When we’re editing an issue of Lilith, often a single subject takes center stage and stays there; much of the content seems to accrete around one theme, like iron filings toward a magnet.
This time was different.
First we settled on the fiction. In a year when racial diversity is evident in the White House, in synagogue pews, in Jewish nursery schools and in the pulpit, two powerfully told vignettes pulled us into worlds very different from our own: the Civil War and the years right after the WWI. Each story is embedded in an era when perceived boundaries between groups felt impermeable, and for a time all articles we read seemed to us to focus on race.
But then…a feature we had been discussing for months began to take shape: the report on new and old end-of-life rituals women are adapting right now. As some Lilith reports do, the section “Feminist Funerals” had its origin in a wide-ranging conversation many months ago around the Lilith library table. Interns, editors, board members and a couple of visitors began to talk about what makes a “good” funeral. The working title was uttered––“feminist funerals”––and it stuck. When the first drafts of Amy Stone’s piece arrived at Lilith, our in-office conversations shifted, and we spoke about Jewish funeral traditions, about older widows who take charge of their lives in dramatic ways after the death of a spouse, about eulogies women are now delivering to memorialize female friends and relations, about why unveilings are such a do-it-yourself responsibility. You get it; we became a little obsessed with the subject.
And still later… Lilith fiction editor Yona Zeldis McDonough met feminist luminary and critic Elaine Showalter one evening. The scholar mentioned her devotion to the HBO hit “In Treatment.” What an opportunity for us to learn Showalter’s views on a show so many people, I among them, are addicted to watching! So we emailed, she responded, and now you get to find out what she thinks, and why this series is so compelling to women. Especially in the U.S., where a disproportionate number of shrinks are Jewish (and so many now are Jewish women) how did this transplant from Israeli TV manage to win us over with an Irish-American psychotherapist and a cast of patients that doesn’t seem to include even a one Jew? Don’t know, but I was hooked from Season One on the unfolding dramas in these lives, and how the characters grapple with them. They’re powerfully engaging precisely because they mostly seem an awful lot like the rest of us. The allure of the show’s individual narratives is undeniable, maybe variant iterations of the first-person narratives we get at the Lilith office.
Lilith’s mission has always been to amplify the many different voices of Jewish women, and this issue’s abundance of thoughtful perspectives — on relations between Jews and others, on cleaning house, on a mature daughter’s memories of an unforgivable father––renders vibrant voices on every page. So what does the rich variety on this buffet of subject matter prove? That not one size fits all? Maybe. But more than emphasizing that your individual experiences will likely direct you first to one piece or another, the range in this issue reflects the complexities of what you, and we, are interested in — namely, all of it. We like to learn about women like — and unlike — ourselves. Eve Coulson, a Lilith board member, host of a long-running Lilith salon in Princeton, nailed it when she described Lilith recently: “It’s an ongoing conversation and idea exchange.”
Welcome to the conversation — in print, on the web, and in person at a Lilith salon near you. Share your ideas and talk back to Lilith’s authors and editors at Lilith.org.
It’s your turn now.