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Letters

JEWISH MALE SPERM FOR YOUR CHOICE In response to the Spring 1996 article by Terese Loeb Kreuzer, “Jewish Single Mothers—by Choice,” I wonder if you might send me the address of the newsletter Single Mothers by Choice, mentioned on page 31. I am hoping to find Jewish women who are looking for Jewish donors and where Jewish men might contribute. If you have any information, I would also be appreciative.

by Caleb Kriesberg Bethesda, MD

Editor: Singles Mothers by Choice, 200 E. 84th St., New York, NY 10028; (212) 988-0993. We don’t know if they arrange such matches, but they provide many other supports.

CONSIDERING SINGLE MOTHERHOOD As a Jewish single woman considering having a child, it was encouraging to hear of successful experiences. Unfortunately there was no one I could directly relate to. As a 22 year old recently out of college, looking to establish myself, and considering motherhood, I am very interested in other women who may be experiencing the same issues. Although I related to women in the article, I also felt set apart from them due to my age and my “plans” for a two-parent family, just not in the traditional order. A partner will come along in my life, a child I can bring about, and am considering it. Did you, in your interviews, speak to any women in a similar situation? I would love to somehow get in touch with them to discuss the endless issues that I face when pondering this decision. I’m so glad you are bringing this topic into the light. Thank you.

by Amy Bran Santa Cruz, CA

WHAT ABOUT FATHERS?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article titled “Jewish Single Mothers—by Choice.” Like many articles published in LILITH, it reflected an attitude of acceptance for any lifestyle choice, even if it conflicts on some level with the tenets of Judaism and/or feminism. What troubled me about the article was that it did not reflect the pain the single mothers must have felt when their lovers refused to accept the responsibility of parenthood.

The author explained that the father of Esther Delheim’s baby “wasn’t interested in Commitment,” and that when he found out Dellheim was pregnant “he said good-bye and good luck.” I am not suggesting that society should condemn this man for his unwillingness to become a father, but I do think it’s wrong to create the impression that it’s perfectly acceptable for a man to forego his duties as a parent because the child’s mother is content to raise her baby alone.

It’s encouraging that women today are asserting their independence in every aspect of life, but it’s important to recognize that men also have rights and responsibilities when it comes to child rearing. Society should not give equal credence to selfish, irresponsible choices, such as abandoning a pregnant partner as it gives mature responsible decisions, like providing a stable, loving home for a child.

by Melissa Payne Brooklyn, NY

GIRLS’ ROSH CHODESH GROUPS

I’m 11 years old and I live in Morristown, N.J. On Rosh Chodesh Adar, I started a Rosh Chodesh group. The names of the people that went were: Na’amah Bateman, Suzanne Bodian, Rebecca Karger, and Eryn London. We made hamentashen, decorated Shivitis and tried to reverse all of the male and female parts in the Purim story. In the future, we are going to try to do different tzedakah projects such as working at a soup kitchen. I was wondering if there were any other kids’ Rosh Chodesh groups and if there were if they could call me at (201) 984-3913 or write to me.

by Elizabeth Ochs 57 Fairmount Avenue Morristown, NJ. 07960

LILITH FAVORITES

The Molly Picon article [Winter 1995] interested me particularly; now I’m curious to see her films and learn more about Yiddish film and theater it made them seem more sophisticated and less “heimish.”

by Joyce Goodman New York, NY

YOM KIPPUR AND THE SILENCE AROUND INCEST

I began feeling very uncomfortable on Yom Kippur several years ago after I began having memories of incest as a very young child. It really concerned me that the traditional Torah portion for the mincha service, which contains the clearly stated prohibitions against incest, was omitted in favor of an alternate reading. My rabbi, who was very supportive, explained that he omitted this portion, the Holiness Codes, because they included the prohibition of homosexual intercourse, and he did not want to offend those members of the congregation. I agreed that I did not want to offend them either. However, back at home I knew I could not sit through another Yom Kippur without standing up for the children and clearly stating the prohibitions in our tradition against incest.

Out of that impulse came the following piece of writing. As it would not be comfortable for my family to actually have me say this from our bimah on Yom Kippur, I would like to say it anonymously in a public forum. Many rabbis could use these words or ideas to get this message across to their congregations even though they go ahead and choose the alternative Torah portion:

Mincha Message—Yom Kippur The traditional Torah portion for the mincha service of Yom Kippur is the “Holiness Codes” and one of its messages is the prohibition of incest in our community. I have survived incest and am overcoming its effects in my life. Before remembering this about four years ago, I had been told that incest didn’t happen in Jewish families. However, in recovery I am able to tell you that it does happen, and I am not the only one. Incest is a topic that is very difficult for our community to talk about. It tends to be one of the few remaining issues that are still “unspeakable.” It took forty years for me to be able to let myself know that this happened, let alone talk to anyone else about it.

It feels so good to know that our rabbis of old, in their wisdom, did not have this problem of science. They chose the holiest day of the year, when most people were in temple, to talk about this. They did it by choosing to read the portion of the Torah that tells us it’s not okay for adults to sexually abuse our children.

Today, alternative Torah readings are printed in our High Holiday prayer books, and are frequently chosen by our rabbis. I know it’s not comfortable to talk about this, but it’s not comfortable to be sexually abused either. It is devastating! It distorts every aspect of your life experience, especially your relationships with your loved ones and with G-d. It does this even if you successfully manage to repress the memories, as many victims do. Because my great grandfather did not consider me or my needs when he abused me, I believed that was the truth about me—that I did not deserve to be considered and I did not deserve to have my needs met. I believed that I must be a despicable person if I was so undeserving, and I believed that I had to behave perfectly in every way just to be barely acceptable.

By choosing not to talk about incest and not to state the prohibitions clearly, we are discarding the ancient wisdom of tradition and we are condoning this shameful behavior. I need to stand up for our children and recite the words of Torah from Leviticus XVIII 1- 6,9-11, 17,30.

Anonymous California

SACRED OUTER SPACE?

Thanks for your wonderful, shocking, funny, deeply thoughtful piece replete with maps entitled “Paradoxes and Mysteries of Sacred Space.” Concerning Map #4, “Sacred Wall,” about women’s prayers at the Kotel, under the Labor government a Knesset commission recommended that we be banished to pray outside the Old City Walls in a Muslim section of East Jerusalem. Get your map-makers ready. Either the Likud government will take our demand for public sacred prayer space seriously—or they’ll banish us to Baghdad, Kabul, or outer space.

by Phyllis Chesler Brooklyn, NY

UP AGAINST THE WALL

My story is about Shavuot in Jerusalem—the holiday when we celebrate receiving our Torah at Sinai as a united people.

We began with tefillot and dinner at the Conservative Center at Agron Street, and went to other learning sessions around Jerusalem. Then around 4 AM, we all walked up to the Old City—we were literally going up to Jerusalem on the pilgrimage festival—it was awesome. Thousands of people were singing and dancing in the pre-dawn dark.

Once we got to the Kotel, the Western Wall, people joined the various minyanim that were there. I have participated in many egalitarian minyanim at the Kotel over the past three years—on Yom Kippur, Pesach, Shavuot, and other times. We usually have between 30 and 50 people and we form a close-knit circle in some out-of-the-way place in the plaza area behind the front section. We do not want to cause any trouble and I have never experienced any real problems, just occasional heckling— no big deal.

So, at 5:15, we began to daven in a small circle with about 50 people at the back right-hand corner of the plaza where the Israeli flags are. A few guys in tallitot (including myself) stood in the front so that others could not see the women in our minyan in tallitot and kippot and to prevent any possible problems. But as we went through the morning service, more and more people joined, so that when we finished shaharit, we had more than 125 people. After the morning service, we read the book of Ruth and since we were tired, people sat down and then others could see into our large circle. That’s when the trouble began.

A group of ultra-Orthodox kids came by and began making noises. I went up to them and had an intelligent conversation with them about what we were doing and we debated the halakhic (Jewish law) sources. The most intelligent question came from a six-year old boy, who asked me: “But, what do they (women) gain from wearing a tallit?” I had him read the section we recite as we put on the tallit, which speaks about God’s great love for us. The tallit becomes a symbol for this love, and we wrap ourselves in the shade of God’s wings. I asked him what he thought of this and he replied that it was very beautiful. I told him that that was exactly what they gained from wearing a tallit.

But soon afterwards, older haredim [ultra-Orthodox Jews] came and started to curse and shout at us. They attempted to prevent our prayer by booing and yelling and calling us sinners. They yelled the song “v hivdilanu min hato’im”— who has separated us from those who err. When they got to the words “those who err,” they pointed at us. Never again will that song conjure up anything in my mind but hate.

The haredim formed a wall and began pushing up against us. I was pushed/punched back several times. It was at this time that 1 felt the situation was dangerous. One haredm even tried to infiltrate our circle to steal GUI’ sefer-Torah! I went to the Border Police who guard the entrance to the Western Wall Plaza—they told me that this was not their jurisdiction.

I went into the main police headquarters nearby expecting to find numerous officers working hard to prevent a terrorist attack. Instead I found more minyanim davenning. Finally, on the top floor, where I expected the top-secret Kotel security team to be, I found a few officers smoking, drinking coffee, and playing cards. I told them that there was a dangerous security situation developing. They sent the lowest officer (he was not even allowed to play in the card game!). He checked out the situation and ordered back-up.

We continued the Torah reading under guard and continued shouts. I stood in the wall we made to prevent any haredim from coming into our group. It was pretty rough.

A woman from a modern Orthodox minyan next to ours came over to ask the haredim to be quiet. They were not only disrupting our service, but they were also interrupting theirs. Then I saw the most disgusting thing. The haredim spit all over this woman; they just spit on her. I was in shock.

I went into the middle of the circle to get the maftir aliyah and read the Haftorah. I read as fast and as loud as I could (I had to be louder than our protesters). When I got to the section about seeing the Presence of God, I felt a small rock hit me in the shoulder and bounce onto my head. I could not believe it.

I had been hit by rocks before thrown by haredim in Mea Shearim for standing too close to women during a tour, but, at the Kotel, how could they be throwing rocks at me now, and here!!!! It took me a few seconds to regain my composure and continue. But I was determined to go on and with even more passion and kavannah.

I finished and we went on with the service. The police were having trouble holding back the haredim and wanted to get us out of there safely. Just before we left, my friend. Josh Heller, yelled out the Mourner’s Kaddish. It was an impassioned prayer and a plea. We left traumatized.

Many in the group were understandably angry. I was not. I just felt sad for the Jewish people—we are so far away from redemption, unity, and peace. For me, I must redouble my efforts to make liberal halakhic Judaism survive, so that with God’s help, my grand-daughters will be able to daven at the Kotel without incidents. I hope you will all join in this struggle.

by David Lerner Jerusalem

AND IN THE BASEMENT I am writing in response to Shelly Fredman’s “Sacred Basement” in the Summer 1996 issue. One of the white haired ladies in the last row— although it is hard to believe that is where she sits—is my 93-year-old grandmother, Mary Heisler. My grandmother is a long-time member at Bais Abraham. She attended many women’s prayer services and was proud that they took place at her shul. Grandma was the one who proudly told me about carrying the Torah on Simchat Torah. My grandmother is a woman who is never afraid to speak her mind, an Orthodox woman who keeps a traditional home (traditionally Jewish, she hates to cook) but is supportive and loving enough to her grandchildren that she walked down the aisle at my wedding to a non-Jewish man.

Esther Klevens (a white haired women on the bimah) was also one of the strong women in my life. Mrs. Klevens taught me the Hebrew alphabet song that my two year- old son now sings in the car. She also gave me the gift of a siddur on the occasion of my Bat Mitzvah in 1975, which I now proudly use every Shabbat when I make Kiddush for my family. Thank you for printing this article that stirred some of my favorite memories of living in St. Louis.

by Morissa Stuhlman Fregeau Yellow Springs, OH

A CONVERT’S REGRETS

I am a convert to Judaism. I have found myself increasingly dissatisfied with the half-hearted observance that is the norm at this suburban shul. I feel lonely when I feel I have to apologize to Jewish friends for being shomer shabbos or keeping kosher, or when I daven in my synagogue longing to be surrounded by passion and commitment instead of inattention, or when I daven alone in the women’s section of an Orthodox shul, minus my tallit and tefillin, where I cannot touch the Torah I love.

I feel even lonelier when I listen to an Orthodox rabbi tell me that to be accepted in an Orthodox conversion I must “believe” that women’s place is in the home. “And where does that leave me?” I ask him. Single, 42, no children, a career woman, financially independent. My choices were made long before I became Jewish. Barring miracles of biblical proportion, a family and a dozen children are not part of my future.

by Mary Ellen McCarthy Rut Miriam hat Avraham v’Sarah Atlantic Highlands, NJ

MALE-LESS MUSIC

Re: “Popular Music” by Rahel Musleah [Winter 1995-1996J, two comments:

First, Musleah wrote that singer Fran Avni left Israel “to be near her aging parents.” I would have preferred that she state simply that Fran Avni was once “a popular Israeli performer in the 1970’s” and left it at that! I have lived in Israel for 20 years and have watched people come and go. The mere existence of Israel seems to have created a major guilt complex in Jews all over. We seem to feel that Israel is the homeland and if we do not physically dwell on “her” soil then we are not good Jews. Israelis, especially, have difficulty leaving because of the overriding feeling of betrayal of their homeland and fellow Jews.

Second, I have been a member of the band Tofa’ah since it was founded by Yona (Saslow) Yacabovitch 15 years ago. I was pleased (and surprised) that your author looked positively upon the halakhic ruling of kolishah [a woman’s voice should not be heart by men], stating that we have “channeled the prohibition positively by performing solely for female audiences.” Performing for female audiences is definitely a positive experience well worth trying for those who might frown upon it. We are women finding and promoting our female voice and identity both in secular and feminist circles in Israel, as well as in the Orthodox world.

Thank you for bringing to light all the women who are leading us out of Jewish music male-dominated bondage!

by Ann (Silverman) Limor