As the old cliche goes; I have good news and bad news. First, the good news: my colleagues have nominated me to be chair of the English department of George Washington University. This is an amazing trajectory for me—from G.W. B.A. at 40 to tenured professor at 65 to department chair. I have overcome my age, my gender, the resistence of G.W. to hire its own graduates, the abd [all but dissertation] on my PhD, my lack of academic credentials—on and on! The support for me was overwhelming and I feel so proud. But—and here comes the bad news—I must clear my decks in order to take on this challenge, and in order to leave myself any time at all for a writing life. (My most recent mss., a memoir in short stories, is under consideration as we speak—so to speak). Alas, I won’t be able to be Lilith’s fiction editor any longer, a labor of love, believe me. You honored me with the post, and I’m so grateful to have been a small part of a magazine I respect so much.
by Faye Moskowitz
[Lilith’s staff and readers have benefited hugely from the presence of gifted short story writer Faye Moskowitz as fiction editor for the past several years. Not only have her fiction selections been wonderful, but her thoughtful comments to the writers whose works she read with such care were much appreciated.]
The Whole Megillah
Re: “Reclaiming Purim” (LILITH, Spring 1998). Here for the first time, the whole megillah by Rabbi Susan Schnur. It explains so much better than I can why I cannot celebrate Purim in the traditional ways—reading the megillah, dressing as Esther (certainly not Vashti) and stamping at the reading of the name of Haman—and finally killing Haman—and his entire family.
Three years ago I did an oneg at a small Reform synagogue in New York City drawing the connection between the way we learned about Purim and the silence in the Jewish community about family violence. This LILITH addresses both of these issues and more.
It’s not that I feel vindicated— after all, I did speak out—but this LILITH is great.
by Sandy Warshaw
New York, NY
A Joyful Roar
The Purim issue was magnificent for my soul. Thirty years, warrior of truth and passionate Jewish artist/prophetess vindicated. Know that I cried and each part seared my confidence in your LILITH spirits. . . . How dare we not mention our need to find our place in pre-patriarchal history . . . and to reclaim our roots in our deities that have been suppressed, suffocated annihilated . . . modeling our own people’s annihilation. My joy in reading turned into a roar, finishing with Susan Schnur’s opening article on sitting with her family at the synagogue, reflecting on Vashti.
by Fanchon Shur
Vashti Was Right
I was thrilled to see Vashti discussed in your spring issue. For the past ten years, I have worn a homemade “Vashti was Right” button to Purim services. Also, when her name was mentioned, I would jump up and scream “Yeah Vashti.” One year, while living on Staten Island, I was called up to read megillah, and included the line that the local NOW chapter (of which I was president) supported Vashti. The rabbi was not amused! This year at my Putnam Valley Reform Temple, I dressed as Vashti, wore my button, and again screamed “Yeah Vashti.” I found a more receptive congregation.
I wish that more people could understand that supporting Vashti’s position is not negating Esther’s existence. If Esther had been asked to dance naked, she might have said no. If Vashti had been asked to dance naked to save her people she might have said yes.
by Hope Blumenthal
New York, NY
It’s Purim, After All
I enjoyed immensely Susan Schnur’s speculations on the origins of hamentaschen, but I was taken aback by her characterization of the first two chapters of Esther as a “dangerous induction into woman-hating.” After all, chapter three contains a patent polemic against Jews, yet no one is suggesting a rewrite because we all understand that these anti-Semitic sentiments come from the mouth of the evil Haman, who will soon receive his comeuppance.
Likewise, the misogynistic text that Schnur quotes from chapter one comes from the mouth of a pompous, sycophantic advisor to the king, and is signed into law by the same foolish king who will be shortly authorizing the casual genocide of his Jewish subjects. Are we to take it as the true message of the megillah?
It is certainly true that a close reading of chapter two gives a picture quite different from that of the “beauty contest” we all learned about in Hebrew school. Yes, the girls are brought in as virtual captives, to be sexually sampled by the king. And yes, Esther, the “winner” of the contest, wins the right to be that sexual captive of the king who is privileged to wear a crown and host her own parties. But I don’t see this chapter as an endorsement of the king’s methods. Rather it serves to highlight the courage and skill of Esther, as she negotiates the rescue of her people from a position of near powerlessness.
Rather than rewriting the first two chapters, why not greet those sexist lines with the same derisive merriment, hooting and cat-calls with which we greet the anti-Semitism portrayed in the later chapters? After all, it’s Purim! For one day, we can fearlessly laugh in the face of our worst enemies, and believe the promise of the scroll: that the whole structure of misogyny and hatred is about to be turned upside down by a brave young woman with a secret identity.
by Lise Weisberger
New York, NY
The articles about “retarded” relatives were interesting, but I assumed it was only a problem of an older generation. Some years ago I worked for an organization that provides assisted housing for developmentally disabled adults, and they said that several times a year, particularly in the Bronx, the police would come to them for help—a baby boom-age developmentally disabled adult was found when his/her elderly parent caretaker died.
Many times the neighbors hadn’t even known the person existed. Baby boomers weren’t institutionalized, missed the availability of mainstreaming or even special education services, and the parents were still afraid of opprobrium, so they kept them home. The opprobrium was real—I remember quite distinctly a developmentally disabled neighbor who was in my kindergarten class, and the teacher was merciless against her. The parents finally took her out of school in first grade, but I never knew where she went to school after that, as it was before special ed. classes. Some things we take for granted nowadays.
by Nora Lee Mandel
My divorce is very imminent and I feel that I would like to mark this in a more personal way than just a piece of paper from the local court.
For me, divorce is a rite of passage as much as any other life-changing event. I am looking for some form of idea of ceremony or ritual that would help me express my feelings about this change in my life.
Other milestones in one’s life have established forms of expression: puberty by a bat mitzvah, commitment to another by a wedding, death by a funeral, even menstruation by performing the ritual of the mikvah, etceteras and etceteras.
I thought that in America and especially amongst Jewish women’s more feminist element, there would have been exploration of this type of thing. You said that you knew of a pamphlet on different rites of passage, which did touch on divorce.
by Susan Goldstein
New York, NY
[For a packet of original LILITH articles on new rituals and celebrations, including those for divorce, send $12 (check or credit card) to LILITH, 250 West 57th Street, Suite 2432, New York NY 10107; or e-mail your credit card order, with mailing address, to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
The article about Yemenite babies (“Were Yemenite Babies Really Stolen?” Winter 1997) is the same story that friends of mine in Jerusalem suffered when they came from the Kurdish mountains of Iraq to Israel in the early 1950’s. In the settlement camp they were told that their newborn daughter had died, but they knew otherwise. They learned later that a lot of their friends had the same experience. Since they had never lost babies in Iraq, why would this happen in Israel?
They learned many years later that their babies were being given to Holocaust survivors and, yes, after many years of dogged pursuit they did locate their daughter and were reunited after 21 years. This family, in the years since, lost a son in an Israeli war whose body was never found and had children maimed in Machaneh Yehudah by terrorist bombs. That is perhaps why they are politically right-wing.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of such stories where the Sephardic community, thought of as being very fertile and not too worldly, would believe the Ashkenazim, who were running Israel in those days.
It is really a black mark for all of us.
New York, NY