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Readers Respond

Powerful Dolls!

Your dreams keep getting better every issue. Hire those interns, Naomi Goodman and Susannah Jaffe, permanently! “Dolls to Live By,” in the Fall 1999 issue, so creative and well-written, touched my heart, and had me nodding in agreement.

As a thoroughly modern bubbe, I cave in under the sparkling eyes of my six granddaughters (can anyone be so lucky?) as they study the catalogue from American Girls.

Some years ago, I called American Girl to say that a Jewish doll would be greatly appreciated and marketable; I set forth a suggestion similar to the Rochel doll you describe. It was not company policy to take such suggestions, they said, but I could write them a letter with an outline. A phone call came as an answer. They have in-house writers only, and in-house planning only. My mother would have said, “So go fight City Hall.”

Although these issues are not world-shaking, they certainly could enrich and shake the worlds of our wonderful daughters and grand-girls. Thank you, Naomi and Susannah.
Marjorie Schonhaut Hirshan,  Boynton Beach, Florida

I read with interest “Dolls to Live By.” Several years ago, as director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, I wrote to The Pleasant Company, encouraging them to develop a Jewish doll, perhaps with some academic and sales assistance from our museum. The response was that such a project did not seem marketable enough, or words to that effect. I thought then, and think now, “are they kidding?”
David Altshuler,  New York, NY

To the young women who were lamenting the non-existence of Jewish American Girl dolls, I was disappointed in your suggestions for new dolls and commentary on the existing characters. One girl said all of her blonde (read: Christian) friends got Kirstin, the Swedish girl. The other young woman suggested (historically interesting) dolls with dark hair and eyes. Sigh. Let me tell you my story. I look like I fell off of an Easter parade float. Peaches and cream, blonde hair, blue eyes, little upturned pointy nose-the whole shiksa shmorgasborg. I was adopted into an American Eastern European family and converted at birth. At three, I was sent to a Jewish pre-school, where I was singled out for ridicule because I did not look like anyone else. My cousins were all dark-eyed, dark-haired and became my template for beauty. I thought in order to be beautiful, one must have dark hair and eyes, something I would never have.

Jewish feminist critics have attacked “Dharma and Greg” for portraying the Jewish character as a (socially acceptable) fine-featured Lady Godiva blonde instead of a zaftig frizzy-haired Queen Esther brunette. Personally, I was thrilled to my secret soul to see someone like me on TV—blonde, flaky and Jewish. We criticize those who stereotype and pigeonhole us, then turn around and do the same to ourselves. It’s taken me 25 years to accept my looks—blonde hair and all—and reshape my definition of beauty to now include myself.
Lizz ZitronColumbia, Missouri

The Next Battle

Re: “Right-Wing Women: Keeping Orthodoxy Safe from Feminists?” (LILITH, Winter 1998) First things first: I consider myself both modern Orthodox and a feminist. I am currently embroiled in a set-to with the rabbi of my synagogue about my wearing my tallit to synagogue, and so very much have lived through the fear and prejudice and ignorance of the people who feel threatened by women who challenge rigid categories. I took issue only with the little insert in the article entitled “What Do We Do With Adam’s Rib?” In it, your writer attributes to Mina Glick a retranslation of the Hebrew tsela into “side.” The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament lists “side” immediately after “rib” for its translation of the word. Moreover, the rabbis of the midrash expressed the view that the human was created as a two sided creature which was then “split” into its two components, male and female. The attribution of this view to a contemporary serves—certainly in the eyes of the ultra-Orthodox—to undercut the credibility of the writer.

Which brings me to the next point: power lies in knowledge. The modern Orthodox woman must continue to insist on access to the same texts that were closed to us for too long. The next step, as your writer rightly pointed to at the end of the article, is to become the authors of new texts destined to accrue to the canon.
Susann Codish via e-mail

By Tefillin Bound

Congratulations on the moving article by Haviva Ner-David (“Will She Be the First Orthodox Woman Rabbi?,” LILITH, Winter 1999). Although I am a rabbi, I am not a graduate of the Conservative seminary. Both I and the woman who is my “shul partner” put on tefillin daily for the very same reason as Ner-David: in response to the Torah obligation to “bind them on our hands and put them for frontlets between our eyes.” For a number of years there was a mailing list called the Women’s Tefillin Network, both run by and subscribed to by many, many women who have accepted this mitzvah. I hope that the author of this article finds it heartening to know that many more than 20 women (as cited in the article) who are not Conservative rabbis wear tefillin.
Rabbi Arlene M. Schuster, Bellevue, Washington

Proud Crones

I loved the Winter 1999 issue of the magazine. I am using it in our “crone group.” We are about ten to fifteen “older” women who meet once a month and exchange stories. I am collecting them, perhaps for publication some day.

Each meeting we pick a word and everyone writes for ten minutes—without stopping. What usually emerges is phenomenal. The first time we did it on “food.” Of course, everyone wrote something different. But then, what woman doesn’t have some issue with food? Another week we wrote on “balance.” Also very interesting.

It’s great to talk about the problems facing the “frail elderly” but what about folks like my parents and their contemporaries who at 92 are still going strong? I think they need to be looked upon as a new role model for those of us approaching old age.
Deborah Fuller, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

High Praise

Just got the new issue in the mail and having read almost every word of the first nine pages I can tell you it’s better than ever — and I’ve yet to crack the main section and the intriguing feature stories. Thanks for the mention of my Daily News piece and the fax campaign to Barak [encouraging him to keep his promise and appoint more women to his cabinet], but thanks most of all for continually producing a superlative magazine. 
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, New York, NY

Fertile Foremother

I’m now in Jerusalem studying for the year, and Lilith may be the most popular periodical in the HUC-JIR library (past issues are kept behind the desk because they tend to grow legs and walk off by themselves!).

One error: Karen Paul-Stern’s review of Nina Cardin’s latest book says that all the matriarchs had trouble conceiving. Our foremother Leah should not be in that category. According to tradition, Leah’s fertility was the cause of friction between Leah and Rachel.
Linda Steigman, Jerusalem, Israel

Scholarly Source

Pegah Hendizadeh Shiffman’s article on the impact of negotiating dual cultures on Persian-American-Jewish young women (“How Najeeb Are You?,” Winter 1999) was derived from her senior research paper in the Women’s Studies program at Brandeis University. For more information about the original version please e-mail her at pegah_schiffman@ yahoo.com.
Professor Shulamit Reinharz WalthamMassachusetts
(The author is director of Women’s Studies at Brandeis University.)

‘We’? ‘They’?

Alice Sparberg Alexiou’s “The Golden Ghetto’s Shame” (Fall 1999), was a refreshing admission of a truth about the more common relationship between Blacks and Jews. I am a Jew, I live and work among Jews, but I am also an African-American who lived through events like those described in her article. I found Alexiou’s honesty and self-reflection liberating. Here was someone Jewish who was willing to admit that a current of racism against Blacks exists among the most liberal of middle-class Jews.

My personal experience has been that Jews as a group may have been vaguely sympathetic to Black civil rights. Yet, the Jews we dealt with on any kind of personal level were in general an entirely different story. My mama was Mrs. Brodsky’s maid, and however kindly mistress may have been, their relationship was ‘maid’ to ‘woman of the house’—a distinct imbalance in the power relationship.

For many other Blacks the only Jews they knew were the ones who owned stores in their neighborhoods. The Jewish slumlord may have been a stereotype, but some Jews did fit the description. Most Blacks did not tangibly experience or benefit from Jewish largesse to our social and charitable organizations, while many Blacks of the era remember that for the most part Jews did not treat us that much differently than rest of White America did.

I am personally pained that anti-Semitism has become casually accepted among my Black brothers and sisters. Yet because of my personal intimacy with Jewish racism, I feel less grateful to the Jews who marched and sang and died for the ideal (as yet unrealized) of Black equality than angry over the psychological scars Jewish racism has embedded in my own life.
Janice Fleming Berg, Plainsboro, New Jersey

Your profile on Hadassah’s Check it Out program (“Breasts — Check Them Out,” Fall 1999) was excellent, but your implication that the New Me is not successful in teaching self-esteem is premature. The program seeks to affect the long-term behavior of girls, which takes more than a one-hour seminar. That’s why Hadassah works with the teachers as well as the students.
Bonnie Upton, New York, NY
(The author is Hadassah’s National President) 

 Corrections:

The material in Haviva Ner-David’s article in the Winter issue of LILITH, “Will She Be the First Orthodox Woman Rabbi?” was adapted from her book Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination (JFL Books, www.JFLBooks.com). She is studying for rabbinic ordination with Rabbi Aryeh Strikovsky in Jerusalem and is a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy at Bar Ilan University.

Ellen Kushner’s CD “Welcoming Children Into the World,” created by WGBH and Rykodisc, is available for sale on the “Sound and Spirit” website www.wgbh.org/pri/spirit. The site was misprinted in our Winter issue.

The Pauline Wengeroff passage quoted in Rachel Josefowitz Siegel’s “Taking Care” (Winter 1999) came from Shulamith Magnus’ translation in Memoirs of the Grandmother: Scenes from the Cultural Life of Russian Jewry in the Nineteenth Century, Vol. I, and was quoted by permission from the University of California Press.