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Readers Respond

IN THE BOX

Thank you for giving voice to those who have traditionally gone unheard. I was ordained as a rabbi 2 weeks ago, and I turn to you for inspiration and expression.

Anonymous from the suggestion box accompanying the LILITH exhibition Lilith Magazine: The Voice of Jewish Women” now touring North America

NOT IN MY BACK YARD Apropos of Rabbi Shafran [Spring 2004]. Addressing domestic abuse is hindered everywhere by the assumption “It’s those people over there, not us.” Orthodox Jews say it’s the secularists; secularists say it’s the Orthodox. It’s the Edot ha-Mizrach. Jews of the Middle East]. It’s other races. It’s not upperclass educated professionals.

Our domestic abuse organization in Chicago, SHALVA, organized by the Orthodox community, is careful to address all parts of the community. Assuming “It’s them (the Orthodox, or whoever) and not us” holds us all back from addressing the issue.

by Rose Ann Chasman, Chicago, Il

BETTY BOOP’S ROLE MODEL

I feel no story about Betty Boop [Spring 2004] would be complete without mentioning Mae Questel (1908- 1998), the actress who voiced more than 150 Betty Boop shorts, and came back for a command performance at the age of 80 to do Betty Boop’s voice in the film “Who Killed Roger Rabbit.”

One day, when I was living in New York, I practically hit a guy who was standing in the middle of the street, shouting up at a window. I recognized Woody Allen, later realized that he had been directing a scene from “Oedipus Wrecks,” his section of the trilogy film “New York Stories” (1988). In the film. Mae Questel plays the suffocating Jewish mother to Woody’s neurotic, middle-aged lawyer son. One day he takes her to a magic show where she is chosen to assist the magician in a disappearing act. Mysteriously, she never reappears, and suddenly her son’s life seems simple and easy. Until, that is, she shows up as a giant apparition looming in the sky above Manhattan—you could even see it as Betty Boop’s revenge.

Here’s Mae Questel’s bio, from a film database. Her own story is very interesting, and probably the prototype for Betty Boop’s. Mae was 17 and living in the South Bronx when she won a local contest to find the girl who most resembled Helen Kane, a popular singer known as the “Boop-Oop-A-Doop Queen.” Betty Boop creator Max Fleischer heard Mae doing her “boop-oop-a-doop” routine and hired her to do the character’s voice in 1931. She served as the voice on more than 150 Betty Boop animated shorts until the character was retired in 1939. Her recording of “On The Good Ship Lollipop” sold more than 2 million during the Depression.

Trivia: She not only provided the voice of Olive Oyl in the ‘Popeye’ cartoons, but the toddler Swee’pea as well. In film she was best known as the matchmaking Mrs. Strakosh, one of Barbra Streisand’s card-playing neighbors, in “Funny Girl.” Her Orthodox Jewish family was totally averse to her having an entertainment career. Her parents and grandparents had their wills drawn up accordingly so as to discourage this career choice.

by Liz Safirstein Leshin, Los Angeles, CA

TEEN BODIES (AND MINDS)

Attended a family bat mitzvah on Saturday evening and, mindful of your article [on oral sex among young Jewish teens at bat and bar mitzvah parties: Winter 2003], my husband and I spent a good deal of time patrolling the restrooms and dark corners. The girls were quite bored, it seems, and spent much of the evening in the bathroom pulling apart the floral arrangements and critiquing each other’s dresses and bodies. The men’s room, it turned out, was of much greater interest. There, my husband reported, the boys, rather than focusing on the girls, were much more interested in each other, and in experimenting with kissing the other boys. So, an extra, homoerotic wrinkle to your point that these events are staging grounds for Jewish teen sexuality.

I’ve also decided to make a donation to LILITH on behalf of said bat mitzvah. Honestly, a family that can afford such an evening doesn’t need my $100 check as much as some of my favorite Jewish women’s causes. I’ve decided that from here on in, I’m just sending donations in the name of bar and bat mitzvah celebrants.

 by Miriam Peskowitz, Philadelphia PA

Thank you for the piece about Jewish teens and oral sex. You did an excellent job uncovering this disturbing phenomenon and raising the issues of self-image, sexuality, peer pressure and gender imbalance that it encompasses.

I spent the better part of the weekend discussing this with friends, family and the mothers in my mother-daughter book club, a group which plans to tackle this as our daughters approach bat mitzvah age. I also intend to share the piece with my colleagues working with youth groups, to ensure that they are incorporating this information, and strategies to address this problem, into their programs. Congratulations on a well done piece, which I hope will raise awareness in the Jewish community and beyond.

by Lisa B. Eisen, Washington, DC

Imagine a hall with tables holding a couple of hundred women of all ages. In the front, a large round table seating a group of girls, 11 – 15 years of age. There they sat, while (most of) the rest of us participated; asking questions, reading, singing and dancing. There they sat, like pale porcelain dolls. All appeared thin, immaculately garbed and coiffed, hyperconscious of their appearance. They said almost nothing, did almost nothing except to flutter and periodically finger their hair I was overwhelmingly struck by the contrast with the lively group of pre-bar-mitzvah boys I tutor.

This was at a women’s seder this spring. The seder itself led by three of us women rabbis and three women cantors, felt wonderful: lively, musical, meaningful— and definitely feminist.

The seder meal was an additional shock. Why? I had expected, at such a gathering, that the conversation would be other than [about their] dermatologists, what they would and would not eat, the status of their nose jobs, and repeated comments about their physical appearance, their attractiveness. Eating with many of their mothers, I could not keep my eyes from straying again and again to this table of young women. I left the seder burdened with a poem I had to write.

Doll-Body Daughters

We, the mothers,
the grandmothers…
drank the waters of life
from Miriam’s cup
rose to dance
shaking tambourines so hard
the room split
into those of us
who would, could
accept freedom
wild-hair flying
kicking away shoes
with impossible heels
moving bodies
we too often reject
and those
who could not
partake of the feast
of freedom
a round table of
doll-body daughters
bound
into slim form
so they could
reveal
tiny bellies
above tiny skirts
and tight, short, latest style
strait-jackets …
I have so many questions.
The ritual four
could not be asked
by these four daughters
whose silent voices
did not rise to challenge
their bondage
who did not rise to dance
hair flying
who could not eat
the feast of liberation
The blood and tears
I shed this night
I shed for the daughters
of my people
doll-body daughters
enslaved
mummified
in their cosmetic
Mitzrayim

by Rabbi Nomi Oren, Miami, FL