How Girls Eat

As a Jewish college-aged woman, I too have dealt with many issues regarding food and negative images of my body [“Jewish Women and Food,” Summer ’95]. The Jewish holidays, whether Chanukah or Passover, always represent guilt for me. I remember one Yom Kippur in particular when I was 15. I fasted the entire day, but at the “break the fast,” I binged, and then had a purging encounter with the porcelain toilet. We are supposed to eat to end the pain of the fast, yet my “full belly” guilt was even more painful. I have come a long way, but I don’t yet fully accept my body.

This past summer I was counselor at a Conservative Jewish camp in Ojai, California. Several of the girls had serious eating disorders. They commented throughout the day that they were “fat,” which they are not. The saddest part was when Shabbat arrived. After the beautiful meal—and believe me, it is the only camp meal I can use that description for—I watched them make trips to the bathroom to purge. I recognized this because I lived it myself. The happiness and peace that fills Friday night is shattered with fierce bitterness and self-hatred. I believe that as a woman I must help fight this disease—and it /,v a disease. Judaism teaches us to love ourselves—but it is a lesson that comes hard to many Jewish girls and young women.

by Alysa Zeltzer Encino, CA

Rural Jewish Feminists

Re: Susan Schnur’s Summer 95 article, “Aren’t You Gonna Eat That?” I also have a compost pile and vermicomposting bin (worms), and have always felt there was a certain Jewish economizing attitude that added to my pleasure of feeding the worms. I bet Ms. Schnur has learned a lot about being a Jewish woman through gardening: I have a guilt-ridden time weeding and pruning. It strikes me that perhaps Christians are more prepared to sacrifice something for the good of the whole. (They employ that metaphor constantly.)

Jews have been urbanized longer than any other people, yet our religion is agrarian based. What happens when we go “back to the land?” 1 live on 125 wooded acres. The harvest holidays seem “real” to me, but the timing is often off. How did our Eastern European ancestors cope? Can you really eat comfortably in a sukkah in October in Russia? Passover was great this year in Vermont, but spring had not sprung yet at all!

Many topics could use a dose of Jewish Female Introspection: gardening, environmental ism, child-rearing, and, yes, husbandry (can the feminine of that be wifery?).

by Carolyn Sloane Wallingford, VT

An Orphan Remembers

In response to the Summer ’95 review of These Are Our Children: Jewish Orphanages in the U.S.-l grew up orphaned in the I930’s in Roxbury and Dorchester (at the time, two Jewish sections of Boston). I lived right behind Blue (Jew) Hill Avenue behind a Jewish restaurant, and 1 slept in the aroma of Jewish cooking wafting through the restaurant fans into my open front bedroom window. From playing Queen Esther (in my aunt’s nightgown) in the Purim play, to listening to the beauty of the Psalms recited daily in my (very Jewish) public school, to absorbing the colorful Bible tales at Young Israel’s Saturday morning story hour for children, my experience growing up in those Jewish neighborhoods opened important scholarly doors for me. (I am over 70 and have written 8 books; I received my B.S. at 40; Ph.D. at 45.)

But I never would have survived my childhood if it hadn’t been for Jewish philanthropy and social services. My mother died when I was 10, and my brother and I were taken from my father by the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children. We moved in with my grandparents. They had no money, but the Jewish philanthropies sent me to summer camp, provided counseling for me as a troubled adolescent, and, when I was 18 and supporting our household, the Jewish Women’s College Club gave me money for evening classes. This changed me forever.

Not to sentimentalize growing up a Jewish orphan in a poor neighborhood, but my neighborhood was a community, nurturing its children in a way that is rare in poor areas. I still have a craving for the Jewish cooking of those restaurants on Blue Hill Avenue. There are crises that only lukshen kutgel can ease.

by Ruth Harriet Jacobs Wellesley. MA

Hiding Behind Hair

I enjoyed your Spring ’95 issue on Jewish hair. I make my living as a hair .stylist. On a daily basis I deal with growing, cutting, changing, and removing it. A year ago I went from having long hair (dark, thick, wavy, down to my shoulder blades) to short short hair, 2- 3″ long. I had been hiding behind all that hair. Suddenly, I felt like yelling, “Here I am! This is me!” No longer did I have to worry about my hair (e.g. no bad hair days). I was no longer a slave to fashion. People stopped me on the street, “What a great haircut! You’re so brave to go that short.”

I admit to being shocked at my silhouette—a head with ears sticking out. 1 also admit to feeling less feminine—a little more harsh. But is it harsh, or just powerful? Clients often say how much they’d love to have short hair, but their husbands or boyfriends won’t “let” them. I tell them, “But, you’re the one who wears it!” But suddenly 1 understood them because my egalitarian boyfriend (of 6 years) was less than thrilled with my hairless look, and, though he never asked me to grow it back, I was afraid of not being attractive in his eyes. Those of us who rebel against conformity still have fears we don’t care to admit.

by Rachelle Skloff Nashville, TN