The Lilith Blog

October 18, 2018 by

“And I Am Two and Twenty.”

It is one of those summer evenings I wish could go on forever, the kind that I dream about all winter: the day’s heat giving way to a cooler evening;  the air still with an occasional soft breeze setting off the tinkling of the wind chimes; the scent of deep red and yellow roses wafting through the yard. I am in love. Barefoot, I race across the downy grass with Joey, who in a month will be my husband, and my brother Jonny, who is thirteen.Although we’ve only met the last September and were engaged by December, I am sure that Joey is the person I am supposed to marry. All summer I have been shopping for my trousseau with my mother. I have starred at bridal showers, and, along with my parents, marveled that a shy, awkward teenager had metamorphosed into a slender, smiling woman — a great catch. How could there be anything wrong?

The diamond ring shines brilliantly on my finger, the wedding plans are moving along at an unstoppable pace, and we’ve already rented an apartment, which I have been decorating in blue and green. Even better, my fiancé—I love that word–is a Nice Jewish Boy who works in his father’s business, which will someday be his.

There are warning signs, but I don’t see them. 

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The Lilith Blog

October 17, 2018 by

Finding Feminist Defiance Through Reading Torah

LilyGrowing up in a strictly Modern-Orthodox school as a passionate and outspoken feminist, I’ve always felt somewhat trapped. Whether it was lethargically watching the men, and only the men, read Torah in my school’s minyan, or being taught in Tanach class that Vashti, Ahasuerus wife, was a rebellious and evil woman, I always seemed to find myself pondering the lack of gender equality within Judaism. How could I identify as both a feminist, and a Modern Orthodox Jew? The two labels always seemed to contradict one another. It wasn’t until October 20, 2012—my Bat Mitzvah date—that I would truly understand how I could be both at the same time.

My family, being more progressive than most in our community, are strong believers in women reading from the Torah. My older sister, Jennie, read Torah at Robinson’s Arch, the egalitarian section of the Western Wall, for her Bat Mitzvah, so it was a given that I would do the same.

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The Lilith Blog

October 15, 2018 by

The Depth of Grandparents’ Love

51NaQ24Gg0L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Lilith’s Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough spoke to memoirist and novelist Kathryn Harrison about her latest foray into family history, On Sunset.

“Blending family history and mythology, anecdotes and photographs, this book is not simply one woman’s open love letter to two magnificently eccentric grandparents; it is also a testament to the enduring power of memory,” writes Kirkus.

YZM: You have written extensively—and well as memorably and beautifully—about your family, including your grandparents, in other essays. Why did you decide to focus exclusively on them now? 

KH: I don’t so much decide to write a book as arrive at it. In the case of On Sunset, it’s only now, in my late fifties, with three adult children, that I am beginning to understand what it means to take on the care of a child—a newborn—at 71 and 62—the magnitude of my grandparents’ love. I never felt myself a burden shouldered for my irresponsible teenage mother. 

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The Lilith Blog

October 11, 2018 by

Nazi-Occupied Normandy and a Family’s Wartime Secrets

news ofFiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough talks to Abigail Dewitt about her lyrical and haunting novel, which tells the multi-generational story of a French family and the way the Nazi occupation—and the Allied invasion—have shaped their lives.

YZM:  You write so beautifully and intimately about France—what is your connection to the country? 

AD: Thank you! I’m a dual citizen of France and the U.S. My mother was a young, French, theoretical physicist when she came to the States in the late 1940s to study at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. She’d lost half her family in the D-day bombings and intended to go home after two years to re-join her three surviving siblings, but instead, she met my father and married him. Still, she was deeply committed to helping r-build France after the war, so, to make up for marrying an American, she founded the École de Physique des Houches in the French Alps. She and my father taught at the University of North Carolina, but we spent every summer in France so she could run the institute and we could know our relatives.

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The Lilith Blog

October 11, 2018 by

The Chutzpah of Sarah Bernhardt

6xfxanLASarah Bernhardt had chutzpah. This illegitimate daughter of a Dutch Jewish courtesan had already gained wide renown as the best actress of her day when she decided to take on an exceptionally high-profile, high-risk role: She wanted to play Hamlet. Not girlfriend Ophelia or mother Gertrude, but the Danish prince himself, considered by many to be Shakespeare’s most difficult and iconic character. 

It was a glass-ceiling-breaking move, one among several in Bernhardt’s career, and it inspired playwright Theresa Rebeck to build a play, set in 1897, around Bernhardt’s struggles. First Bernhardt had to overcome the dismissive skepticism of some men: “It’s grotesque. If Shakespeare meant for Hamlet to be a woman, he would have named the play ‘Hamlet princess of Denmark,” Rebeck has one critic protest.

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The Lilith Blog

October 10, 2018 by

Caught Between Skepticism and Yearning on the Holidays

Like a lot of American Jews, I have a complicated relationship to Jewish worship. Unlike most American Jews, it got complicated enough at one point that I wrote to a dog for advice. 

Now, Tango isn’t just any dog. He’s a very wise pitbull who lives with a very wise friend of mine, Margie, in St. Paul, Minnesota. And the occasion wasn’t just any holiday, but Yom Kippur 2014, when all I wanted to do was hide in my apartment for 25 hours. My friend Margie announced that her dog was starting a new career as an advice columnist (yes, this really happened). Did I want to ask him a question? I once went all the way from New York City to Hoboken to talk to a psychic. Of course I wanted to ask Margie’s dog for advice. 

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The Lilith Blog

October 4, 2018 by

Pharaoh’s Family Separation Policy: A Midrash

This midrash was written in a wonderful class taught by Sabrina Sojourner at the National Havurah Institute in July 2018.  We had just gotten home from a trip, organized by the American Federation of Teachers to include religious leaders, teachers, and activists to Tornillo, Texas, on the border between El Paso and Mexico, where children, separated from their parents after crossing the border, were being held by our government.

From “locals” who live in El Paso, we were told that in Tornillo, where our government has just shipped thousands of migrant children to tent cities in the dark of night along with the detention center that has housed “kidnapped” children for months now, the drinking water is tainted, much like the water in Flint, MI. As Michael Moore said in his movie Fahrenheit 11/9, that’s one way to get rid of people you don’t want in your country…

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The Lilith Blog

October 4, 2018 by

Imagining the Author of Deuteronomy as a Woman: a Midrash

In this midrash, Huldah’s musings are “overheard” by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center. The midrash was written for a class at the National Havurah Institute of 2018, led by Sabrina Sojourner. Huldah was in fact named by the Tanakh and the Talmud as one of the seven women recognized as prophets. (Many translations turn “neviah” into “prophetess,” but in the 21st or 58th century, that seems as inappropriate as “Jewess: or “poetess.”)

For biblical passages on Huldah, see II Kings 22:14-20 and II Chronicles 34: 22-28.  She became the wife of Shallum, keeper of the king’s wardrobe—a prestigious and powerful role. As for the Scroll she authenticated as truly Torah, most modern scholars think it was Deuteronomy, and most of them also think that Deuteronomy was written in a Hebrew style characteristic of the time of Huldah and Jeremiah, separate from the other texts of the Five Books. 

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September 27, 2018 by

The Sukkot Ritual That Meant Everything to Me

Growing up, my family loved to celebrate the holidays. Jewish, non-Jewish, it didn’t seem to matter. I delighted in making my own Halloween costumes and Valentine’s Day cards.  We decorated the house with flags every year on the 4th of July, ate cherry jelly candy on Washington’s Birthday, and looked forward to my mom’s boiled cabbage and corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day, when we all wore green, of course.

There were huge family dinners on Rosh Hashanah and on Passover. I looked forward to dressing up as Queen Esther on Purim. My father’s pride and joy was our backyard sukkah, and each year I held the stakes as he wrapped them in burlap and watched as he threw cornstalks across the roof.

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The Lilith Blog

September 26, 2018 by

The Mysterious Doctor Who Put Preemies on Display — and Saved Their Lives

51BSdpH-LGL“What kind of doctor puts his patients on display?”

Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough recently spoke to novelist Dawn Raffel about her new work of nonfiction, “The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies”  which tells the real story of a doctor who revolutionized neonatal care, “a marvelously eccentric man, his mysterious carnival career, his larger-than-life personality, and his unprecedented success as the savior of the fragile wonders that are tiny, tiny babies.”

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