Tag : feminism

July 15, 2014 by

Lot’s Wife

"Cleft" by Mary Frank. Reproduced with permission of artist and DC Moore Gallery

“Cleft” by Mary Frank. Reproduced with permission of artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

She sat in a small patch of shade, churning the goat’s milk to butter. The courtyard was quiet with work, one daughter at the oven baking bread, the other grinding flour for tomorrow’s loaves. It was good to have these girls, she thought, who had learned their way and were of use to those around them.

Slowly, the butter started to come. They’d have it tonight with the bread her daughter was baking.

Good, clean food, but she would admit to counting down to the next feast day, when they’d offer up a ram if the year con- tinued so well. Already preparing the juiciest parts in her mind, crushed figs to bring out the meat’s succulence, cloves for pun- gency, she let her mind wander and didn’t hear the men’s voices until they were inside the house.

Her husband came to the doorway. We have visitors. Traders from Egypt. One of the field hands will bring in a goat. We’ll need a full meal. 

She already had a fire lit when the boy brought the plump animal. While the girls continued to bake and churn, their mother quickly slit its throat and hung it upside down to drain. Once it was skinned, she quartered and pounded it so it would grill quickly and stay tender, then ran her hands and eyes over red lentils she spread across the ground, picked out the tiny stones that would masquerade themselves in the pot and ruin the dish.

The courtyard rustled with activity. It smelled of death and fire, cumin and bread. The scents, she thought, of a good life.

Amid the bustle of work, she looked at her daughters, 13 and 14, older than she’d been when she was married off, taken away from the tents to another land.

At least they lived in the city. She had this courtyard, with its round stove and barrel of flour. Women to sit with in the square at shearing time. It was more than she ever expected. But she would keep her girls closer. She could feel her old age coming in the creases of her knees and shoulders. She needed her daughters.

Too bad we aren’t preparing for a real feast, she thought, something to bring everyone together, especially after the recent infighting. Rich men are not to be trusted, she knew. A poor man might steal a donkey or goat. But a rich man will start a war over an entire herd.

Lot had gotten through these arguments before. This time, Pildash, who already had a bigger flock and more pasture than anyone else, accused him of taking the best grazing land. But they had to live together. Someone would slip some coins to the other. It would be taken care of. 

The shouting began as the men settled down to eat. Muffled at first, but soon closer, and then someone banged on the door.

Let us see these strangers you have taken into your home, one yelled. Another jeered, Bring them out so we can get to know them. A howl of laughter went up from the crowd. She recognized some of the voices. Men with grudges against Lot, or the poor who resented his wealth.

She hurried up to the roof and peeked over the edge. Nearly 20 men, one egging them on. Usually, the other wealthy men in the town could be counted as Lot’s closest friends, and his only peers. But here was Pildash, shouting encouragement. So, this is how he’ll get what he wants, she thought, embarrass my husband in public. Make him look bad enough and he just might give up that pastureland without a fight. Rich men and their pride, she thought. 

No one noticed her up there. But they wouldn’t. Life happened horizontally in Sodom—everyone on an even plane, landowners and the shovelers of shit all living side by side. It meant nothing. Four men still paid everyone else’s wages. But if you can see them sleeping and waking it’s easy to overlook how much more they have than you ever will.

No one would pay attention to a woman anyway. So no one saw her as she watched Lot open their door and step out into the hostility and the evening. 

Friends, what can I do for you? he asked, as if he hadn’t heard their demands or anger.

Give us the strangers! the men called out.

Lot tried to speak, but they cut him off, closing in and poking him in the chest. All this over some grass, she thought, with a small twinge of worry. But she pushed it out of her mind. Her husband would work it out. They’d all go back to their dinners.

She watched Lot grow scared. He raised his voice.

Friends. You know I deal honestly.

What are they paying you? one voice called out.

Why should you get all their bounty? yelled another.

Finally, Pildash spoke. You shouldn’t be the only one with the honor of hosting them. Bring them out. Let’s see how tight their assholes are. 

Again, the crowd surged, but Lot continued, fear audible in every word. I have offered them a meal and a bed for the night. That is all. 

It wasn’t working. The men were getting more worked up. She heard the door slam as Lot rushed back in, and ran down to find him flustered, his cloak ripped at the neck.

I have to do something, he said to her. They’ll break into our house and drag these poor men into the street.

They’re a drunk and worked-up mob, she replied. Throw them some coins and they’ll be happy.

They’ll do unnatural things to those men. I cannot let my guests be raped by a bunch of drunken farmhands.

They don’t want to do any harm, she said, with as much vehemence as she dared in the face of his overweening pride. Go out with a few skins of wine, compliments of the visitors.

You’re not listening! What do you think “let us see how tight their assholes are” means?

It means they want to see if they have gold hidden under their clothes.

Lot didn’t hear her. He paced, head bent in concentration. Finally he said, Go get the girls.

The girls?

My daughters. We’ll give them instead.

You’re going to throw our children to that mob? Are you crazy?

Finally, he looked at her. I have no choice. Our family’s honor is on the line.

Fully hysterical now, she cried, Those men will kill our girls. They will rip them apart from the inside and leave them for dead. How much honor can you have if you are willing to let that happen to your own children?

They will do that to my guests! To men! You’re the one who said they won’t rape anyone.

I said they wouldn’t rape the travelers. But our girls have only their bodies. If, by some miracle, they survive what twenty grown men do to them, we’ll never be able to marry them off. You’ll ruin them forever.

In tears, she clawed at her husband’s clothing. But Lot had heard enough.

Get them now. He turned and stepped out again. She only heard the first few words —friends! I’ve come with an offer —before the door closed behind him. 

She only had a few minutes. She ran back to the courtyard, grabbed whatever she could—tufts of goatskin, batches of raw wool, and a pot of oil cooling by the fire. All the while, she shouted to the girls, Run up to the roof. Grab whatever valuables you see on your way. Gold coins, jewelry, anything. 

She stuffed the wool into a piece of still-bloody goatskin, grabbed an unlit torch and thrust it into the oven. After its end caught, she ran upstairs. When her daughters followed, each carrying a bulging saddlebag, she was already putting the torch to the hay pile in the corner.

Mama! they cried. What are you doing? We’ll burn up!

We’ll be long gone by the time this is big enough to harm us. Slowly, a wisp of smoke rose from the hay pile. Once it did, she started grabbing tufts of wool and shoving them at her children. Start lighting them, she directed. 

Confused and scared, the girls did as they were told. She hopped from their roof to the neighbor’s, grabbing a flaming ball of wool, hurling it down into the narrow street in front of her house. The girls followed, handing her their fiery missiles as they moved. They went from rooftop to rooftop, setting each hay pile alight, throwing more projectiles down to the city below.

Mama, panted the younger girl, what are we doing? They’ll kill us when they realize what we’ve done.

They can’t see us, she said. If anyone thinks to look up, we’ll already be gone.

But what are we trying to do? cried the older girl. I don’t understand.

I’m saving you, was the only answer she gave.

From below, they heard screaming as people noticed the cramped city was on fire. A few men near Lot’s house had been hit. They rolled on the ground, screaming in fear and pain as they were consumed.

What vengeance is this? came the people’s desperate cry. Why does God rain down fire on us?

Panic spread as people trampled others to save their own homes. By then, she and her daughters had reached a narrow patch of city wall. She was sure her daughters could jump down to the ground, but her body was already feeling the effects of the run across the city’s rooftops. Just see them to safety, she thought. They are all that matters.

Throw away the wool, she told her daughters. She flung the still-burning torch as far as she could. Now, jump.

Once down, she shouted, Head for the lake. Don’t stop and don’t turn around. There’s nothing here for us anymore. 

The girls took off across the flat land. She followed as fast as she could, but her breasts pounded painfully against her chest. She struggled to find breath.

Eventually, she felt the ground change beneath her feet. She was closer to the lake. Up ahead, she saw the surface of the water wink behind her daughters. But she couldn’t take another step. She was too tired. Her breath caught with every inhalation.

Bending over, her chest heaved painfully. Her arms and legs shook from the effort of getting this far.

Standing back up, the blood rushed away from her head, sent her reeling, turning her to face the way she’d come. In the distance, Sodom still burned, higher than she ever thought possible.

Only then did what she had done hit her with its full force. Images of the life she had led passed through her mind. It was all gone. Her husband, who would have whored his own daughters out to serve his pride, was in there too, and she felt, in that moment, what it was to lose an entire life’s work, a history of love and loss.

For the first time, she saw what her hands had wrought. I have killed and I have destroyed to save my own, she thought.

It was then, her body struggling to reassert itself, her mind fighting to align her pride at saving her children with grief at losing her whole valued life and horror at what she had done, that she started to cry. Huge, dehydrated tears poured down her face, sobs wracked her body. She sank down, crying harder even than the morning her own mother had sent her away into her new marriage, into the long life ahead.

She didn’t want her daughters to see her cry, but she couldn’t stop. Something had opened within her. She could not close it.

Stand up, Mama, they said. You have to keep moving or your muscles will cramp. 

She would get up. She would let her daughters half-carry her along the lake’s shoreline and into the hills. She would find a cave for them, sleep with her girls curled around her like lambs. She would wake the next morning to explain they could never return to their home, would have to forget all they had ever known and look only to the future. She would calm them when their fear of God’s wrath shook within them. She would explain that they had done God’s work, or the work God should have done when a man would ask a mother to sacrifice her virgin daughters for his own stupid honor. She would tell them they were instruments of God’s wrath, that God had guided their hands when they set their home alight.

And after they all slept again, she would face their anger when they accused her of making sure there would be no man alive who would have them. She would soothe them, say the riches they had stuffed into the saddlebags would buy them a new life. She would promise to find a way.

She would keep that promise, purchase land where they could live. She would buy sheep and goats, hire field hands and shepherds. When they had enough new wealth, she would find husbands for her daughters. She would see them grow large with child. She would hold her grandchildren on her lap and know she had done something good. But for all that she would go on to do, Lot’s wife would never rise from that spot by the side of the moonlit lake. She would never stop crying fat, salty tears for the life she left behind in flames.

 

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July 15, 2014 by

A Feminist Camp Counselor Unpacks Her Baggage

Photo credit: Foundation for Jewish Camp

Photo credit: Foundation for Jewish Camp

The summer after my sophomore year at Barnard, I had just begun to crack open this thing called gender, hearing and welcoming the exciting voices that are part of the canon of a women’s college curriculum . I learned a new language, that of Virginia Woolf and Betty Friedan, Judith Butler and Alice Walker, and became more fluent with every class discussion, every conversation with friends over potluck dinners of quinoa, Brussels sprouts bathed in balsamic vinegar, and vegan desserts. The glossy Barnard brochures had assured me that I would become the women I saw in the pictures: confident, well-read, transformed. Finally, after two years, it was beginning to happen.

Then, suddenly: Summer! In the middle of my college career, already feeling like a changed person, I was returning to a place that seldom changes, a place that I loved deeply—my Jewish summer camp. I’d gone to camp nearly every other summer of my life, so I knew the feeling of returning to a powerfully familiar location as someone new. With colorful braces when I was 10, finally without braces at 15, and with a different haircut when at long last my curls developed. Camp could always embrace superficial changes like these. As campers, we relish that moment when we step off the bus bearing these new parts of ourselves, knowing that friends will embrace us warmly whether our acne has cleared up or not. And counselors are taught to create a space where a camper can return year after year and be his or her truest self. But deep internal change is harder to accommodate in a space that must remain the familiar and idyllic home for the hundreds of campers who return every summer.

That summer after my sophomore year, my third on staff, I arrived with more than just a new hairdo and an updated wardrobe. This time I came with new ideas as well, and I found it far more difficult to ease comfortably back into a world where girls spent hours in front of a mirror primping for Shabbat, where boys shot “Go clean your kitchen” jokes at the girls across the dining hall, and where the sexual histories of campers past and present were documented on cabin walls in pink nail polish and Sharpie ink.

I had been transplanted from my haven at Barnard, where every class took an intersectional approach to history, sociology, and literature, where professors invited students to discuss everything from politics to prostitution, where my friends and I stayed up late talking about gender and Judaism until we realized our papers on the same subjects were due the next morning and hadn’t been written yet. In Women in Israel, we discussed the complications of women in the public spaces of a religious democracy. In American Women of the 20th Century, I uncovered the U.S. history that I’d never found in my high school textbooks, their pages shining with the feats of our country’s founding straight white men. In Sociology of Gender, I learned that gender is performative, something that is built in the social interactions of our everyday life. Through it all, I simultaneously learned how to recognize the ways I had been held back by my various identities, how to reflect critically on life experiences and interactions with peers, friends, and superiors, and—yes—how to check my privilege.

At camp I quickly became the token feminist on my staff, struggling to reconcile all that I had learned at college with certain stark realities of camp life: Living spaces were designed and assigned in accordance with the gender binary. All boys at our Conservative camp were required to pray in tallit and tefillin, while girls were given a half-hearted, non-obligatory opportunity to do so. The rampant heteronormative hookup culture fueled peer pressure, caused campers who had no interest in participating to feel isolated, and threatened the idea that camp is a safe space to try new experiences.

How could I be my truest self in a place that no longer seemed to embrace all that I believed in?

Now it’s two years later, and on the cusp of my graduation from Barnard I packed up once again for summer at camp, this time as a division head. My love for camp has clearly endured, but I haven’t stopped thinking about that challenging summer after my sophomore year. So this spring, in anticipation of the summer to come, I decided to better prepare myself for the transition into that world. On a sunny Shabbat afternoon, a few weeks before the end of my last semester, I invited friends and peers — a diverse group of campniks who spanned the Jewish and gender spectrums,–to reveal their own concerns and experiences similar. Sitting in a campfire-style circle on the main lawn of Barnard’s campus, surrounded by academic conversations and urban traffic, the feel of the grass beneath our toes seemed to bring us back to our respective camps, allowing us to relive similar frustrations, but also the pleasures and transformative power of camp. We started with a simple question: What is the one space in your camp where you have always been most aware of gender dynamics? In classic camp fashion, we went around the circle. One young man who had spent many summers at a Reform movement camp discussed the implications of showering with friends, recognizing now what he hadn’t as a boy: that this was an environment unwelcoming to potentially queer cabin mates. Another man chimed in that communal showering at his Conservative camp always seemed to him to be a “mark of true manhood,” a bonding activity, and he now regrets shunning friends who’d seemed uncomfortable with the ritual.

Ritual was a word that came up often, whether to describe moments of single-gender bonding – like “army night” for men and “spa day” for girls – or to discuss the gendered nature of specific Jewish activities and practices. A woman who’d attended Orthodox camp every summer interpreted the gendered clothing restrictions for children of all ages as body-policing, at times even slut-shaming. Several women expressed their frustrations at being one of just a few females at their camps to wear tallit and tefillin every morning. I was one of these women at my own camp, which espouses egalitarian principles, and I still struggle with the idea of ritual obligation, and with the fact that girls who take on the mitzvah report feeling immediately othered, and a little alienated from their peers, starting that very first morning when they show up to services ready to wrap themselves in prayer along with the guys. That afternoon on the college lawn, in a space we’d created for ourselves that never seemed to exist at camp, we hashed it all out. No one was the token anything.

Through all these topics, we kept coming back to role modeling. How do we extract from camp these damaging social structures without destroying the sacred, necessary realities of tradition and familiarity? How can we bring all that we know into our jobs as role models in this specific context, in a place with certain established values, religious and otherwise?

Here is the paradox: While camp is theoretically a place where children are free to explore all aspects of their identity, and where every child’s unique personality is meant to be celebrated, it is also a place that strives for sameness: in Jewish ritual and values, in behavior, in a shared agreement to live life in a certain way for eight weeks of the year, with the hope that campers will bring those values home with them come August.

One woman joining us on the grass that day spoke about being aware of a clear divide among her campers. There were those girls who seemed made for camp: they presented as straight, they enjoyed the daily activities of camp, they were outgoing and funny, they participated in the prevalent hookup culture, and all the while benefited—albeit passively—from the intense and totally immersive Jewish environment. And then there were the other girls: shy, quiet, girls who preferred reading on their bunk beds to gossiping over manicures, girls who slept through the night instead of sneaking out to the boys’ side of camp, girls for whom counselors had to work hard to insure their summers were fun, fulfilling, and safe. “Who am I a counselor for?” this staff member asked. “Am I a counselor for the kids who live and breath camp, who are maybe the camp ideal? Or for the kids who don’t easily conform to the sameness camp tries, in some ways, to achieve?“

I’m taking her questions along with me on my way up to camp this year. Given camp’s unique power to take children out of their habitual environments for two months out of the year, to give them the space to grow in a place free of parents, school pressures, and limitations on living engaged Jewish lives, these questions are especially important..

In this liminal space, we focus heavily on giving children a taste of ideal Jewish living: we discuss the weekly Torah portion in circles similar to the one my friends and I created just weeks ago, we pray in beautiful natural environments, we sprinkle Hebrew into every conversation, and we strive to create a kehila, a community of meaningful relationships.

Just as we strive to open up our youngsters to new modes of Jewish practice, we also have the opportunity to use the transcendent space of camp to challenge other limitations the modern world places on us, not only as Jews but also as gendered beings in a binaried culture. At camp this summer, and every summer, I want us to gather in circles to ask the questions that matter. Let us diversify our notions of gendered ideals within Jewish tradition. Let us think critically about the messages conveyed by dress codes, obligation, and same-sex bonding activities. Let us create positive changes instead of the tired sexism so common among camp experiences.

This summer, I’m adding these ideas to my packing list, along with a well-worn Barnard sweatshirt: Be the counselor who does not assume heterosexuality of your campers or their parents. Be the counselor who pushes for more meaningful gender-based activities.. Be the counselor who welcomes open conversations about Jewish practice, who is honest about your personal journey with ritual. Be the counselor who can mediate sensitively those situations that unintentionally shut out some campers. Be a leader.

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Link Roundups, Live from the Lilith Blog

July 2, 2014 by

Your Guide to the Hobby Lobby Case and Its Crushing Consequences

Thousands of women may now face restrictions on access to contraceptives. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thousands of women may now face restrictions on access to contraceptives. (Wikimedia Commons)

Curious–or confused–about the fallout from Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby, a case decided this week by the Supreme Court with potentially massive consequences for women’s health in the United States? Here’s a Lilith-curated roundup of articles on the subject, discussing consequences for religious minorities (including Jews); Ruth Bader-Ginsberg’s dissent on the ruling; and the fallout for women’s reproductive (and medical) choices in the United States.

Live from the Lilith Blog

June 25, 2014 by

When Her Persian Father Wouldn’t Let Her Go to College…

Esther Amini (courtesy author)

Esther Amini (courtesy author)

Rabbi Sholem Cohen, the new Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and successor to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has just released his first ruling.

The verdict?  ”Women’s participation in academic pursuits, including in haredi colleges, is a violation of Jewish law,” Cohen wrote. Apparently, even in ultra-Orthodox educational institutions, women put their “pure” mindset at risk by coming into contact with potentially college-educated instructors.

Esther Amini, a writer and psychotherapist, shared her own experience being discouraged from higher education as a young woman in a piece that will be featured in Lilith’s Summer issue. Amini’s courageous pursuit of an education has paid off in spades, as her writing has been featured in publications from Elle to Tablet Magazine.

 

  Under the Sheets

        Every night, after house patrol, Pop marched into my room shouting, “Enough books!” and flicked off my lights before slamming the door. He thought that by turning off lights he was turning me off, ridding me of curiosity and saving me from what would become a home-wrecking narcotic: books.

            But by age 13, I was already a pro at reading with my head tucked under the sheets. I’d reach for my flashlight, dive head-first under the covers, and read voraciously. Beneath layers of bedding, with labored breathing, I silently turned pages. My squinting eyes, acclimating to the circle of light on each page, devoured the words. Eventually I’d re-surface for a deep inhale and then slide back down.  

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 20, 2014 by

A Feminist Camp Counselor Unpacks Her Baggage

Photo credit: Foundation for Jewish Camp

Photo credit: Foundation for Jewish Camp

Summer camp. For some kids, a yearly ritual that fills them with dread; for others, a place of infinite possibility. How can we bridge the gap between kids who were “born ready” for camp, and kids who feel marginalized there? Some camps institute a “no body talk” policy, so kids can relate to other (and to their own emerging identity struggles) in ways that are more than skin deep. Lilith intern Maya Zinkowjust out of Barnard and now a unit head at summer camp, has lots of ideas about how camp can be a more welcoming place for those kids who question everything–from gender norms to religious tradition.

The summer after my sophomore year at Barnard, I had just begun to crack open this thing called gender, hearing and welcoming the exciting voices that are part of the canon of a women’s college curriculum . I learned a new language, that of Virginia Woolf and Betty Friedan, Judith Butler and Alice Walker, and became more fluent with every class discussion, every conversation with friends over potluck dinners of quinoa, Brussels sprouts bathed in balsamic vinegar, and vegan desserts. The glossy Barnard brochures had assured me that I would become the women I saw in the pictures: confident, well-read, transformed. Finally, after two years, it was beginning to happen.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 18, 2014 by

The Poem that Went Viral, and the Woman Behind It

 Anna Binkovitz, 21, is a proficient slam poet and author of a published chapbook, The Love Hypothetic. At a national slam poetry competition in March, Anna performed a poem called “Asking For It” that addresses a refrain perpetually directed against rape victims: that by dressing provocatively, they invite sexual predation.

The poem invites viewers to “a strange world in which all of us…can only express our wants and needs through our clothing” – a dystopian, darkly comic imagining, in which nudity—during bathing, changing, or even childbirth—always signifies wanting sex.

 

Last week, the poem went viral—at 400,000 YouTube views and counting—after news blog Upworthy reposted a video of Binkovitz’s performance; Jezebel and the Huffington Post, among others, marked it as an important contribution to a heated cultural conversation about consent. So Lilith’s Malka Editorial Fellow, Talia Lavin, took the opportunity to have a conversation with the outspoken poet, rape survivor, and activist.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 10, 2014 by

Golem on the rise, female in the lead

Punk-klezmer fusion band Golem has been shocking and delighting audiences for 14 years. But with their latest album, ‘Tanz,’ they’ve hit it big. The album, released by Mexican label Discos Corazon, has been featured on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ and — as of last night — FX’s hit show ‘Louie.’ Lilith’s Talia Lavin sat down with Golem bandleader Annette Ezekiel Kogan to talk about the unique challenges a female rocker faces, and the heartfelt emotion behind Golem’s wild sound.

Golem with comedian Louis C.K. on the set of "Louie." (Facebook)

Golem with comedian Louis C.K. on the set of “Louie.” (Facebook)

 

 For Annette Ezekiel Kogan, founder, vocalist and accordionist for the punk klezmer band Golem, being the female bandleader of an all-male band is a complicated balancing act.  “I feel like I go in between worlds – I’m the sexy singer, and then I’m conducting, running the show. I’m the band mother to all the guys.”

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