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The Lilith Blog

August 2, 2018 by

What the Lilith Staff is Reading Now

Welcome to another installment of this occasional recurring feature in which Lilith staffers reveal what books are on our nightstands, our e-readers and tucked in our bags for the commute. Share your own summer reads in the comments!

Kira Yates, Intern:

This summer I’ve decided to read two books at once: The Guide for the Perplexed by the Rambam himself, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Though one was written in 1190 Spain and the other in 1940s Georgia, the theological treatise and the novel explore God and the actions of human kind. In his investigation of Jewish philosophy, ben Maimon seeks to prove that God does not have a body–an assertion that became a scholarly sensation across Europe. McCullers, on the other hand, tells the story of four struggling people in a small Georgia town, a reminder of what it feels like to be forgotten and in search of human connection. Published 750 years apart, these books present parallels about the human need for understanding and unity with something greater than the self. 

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The Lilith Blog

July 17, 2018 by

Submit to Lilith’s Fiction Contest!

Lilith Magazine—independent, Jewish and frankly feminist—invites submissions of quality short fiction, 3,000 words or under, for our Annual Fiction Contest. When selecting what you’ll submit, please remember our tagline.

The magazine proudly spotlights both emerging and established writers. Winner receives $250 + publication. Deadline: 9/30/18. Put “Fiction Contest Submission” as subject line and send to info@Lilith.org.laptop-desk-notebook-writing-pen-color-761556-pxhere.com

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The Lilith Blog

July 11, 2018 by

An Artist Who Welds Jewelry, Glass and Performance Together

slime02

As a little girl growing up on the outskirts of Durham, North Carolina, multidisciplinary artist Rachel Rader loved hearing—and eventually reading—all kinds of stories. She was especially fascinated by biblical narratives—she found the details of the flood myth and Noah’s creation of an ark particularly compelling.  By the time she enrolled in Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in 2002, the Material Studies major decided to minor in Comparative Religion.

“I grew up going to a Conservative temple and always wondered what it meant that some people took biblical stories literally,” she begins. “Lately, I’ve been researching how myths repeat around the world, how they’re interpreted and presented by different cultures and religions,  how they align and differ. That’s the inspiration behind my current effort, Ancient Truth Investigators, an ongoing, multi-dimensional art project that incorporates performance, sculpture, jewelry, and other materials.”

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The Lilith Blog

July 2, 2018 by

A Novel of Barren Island, NYC’s Forgotten Glue Factory

Told from the point-of-view of Marta Eisenstein Lane on the occasion of her 80th birthday, Carol Zoref’s novel Barren Island is the story of a long-forgotten factory island in New York’s Jamaica Bay, where the city’s dead horses and other large animals were rendered into glue and fertilizer from the mid-19th century until the 1930’s. The island itself is as central to the novel as the members of the Jewish, Greek, Italian, Irish, and African-American factory families that inhabit it, including those who live their entire lives steeped in the smell of rotting and burning animal flesh.

The story begins with the arrival of the Eisenstein family, immigrants from Eastern Europe, and explores how the political and social upheavals of the 1930’s affect them and their neighbors in the years between the stock market crash of October 1929 and the start of World War II. Labor strife, union riots, the New Deal, the World’s Fair, and the struggle to save European Jews from the growing threat of Nazi terror inform this novel as much as the explosion of civil and social liberties between the two World Wars.

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The Lilith Blog

June 15, 2018 by

Suicide Survivorship: The Risks of Silence and Shame

people-2597622_640This week, one cherub-faced, auburn-eyed child of seven asks me, “Why doesn’t anyone talk to me about my dad?”  Precocious and pained, this little girl became a suicide survivor last year when her father ended his life.  

She is just beginning to unravel the details of what happened to him. At the same time, she has had to absorb the collateral damage from the loss of family and friends that often accompanies news of a suicide.  She is discovering too young that people turn away from suicide and suicide survivors. As a grief specialist, I know vividly this story of social isolation ––and the little girl’s longing to be heard and held.

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The Lilith Blog

June 7, 2018 by

Mazel Tov to Lilith’s Literary Staff

Major moments for two Lilith staffers and book authors this week has us rejoicing—and we’re sharing the good news.

Ilana Kurshan Photographed by Debbi Cooper #6589 (3)

First, Ilana Kurshan, Lilith’s book reviews editor, has won the Sami Rohr prize for Jewish Literature from the Jewish Book Council for “If All the Seas Were Ink: A Memoir.” As the council’s reviewer wrote of her tour-de-force literary and Talmudic memoir, “Due to Kurshan’s deft explanations of Talmudic personalities and principles… Readers will be inspired by Kurshan’s resilience and renewal, with the Talmud by her side.” We couldn’t agree more–Kurshan’s book is deeply literary in the best way. 

Naomi Danis photo

Also this week, Lilith’s Managing Editor Naomi Danis got a superb write-up in the New York Times Book Review for her children’s book “I Hate Everyone,” with critic Marisha Pessl describing the story in glowing terms: “The book reads like a version of Whitman’s barbaric yawp. It’s wildly alive with the girl’s unchecked bursts of word and emotion. The way she grasps at and simultaneously rejects love, wanting to be both acknowledged and left alone, is universal and timeless.”

 

 

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The Lilith Blog

May 17, 2018 by

Ruth: the Torah of Transgressive Transformation

Shavuot: When Torah Comes from Earth More than from Heaven

As we take up the Book of Ruth for its traditional reading on Shavuot (this year, from Saturday evening, May 19, through Sunday evening, May 21) we may note that it bears special significance for the role of women in our own generation, and for changes in the meaning of Torah when change happens in society at large.

ruth_gleaning

The story of Ruth brings together with almost invisible threads three seemingly transgressive women of the Bible. The Hebrew Bible conventionally assigns women to the role of motherhood, and it likes to tell the stories of how women who are denied the opportunity of motherhood seek it with great urgency.  But in three stories of such women, the urge to be conventional empowers deeply unconventional change.

When the stories are first told, they seem to have no connection with each other. But then the Book of Ruth links the three stories by threads that are almost invisible — but not quite. The gossamer threads of connection strengthen each separate story into an epic of ironic transformation. (more…)

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The Lilith Blog

March 14, 2018 by

Why My High School Class Voted to Stop Reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Depictions of Women

EverythingIsIlluminatedI love reading Jewish literature. Seeing my culture and experience come to life on the pages of a book can be meaningful and validating; it makes my idiosyncratic religious practices feel legitimate. The representation and recognition of Judaism in popular culture is crucial, but what do you do when the author gets it wrong? Or what if certain parts of your identity are illustrated perfectly while other facets aren’t done justice? I faced these quandaries when reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated this year in my English class.

Everything Is Illuminated has comfortably rested in my family’s bookshelf for many years, accompanied by other books my family read, enjoyed, then never touched again. I was excited when it was assigned in my “Immigrant Literature” class because I recognized the novel, and vaguely recalled watching the movie with my parents a few years back. Our copy was even signed by Foer, which I excitedly told my class. However, once we began reading, I noticed a peculiar and disturbing pattern: the female characters are repeatedly gratuitously objectified.

The book alternates between the present day, wherein a Jewish man, Jonathan, travels to Ukraine to explore the place his family lived pre-Holocaust, and a story set in the past, beginning in the 1700s, about Jonathan’s heritage and ancestors. One of these family members is a young girl named Brod, who grew up in Ukraine in the 1700s, and is Jonathan’s very-great grandmother.

It bothered me (and many of my classmates) that Brod, one of the only female protagonists of the book was often sexually harassed and assaulted, as well as excessively sexualized. We especially objected to the way that her character was sexualized even when it was completely nonessential to the plot. For example, in the moment when she discovers her father lying dead on the floor of her home, she randomly gets naked. Foer describes her pubic hair and her “cold, hard” nipples. She is 12 in this scene. When discussing chapters like these, we would get into in-class disagreements that felt personal and painful.

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The Lilith Blog

February 12, 2018 by

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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The Lilith Blog

February 8, 2018 by

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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