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Readers Respond

Putting Baby Up for Adoption

Thank you for your feature on adoption [“Sex and Shame in a Different Era”, Winter 2000]. In 1964 I was a pregnant teenager waiting out an illegitimate pregnancy and arranging to give up the baby. At the last minute I chickened out, let myself be talked into a shotgun wedding, and kept the child. I’ve always felt guilty that I deprived my son of the perfect family the agency promised, forcing him instead to live with two impoverished teenagers in an ill-advised, abusive marriage that did not last as long as his childhood. If, as the article suggests, the agency might have been lying to me about this perfect home, then I feel a little better.

by Cara Lamb

I too suffered the indignities as a pregnant unwed teenager in 1967. I spent four months at a Louise Wise Home for Unwed Mothers in the New York City area. I was the only girl still in high school and was tutored so I would not fall behind.

Author Michele Kreigman asks, “Why did you give your child away?” We had no choice, at least not if we wanted the best for our children Yes, it is difficult for later generations to imagine a time like we describe. A time when I was treated as if I had murdered someone, although my crime was that I had innocently loved someone.

When it comes right down to it, we all did have a choice. The choice we made was based upon the overwhelming love we had for our infants. We gave them the chance to be brought up by two parents who wanted a child desperately and were unable to conceive.

What we did was the best choice for our children, at a time when they would have suffered the indignities along with us. Yes, we now know that some of our children were abused; some were brought up by less than perfect people, but that is the chance we took. We, as most parents, did what we thought best at the time.

I have reconnected with my son who is now thirty three years old. Although we both mourn the loss of each other as mother and son, we feel blessed to have found one another.

by Ellen Blau

Feminism Redux

A definition of the word “feminist” as used in the article “How Feminist Rabbis Are Transforming Jewish Life” [Fall 2000] would have helped this feminist. Author Sarah Blustain weights down the word “feminist” with so much baggage that I, a long-time activist for women’s rights, am excluded from her vision of the feminist movement.

Blustain writes that one congregation “was set up with a feminist decision-making process characterized by a surprisingly generous sharing of power uncharacteristic of most traditional congregations.” Later she states that the “valuing of the individual voice, of diverse experiences, and mutually satisfying solutions have long been tenets of feminist ideology.” All of these may be laudable goals, but they are not necessarily feminist goals. They smack of “essentialist” or “difference” feminism, a theory founded on the belief that women are by nature different from men, and perhaps better—more likely to share power, to listen to all individuals, to operate by consensus, and thereby to improve human relations.

I do not believe that women are inherently more drawn to the informal, participatory, consensus- driven models Blustain describes than are men, and I certainly hope that no one reading Blustain’s article came away with the impression that they are not feminists if they prefer a congregation led by a spiritual authority figure.

by Piper Hoffman

I read Susan Ellman’s poem “A Husband of Valor” [Fall 2000] with great interest. That interest turned into annoyance when I came to the lines “His children rise up and call him blessed His wife also, she patteth him on the head.”

To me this smacks of contempt for anyone who would gladly take on the role we have been hoping men would assume in egalitarian households. One pats children and dogs on the head, not other grownups and equal human beings.

by Sarah M. Mendlovitz

La Streisand

When I was a child in the ’60’s in King’s Point, Long Island, going to the beauty parlor to have my hair straightened and decorating our “Chanukah Bush” were common practices. It was an era of affluence and assimilation. No one was bold enough to be “too Jewish”. Then along came Barbara [“The Myth of La Streisand,” Winter 2000] with her nose, her accent, reveling in her unapologetic Jewishness. And we Jews held our collective breath to see how she would be received by the American (non-Jewish) public. Who knew? She became a superstar. Barbra Streisand was the Hank Greenberg of her era, more than a celebrity. For Jews clinging precariously to their place in our culture, she was a messiah.

by Elizabeth Schwartz

Amplification

Baltimore Hebrew University is not the only College of Jewish Studies to have been headed by a woman. Alice Shalvi served as rector (academic head) and then also as president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem (affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary) from 1997-2000. [Kol Isha, Fall 2000.