The Jewish Feminist Organization lives. The J.F.O.’s untimely demise was erroneously reported some months ago. In reality, there are active local J.F.O. groups around the country, proving the organization’s grass-roots appeal even though the coordinating national office has suspended operation. Both the Baltimore and the New Jersey J.F.O. groups sponsor speakers’ bureaus, study groups and a wide range of activities for Jewish women. New Jersey J.F.O. held a feminist Seder, among other events, and the Baltimore women have been reviewing literature and texts used in Sunday and Hebrew schools, intending to present to publishers recommendations for ending the sexist bias in many learning materials for Jewish children.
Baltimore Jewish Feminist Organization, Aliya Cheskis Cotel, 3433 University Place, Baltimore, MD 21218
Jewish Feminist Organization of New Jersey, P.O. Box 1210, Union, NJ 07083
Emanating from Minneapolis and Philadelphia are plans for a film on the Prophetesses. Research for the film is proceeding in two veins. First, the women involved are studying Biblical sources, in an attempt to “hear the voices” of Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Hannah, Avigail, Huldah and Esther. Emphasis is on approaching these remarkable women as our spiritual forebearers. Second, energy is devoted to understanding the symbols and myths of these matriarchal figures from the perspective of comparative religious thought. The film, in its final form, will move in and out of time, a collage of Jewish her story. Much of the film will be shot on location in Israel, its creators say. Those interested in working on the film project can contact:
Devorah Marvey, (612) 473-2373
Rachel Adler, 410 S.E. 6th St., Minneapolis, MN 55414
Andrea Cohen-Kiener, 4526 Osage, Apt. 1A, Philadelphia, PA 19143
A 16-year old Jewish feminist in Philadelphia last year started a feminist synagogue in that city. There’s been press coverage, and even some support from the Lubavitch movement. The synagogue is Beth Ishah, and it welcomes men as well as women to services, which for the time being are held only on Friday evenings.
Congregation Beth Ishah, c/o Sarah Ravinsky, 643 Ritner St., Philadelphia, PA 19148
Ways of praying together other than in the traditional synagogue with its defined roles for men and women:
St. Louis Women’s Minyan, c/o Leah Blanchard, 731 Leland, St. Louis, MO 63130
Town and Village, (Conservative) Synagogue, 334 East 14th St., New York, NY 10003
At this synagogue, with Rabbi Stephen C Lerner, women and men share all religious responsibilities equally.
West Side Minyan, c/o Norman Levin, 310 West 85 St., New York, NY 10024
This is an integrated minyan, traditional but informal.
If you have a child at a Jewish day school or Hebrew school, or if you are a child at such a school, or a parent, or a teacher, or are interested in learning about innovative projects for Jewish kids, there’s a magazine called Alternatives in Religious Education, which is fresh and useful. Reviews of books and films point out the not infrequent bias in favor of traditional male-female roles, which is refreshing in an educational publication, and the magazine is edited by a Jewish woman, Audrey Friedman Marcus.
Alternatives in Religious Education, 1110 Holly Oak Circle, San Jose, CA 95120
Last Spring the Reform movement sponsored a conference on “How to Avoid Role-Stereotyping in the School Curriculum.” A summary of the Conference has been compiled, listing the kinds of stereotypes prevalent in Jewish education and some suggestions as to how they can be eliminated. The Conference stressed the need to find more options for girls and boys in religious education.
Committee on Religious Education, New York Federation, of Reform Synagogues, 838 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10021
Gay Jewish women are beginning to organize. LesbiaNashim (nashim is Hebrew for women) is a Jewish lesbian group of both Sephardim and Ashkenazim, working-class and middle-class women. They define themselves as “Jewish lesbians involved in a struggle against classism, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia.”
Lesbia Nashim, c/o Real Class, P.O.B. 31118, San Francisco, CA 94131
Susan Merson, a New York Jewish actress currently acting in Vanities, presents Jewish women’s theater to interested groups around the country. Ms. Merson’s China Doll is a one-hour virtuoso presentation in which she acts out six stories she’s written about growing up Jewish. Her sketches range from the chicken-noodle night-flights of a six-year-old, to bizzarre experiences in the subways of Berlin, to a confrontation with the Jewish community on a subject vital to the growth of a Jewish woman. The tales all come out of Ms. Merson’s own life—she grew up as a Jew in a non-Jewish community and has been learning all her life “what makes you Jewish”—and are a distillation of her experiences to dramatize the steps she took toward maturity and acceptance of a creative Jewish identity.
Susan Merson, 30 West 70th St., Apt. 3B, New York, NY 10023, (212) LT1-6470
The New York Jewish Women’s Center has begun activities for Jewish women (and friends). The Center’s goals are “to educate and facilitate the personal awareness and growth of Jewish women” through courses, seminars, consciousness-raising groups and action-oriented projects. For a nominal $5 fee you can explore yourself through the personae of female Jewish personalities in a course using music, mime, drama and mask-making. There’s also a practicum in religious skills, in which women can learn how to conduct prayers, and women’s prayer services. Other courses discuss views of women in Jewish writings, self-assertion techniques, and more. There is no membership fee involved in the nonprofit Center.
New York Jewish Women’s Center, Ellen Umansky, co-ordinator, 299 Riverside Drive, Apt. 3D, New York, NY 10025
The League for Women’s Rights in the Courts is struggling for the reform of Israel’s marriage and divorce laws within the framework of halachah (Jewish law), which is the law of the land on personal status matters. The League has published a premarital document safeguarding the rights of husband and wife and a book by the halachic scholar Zev Falk on “Divorce action by the wife in Jewish law” (in Hebrew). It also runs a voluntary court of domestic conciliation which eliminates the need for lawyers and legal expenses. The League documents various cases of injustice and brings them to the attention of the lawmakers to work for improved legislation. The League’s address is: POB 52, Kfar Yona, Israel. Tel.: 38108.
For widows recently bereaved, or those who want to share their past experiences with others facing similar losses, there are two programs recently set up to encourage Jewish widows (and widowers) to seek help in expressing their feelings and restructuring their lives. “Our two basic objectives are to help women over the mourning period, and then to develop a new lifestyle,” says Bea Wiseman, who has implemented a counseling and self-help program for widowed people in New Jersey. At the suggestion of a Jewish funeral director there, who found that many Jewish widows had nowhere to go to seek help, Ms. Wiseman helped to develop an outreach program unique in that it uses widows as volunteers to approach women recently divorced themselves rather than waiting for bereaved people to contact the service. “We assume that the new widow needs help,” says Ms. Wiseman.
A similar program is being organized now in Baltimore, where the director, Barbara Cahn, says that the goal of such services is to “ease the pain of widowhood by providing volunteer counselors who have been through the same experience.”
While both programs ostensibly are also appropriate for men whose spouses have died, Ms. Wiseman, who helped train widow-volunteers in the Baltimore program also, remarks that “Men did not come forth. Unfortunately, men do not reach out in our society the same way that women do.”
Bea Wiseman, Widowed to Widowed Outreach, YM/YWHA of Bergen County, 211 Essex St., Hackensack, NJ 07601
Barbara Cahn, Widowed Persons’ Service, Mt. Sinai Hospital, 2401 W. Belvedere Ave., Baltimore, MD