her neighbor, Anne Frank, who was the same age. In 1942 the family went into hiding, and in 1944 they were betrayed by a Dutch nurse who had pretended to be helping but who was really a double-agent for the Gestapo. It was Schloss’s 15th birthday.

On the train to Auschwitz, Heinz told Schloss about paintings he’d made in hiding and had concealed below floorboards. Erich and Heinz perished days before liberation, and when Schloss later went in search of her male relatives in the men’s part of the camp, she came across Anne’s father Otto Frank instead. The three survivors—Schloss, Fritzi and Otto Frank — eventually drew close, and Fritzi and Otto married, thus making Schloss Anne’s stepsister.

After liberation, Frank came into possession of his daughter’s diary, crying repeatedly as he read it over the course of three weeks. Schloss, meanwhile, found her brother’s hidden paintings right where he’d said they’d be—under the floorboards of the place where he was in hiding. Schloss’s books, Eva’s Story and The Promise tell this story, and more. I asked Schloss about her experiences.  

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September 29, 2017 by

Hagar, or: The Handmaid’s Tale

Introduction

You may recall the story of Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar. We read about them on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, from Bereishith in Genesis. The crone Sarah is barren, so she gave “Hagar, the Mitzrite woman, her maidservant” to Abraham to bear a son for him. Later Sarah has her own child, Yitzhak, and thinks that Ishmael, the son of Hagar her handmaid, is mocking her. In response, she tells Abraham: “Cast out the handmaid and her son, for the son of this handmaid shall not inherit together with my son Yitzhak.” Abraham is reluctant. God has told him that each boy will be the seed of a great nation. Still, Abraham sends Hagar and her son Ishmael away with “bread and a skin of water.” Hagar becomes lost in the wilderness and leaves Ishmael under a tree because she cannot bear to see her son die. Eventually, God leads her to water and they survive. Ishmael grows up, becomes a “great archer,” and marries.

Rabbis tell us that Hagar was an Egyptian princess.


You never forgot: you were a princess. You had ladies in waiting, too many to count, who poured sweet oil onto your skin and made your arms lacy with henna. You had men, many men. They brought you gold and silk scarves and more girls to tend to you, to plait your hair. But these men really had nothing to offer. They were dull.

You had nothing nothing to do. Then came the visitors and you saw how Abraham and Sarah were favored by god. You wanted to be with them, even if you had to lower yourself, become a maid yourself. You wanted to learn the secret of their power.

He knew you would satisfy him, that was why he took you. He wanted your fire, which he consumed, yes, but re-ignited. His touch was arousing, always. I am satisfied, that’s what he said. I am so satisfied.

He always said it was her idea, Sarah’s. She wanted you to provide children for her. One after another.

His wife was too old. That was the simple fact.

In time, the inevitable. So maybe you did complain—you were dizzy in the morning. Your limbs felt so heavy. You could no longer carry in the great bowls of water. Sarah watched your belly grow and said, You are still young and still strong. It wouldn’t hurt you to bring me the usual bowls and baskets. She said, You were a princess in Egypt. You’re not in Egypt.

She said: You are here for one purpose. 

She said: How do we know it’s his? It could be anyone’s. 

You boiled inside and all he would say was: Women must patch their own quarrels.

You ran away and the angel led you back, telling you lies. That you would become a leader and a shaman. Others would follow you and seek your wisdom. You imagined lines of the penitent and perplexed, waiting to hear your judgment. Hanging on each word.

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September 28, 2017 by

A Feminist Prayer for Yom Kippur

On this Yom Kippur day
I pray
I ask for forgiveness

Please forgive me
Divine Mother
Shechinah
Spirit of the Universe
Cosmic Creator

Forgive me
For not recognizing the body You’ve given me as Divine
for disrespecting the earth that is Your body
Strewing it with styrofoam and plastic trash
As I’ve strewn my own body with self-loathing, judgment,

Dear Goddess
Please forgive me
For not embodying You
And behaving with compassion
Communicating with my heart
Instead of my head

To the Supernal Divine
Infinite Mystery
That fills the universe
Forgive my errors in judgment
Of harshness and rashness
As I’ve failed to recognize
That I too am divine
As are You
And You are within me

Forgive us
As a society
For telling boys to man up
For criticizing women who are too needy
And boys who are too emotional
For calling that girl a slut
For telling that woman to shut up
For competing with her in the workplace
For failing to articulate my own needs
For neglecting my own feelings and emotions
Or suffocating others with my need to serve them

Oh Shechinah
Feminine presence in the universe
Broken and battered
Tattered in clothing
Please forgive us

For rape culture
For gaming culture
For internalized misogyny
For corporate hierarchy
For religious patriarchy
For jealousy
For mansplaining
For homophobia
For abusing our trans siblings
For deflecting responsibility
For dieting excessively
For eating mindlessly
For trying to place a value on a body
That is already determined by You
To be divine

Forgive us
Divine Mother
and grant us all that You embody

Grant us compassion
Grant us collaboration
Grant us communication
Grant us the ability to listen
Grant us the ability to receive
Grant us the ability to feel
Grant us the opportunity to heal
Grant us the opportunity to express ourselves
Grant us the opportunity to cry, as the darkest depths move us through to the other side

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September 25, 2017 by

What My Fraught Interfaith Marriage (And Eventual Divorce) Taught Me About My Judaism

country-road-2711213_1920Many years ago, when I was living with an old friend in an apartment in a big city, she announced that she was going to date only Jewish men from then on. She was adamant about wanting to marry a Jewish man, and spending time dating men outside her faith would make this less likely.

I remember being both impressed and incredulous. How can you be so calculated about the person with whom you fall in love?

When I listened to my friend’s pronouncement that day, I was quite young, and so very naïve. I could not have imagined then that marrying outside my faith would ultimately cause me so many years of personal pain and physical hardship. I could not even have considered how alone I would feel once I realized how large a part my ethnicity and my faith would play in my future self.

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September 20, 2017 by

A Feminist Prayer for Rosh Hashanah—In Honor of Hannah

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May we be blessed this Rosh Hashanah that all our prayers are answered, as Hannah’s were answered, with joy and with gratitude. May our words be heard, may our cries rise to the heavens and penetrate the skies, may they cause vibrations in the earth that shake the universe at its very core. May we all find a way to reach the heart of ourselves and connect to the Divine in our own way, and line up a year of joy, blessing, prosperity, goodness, health, abundance, magic and love to all beings. 


Rishe Groner is a writer and strategist living in Brooklyn. She is the founder of TheGene-Sis.com, a post-Hasidic embodied approach to self-transformation.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine. 

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September 20, 2017 by

Hearing the Shofar as a Baby’s Cry

Photo credit: Davide Tarozzi

Photo credit: Davide Tarozzi

As a Reform Jew who is the descendent of hard-nosed Mitnagdim, European intellectuals who battled the emotional approach of Chasidic Jews, my religious response has always been more cerebral than physical. My early day school education and my mom’s traditional background attempted to teach me that being Jewish was not just an activity for the mind, but also involved eating, singing, and even dancing on certain occasions. Different blessings could accompany experiences involving all of the senses, including tasting a food for the first time, seeing a rainbow, putting on a new pair of shoes, and even using the restroom. However, these hints of Chassidic philosophy did not stick. In our very staid, classical Reform congregation in the South, we did not sway to the prayers, move our bodies in religious school as we studied, or even shake the lulav and etrog with too much gusto on the Festival of Sukkot.

I’m still a bit reserved when worshiping in public. When our rabbi encourages the congregation to “braid arms and hands like a giant challah” at the end of a Shabbat service, I know that he is trying to build community and warmth. For some congregants, this hand-holding may be the only gentle physical contact they share with others all week. It takes a bit of will for me to overcome my prickly instincts in order to reach over to the next row and be a good sport in forming that unwieldy blob of pretend challah.

I may be more Episcopalian than Shaking Quaker when it comes to incorporating the physical into the spiritual, but that doesn’t mean that I can completely live in my head—especially when it comes to being Jewish.

As the holiest time on the Jewish calendar approaches with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur knocking at the door, matters of the body still announce themselves and affect our prayers. Even the most fit and hardy person cannot completely disconnect her physical being from her consciousness, and a growling stomach and caffeine-deprivation-headache on Yom Kippur can interrupt the flow of a silent meditation. When we are fortunate, there is an alignment between our bodies and our loftier thoughts. At these rare moments, we Jews move from being a “people of the Book” to something even more profound.

About a month after the birth of our first child, my husband and I sat in the congregation during Rosh Hashanah services. On maternity leave, I reveled in the quiet peace of being a member of a congregation rather than a rabbi conducting the service. I have to admit that I don’t remember the subject of my colleague’s sermon that day. The memory that has remained me with for seventeen years is the sensation of listening to the shofar and understanding how it affected my entire body.

For centuries, listening to the call of the shofar has been a vital mitzvah (commandment) associated with the New Year’s celebration of Rosh Hashanah and the sacred day of Yom Kippur. Rabbis have interpreted the sound of the ram’s horn to indicate a coronation of God’s throne, a call to war, and a reminder of the ram in the Genesis story of Abraham and the binding of Isaac. On this particular Rosh Hashanah, the sound waves of the shofar blast entered my ears and signaled something different. Instead of telling my brain that I was hearing an ancient, primitive instrument announcing that a new year was beginning, the shofar tricked my brain into thinking that I was hearing a baby’s wail. That cry triggered a series of hormonal responses, and my breasts became completely engorged with milk.

The shofar spoke to me in the most personal terms, masquerading as my vulnerable baby crying for sustenance. At that moment I realized that, in addition to all of the rabbinical meanings it bears, the cry of the shofar was a plea for human compassion. We blow the shofar and cry out to a God that we cannot even begin to fathom and beg for mercy and kindness. We blow the shofar and cry out to one another for decency and love. We are simultaneously both children and parents.

Every year as Rosh Hashanah approaches, my intellect engages with the shofar service whose liturgy proclaims God’s sovereignty over us. I seek metaphors to understand a less personally involved yet existent God. During that one extraordinarily physical moment in a synagogue almost two decades ago I learned what years of rabbinical training could not teach: that the New Year brings with it a visceral plea for tenderness and human decency. Once upon a time the shofar in our synagogues lived on top of the head of a living, breathing, animal. The animal may no longer be alive, but it teaches us a lesson that can elevate us into the highest version of ourselves. And who knows—there may be a tiny bit of Chasid that lives in all of us.


Sharon Forman is a reform rabbi, mother, wife, and a bar and bat mitzvah teacher. She has worked in the field of Jewish education for 23 years and is the author of Honest Answers to Your Child’s Jewish Questions and The Baseball Haggadah: A Festival of Freedom and Springtime in 15 Innings. Her chapter on the intersection between Judaism and breastfeeding can be found in the CCAR’s The Sacred Encounter. Her essays on motherhood have appeared in Literary Mama, Mamalode, Mothers Always Write, The Bitter Southerner, Kveller, Parent.co, and ReformJudaism.org.


 The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.

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September 19, 2017 by

“She’s Got a Ticket to Pray–But She Really Don’t Care”

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 3.56.32 PM

When people who aren’t Jewish hear that Jewish people buy tickets to attend High Holy Day services, they typically think this is bizarre. I’ve been Jewish my entire life and I still think it’s bizarre… and somewhat unconscionable.

I truly understand the temptation to charge, and charge big, for High Holy Day tickets. Many Jews who go to services at Reform and Conservative synagogues don’t attend much the rest of the year. It’s a captive audience in the fall: “In case we don’t see you again for the next 11 months, could you give us a check now so we can try to run the synagogue while you’re gone?”

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