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“I Used To Want to Be Miss California”

SHAYNA MAIDELS: ORTHODOX TEENAGE GIRLS. Produced by Lisa Kors, Box 325, West Stockbridge, MA 01266, (213) 933-4305, 24 minutes.

After a few minutes of arguing with her father about why she won’t buy him non-kosher yogurt, Sinaia rolls her eyes in a typical adolescent manner and asks “Which is more important, my spirituality or your yogurt?”

Shayna Maidels: Orthodox Teenage Girls, a short documentary by filmmaker Lisa Kors, is packed with dramatic snapshots of the lives of newly Orthodox teenage girls from Yeshiva University’s Girls’ School in Los Angeles. In one scene, a mother says tearfully, “they’ve taken her away from me,” while in another the camera focuses in on a young woman davening, her prayer book resting against the boy’s varsity jacket she is wearing.

In this short film, teenage Jewish girls, a nearly undocumented population, speak for themselves. By turning to Orthodoxy, these articulate and animated young women are challenging societal and parental expectations, including those of feminist mothers. In one scene, a girl argues with her feminist mother about the importance of kashrut, and then says, to her mother’s dismay, that she believes that going to college and working are secondary to doing “what God wants.” Still, the film does not allow the viewer to slip into a simplified assumption that the turn to Orthodoxy is an automatic anti-feminist backlash. One of the girls, holding a glittering tiara in her hand, says: “I used to want to be Miss California… now I believe for women to be full people we shouldn’t be treated as objects.”

The film has won awards including best of New England Film Festival and Silver Apple for the National Educational Film Festival. This animated and moving profile of newly Orthodox young Jewish women as they face a turning point in their lives, struggle to find their place in the world and give meaning to their lives, makes a great jumping off point for group discussions for Jewish professionals, Hebrew school classes and Jewish women’s groups.

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMAZONS: WOMEN WARRIORS FROM ANTIQUITY TO THE MODERN ERA. Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Doubleday, 1991, $12.

Looking for baby names, pet names or a new name? For some refreshing ideas, try Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s Encyclopedia of Amazons. This little book is packed with more than a thousand names of powerful women, warrior goddesses, female pirates and other heroic female combatants. Give your daughter, your cat or yourself a name with that Amazon touch. Choose from unfamiliar and overlooked wonderful Jewish gems such as Meyalleleth [“The Howling One,” a Hebrew version of Hecate], Ornoskelis [a Hebraic wind-spirit who waged war against King Solomon] Igrat (identified by kabbalists as the Lust and Warrior demoness), or Naamah (named by Safed Kabbalists as, in addition to Lilith, one of Adam’s two demon wives). And, for Lilith followers and fans, the book contains lists of ancient Hebrew demon-queens, either friends or rivals of Lilith. A unique and fabulous baby shower gift.