Woman: ‘A Constant Giver’

I can’t get over the wasted energy that went into the article “Sexing the Answering Machine” [Spring 1997]. Many forms of languages are separated into male and female words. Why do you feel offended by this? I would expect you, as a “Jewish” organization, to know that Hebrew above all other languages has a holy background and has reasons for making certain words male or female. You seem to be looking for problems to cry about. As for all service-providing words being feminine, why don’t you appreciate that a woman has the “power” of giving and that, like Hashem, she is a constant giver?
by Chaim Elimelech, via e-mail

Big Mouths

I am writing in response to Bonnie P. Theiner’s praise of former Pittsburgh mayor Sophie Masloff [“Big Mouths,” Fall 1998]. Theiner is correct that Masloff was Pittsburgh’s first female and first Jewish mayor. Theiner neglected to mention the fact that Mayor Masloff made national headlines by going all the way to the Supreme Court to fight to keep a nativity scene on the steps of the Pittsburgh City County Building. Mayor Masloff lost the fight (the Supreme Court citing separation of church and state), but was allowed to keep the Hanukkah menorah on the steps of the building. The reason? A menorah is “secular,” of course.

The campaign that upset me the most was Masloff’s campaign to clean up the city. To try and get Pittsburghers behind the campaign, Ms. Masloff needed a catchy slogan. So what did she have painted on all the public garbage cans? “It’s Sophie’s Choice — Keep Pittsburgh Clean.”

I cannot think of a more distasteful thing to come from the mouth of a “proud, Jewish woman” than to take the story of the torment of a Jewish woman in the Holocaust and to cheerfully equate that tragedy with garbage.
by Hope Ann Nathan
Pittsburgh, PA

Miriam Siegel lives at the Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged where I have been a volunteer for 12 years. Miriam not only speaks her mind (or as LILITH named it, her “big mouth”), she is also a tzadeket (righteous woman). As her “adopted granddaughter,” I have benefited immensely from her hesed (loving kindness) and her commitment to the Jewish value of teaching l’dor v’dor (generation to generation).

Miriam dresses in a suit, pearls and lipstick every single day of the year. I wear a suit, pearls and lipstick every day because of her. She has taught me how to light Shabbat candles and experience the holidays.

The picture of a perfect lady, Miriam has been to jail, arrested for marching in support of the suffragette movement. Her father bailed her out but could not dissuade her from continuing marching.
by Diane Kaston
New York, NY

Right-Wing Women

As a progressive Jew, I am reluctant to comment on an intra-Orthodox conflict, but as a long-time feminist, I must note that we do not entirely lack common ground with these “anti-feminists” [“Right-Wing Women: Keeping Orthodoxy Safe from Feminists?” Winter 1998]. When they claim the right to interpret the texts, when they note that it is still us and not our husbands who worry about whether there is toilet paper in the pantry, when they point out that the women’s movement did a disservice in failing to tell us the price of attempting to “have it all,” they are not as alien to us as they (and we) might think. My faith in education may be blind, but I cannot but believe that their learning will bring many of them ever closer to appreciating the heroines they now demonize, such as Blu Greenberg and BatSheva Marcus. I, for one, welcome them into the struggle.
by Kathleen Peratis
New York, NY

Please!! No one has to tell a magazine that devoted an issue to names that names and words are important. I appreciate the care that went into the decision to use “right-wing” rather than “Torah” Judaism and request that LILITH extend that same care into future editorial policy.

For those of us who do not believe that smikha (rabbinic ordination) rubs off in the marital bed, please refrain from using the honorific “rebbetzin” [for a rabbi’s wife]. (And please don’t use the Israeli version “rabbanit” either.) While many women’s identities may be fully invested in their mate’s professions, that doesn’t mean LILITH should grant that extra halo of authority that is explicitly extended to a rabbi’s wife by using the term. The imbalance in perceived authority merely adds to the potential for incendiary rhetoric.
by Jonina Duker
North Bethesda, MD

Abusive Rabbis

Many people, and many women, remain passionately loyal to Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach because they say he filled a deep spiritual longing [“Shlomo Carlebach’s Shadow Side,” Spring 1998]. When someone gives you something you need, it is difficult to look at the whole of who they are. This is a dynamic of incest. It is tragically ironic that many women experienced Carlebach as healing while he wounded other women and children. Some women felt both cared for and betrayed. This is what makes rabbinical abuse so devastating.
by Amanda Stone
Capitola, CA

As a survivor of sexual assault I want to thank you for the unprecedented step of publishing Sarah Blustain’s article on Shlomo Carlebach. I, too, was sexually assaulted by a rabbi. In the years since, I have withdrawn from a judgmental Jewish community.

I spoke out twice; once, after three years’ silence, to the synagogue where this man served as a rabbi, and again five years later to his national rabbinic association in support of another survivor’s complaint against him. I know why most survivors remain silent. Re-victimization at the hands of individuals who are poorly qualified to determine the credibility of testimony of a sexual assault complaint and who are biased by their relationship to the accused only compounds the effects of the assault.
by Megan Marx
Denver, CO

Speaking as a survivor of repeated sexual molestation, I can attest to the fact that confronting one’s abuser can be nearly as harmful as the abuse itself when the response is inadequate. In my own case, despite several confrontations with my perpetrator and his family, it has only been since his death that I have been able to fully put the issue to rest. Why? Because only since his death have I felt assured that he is no longer able to harm anyone else, and protecting others is quite often the main reason that survivors confront their attackers.

So, please, while Carlebach’s good deeds may have been many and should not be denied, let us look at him as a complete person. And, more importantly, let us not criticize the victims of abuse who are trying to face their experience and find true healing.
by Hilary S. Liber
Carlsbad, CA

The Power of Gold

The Swiss finally admit that they “owe” survivors and their families gold and money transferred to or hoarded by Swiss banks during the Holocaust. Who knows? The survivors may even live long enough to get what is coming to them.

I am a survivor of the Holocaust. Even though more than 50 years have passed since my miraculous survival, even though I try to pretend that I have healed, it is not so.

Now, as I am bombarded with news of the Swiss gold, I think of my own experiences. My late father, who went to a concentration camp in his 40s, was always proud of his beautiful teeth. When he miraculously returned two years later, following the liberation, we noticed he had artificial teeth. Finally, our mother asked him about them. He told us that one of the Kapos had noticed some gold crowns at the back of his mouth and struck his face so long that he spat out most of his teeth, including the crowns. He also told us may other horror stories.

As an adult, I have always liked, and still do like, objects made of gold. I never thought about the origins of these objects; they were simply jewelry. Now I know, from reading about the Swiss gold, that Jewish gold—including my poor father’s crowns—found its way to different places. I do not believe I will buy gold again.
by Irene Frisch
Teaneck, NJ

So Many Liliths, So Little Time

I am pleased that Sarah Blustain included our new anthology Which Lilith? in “Lilith Gets an Image-Lift” [Winter 1998]. However, she seems concerned by the fact that the recent Lilith Fair received more space than Lilith Magazine did. Which Lilith? is essentially a book of contemporary Jewish women’s midrash on the enigmatic figure of Lilith. The other editors, Lily Rivlin and Henny Wenkart, and I did feel it was important to include an afterword, listing examples of Lilith’s appearance in popular culture; the musical event and the magazine (which I respect and admire greatly) were part of this summary-piece. A fuller treatment of both, though merited, is beyond the scope of our book.
by Enid Dame
Brooklyn, NY

Rights for Women

Congratulations on your Winter 1998 tribute to Israeli women’s contribution in shaping Israeli society during the past 50 years. As you point out in your article, “Israel at 51 and Beyond,” women’s accomplishments, although significant, have not received appropriate media attention in the jubilee celebrations. Delighted to be included in your list of some of the women who are making a difference, I must clarify one point. The International Jewish Women’s Human Rights Watch, of which I am the director, is a new project whose goal is to restore justice, fairness and equality to Jewish marriage and divorce. As an observant woman, I and most of the project’s supporters believe that human rights concepts of justice and equality for women in marriage, divorce and founding of a family are consistent with Jewish values. We can quote endless classical sources as well as modern rabbinical writings in support of our position that Jewish law was not meant to be used by vindictive, greedy and abusive husbands to exert control over their wives by denying them a religious divorce (get). The existence of thousands of agunot (chained women) in Jewish communities worldwide is not only a denial of Jewish women’s human rights in marriage and divorce. It is also a violation of Jewish law.

Therefore, I request that the phrase “A new approach applies human rights concepts rather than religious law” in the section of the article under my name be changed to read, “A new approach applies human rights concepts to get injustice.”
by Sharon Shenhav
Jerusalem, Israel