Tag : from the editor

January 20, 2015 by

From the Editor

This has been an extraordinary season of news on every front, including (but not limited to) several stories that have had particular resonance for women and for media. Among them: Rolling Stone magazine’s much-discussed coverage of campus rape, followed by an ugly round of victim-bashing after parts of the story were challenged; the resignation of almost the entire staff of the 100-year-old New Republic magazine and the subsequent round of discussions on how a venerable print brand can keep its balance in the roiling mix of digital media sources, and the fact that for many people social media feeds have become the most consistent news feeds.

The impact of stories like these loom large for Lilith readers, and some are unprecedented in content and scale. Our national conversation about race, the Barry Freundel mikveh scandal, and the rise of women politicians in Israel and the U.S. as preface to the next round of elections are just three of them. All are subjects Lilith has covered, in print and on the Lilith blog — and we will continue to write about them with this magazine’s characteristic nuance.

Lilith magazine launched in 1976 with two founding missions: to use the power of independent media to gain greater access for women (and greater value for women’s concerns) in the Jewish world, and to speak with a Jewish voice on urgent women’s issues. I think Lilith’s tagline says a lot about our approach. “Independent, Jewish and frankly feminist,” Lilith charts Jewish women’s lives with exuberance, rigor, affection, subversion and style.

Yet at the same time as mega-stories are breaking, and are being bruited in the office, online, and in Lilith salons, there are smaller-scale, more deeply personal narratives that lurk beneath the surface, stories that are huge in the lives of the women they affect but don’t always make it into the headlines. These, too, are Lilith’s beat: the regrets of some people who have never had children; the strong feelings of those who take justifiable umbrage at the assumption that every woman wants to be a mother; and the challenges faced by same-sex female couples looking for a sperm donor. In this issue, for example, Ilana Kramer probes the experiences of gay and lesbian couples wanting to have children and deciding if the other-sex biological parent will be someone they know, or a stranger.

When we edit a story like this one, we’re very conscious of who’s left out. What about a single woman wanting to have children? Where does she turn for a sperm donor? What about couples trying to have a child, whether by birth or adoption, who are tripped up by financial or personal or bureaucratic stumbling blocks? Fertility challenges are a nexus where the personal, the political and the communal all intersect.

Those for whom infertility can bring, monthly, the bitter taste of disappointment wrestle with how they will have children when the standard method of conception fails them. We hear how the heartache, frustration and economic toll can be as overwhelming as the physical challenges. So the article here about a couple who manage to conceive after only two cycles of trying, in a wonderfully low-tech D-I-Y fashion — using not costly high-tech medical interventions but a simple syringe and a jar of sperm kept warm on a bicycle ride home — can trigger pain for some readers. A story hugely validating for some, and a source of curiosity-fulfillment for others, may for one cohort just spur sadness.

Perhaps because women and men today are older when they are ready to consider having children — and hence less fertile — this cohort appears to be growing. (And you’ve heard the perpetual outcry about the dropping birthrate among non-Orthodox Jews.)

Here is one possible source of succor for people who might need help in creating their families. Assuaging at least some of the financial problems and the feelings of exclusion from a community full of ubiquitous Instagram or Facebook photos of other people’s kids lighting Hanukkah candles or making challah, would be a fund to help Jews afford the high cost of adoption or assisted reproduction. The cost of one cycle of IVF can be $15,000. Some Hebrew Free Loan societies offer interest-free loans for adoption and fertility treatments, but these sums will barely cover one round of treatment, and often many rounds are necessary. Plus, a loan has to be repaid. Especially for a single woman — who may lose income once she’s taking care of a child — an outright grant would be more effective in enabling her to become a parent.

So here’s a modest proposal. Jewish women’s foundations, now funding projects to empower women and girls in many communities, could spur the creation of a national fund to help defray the costs of fertility interventions. Perhaps a percentage of each contribution to these community foundations could be earmarked for such a fertility fund. After all, for about a century, there has been a fund for Jewish women’s education, and for decades there has been much-needed funding for reproductive-rights work. There will be challenges to creating and managing any fund that makes grants to individuals, but San Francisco’s Hebrew Free Loan Society says it well: the process should be “personalized, confidential, and respectful.”

Then the small-scale stories become a larger story, played out under a bigger tent.

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October 7, 2014 by

From the Editor

Maybe you’re like me and you’ve tended to see economic justice in terms of fair labor practices, access to good health care, fresh produce in urban food deserts, affordable housing. Big goals with big consequences. Beyond carrying bills in a pocket to give tzedakah graciously or nervously on the street, what small (or larger) potential acts of the pocketbook have escaped our notice?

Well, you’ve heard the chatter about doing good while buying more stuff. The manufacturer who promises to give a new pair of shoes to a poor child for every pair of its brand you purchase. The company that pledges to donate to breast cancer research an undisclosed portion of its profits from the pink item you’ve just acquired.

Like the rest of us, I figure that I make choices every day—every waking hour, practically—that reflect my values. A lot of these choices are made reflexively, because I’ve practiced them so many times that they’re inadvertent habits. The food I eat—or avoid. Whether I run the water while brushing my teeth or turn off the tap. Which charity solicitations I open and consider vs. which ones I put immediately into the recycling bin. You too?

But there’s another order of choices that feel new to me, a fresh kind of economic consciousness I’ve been thinking about thanks to two women whose actions are worth emulating—and expanding on. These two rabbis have recently been modeling, through their own actions, a different tzedakah. They’re good at remembering that tzedakah comes not out of the idea of charity—giving alms to the poor—but from the root tzedek, righteousness.

 

This righteousness takes a slightly different approach to economic justice, one that involves putting our bodies where our dollars go.

Rabbi Susan Talve, whom you’ll meet in this issue, decided with her St. Louis congregants in August to go into the nearby suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. First they went to support the protests that closed streets after a black teenager was shot and killed by a police officer. And then, some of them decided to patronize the businesses hurting from the protests. Lunch in a Ferguson coffee shop. An appointment at a Ferguson hair salon. Via what I’ve been naming to myself a tzedakah of intent, Susan Talve and the people she leads are doing what they’d do anyway—having a meal, getting a haircut—but are deciding very consciously where they’re going to purchase these services, the same way we consciously decide what impact we want when we allocate our charity dollars. Doing good not just by spending money loosely connected to a good cause (that pink-ribbon purchase) but by thinking about what ancillary good can come of the purchase—including the benefits of being geographically selective and alert.

Rabbi Rachel Isaacs is the rabbi of Beth Israel Congregation of Waterville, Maine, and Jewish chaplain of Colby College. Waterville is a town where the main street has been suffering the etiolating effects of cheap-goods big box stores on its outskirts, with a concomitant shrinking customer base for local goods and services, and this means the quality of life is likely to diminish for all the residents. No one loves a sad and empty main street, not the hurting merchants and not the populace when they realize that their town square is empty. (Remember the Lorax; timing is all, in these matters.)

After she delivered a High Holiday sermon a few years ago about the benefits of local shopping, Rachel Isaacs’ congregants noticed that she practiced what she preached. First, it was Talmud study group in a local coffee house, since “everybody wants coffee anyway,” which was followed by regular meetings of Thai and Torah, and then Torah on Tap. Now when Isaacs meets with her congregants for study groups, she schedules her adult-education classes over a meal in one of the local restaurants. “Everyone needs to eat,” she told me (over breakfast is a non-chain Manhattan diner), “and we want to get together to learn, so why not build in this added support for a local place that really benefits from our presence?”

Of course there will be those who argue that economic determinism is what shapes how a once-flourishing village can devolve into a dusty downtown. If the small local stores would only carry better goods at cheaper prices, if the café served tastier food, customers would come, so goes this argument. But Isaacs is making sure, in a small and significant way—a way many of us can pretty easily emulate—that Waterville’s spine doesn’t crumble in the meantime.

Teach a woman to fish. Then go to her local restaurant and order the fish. 

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July 15, 2014 by

Susan Weidman Schneider on the processes of making change.

Gloria Steinem, who just celebrated her 80th birthday, wrote to congratulate Lilith a few years ago on one of our own landmark anniversaries. She praised the magazine for doing its groundbreaking work “with anger and delight.”

“Lilith creates a voice where there was silence; it saves what is good within the patriarchy while transforming what is destructive; it offers scholarship for argument and women’s personal voices for enlightenment; and it does all of this with anger and delight, good writing and humor,” she wrote.

At the time, I was charmed by the fact that anger was on Gloria Steinem’s approval list, and charmed also that in Lilith it was paired with wit. Somehow that took the curse off anger. I’ve always held fast to the idea that the ways in which we work for change matter. And I’ve never believed anger works as a teaching tool. As reviewers have pointed out, the light tone of the new romantic comedy “Obvious Child,” with its straightforward portrayal of an unmarried woman’s uncomplicated abortion, can do more for abortion rights than outraged op-eds. Could be.

But now, in the wake of recent news out of the U.S. Supreme Court, I’m ready for just plain anger. The righteous kind. And we don’t even have to dress it in wit.

It’s not often that an issue arises where you can feel equal outrage as a woman and as a Jew. June’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that some corporations have the right to deny employees contraceptive coverage under their health insurance plans means that one religious group—Christians who believe that contraception methods equal abortion—has the right to foist its beliefs on the bodies—on the health—of a whole nation of women. It’s enraging.

Here is the scathing dissent written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

“Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions ( Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”

Our collective response to this decision to have corporations control women’s bodies has got to be anger, staying true to our own feelings and not masking them.

As I look through Lilith’s archives at our coverage of abortion rights, contraception, and laws affecting our bodies (and hence our minds) I notice a change of tone through the years. First it was diagnostic and hortatory: Here’s what’s wrong, and here’s how you should fix it. Righteous anger was a staple, and writers hoped it would help move the needle, help push for positive change and more rights for women.

Then, anger began to be replaced by nuance. In almost every Lilith article or blog post now, we as editors encourage writers and thinkers to probe how deeply they can go in exploring all sides of a story. We want readers to understand motivation, to ask the many what-ifs. In fact, we pride ourselves on nuance.

But in the case of the recent news, why delve into the motives of the justices who decided that it was OK to deny an entire class of people—women—the insurance coverage for drugs or devices they need? The five male justices seem to have accepted as truth the misunderstanding of the plaintiff, the Hobby Lobby crafts corporation. They were looking to limit contraception access based on a religious belief that abortion is wrong, and that the medicines and devices used for contraception actually cause abortions—a misunderstanding of how contraceptive drugs and IUDs work in the first place. (Disappointingly, some right-wing Jewish religious organizations filed an amicus brief in favor of denying coverage.)

Lilith has written from time to time about the schism between Christian and Jewish dogma on matters of reproduction. But I can’t think of a case where that difference is highlighted quite so starkly. The damage to women is obvious. The damage to Jews includes the setting of a bad precedent —that the religious beliefs of one set of Americans has the power to affect the way others practice their religion.

Women living—and voting—in the United States are horrified, are at risk, and are angry at the decision made by five men. It’s a decision that will likely bring bad news and bad consequences to women, who now have fewer rights than corporations do. The horror —and the accompanying anger —are justified.

At one of the gatherings marking Gloria Steinem’s birthday, Letty Cottin Pogrebin remarked that “Well-behaved women won’t change the world.” I don’t expect that by getting mad we’ll get even—whatever that would mean in a world where men do not need contraceptives. But we can get results. Especially at the polls, and especially in our local communities. When women’s needs are denied en masse, righteous anger can be a tool to shape election outcomes and the court cases to come. 

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