The Lilith Blog

January 15, 2019 by

The Women’s March 2019: Muslim and Jewish Women Navigate the Waters

Side by side in prayer, Muslim women (front), Jewish women (back) at Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom national conference. Photo: Amy Stone

Side by side in prayer, Muslim women (front), Jewish women (back) at Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom national conference.
Photo: Amy Stone

The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is a grassroots organization bringing Muslim and Jewish women together to get to know one other and together stand up to hatred. Yet despite its mission, the organization is not getting involved with the competing Women’s Marches being held in New York (two of  dozens of marches around the country) this Saturday, January 19.

Not shying away from inflammatory issues, back in November, SOSS members at their 5th annual national conference got the challenge from co-founder and sister-in-chief Sheryl Olitzky, just after the murder of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh: “America is on fire. Are you ready to be the firefighters?”

In the all-is-right-in-America autumn splendor of a college campus, some 600 women, some in hijab, a few in yarmulkas, had come together at the conference of the only American organization of Jewish and Muslim women and teenage girls. Galvanized by Trump’s incendiary pandering to racism, SOSS membership has more than tripled since the 2016 election. After the Pittsburgh killings, SOSS provided some comfort. Black paper strips for all were the conference equivalent of the cut black ribbon worn by Jewish mourners. We mourned the 11 Jews murdered at Tree of Life synagogue and the two African Americans gunned down six days later at a Kentucky supermarket when the white killer couldn’t get into a black church.

Edina Lekovic, a founder of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, based in L.A., told  the assembled groups, “I’ve been here too many times – Muslim, Latino, LGBTQ, African American. Too many times, we’ve come together to grieve.” Quoting the Quran: “Surely with hardship comes ease.” But then this woman with the elaborately braided head covering put a new spin on it: “I used to think it meant, ‘First hardship, then ease.’” But then the subtler understanding: “It’s not sequential. Surely with the hardship, within the hardship is the ease.” Her message: “It’s time to go deeper. Neither fight nor flight but reconciliation and justice.”

What does that mean for Lekovic as an American Muslim? “Not just by marching in the streets but sharing the hard stuff, sitting together in living rooms, going deeper.”

That’s a bedrock principle of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. For instance, the group has a directive: don’t try to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict till you’ve known each other for at least a year and built friendships that, hopefully, will humanize seemingly intractable political positions.

And now, a new test case: the dangers for Muslim and Jewish women of taking positions on the competing women’s marches with all their attendant drama. 

At least in New York City, there will be two simultaneous events:

1 ) Women’s March Alliance, with a march organized by the same group that did the first two New York City marches, is assembling at Central Park West and 72nd Street at 10 AM, stepping off after a rally at 11 AM. Their home page states: “We do not support any organization or person that is anti-Semitic, anti-gay, anti-woman, or does not support equal rights for every human. We welcome any and all people who want to raise women’s voices through education and activism.”

2) Women’s March Inc. NYC, an offshoot of the 2017 national march in D.C., will join with the New York Immigration Coalition for a rally at Foley Square, across from the federal courthouse, from 10 to 2 on Saturday. Their home page states: “The Women’s Unity Rally in NYC will highlight the leadership of Black women, immigrant women and women of color as part of the national #WomensWave, and in response to the Trump Administration’s continued assault on immigrant communities and communities of color.”

Reading about these dueling events, I feel I’ve just sustained a punch to the gut. I wonder: is a mass movement of women of all religious beliefs, colors, ages, sexuality and classes, standing up against our racist, misogynist administration, being threatened by corrosive politics? Why come to a city that already has a locally organized women’s march and start your own instead of working to bring more women of all colors and beliefs into the local march?

At least for this New York Jew, the locally organized march rallying at Columbus Circle then marching down Sixth Avenue is the one I’m going with. I’m gritting my teeth at the idea of women’s unity being threatened when we’re perilously close to losing our rights, including our rights to our own bodies. I don’t think boycotting the Women’s March or the competing rally is the answer. Judging by online comments, most women seem unaware of the competing marches or are frustrated and confused.

I’m making this choice in part because of the D.C. march’s problematic leadership that reportedly excluded Jews from the early organizing two years ago and still seems to wobble on whether it supports outspoken anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. (As of January 14, the march’s leadership has expanded to include at least three Jewish women of color among the 23 women on the steering committee.)

My pre-Sisterhood self would have jumped in, criticizing the D.C. march leaders for excluding Jews from the original leadership then reportedly trying to move in on the local New York leadership. 

But wait. I have decided to tread carefully. Jews and Muslims from our Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Civil Rights Bus Trip  are coming to New York City for the Women’s March and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Some of my Muslim sisters may support the D.C. march, its local presence, and its leaders, including co-president Tamika Mallory and national march co-chair Linda Sarsour, an American Muslim of Palestinian descent. The D.C. leadership has publicly reaffirmed a welcoming stance towards Jews. Personally? I’m feeling different strokes for different folks.

Many Jewish Women of Color are weighing in. A group of JWOC, led by Yavilah McCoy, among others, is asking all Jewish women to march (wherever we are, including in the “official” Washington, D.C. march). We are being called to march under the banner and hashtag #JWOCMarching, signifying that Jewish women of color are living their lives at the intersection of racism and anti-Semitism, and that white Jewish women are part of that same cohort, regardless of skin color. McCoy and longtime feminist and social justice activist Shifra Bronznick, writing in the Forward, encouraged all Jewish women to join the official Women’s March to stand up for our rights.

Back to the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. Fortunately the organizer of our New York Sisterhood gathering is, literally, a rocket scientist. She’s laid out our personal options with precision: 1) Participate in the locally organized New York march. 2) Participate in the D.C.-linked New York rally. 3) Feel free not to participate in either. 

Returning to Edina Lekovic’s “Neither fight nor flight,” all of us – Muslims and Jews – will be sitting down together after the march to talk about the tough issues we’ve restrained ourselves from struggling with online.

But wait – there’s more. Rev. Cathy Bristow, an interfaith minister whose mission is “relanguaging” the conversation around race and gender, came to my aid. Her advice: “Don’t say ‘competing marches’. The two marches are not competing. Women are not one concentric circle. There’s racism within that circle.” And then, her additional insight: “If there are two competing marches and you think there should be one, go with the other march.” In other words, lean in to your discomfort. 

I am shaken out of my position. To my amazement, I think I’ll go to the Foley Square rally. And then, another breakthrough: I’ll go to both.

Wish all of us luck. Or maybe even pray for us. 

Resources:

 

  • No Comments
  •  

The Lilith Blog

January 9, 2019 by

New York’s Forgotten Subway Beauty Pageant

Beginning in 1941, a local New York City beauty pageant known as “Miss Subways” posted placards of winners, chosen each month, in the city’s subway cars. 

When the pageant ended in 1976, so did a bit of NYC history. But author Susie Schnall has resurrected those bygone years in her lively and delightful novel, The Subway Girls, which alternates back and forth between plotlines set today and the 1940s in New York, exploring female ambition and the limitations placed on it.

Schnall talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about the dreams and drives that animated the young women of the pageant, and how the contest shaped their lives in unexpected ways.

  • No Comments
  •  

The Lilith Blog

January 8, 2019 by

The Feminist Who Illustrated “The Wisdom of the Fathers”

website_upload5

When artist Jessica Tamar Deutsch was finishing her studies at the Parsons School of Design, she decided to illustrate the famous collection of rabbinic wisdom, Pirkei Avot—typically translated as The Ethics of the Fathers—as her senior thesis. It was 2013. Her colorful 128-page effort was then shopped around to every publisher of Jewish texts that Deutsch could find. Rejections piled up. Some bristled at her depiction of pants-wearing women holding the Torah. Others disliked seeing men with their heads uncovered. And still others did not want to take a chance on something they saw as little more than a religious-themed comic book.

 

Thankfully, Deutsch reports, a small-but-growing Philadelphia company called Print-O-Craft decided to buck the trend and The Illustrated Pirkei Avot: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Ethics, was released in April 2017. To date, nearly 4,000 copies have been sold.

Deutsch sat down with Eleanor J. Bader on a chilly December morning to discuss the book, art, and the creative process.

Eleanor J. Bader: Since the release of The Illustrated Pirkei Avot more than a year-and-a-half ago, you were named one of Jewish Week’s 36 Under 36 in 2018 and are currently doing a Fellowship with LABA, at the 14th Street Y in Manhattan. Can you tell me more about your current projects?

 Jessica Tamar Deutsch: I’m presently illustrating two different books. One is being written by Rabbi Jon Leener and will introduce children (and adults) to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. It’s sort of a Rebbe Nachman 101. The protagonist is a five-year-old girl named Esther.

The other book is being written by Rabbi Simcha Weinstein and is the story of his Jewish journey.

I also design Ketubot, Jewish marriage documents. This includes interfaith couples and incorporates new traditions where women make a Ketubah for their spouse instead of being the one to receive the document. I love when people make up their own customs. I work with each couple to find meaningful texts but I don’t do the actual calligraphy. I have friends who are amazing scribes so when I make art that I want hand-lettered, I gladly collaborate with them.

Lastly, I’m the resident artist at the Lab Shul. It’s been exciting and an education for me to work with communities that practice Judaism differently from one another.

EJB: You’re juggling a lot! What’s your project for the LABA fellowship?

JTD: The idea is to explore the Hebrew word for truth, emeth.

I recently completed a three-day training to become a doula, to help in the delivery room and be a calm support to the person having a baby. Fellowship funding allowed me to pay for the training and I intend to get more instruction before I begin this work. At the same time, I’m learning about death rituals in Judaism and am working with the Chevra Kadisha, the Jewish Burial Society, in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The idea is to be in these two book-ended moments simultaneously and see what happens. I hope to make art from these experiences but I am not yet sure what form the project will take.

EJB: Have you always made art?

JTD: I think you can safely say that I’ve been making art practically since I exited the womb! Before I even went to nursery school, I made a collage by cutting my hair and arranging the strands on paper–and I’ve always painted.  In elementary school I became obsessed with Renaissance paintings.

My maternal grandparents were in the textile business so growing up I was around fashion, color, and fabrics. When I got to Parsons, I began with the intention of studying fashion design, swapped over to fine art for a semester, and finally completed my BFA in illustration. Along the way I took several sewing classes but, for me, sewing was soul-wrecking. I’ve always loved drawing best. 

EJB: By combining your love to Judaism with your love of painting and drawing, you’ve figured it out.  

JTD: I think so!  I grew up modern Orthodox in New Rochelle, New York, and was one of those kids who absolutely loved Judaism. In fourth grade I had a cheder-style teacher who taught Torah as a song. Judaism became music to me.

EJB: Have you always been a fan of graphic novels?

JTD: As a kid I read Archie, and I’m only now learning about some of the greats. 

When I was at Parsons, I’d walk by a store on my way to class called Forbidden Planet. I discovered a book there called Blankets by Craig Thompson. I bought it and remember thinking to myself, ‘This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.’ In it, Thompson described growing up in middle America, in a religious Christian family, falling in love and experiencing heartbreak for the first time, and then moving to New York City. This spoke to me. 

The art I like best tends to make the everyday look sacred and Thompson did that. It was eye-opening to find his work.

EJB: How about your relationship to feminism?

 JTD: People have asked me why, as a feminist, I made a book about male wisdom. It’s a good question, but I think we have to deal with things we find uncomfortable in our traditions.

I think that some of the discomfort comes from the progress of Jewish feminists, something I benefit from. People my age can’t relate to a time when only male voices were canonized. 

Rabbi Eve Posen and Lois Sussman Shenker have written Pirkei Imahot: The Wisdom of Mothers, The Voices of Women as a feminist response to the Pirkei Avot. It’s fabulous. They’ve written it in the way you would construct a Mishnah, by turning to powerhouse women for advice. The people who are making new Mishnahs today are keeping Judaism alive.

EJB: How did working with the Hebrew text affect you?

 JTD: What I love most about Hebrew is that it is a playful language and the ways my publisher and I interacted with my manuscript allowed us to title it The Illustrated Pirkei Avot. Perkei means chapters of collections and avot can be translated as fathers, but it can also be translated to mean important things; the book can be called a collection of the most important teachings or the most important wisdom, instead of Ethics of the Fathers. 

EJB: How has your feminism come up against the realities of different Jewish communities?

 JTD: I often assume that what I am up to is considered unconventional, but I may be wrong about this.  I was speaking at the Sixth Street Synagogue in Manhattan’s East Village about the book and there was a man there, dressed in black and white, with peyes. After I spoke, he came up to me and said it was inspiring to him to hear a woman deal with Mishnah in a serious way. That’s change happening.

 Still, there are things in Judaism I don’t want for future generations. For many women, diving into Jewish texts can seem daunting, I am disheartened when women assume they must rely on male teachers. We forget that the Torah is something manageable, something they can learn. When women role models aren’t present as clergy, it’s difficult for women to see themselves in a direct relationship with Torah. They may miss an opportunity to develop their own study skills or learn from someone who might have a better understanding of their lived experience. When I want to learn something, I go to a text, and on my own, try to find an English translation and then wade in.At the same time, while I’m grateful to have supportive male colleagues and teachers, I often have to deal with being the only female voice in a particular space. it can wear me down and feel lonely.

EJB: So, how do you handle it?

JTD: I’ve started writing something I call The Torah of my Kishkes: The Diary of a Twenty-Something-Year-Old Jewess. It’s the place I put my thoughts on Jewish practice, the disappointments, joys, and hopes for the future. It’s been the best way I’ve found to deal with the knots in my heart. I also make sure to take care of myself by running, doing lots of yoga, seeing friends, and playing music. In addition, I’m now taking a dance class for the first time.

EJB: What is your favorite art-making activity, something that you do for pleasure? 

JTD: I love being outdoors with my sketchbooks. Sketchbooks are the best. There is no expectation or judgment when you use one. 

website_upload2

 

Blog footer


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.

  • No Comments
  •  

The Lilith Blog

January 8, 2019 by

The Persian-Israeli Singer Who Makes Me Feel Whole

Growing up in the 1970s in Queens, New York, as the first-born daughter of Jewish immigrants from Iran, I was unable to articulate how I felt different from the other kids in my public elementary school: I could tell my teacher, Mrs. Rice, loved me, but I had never been called “bubbeleh” before. There were plenty of Jewish kids, but none whose families, like mine, ate rice during Passover. The other kids spent their time at sleepovers and sleepaway camps my parents would not allow me to attend. One afternoon, in 1979, after the Iranian Revolution, as a bunch of us walked from school to Hebrew school at the synagogue up the street, I felt the sting of my differentness, when a boy I had known for years turned to me angrily and hissed, “You, Iranian!”

The upheaval of that revolution scattered tens of thousands of Iranian Jews away from their country, most to the United States or Israel.

  • 1 Comment
  •  

The Lilith Blog

January 4, 2019 Rebecca Sive

It’s Not Prom Queen. It’s President.

 It is not about running for prom queen, it is about running for president,” political strategist Jess McIntosh recently had to say on CNN. Why? A Politico article published a couple days ago−just as the first woman presidential candidate of 2019 was announcing her exploratory committee−asking the question: but is she likeable?! The piece likened Elizabeth Warren’s potential “likeability” challenges as a woman seeking power in public to the one Hillary Clinton supposedly faced that allegedly caused her defeat.

(But, oops, and oh-by-the-way, Clinton wasn’t defeated. She won almost three million more votes than President Trump did. Tens of millions of American men and women liked her quite well enough.)

  • No Comments
  •  

The Lilith Blog

January 2, 2019 by

Why Did the New York Times Run Alice Walker’s Unfiltered Antisemitism?

buttonOn December 13, 2018, the New York Times Book Review, in its weekly column “By the Book,” published a Q&A with Alice Walker. The author and activist best known for her novel “The Color Purple” told the Times that she keeps on her night table a copy of And the Truth Shall Set You Free by one David Icke. His book, Walker said, is “a curious person’s dream come true.” While Walker’s reference may not have meant anything to most Book Review readers, Twitter users began to buzz about her unusual choice. Tablet magazine’s Yair Rosenberg wrote a long, damning story: Icke, we were reminded, is a British conspiracy theorist who believes that the world is controlled by alien reptilian creatures and—you guessed it—Jews. To back up his age-old canard, Icke quotes from—yes, really–The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The story immediately blazed through social media. Other news outlets began picking up the story, and Times readers bombarded the paper with angry comments.

  • 6 Comments
  •  

The Lilith Blog

December 26, 2018 by

A Filmmaker Listens to Germans, Jews and Palestinians

Like many born into the generation following the Holocaust, Ofra Bloch has always been fascinated with, and affected by, generational trauma–on both sides. Bloch set out to make a documentary focusing on descendants of former oppressors, focusing on the effects of the Holocaust on non-Jewish Germans. But what she ended up creating extends far past that initial subject. Instead, “Afterward” weaves together three emotional narratives: Germans after the Holocaust, Palestinians after the “Nakba” (the “catastrophe,” known by Israelis as the 1948 War of Independence) and Bloch’s personal story of growing up in Israel squeezed between inescapable shadows of WWII on one hand, and silence regarding Palestinians on the other. 

As a child, Bloch dreamed of pursuing both psychology and filmmaking. Now, 30 years into her career as a psychoanalyst, “Afterward” is the meeting point of these dreams. “I have a lot of chutzpah, I take risks and I do things,” Bloch told Lilith. Throughout the six years it took to film and edit “Afterward,” Bloch continued to work full-time at her practice in New York. “I’m not a filmmaker, I’m a psychoanalyst, but I think both professions need the same skills,” she says. “You need to listen, which is like the camera looking at the subjects, and analyzing is like the editing process.”

  • No Comments
  •  

The Lilith Blog

December 20, 2018 Ruthanne Miller Flaum

An (Almost) Christmas Carol

 Christmas was not an important day for me. As a Jewish child, growing up in a small Screen Shot 2018-12-19 at 5.49.58 PMConnecticut town, I was certainly aware of the holiday and of its significance, but early on I knew that it was not my holiday and that my role in this season was that of onlooker. To say that I didn’t envy my friends’ excitement and anticipation every December, or that I didn’t wake up on Dec. 25 feeling somewhat empty and isolated would be untrue. But, like every other Jewish child from that era, I became something of a philosopher at an early age. That was theirs, not mine. It was a bit sad but not tragic. I would enjoy this holiday vicariously, admiring my friends’ trees and lights, and helping them play with their new toys.

At the same time, Hanukkah was not widely celebrated. Where today many parents treat Hanukkah as a Jewish substitute for Christmas, in those days, in  poor rural towns, it wasn’t directly compared to its Christian counterpart. It is a minor Jewish celebration, important in its affirmation of freedom of thought and religion, but not the occasion for massive gift-giving modern American parents have made it today.

  • No Comments
  •  

The Lilith Blog

December 19, 2018 Ilana Jacobs

A Teen Learns to Look Deeper at “Perfect Girls”

 This article was originally published on Jewish Women, Amplified, the blog of the Jewish Women’s Archive, and was written as part of the Rising Voices Fellowship.

I have come across many girls in my life who seem to be blessed with every gift imaginable. They are kind and honest. They are beautiful and funny. They are somehow talented at anything they try their hand at and they are clever. They shine so bright, no one can hold a candle to them.

I know that these girls are just girls. I know they are struggling with a lot of the same stuff I struggle with, but even if their outer personalities are just façades, these people are the sorts of girls that society would deem “perfect.”

The one attribute I have consistently noticed in “perfect girls” is that they must be humble and quiet. Every “perfect girl” I have ever met has been so humble, that they turn a compliment into self-deprecation.

  • No Comments
  •  

The Lilith Blog

December 17, 2018 by Ava Berkwits

How High School English Class Turned Me Into a Feminist

 This article was originally published on Jewish Women, Amplified, the blog of the Jewish Women’s Archive, and was written as part of the Rising Voices Fellowship.

The transition from eighth grade to freshman year is a rough one. Especially if you’re going from a small Jewish school to a large public school and especially if most of your friends are going to other schools and especially if you have the notoriously difficult English teacher™ (yes, you know the one).

Going into English class, I was scared out of my mind. I had no idea how to handle the level of work (both in terms of quality and quantity), and my teacher’s infamous reputation didn’t help calm my nerves in the slightest. My goal at the beginning of the year in English was to do my best, complete the work, and hopefully get good grades.

  • No Comments
  •