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Lines Of Communication

Dear LILITH:
At the urging of the Attorney-General of Ontario (because he knows we get things done!) B’nai B’rith Women of Canada has undertaken a campaign to raise Canadian awareness re the growing tide of violent and horror-filled pornographic video-cassettes that have been pouring across our border. Although 98% of these obscene materials are coming from the United States, the Canadian end of the industry is estimated as a $500 million greed trip for local porn distributors.

There are deficiencies in our Criminal Codes dealing with obscene films (they haven’t been updated since the 50’s) and we are sponsoring forums, seminars and panels throughout the country to educate the public about what is really out there in our video stores, available to anyone of age who has a credit card.

The censorship issue seems to be critical in the Jewish community, but we have discovered that censorship has become our sacred cow! Government determines what foods we may eat, what drugs may be legally purchased, what additives are dangerous in our meat and cosmetics, even what kind of air we may breathe. If the government can regulate these things, why do our politicians (male) believe that they cannot regulate the amount of torture, rape, violence, and degradation that are heaped upon women and children in this muck of pornography that seems to be proliferating along with the rapidity of changes in the technology?

Obviously, they can enact laws which can deal with the depiction, production, importation and distribution of violence, bestiality, and kiddie porn if we raise our voices till they are heard. No politician is going to stick his neck out if he believes the voters sanction, by their silence, films that make Playboy look like Bambi.

 We believe the issues in the complex morass of pornography cross the borders that separate Jewish women’s organizations by ideology, politics, philosophy, etc. These changes are important to us all, and only by working together can we create change.

by Selma Z. Sage Executive Director, B’nai B’rith Women of Canada, Downsview, Ont.

Dear LILITH:
Re “Pornography in Israel” (#11): I hardly consider the use of nude or semi-nude women in advertising as pornography. To say that women are being exploited always struck me as odd. The models are surely paid for their efforts. Men buy the magazines and products. So who is being exploited?

by Elliot Greene, New York NY

Dear LILITH:
The ads for underwear in Monitin which exhibited two women in conjunction with a furnace reminiscent of the Holocaust was particularly nauseating. The use of children in the other item was also an indication to what level certain elements in Israel have sunk. That things of this nature exist everywhere else (virtually) doesn’t make me feel better. That it now exists in Israel is, for me, depressing.

Please send me information on some of the Israeli groups that sponsor women’s shelters, etc., so that I can send a contribution. Thank you.

by Stanley Brookoff, Brooklyn NY

US-Israel Women-to-Women is funding many Israeli groups that run shelters, rape crisis centers, etc. They can send you this information. Write them at 4 Sniffen Court, 156 E. 36 St., New York NY 10016.

Dear LILITH:
I was appalled at the rampant and explicit pornography I saw when I was in Israel. This should not be a problem, for apparently present Israeli laws ban all pornography. What is needed then, is not a change of law or an added law. Rather, an organization—or coalition of organizations (cutting across party and religious lines)— must invest the money, time and energy necessary to bring pornographers to court and see them prosecuted.

by Y. David Shulman, Monsey NY

Dear LILITH :
I was moved to write by the article on intermarriage (#11). I have not ever received any indication that the Jewish community would allow me to be even part Jewish; as my father was the Jewish parent, I was informed that according to Mosaic tradition and law it only “counted” if the mother was a Jew.

At the time I thought it was due to an age-old fear of men that they could never be absolutely certain that their child was really “their” child, rather a pejorative view of women’s virtue. As I grew older I realized that it could also have been due to the attitude that men’s parenting was inconsequential, or, at least not important enough to raise a child in a religion or a tradition. At any rate the message was clear, YOU are not one of US.

My father refused to acknowledge that he was Jewish; he said being an atheist precluded being a Jew. We were kept away from my grandmother, a Polish Jew, except for obligatory holiday appearances. I was raised as a Catholic, and never had any affinity for the religion. I am areligious at this point in my life, age 32, and have been ever since I can remember.

I am intrigued by the statement of Inge Gibel that it is “… an important mitzvah— saving a Jewish child, because every Jewish child who is not raised a Jew is a loss to us, and in the age of the Holocaust we can’t afford that loss.” I suggest to her and to you at LILITH that there are many disenfranchised children of Jews who may perhaps stop peering against the glass if the door is opened a crack for them.

by Susan Popoff-Baker, New York NY

Dear LILITH :
I have not met either Paula Hyman or Arlene Agus (interviewed in #11, “The Jewry is Still Out”), but I detect more than a feeling of hopelessness or pessimism as they review the last decade. I feel just the opposite, and hope my vantage point from the Pacific Northwest, while not exactly the seat of Jewish culture and activity, is not unique.

Jewish feminist sensibilities—on the part of both men and women— are definitely increasing. Twelve years ago, my daughter was only the second young woman (after the rabbi’s daughter) to have a Bat Mitzvah in our synagogue, which is more than 100 years old. Now, there are probably as many girls as boys undertaking the study and ceremony, even though girls are not yet “required” to do so.

Aliyot, carrying the Torah, being counted in the minyan, full participation, are an accepted and welcome part of the way our Conservative synagogue treats all its members. I was president of our congregation a few years ago, and particularly delighted at how our older members, particularly the women, took me aside and said, “it’s about time.”

Much of this enlightenment, if one can risk such a term, is due to our rabbi who has been with us 30 years, but seems to be becoming younger in spirit every day. He will brook no separation of the sexes, and by his example, leads the rest. A congregant asks: “Why are Sabbath candles only kindled by women? This seems sexist.” The rabbi’s answer: “You are absolutely right. Judaism… assigned roles to men and women even though the law does not fix these roles. A man can kindle the candles and a woman can chant the kiddush…. Don’t worry that by modifying them that you are doing something wrong and sinful.”

We in Portland struggle as do many Jewish communities, with issues of identity, alienation, loyalty and others which affect us deeply. While nationally, it was a disgrace that the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary for too many years did not admit women as rabbinical students, it is a reason for joy that it finally does. On the West Coast, the University of Judaism educates scores of young men and women. In Portland, we have a woman cantor (at the Reform synagogue) who is welcomed even at the Orthodox/ traditional shul, and a woman editor of our communal newspaper.

The important message, I believe, is that we have not failed—we just have “miles to go before we sleep,” but miles further we will indeed go, with the majority of Jews-men and women—at our side.

by Elaine Cogan, Portland OR

Dear LILITH:
Shame on you for printing the paragraph in E. Cohl’s letter about lesbians (issue #11). Publishing dissenting/divergent views is a worthy exercise of free speech/freedom of the press. Publishing that hate-filled, homophobic paragraph serves only to push Jewish lesbians out of the Jewish community. At a time when we are struggling to maintain a sense of Jewish identity, LILITH’S poor judgment hurt me to the quick. Surely you would never publish openly anti-Semitic material in your magazine. Please have the same respect for your lesbian sisters. [name and address withheld on request]

Dear LILITH:
I just picked up my first copy of LILITH at Charis, the feminist bookstore in Atlanta. The design, graphics, and format are inviting, uncrowded and concisely written. I was also warmed to see the inclusion of the interview with Evelyn Beck (issue #10). It was through my acceptance of my sexuality as a lesbian that I began to examine the other hidden/denied parts of myself. Through this I discovered the feelings I had about being Jewish.

We have organized a Jewish lesbian group here in Durham. We are like a family. For the first time in my life I am helping plan and enjoying holiday celebrations. I feel proud to be a Jew and a lesbian.

I have begun speaking out about the subtle anti-Semitism of exclusion in the Christian Bible Belt. I was recently quite shocked at bringing this up with the “Christians” I work with in a progressive social change organization. I was told to separate myself from my Jewishness if I expected to be successful in my work. Well, rest assured I will not. Another “nice Jewish girl”—who is on the Board of this organization—and myself will be proposing a policy that requires no prayers before meetings or conferences or non-denominational prayers. I will not deny who I am.                                

by Tobi Lippin, Durham NC

Dear LILITH:
Last Passover, our family went to the house of a rabbi friend of my father’s to spend the holiday seder with his family. Along with the comfort of the familiarity of the rituals, I also experienced a deep sense of alienation as a woman in that setting. I kept trying to block out my feelings, 
but they overwhelmed me. My perception of it all was that the women cooked and the men led the service. Why the four sons—where are the daughters? Where am I in this story?

When I tried to express this to my family later I got all sorts of reactions. My mother looked at me as if I was making it all up, she did not see what I saw. My sister saw but said I shouldn’t let it stop me from getting something out of Passover (or the whole Jewish tradition for that matter). But I couldn’t listen to their consolations. My father just felt hurt that something so meaningful to him I was calling “sexist.”

I remained confused and frustrated until. . . LILITH. Its articles spoke to my concerns directly and sensitively. The persistence and dedication of other Jewish women struggling to maintain the dignity of both identities without sacrificing one over the other—their voices have been a great inspiration. Especially moving was Blu Greenberg’s excerpt from her book “Women and Judaism”—A View From Tradition” (Issue #9).

It is a privileged to contribute to LILITH. Thank you.

by Susan Bernstein, Somerville MA

Copies of issue #9, which includes LILITH’S “Egalitarian Hagada,” are available to our readers at $4. (including postage).

Dear LILITH:
I thank you for taking note of my receiving the “Center Professional of the Year” award of the Association of Jewish Center Workers (#11). To set the record straight, however, I serve as Director of the Judaic Studies and Israel Programs of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, not “New York’s. . . Washington Heights” as stated in your Mazel Tov column. Please be assured that there is, indeed, life beyond the Hudson.

by Elaine S. Mann, Rockville MD

Dear LILITH:
I would like to take out a subscription to LILITH as a birthday present for my mother. I am very proud of her. She just finished her term as president of Temple Sinai in Newington, CT. There were too many times when I had to explain to people, “No, not president of the sisterhood, president of the congregation.

by Liz Reiner, West Hartford CT