The Lilith Blog

September 21, 2018 by

A Forgotten Lillian Hellman Play That Deserves Another Chance

Set in a small town in Ohio and revolving around a workers’ strike at a brush factory, Lillian Hellman’s little-known play, “Days to Come,” was a resounding flop when it debuted on Broadway in 1936. Hellman, who had enjoyed great acclaim for her first play, “The Children’s Hour,” went on to even wider success and fame with her next play, “The Little Foxes.” 

But at the opening night of this one, her second-born, as she called it in her 1973 memoir “Pentimento,” she stood at the back of the theater, sensed that things were going wrong, and vomited. Then she saw William Randolph Hearst and his six guests walk out during the second act. Bad reviews and a quick closing followed.

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The Lilith Blog

September 20, 2018 by

Why I Didn’t Talk for The Duration of Yom Kippur

Jews throughout time and space have a practice of atoning during Yom Kippur by refraining from eating and drinking for 25 hours. From time to time, including this year, I choose to add to my dietary fast by voluntarily abstaining from speech, too.

Evidently this practice is called Taanit Dibbur (a speech fast), but I only learned that after I had already adopted the practice about five years ago. (You can find out more with a Google search.) I am not a rabbi or Torah scholar, but I am a mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, attorney, writer, trustee and advocate. Thus, words and speech are the very stuff of my life. Like most stuff, words can accumulate, get cluttered, and need to be purged from my mental space. For this reason, taanit dibbur is a valuable clarifying spiritual exercise I highly recommend.

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The Lilith Blog

September 20, 2018 by

When You Say #MeToo, What Dangers Lurk?

We’ve heard a lot recently about becoming an upstander, rather than being a passive bystander when you’ve witnessed a bad event. We’re learning how to defuse a threatening situation on a street or in a crowd, how to offer support on the spot to someone being bullied or harassed.

But now, especially in the wake of Yom Kippur, I’ve been thinking about how we can become attentive to other aspects of wrongdoing or suffering that seem less obvious. We fast and beat our breasts and recite our transgressions and shortcomings each year to improve. And one of those ways is to become more aware of the less obvious needs around us—something that recent trends in feminist activism can help us do.

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The Lilith Blog

September 20, 2018 by

Sorry Brett Kavanaugh: Religious Women Use Birth Control

Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 9.12.54 AM

Before the big story of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings switched to an alleged attempted sexual assault from his youth, he had already earned women’s groups’ ire: he quoted a right-wing religious talking point, calling birth control “abortion-inducing.”

I’ll share a secret with you: that argument pushed by groups like Priests for Life, the group Kavanaugh quoted during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings last week, has nothing to do with the reality of what religious women do. They use birth control.

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The Lilith Blog

September 18, 2018 by

A Prayer to Forgive Yourself on Yom Kippur

(See last year’s prayer here.)

Yom Kippur is here, and I churn.
Like my foremothers, who stood at the helm of domestic technologies
Spinning
Weaving
Churning
Kneading
I feel my insides move and dilate.
It’s hard to think straight.

Am I here to offer apology?
To demand pardoning?
To ask forgiveness?

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The Lilith Blog

September 13, 2018 by

As a Male Rabbi, I Plan to “Lean In” to Childcare

This year will be a year of profound change in my life – and the opportunity for my spouse, Mirah, and me to change minhag, the customs of our people. It is no secret that clergy in committed relationships often crater their partner’s careers. I have seen colleagues use holy words as pretense to ignore their partner’s needs – and at my worst, might have done so myself. It is narcissism wrapped in the language of Torah.

We denigrate both ourselves and our tradition when we demean the people to whom we father daughter beachshould be most committed – especially when we do it in the name of God. When people decry organized religion, it is our hypocrisy as clergy that gives them legitimacy.

I enter this Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year, filled with trepidation about what I might do, or fail to do, when a new baby enters our lives. We both plan to continue working and will do our best to co-parent. But I fear that my failure to lean into parenting will ruin Mirah’s career. 

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The Lilith Blog

September 12, 2018 by

Anti-Semitism Among the WASP Elite

The idea for my novel Not Our Kind was born at Vassar College, where I was a student in the 1970s, where there was enough visible diversity to make a Jewish girl feel she was not alone. I encountered plenty of Jews, both students and faculty. Yet while I didn’t experience much overt anti-Semitism, I felt keenly aware that Vassar had historically excluded people like me—I was the “not our kindof my eventual novel’s title. 

I could feel it in the manners, the mores, the very air around me. Vassar was a WASP institution and bastion, and I knew I didn’t entirely belong. In fact, it was at Vassar that I acquired the nickname that became my pen name. I had commented to a friend that my Hebrew first name and Polish surname felt all wrong and that I should have been called Katherine Anne Worthington; he jokingly responded by calling me Kitty. It’s a name that stuck. 

The anti-Semitism at Vassar was occasionally overt—y648my freshman roommate casually noted, “Well, your people did murder our Lord,” a remark for which I then had no ready reply. But it was the more passive, almost nonchalant anti-Semitism that stung most. I remember an English lit class in which we’d been reading Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and I said that I found the stereotypical characterizations of Jews in their poetry—greedy, money-grubbing, hook nosed and so forth— upsetting. A fellow student raised his hand and said, “Oh, well, that’s what everyone was like back then,” as if that should have cancelled out my discomfort, and made it, somehow, all right. And then there was the memorable evening that I went to hear a lecture on 18th century Rococo painting that was to be given by a well-regarded scholar visiting from Germany. Before he came to the lectern, someone from the Art History department read a short bio by way of introduction. I don’t know what I expected to hear, but it surely wasn’t that during World War II, this man had been a high ranking official—a commander, a general, I don’t recall which—in the military.  A Nazi, in other words, though the word was not actually said.

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The Lilith Blog

September 7, 2018 by

Surfaces, Glitter… and Feminism? A Cinematic Ode to Matriarchy

There’s something radically painterly, about Sofia Bohanovich’s new documentary film Maison du Bonheur. Bohanovich spent a month in Paris living with the 77-year-old mother of a friend of hers, Juliane Sellam. The resulting film is as much an intoxicating series of images, both domestic and urbane, as it is a story about the still coquettish Mme. Sellam. 

Narrative film is so dominant today that we forget how at the dawn of moving pictures, artists and theorists understood that film was like painting. They saw that it was in editing and montage—placing images next to each other in non-linear fashion—that the radical artistic potential of cinema could be found. It’s worth seeking out this film not only for its subject, but for how it demonstrates the flexibility and artistry of the camera.

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The Lilith Blog

September 6, 2018 by

My High Holiday Prayer: Stop Exploiting Jews of Color

About three months ago I invited over 20 Jews into my home for a havurah we call the Tacoma Shabbat Experiment. After my co-organizers and I finished leading Kabbalat Shabbat and the important bits of Ma’ariv, we sat down to a dinner that I’d prepared. I only planned for 20 people, and we had almost 30, but we found more plates, pulled up another table and folks sat on a hodgepodge of various lawn chairs and stools. Wine flowed, we tended to a pre-lit bonfire and folks meandered around the backyard my wife and I share with neighbors.

shabbat tableI was saying goodbye to one woman when a man I didn’t know approached me and asked what my connection to Judaism was. Slightly tipsy and really pissed off, I quickly reminded him that his question was hugely problematic. He leaned in to ask about Ethiopian Jews and Ugandan Jews, hoping for some validation. Instead of realizing his misstep he continued to ask my connection to Judaism, claiming to not understand my objection to his line of questioning. Thankfully, a white Jewish woman stepped in and I turned my back to him to continue to say goodbye to a friend.

This was not the first time a white Jew has questioned the authenticity of my Judaism based on the color of my skin. It was, however, the first time a white Jew had done this to me in my own home.

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The Lilith Blog

September 5, 2018 by

Rosh Hashanah Forgiveness for #MeToo Offenders? Not Yet.

MicWill no one think of the poor abusers in the #metoo moment?  Don’t they get a shot at redemption?

The question sounds like a joke, or maybe a gross parody at first. We’re nowhere near the point of spending enough time supporting and thinking about the victims survivors to feel anything close to an obligation to help their abusers. Not. Even. Close.  But right now, that damn question (phrased in almost exactly this way — I’m not kidding!) is everywhere. As the summer ended, Louis C.K. quietly showcased a new set at the Comedy Cellar, his first since he admitted, and sort-of-apologized , for forcing aspiring female comics to watch him masturbate, the question of redemption is everywhere. 

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