Readers Respond

Lilith As Map
I started reading Lilith one year ago this month. A friend bought a copy for me after I told her I had made the decision to convert to Judaism. Throughout my conversion process, 1 looked forward to each new issue. Four issues later, my conversion is complete and next ‘ week I will celebrate my adult bat mitzvah. Lilith has inspired me, educated me, and made me aware of resources available to me as a Jewish woman. Thanks, Lilith, for helping me along my journey. I plan to take you along with me, where ever my path takes me from here.

by Dawn Capone, West Deptford, NJ

Forgiveness—At Any Price?

One would think that the thesis of Susan Schnur’s piece “Beyond Forgiveness,” [Fall 2001] would be self-evident, but unfortunately it is not. Pervasively indoctrinated with a conservative bias against independence and truth speaking, we are constantly bombarded with the virtue of making peace. Peace at any price. I commend her for the courage and clear thinking it took to articulate her position. From my perspective, it cannot be repeated often enough.

by Diana Shahmoon

The article “Beyond Forgiveness” thoroughly resonates with me. It is something I have been arguing for years, both on a personal and a “political” level. I have a real problem with the entire high holy day litany of ashamnu, bagadnu [we are guilty, we have betrayed] and with ancient Israel taking responsibility for her having been abused by God and the nations. The fact that we include mipnel hataeinu galinu meartzenu [for our sins we have been exiled from our land] in the holiday prayers as the reason for being banished by God distresses me.

On the personal level, I was in my fifties when my older sister told me that my mother occasionally beat me with a belt when I was very little. I decided not to confront her. I felt that she was too old (she lived until she was almost 90) and that this was something too painful for me to rake over with her. It was, on some level, a decision not to forgive her and not to come to some sort of resolution. I still don’t know if I made the right choice— but your article validated my decision (or was it indecision) and gave me some terminology to express it.

by Naomi Graetz Be ‘ersheva, Israel

About Jewish Women’s Eggs

I am a 38 year Old Jewish woman who struggled through 3 and a half years of infertility. Through in-vitro fertilization my husband and I conceived our amazing and wonderful daughter, now 22 months old. Unlike the women you describe in “Jewish Women’s Eggs: A Hot Commodity in the IVF Market Place” [Fall 2001], I was fortunate in that I was able to use my own eggs and my husband’s sperm.

In the article, IVF is defined “as a process whereby eggs are ‘harvested’ from a younger donor (whose eggs have a better chance of producing a successful pregnancy) and fertilized in a lab by sperm, possibly from the woman’s own partner” This description misrepresents IVF. Many, if not most, women/couples who go through IVF do so with their own eggs and sperm. It is only when a woman is unable to produce mature follicles/ eggs or has an inability to respond to the follicle stimulating drugs that an egg donor would be considered.

I write this on behalf of myself and all the other women/couples who have babies through IVF who are of their own genetic egg and sperm. While this article raises very important information and issues with respect to infertility and egg donor options, to define IVF incorrectly is disrespectful to the women and men who have conceived their children through this process.

by Eileen Stein Seattle, WA

Do Not Dominate Others

Atsena Rena  resource item in the Summer 2001 issue suggests that a “free fly fishing retreat,” where participants can enjoy “peace, quiet and nature,” might be an appropriate activity for women recovering from breast surgery.

Fishing might bring these women less peace and quiet if they were aware that it causes terrible pain to the fish. Fish hooks tear the mouth of the fish again and again as the creature struggles to break free. Finally, it is dragged out of the water, all bloody, to die of suffocation. To cause pain to any living i creature is against the Jewish law against tzaar ba ‘alei chaim (suffering of animals). It is also contrary of the feminist ethic of refraining from exercising domination over others—adult humans of either gender, children, animals, and, yes, fish.

by Aviva Cantor, New York. NY

Supporting Our Gender-Variant Children

I was glad to see the article “Jewish Mothers, Gay Sons” [Spring 2001]. Our Jewish culture has such strong messages about how . kids are supposed to grow up (comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth, heterosexual, married) that when something else happens, both parents and kids need support in adjusting to the way things are.

I would like to call attention to an issue raised by Sarah Epstein in her article. The behavioral cues that she used to convince readers and herself that her son was gay were all based on stereotypically female behaviors. She noted that her son preferred the company of girls to that of boys, that he was careful, that he helped in the garden and that he liked to dress up in her jewelry. Epstein chided herself not to “stereotype,” by which she meant not to employ the stereotype that all men with feminine characteristics are gay. However, it was exactly these behaviors that led her to assert that “It was at that moment, when David was seven, trying on my beads in front of the mirror, that I suddenly, absolutely knew that David was gay.” Not only does this reinforce a stereotype that all boys with feminine behavior will grow up to be gay, but it supports the gender-binary and heterosexist notion that our sexual orientation is based on attraction between “opposites,” i.e. that someone with a female gender identity is most likely going to be attracted to a man.

I’d like Jewish parents out there to know that you may have gender variant children who are gay, straight or bisexual. You may have a gender variant child who is simply more comfortable with behavior or activities typically associated with children of the other sex, or you may have a child who is transgender. Jewish children, like all children, deserve to grow up in families and a culture that gives them room to be whoever they are, as it sounds like Epstein did. I just couldn’t let slide her conflation of gender and sexual orientation.

by Margaret Rothman San Francisco, CA [Coordinator, LGBT Outreach, Jewish Family & Children ‘s Services (415) 449-1228]

Women and Judaism in Poland

Although I read with interest Shana Penn’s “Warsaw Diary: Democracy in the Balance” [Winter 2000], I also wish to clarify some of her claims about Bejt Warszawa, the newly formed liberal Jewish community in the capital city.

I concede that available religious materials are sorely inadequate. The Polish translations are apparently quite antiquated and inaccurate. Even the transliterations need to be re-worked for the benefit of Polish readers. The Lauder Foundation, working with the only existing synagogue in the city and other Orthodox-based programs throughout the country, have funded a Polish siddur project, but a Polish/Hebrew Tanakh does not yet exist, nor do other holiday materials. All the new materials being created are non-egalitarian [with women excluded].

Ms. Penn is correct when stating the lack of outside interest and funding for more liberal Judaic programming in Poland. Autonomy for reemerging Jewish communities can only be achieved with initial external support. Until non-Orthodox denominations show a commitment, modern-day Poland will only know one denomination of Judaism. When I speak professionally about my recent rabbinic experiences in Warsaw, I remind my audiences that before the war, The Great Synagogue on Tlomackie Street was a liberal synagogue.

When it was bombed in 1943, photographs show that one of its external side menorahs remained undamaged. Looking at the photographs in the city’s Jewish Historical Institute, I see the surviving menorah as a symbol that the light of Judaism has not been extinguished. Nevertheless, the light of liberal Judaism needs a lot of help to be rekindled. In 2001, there is a hunger for alternative expressions of Judaism, but advances in learning can only go so far without available materials and teachers. Bejt Warszawa’s organizers have exciting ideas and great plans, but they need external direction as well.

Many Jewish male and female voices are singing together in Warsaw, but so far, the outside non-Orthodox world is not listening.

by Cynthia A. Culpeper, Rabbi Birmingham, AL

Lessons in Breast Appreciation

I have spent a lot of time thinking about the essays on “How Jewish Women Feel About Their Breasts” [Spring 2000]. It seems to me that these articles bring two issues into sharp focus. Americans still seem to feel that the optimal body image is the so called “WASP” figure of a tall, slim, athletic girl. In this age of multiculturalism, isn’t it time to admit that she is the minority? The other issue involves how we raise our daughters. Your writers struggled with their emerging sexuality and their changing bodies. Time to teach our young daughters that sexuality is OK even when sexual activity is not. Young women should be able to feel good about their bodies no matter what shape they are.

by Joanne Glass, Highland Park, IL

I was saddened to read your articles about breasts. So much attention paid to a fleeting subject. I am a Jewish woman in my 40’s, and I’ve lost my big, soft, cushy breasts to breast cancer. I have mourned them and have been forced by circumstances to “move on.” Your article reminded me of how much I enjoyed hugging my children to my bosom. Here’s some advice from a Jewish woman who once had “boobs” of her own: don’t complain, philosophize, or think for a second that you are “not enough” because of your breasts. Revel that you are alive, that you are Jewish and that the world is full of possibilities

by Leslie Topus, Columbia, MD

Women in Israel’s Army

You Never know where the feminist education that you try to instill in your children might take them…

My daughter enlisted in the Israeli Army last November, giving her feminist mother great pride (and her Jewish mother a lot of anxiety!). She decided to join a first-of-its kind unit in the Combat Corps, in which men and women get the same training and fulfill the same combat tasks. Their mission is to protect and patrol the “peace borders” with Jordan and Egypt.

My daughter has many stories. She and the other female soldiers had to convince their officers that they really do need more toilet paper than the weekly allocation! On a more serious note, the army has also had to deal with forming new rules about relationships between men and women in these units, and with the protests of religious factions uncomfortable with the co-ed arrangement.

The lessons that my daughter is learning now will be valuable to her in the future, and this experience will open up many doors for her and for the other young women serving with her.

by Jodi Groberg Hodrov Kibbutz, Machanayim, Israel