The Lilith Blog

October 20, 2020 by

Elissa Slotkin: How 2020 Looks from the Midwest

Representative Elissa Slotkin, the Democratic incumbent Member of Congress representing Michigan’s 8th District, is running a race to watch in 2020: Even Politico has  profiled her in a series of articles because her district is “the sort of place Republicans figured to rule forever, the sort of place Trump won comfortably (by 7 points, to be exact) and the sort of place where a suburban realignment to the left could ensure not only a Democratic grip on the hard-won House seats of 2018 but a Joe Biden blowout across the battleground map of 2020..”

Slotkin, with multiple cultural and political tightropes to walk and a formidable political savvy, is also a former Lilith cover star. With the election, the pandemic, and the rise of white supremacy weighing heavily on everyone’s minds, Lilith’s Editor in Chief, Susan Weidman Schneider, and photographer, Joan Roth, hopped on Zoom with Slotkin to talk about some of the most intense topics of 2020.

Lilith: The “Proud Boys” are new to national consciousness–but you’ve been dealing with them for a while.

Representative Slotkin: They’ve protested in my town, Lansing, Michigan, and in many, many towns around here. They’re very open, they’re wearing motorcycle vests that say Proud Boys embroidered on the back. They’ve even provided security at some Republican events!  

One of the things that I’m worried about is that the president though his leadership has fomented a lot of folks who are ready to take up arms at his suggestion. People who have seen their views normalized by the commander in chief.  So to be a Jewish candidate running right now, in 2020, is very different from the last time I saw you, in 2018.

Lilith: What has been different? How have you experienced antisemitism?

E.S.: There’s a normalization of hate, a permissiveness around antisemitism that has grown, so that people commenting on Facebook pages are alluding to my being a Jewish candidate. There are memes being put out by the man I’m running against that are for me really right on the line of antisemitism, with me holding money bags and Slotkin spelled with a dollar sign. 

My opponent will not denounce the Proud Boys. He will not denounce these hate groups. It’s one of those things where you know if the ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center label you a hate group it should be really easy for any candidate around the country to denounce that hate, especially now, and the fact that they won’t shows how normalized and how concerned they are about not offending those folks.

Lilith: How has this affected your Jewish supporters?

E.S.: In my district, I have about 4,000 Jews, a small Jewish community of East Lansing. The majority of Jewish Michiganders are closer to Detroit than I live, I live on my family farm. I grew up in the Jewish community of suburban Detroit, my parents still live here, so we have really strong ties. They all think of me as their daughter. Right before Covid. I brought in the Attorney General, I brought in some senior FBI folk from Michigan, and the ADL for events, because we’ve seen a fourfold increase in antisemitic events in Michigan. It’s spraypainting of swastikas outside of cafes run by more progressive people, the destruction of a sukkah outside of Michigan State Hillel. It’s a series of things; they aren’t violent, but what the FBI really told us about is a ladder of escalation. And when you add to that the conspiracy theories that have now been mainstreamed about Jews, that have literally led to violence in Poway and Pittsburgh, it’s just a different tone and feeling out on the campaign trail. 

Lilith: How do you see your role as an elected leader in the wake of the George Floyd protests?

E.S.: There is something new for me. After the murder of George Floyd—and the reaction among our African American community, among the white communities, rural communities in Michigan where people held peaceful protests in small farm towns, all-white farm towns— I felt people were absorbing this message that there is systemic racism, and it’s important to be anti-racist. So one of the things that I’ve been asked to do––by both people of color and people in white communities who know no people of color––is to use my convening authority as a member of Congress to bring groups together who wouldn’t otherwise sit in the same room. And it has now been such a steady drumbeat of people asking me that I’m setting myself up to be trained on how to facilitate these conversations in a healthy way. 

Lilith: What changed for you in dealing with racism?

E.S.: One of my best friends is an African American man I went to high school with who’s now the head diversity officer for Ralph Lauren. I was telling him how people from the African American community wanted to engage with people from all-white communities. How Black entrepreneurs wanted to talk to the Michigan Banking Association, and vice versa. I kept saying to him, “I think I need to find someone I can introduce them to so they can have that facilitated conversation.” And he really pushed me to be that someone: “I would say in 2020 this is now part of the job description for a Member of Congress, or anyone in elected leadership––to bring people together who want to deal with the pain and division in their communities and are looking to elected leaders to help that happen in a safe way.” 

So it’s new. It’s not like I was trained in the national security world to do this! Not at all. I want to just put it on peoples’ radar, because I think it’s one of the real, substantive outcomes of the whole movement that happened after George Floyd was murdered, and it has really changed my approach to my job.

Lilith: You were on Lilith’s cover back during the last election cycle. What response did you get?

ES: I will always remember you guys because you were my first cover! I get calls from someone vacationing in Oregon: “I went into this lovely bookstore, and there’s your face, staring at me!” We remember you all fondly on our team as being our first breakout publication.

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The Lilith Blog

October 15, 2020 Chanel Dubofsky

Connecting Jewish Tradition with Black Fugitive Legacies

This autumn, the parking lot of the Halcyon Arts Lab in Washington DC hosted a special sukkah built by visual artist Jessica Valoris. Though its materials—recycled cardboard, paper, bamboo and plant materials—are all things you might expect to find in your average sukkah. this one is anything but; it’s a structure that confronts the past and present, invites us to engage with possibilities of the future. Lilith spoke with Valoris about creating, Black fugitivity, spirituality, and more. 

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October 13, 2020 by

Old and New Wives’ Tales

Can you imagine a movie titled “The Artist’s Husband” about a man who abandoned his own budding career as a painter so he could cater to his wife’s needs and help her achieve fame and fortune? Or a book and a movie titled “The Husband,” about a man who goes far beyond secretly editing his wife’s books so she can enjoy literary acclaim—and, oh, also sleep with many other men? And how about the spouse of a woman in a high government position who writes an autobiography that in part examines his cascade of decisions that subordinate his life to hers? Let’s call it “Not Becoming.” And then there is the television tale of the Hasidic husband who has to run away from his wife and his community to fulfill his desire to make music and to control his life. Well, that might still be called “Unorthodox.” 

These gender-reversed summaries of recent works in different genres illustrate how unlikely it is that someone would write or film anything like them—unless meant as a satire. However, the just-released movie “The Artists’ Wife,” the book and movie “The Wife,” Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming” (non-fiction) and the television series “Unorthodox” are each serious and thoughtful examinations of the evolving role of a wife (at least in households that are artistic, educated and financially stable). Each offers at least a glimmer of hope that the role is changing. But put “husband” in place of “wife,” and you notice that our society still has a long way to go toward equality in marriage.

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October 13, 2020 by

What Amy Coney Barrett Means for Sex Ed

By Abigail Fisher

Middle schoolers are not well known for being comfortable and open when it comes to talking about sex. On my college campus at Wesleyan University, I belong to a group of students working to change this. Adolescent Sexual Health Awareness (ASHA) reinvents sex-ed curricula to go deeper than what most states require. Our mission is, in part, to “empower young people to be active participants in their sexual education and to take charge of their bodies, as well as their emotional and physical health.”

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October 12, 2020 Rishe Groner

Reflections on Sukkot During the Coronavirus

So.

I don’t know about you, but I never thought we’d be here.

Saying goodbye to Sukkot, the grand festival of rejoicing, the time when we celebrate harvest, honor abundance, and pray for the rains to come.

And yet, we are. still. in. this. mess.

Last week, I walked the eerily empty streets of Jerusalem. It was an evening that would otherwise be packed with shoppers, tourists, visitors, hawkers, strangers, every kind of colorful human. There would be people buying their palm-branch-and-citron Lulav and Etrog sets from outdoor markets while tourists enjoy a late-night ice cream or beer and outdoor buskers strum their music to contribute to the overall din of joy.

Instead, there were just a few of us, approaching the stray stalls that were open to sell the season’s necessities, a sukkah plank here, a Lulav there; while the produce stands tried to get rid of their last vegetables and the buses stopped running at 9pm. It was dystopian, it was sad, it was infuriating.

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October 12, 2020 Rishe Groner

The Struggle of Finding Shelter as an Orthodox Woman

Sukkot is supposed to be the holiday of rejoicing.

And yet for me, a particularly difficult time, as a single woman.

Usually, it’s the week before Sukkot that I put a call out to ask the internet to help me build a sukkah or find one – and then, sometime during the actual week of the holiday I spill my guts and explain why the week brings about so much heartbreak.

I even wrote a poem about it once

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October 8, 2020 Mirta Kupferminc

Clamor in the Desert: A Shelter for Anyone Who Feels Forlorn

We are living in uncertain times. In Argentina, my home, the flights are almost totally suspended and the feeling of confinement and distance becomes more evident.

I am an artist born in this country to Auschwitz survivors. Their story of exile and loss of their homeland, their language, their culture, marked my life and of course my art. I always felt some responsibility to try to renew and make their ancestors’ culture live in their new chosen land. That choice was obviously by default since they arrived in Argentina clandestinely as refugees. 

Thus, borders, migrations and exiles, human rights, and the mother tongue have always been an essential core in my artistic concern, since I consider that art has the gift, but also the commitment to transmit and contribute to the formation of culture and popular thinking. 

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October 7, 2020 by

I Had Planned a Midlife Hair Makeover— Then Covid Showed Up

Dear Reader,

In the midst of a terrible season, allow me some self-indulgence.

During the winter of 2020 before the world derailed with Covid-19, I was 49 years old, facing my 50th birthday with a mix of excitement and resignation. Certainly, I was glad to be healthy, in an intact marriage, with growing wonderful children, and a full roster of friends, family, social engagements, community service, and even a resuscitated second act after retirement to practicing as an attorney in solo practice.

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The Lilith Blog

October 5, 2020 Susan Barocas

Stuffed with Abundance and Gratitude

What better way to celebrate the abundance of the harvest than by stuffing vegetables with an abundance of meat, rice, vegetables and fruits! No wonder stuffed foods are a traditional favorite for Sukkot, the festive fall holiday, for Jews from around the world. 

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September 29, 2020 Aileen Jacobson

Harbor From the Holocaust: The Jews of Shanghai

By Aileen Jacobson

In 1941, Laura Margolis, the American Joint Distribution Committee’s first female field agent, was sent to Shanghai to help the nearly 20,000 Jews who had fled there to escape Nazi Germany’s persecution. In an audacious move, she negotiated with the Japanese officials who controlled Shanghai and was able to secure funds (partly from Russian Jews and other communities who had found shelter in China in previous generations) to build a hospital and expand a soup kitchen. She saw to it that the neediest refugees got at least one meal a day to keep after they were forced, in 1943, into a mile-square area known as the “Shanghai ghetto.” The thousands of Chinese people who already lived there stayed.  

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