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February 13, 2018 by

7 Jewish Feminist Things To Do Instead of Valentine’s Day

Why would you want this when you could summon a mythical creature of legend to destroy your enemies instead?

Why would you want this when you could summon a mythical legend to destroy your enemies instead?

It’s a Christian Saint’s Day. It worships commercialization. And it definitely objectifies women. It’s time to say dayenu to embracing the golden calf of heart-shaped chocolate boxes filled with mediocre heart-shaped chocolate and instead find new ways to spend Valentine’s Day. Here are some alternatives.

1) Summon a golem. What better way to spend February 14 than by creating a giant creature of clay that will wreak havoc on your enemies?

2) Write your treatise on why there’s nothing wrong with interfaith marriage. Tweet it at every Jewish publication. Including this one.

3) Learn how to say “death to the patriarchy” in Yiddish and Ladino. That way, you can basically be as a cool as your friend Rachel who went to Yiddish Farm last summer and knows all the cool songs.

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February 12, 2018 Julia Clardy

Wearing the Pants, and the Dress as Well

A photo the author, Julia Clardy, took of her legs.

A photo the author, Julia Clardy, took of her legs.

When I showed a girl in my class the prom dress I was thinking about buying, the first thing she asked me was whether or not I was going to shave for prom. Her question wasn’t really that surprising. People often associate body hair with uncleanliness, and they don’t expect it to appear in formal situations. The fact is, people only question me about my body hair when I’m wearing something more traditionally feminine. When I’m wearing shorts and a t-shirt people rarely look twice at my legs or armpits, but when I’m wearing a dress, people consistently double-take. When it comes to how other people see me, it seems that my casual clothes and body hair make more sense together than my more feminine clothes and body hair.

I’ve always been passionate about clothes. I’ve cycled through many fashion phases in my life. For a while in eighth grade I sported a lot of ill-advised Zooey Deschanel inspired looks, but by sophomore year of high school I cut my hair short and wore baggy jeans and fisherman sweaters. No matter what I wore, I never felt unfeminine. Femininity is something inside me, and, for me personally, it’s not tied to my choice of clothes or my decision to shave or not. Regardless of my presentation, I feel like a woman because that is how I identify.

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February 9, 2018 by

Your Jewish and Frankly Feminist Review of Eve Ensler’s New Play

Eve Ensler performing her new show, "In the Body of the World." Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

Eve Ensler performing her new show, “In the Body of the World.” Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

“Do you know what this show is about?” asked my partner, Elan. He knows I don’t like knowing what shows are about before I go in. It makes me feel like I’m waiting for something or expecting something. I already knew it was written by Eve Ensler and that was enough. 

Cancer. The show was about cancer. That’s what Elan wanted me to know going in. He was trying to prepare me, give me a trigger warning, because I beat breast cancer last year. That warning wasn’t needed. Ensler was able to take care of her audience with humor and community in this one-woman show. 

Eve Ensler’s new play, In the Body of the World, had its regional premier at the Manhattan Theatre Club on February 6. Ensler starts by talking about her body and how to find her reference point which leads to a discussion of her work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She and her team were looking for resources to create the City of Joy, “A sanctuary for healing. A revolutionary center where [women] would turn their trauma and pain into power.” Then, doctors find a tumor in Ensler’s uterus.

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February 8, 2018 Kara Sherman

When Your Mom Doesn’t Fit the Jewish Mother Stereotype

The author, Kara Sherman, with her mother. Photo credit: Kara Sherman.

The author, Kara Sherman, with her mother. Photo credit: Kara Sherman.

Loud. Abrasive. Bossy. Great cook. These attributes all contribute to the popular caricature of the “Jewish American Mother.” I know plenty of women who fit this description. I’ve taught their kids on Sunday mornings. I love some of them. I can’t stand some of them. My mother is Jewish, and American, and pretty bossy when she needs to be; but she’s never conformed to this stereotype. 

While matzah ball soup and potato pancakes have become deli staples across America, no one can beat an authentic, homemade, kosher-style meal. I grew up on my paternal grandmother’s brisket and latkes, but those kinds of foods were always holiday treats I never expected to have at home. My mother has always hated cooking. She’s worked all my life, has a PhD from Duke University, and doesn’t have the energy to waste on activities she doesn’t enjoy. Sure, I’ve never gone hungry—she comes home every evening and makes a meal for my sister, father, and I—but I’ve always been able to tell that she doesn’t enjoy it. She needs to feed her family, and then she needs to go to sleep. My family views food as fuel, not as something to be savored and enjoyed, largely because of my mother’s attitude toward cooking.

This being said, my mother is still Jewish—and she’s still a damn good mom. She’s never been one for practicing her religion, but she chants the Shabbat candle blessings with me when I ask her to. Her mother was Jewish, her father is Jewish, and without really meaning to, she raised a Jewish family. But she doesn’t like to cook.

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February 7, 2018 by

Backing Marcus Harms Students and Survivors—And Citing His Anti-BDS Views Doesn’t Make That Okay

The confirmation hearing of Kenneth Marcus.

The confirmation hearing of Kenneth Marcus.

In this video, Elizabeth Warren asks Kenneth Marcus—Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law—a few scenario-based questions during his hearing. If there was a school district where some schools had mostly white students and some schools had mostly black students, and the schools with mostly white students had better teachers, more Advanced Placement offerings and resources, would that be considered discrimination? Marcus responded tepidly by dancing around the very clear violation of black students’ civil rights. All he would say was that if he were confirmed he would “review the facts” of the case to see if it were a violation of Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race. This question wasn’t a hypothetical. It’s a real-life example from Toledo, Ohio.

It gets worse. Marcus agrees with Betsy DeVos’s dangerous choice to rescind the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), written to explain how schools should be supporting students after an assault occurs, under the false pretense that the DCL preferences survivors over accused students. Without the DCL, both survivors and accused students are now at risk in an environment where a person like Larry Nassar was able to abuse over 250 young women because Michigan State refused to step in. How many of these women would have been spared had MSU followed their Title IX obligations properly when they received their first complaint about him in 2014? (Specifically in this case, if they had been wary of potential conflicts of interest that may arise during internal investigations.)

It is heartening to see Jewish organizations like NCJW and JWI oppose Marcus’s nomination. But not all are. Which asks the question: How could any Jewish organization, especially ones that believe in civil rights and safety for all students, approve of a person who seems to have little investment in protecting students’ civil rights?

You will find the answer in perhaps the most divisive subject amongst our people—Israel. Organizations like Hillel International are supporting the confirmation of Marcus because he includes criticism of Israel and BDS in his definition of anti-Semitism.

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February 6, 2018 by

Welcome (Back) to the Resistance, Mom

It was just a few minutes before Shabbat, and I was rushing to get everything done (read: running very late). Not an ideal time to talk to anyone, so of course the phone rang. And of course it was my mother. And of course she was very agitated.

Time to pause.

Take a deep breath.

And listen.

I’m glad I did.

My mother didn’t know what to do with herself. She was so, so angry. (Not at me). She was confused. She was genuinely and sincerely trying to understand how people she liked and respected could hold such terrible and selfish and fundamentally illogical positions on matters of basic human rights and dignity.

My mother was, it turns out, having coffee with some Trump supporters.

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February 5, 2018 by

Academic Grief: A Satire

A recent memo about changes in departmental budget protocols at my university included the following:

“Items not allowed under department and program budgets: Given the tightness of budgets across campus, department and program funds should only be used for expenses related to the professional work of the department. Faculty are asked to avoid expenses that are not directly related to the mission of the department or program. A few exceptions to this rule may be allowed. For example, sending flowers to the funeral of a department member or emeritus faculty is an allowable expense. When in doubt over the nature of the expense, please consult the Dean of the Faculty for approval prior to committing funds.”

While the above is real, a faux memo follows that might provide guidelines for those funeral flowers. Even the irreligious among us should pray that cost-conscious administrators do not adopt these guidelines.  

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February 2, 2018 by

Why I Became Fascinated by a Teshuvah on Women and Mitzvot

Ever read something you knew was arcane but been fascinated by it nevertheless? Maybe you even wanted to discuss deeply like when you were back in school, not just as a shallow “share” on a social media post? Well, that was me about three and a half years ago when I read Rabbi Dr. Pamela Barmash’s 30-some-odd page teshuvah (legal opinion) on Women and Mitzvot. Yeah, I said I was excited by a long legal treatise. Occupational hazard of being me, a literate Jew, a philosophy minor, English major, with a J.D. Anyway, Barmash’s holding was at once simple and revolutionary: women were never properly exempted, excluded, or prohibited from-time bound mitzvot. The relegation of women to second-class status was a colossal misreading of Jewish texts. 

The teshuvah asks if Jewish women are responsible for observing the mitzvot from which they have traditionally been excluded. Barmash argues both retrospectively and prospectively that women are in fact responsible to observe mitzvot. 

If you’re wondering why I found the teshuvah interesting, wondering why I thought anyone else would want to discuss it, I’d certainly understand. After all, on the one hand, many Jews don’t feel particularly bound or obligated to mitzvot, so what difference does the teshuvah make? On the other hand, many Jews who abide by mitzvot are so entrenched to years of their genderedness that they would not necessarily be inclined to discuss or be persuaded by it either. Personally, I fall into the former category, feeling bound like the definition of “Rebecca” and like my family before me to mitzvot. I feel tethered to Judaism even as I know it is hard to reconcile with humanism, feminism and modernity. This tension I feel between being both bound and bothered makes it pressing for me that women count in a minyan, be included in the Amidah and recite the Shema. I take no comfort in the theology which patronizingly tells us that women are on a pedestal, so close to God, that they need not bother with mitzvot.

Perhaps unsurprisingly—after the high of my initial epiphany—I read the teshuvah a couple times and put it away.

About a month ago, an opportunity arose which brought the document to the fore of my consciousness again: A few friends were discussing whether and how to do a second Shabbat-appropriate woman-themed event timed to coincide with women’s marches all over the world January 20, 2018. Last year, the group had hosted Rabbi Abby Sosland to address us. This year, I debated with myself whether to raise Rabbi Barmash’s 2014 teshuvah to the group. After all, it was three years old, I hadn’t heard anything about it since, and it was a little arcane. My bolder self rose to the fore, and I suggested inviting her. Lo and behold, the others agreed. Even more miraculously, when we wrote to Rabbi Barmash—out of the blue—she agreed to make the trip to address our group and congregation as a scholar-in-residence during Shabbat.

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February 2, 2018 by

Why This Week’s Parsha Is Devastating For Women—And What Can Be Done About It

The Torah portion we read this coming Shabbat starts with the story of Yitro, Moses’s father-in-law, giving him some tips about refining his leadership model, delegating, becoming more effective in his leadership.

Then, fast-forward. The people Israel are waiting at the base of Mt. Sinai, while God gives instructions to Moses. God tells Moses to קדש the people—to make them holy, sanctified, set-apart.

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר ה’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה֙ לֵ֣ךְ אֶל־הָעָ֔ם וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ֥ם הַיּ֖וֹם וּמָחָ֑ר וְכִבְּס֖וּ שִׂמְלֹתָֽם׃

“God said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and make-holy them today and tomorrow. They should wash their clothes.’”

It’s clear from the verb that Moses needs to do a thing to them. So then Moses goes back, and he does it! He קדש them. Sanctifies, makes holy, sets apart, something. It’s still not clear what the action is, but he does it. And, as instructed, laundry happens.

וַיֵּ֧רֶד מֹשֶׁ֛ה מִן־הָהָ֖ר אֶל־הָעָ֑ם וַיְקַדֵּשׁ֙ אֶת־הָעָ֔ם וַֽיְכַבְּס֖וּ שִׂמְלֹתָֽם׃

“Moses came down from the mountain to the people and made-holy them, and they washed their clothes.”

And then—he keeps talking.

“וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־הָעָ֔ם הֱי֥וּ נְכֹנִ֖ים לִשְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֑ים אַֽל־תִּגְּשׁ֖וּ אֶל־אִשָּֽׁה׃

“And he said to the people, ‘Be ready for the third day: do not go near a woman.’”

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February 1, 2018 by

When Your Child Brings a Sexist Book Home from Jewish Day School

The truth is that I don’t remember the name of the book. Something innocuous, something to do with sewing and the first flag and maybe even Betsy Ross. Something nicely Philadelphian and, given that she brought it home from the school library, something certainly age-appropriate for my kindergartener.

Age-appropriateness isn’t the only kind of appropriateness to be concerned about with kids’ media, but to be honest we’ve never heavily screened the books that our children read. For the younger ones, we still do the reading with them, so we can talk with them about the messages that make us uncomfortable or with which we disagree. Sometimes it’s even a good opportunity to explain our values or worldview and how it differs from the book, or to ask them what they think about how something is presented or plays out. It’s rare though: most of the books we get are pretty great, and the other ones tend to fall out of (read: be removed from) circulation fairly quickly.

Library day is every Wednesday for kindergartners at her Jewish Day School. My daughter is always really excited for me to read her the book she’s come home with. They’re usually fine; classic kids’ stories or something nicely historical designed to appeal to just her age group. This one was a little older, a little more battered, with well-loved pages and the marks of time.

Just like a lot of classic kids’ books. Just like nearly every book I own.

She was so excited for me to read it with her: a book about sewing (which she loves), featuring a young girl with siblings (just like her), set in her very own city (not far from her house). I certainly didn’t think to read it to myself first—it was coming from her school library, from the section designated specifically for kindergarteners, with all the markings of a book that has stood the test of time.

Time’s a funny thing though. The books of the (recent) past sometimes have very different subtle (or not so subtle!) messages than the books of the present. Especially books about girls and sewing and post-revolutionary Philadelphia.

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