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The Lilith Blog

February 24, 2020 by

You Are Your Name

You are your name. In India, where I’m living for seven months as a Fulbright scholar researching the relevance of archaeological relics today, I’m constantly reminded of this. 

“My daughter’s name is Zianna, it means bold and strong,” an acquaintance tells me.

“My name is Arushi, it means first ray of the sun,” says another new friend. 

“My name is Pormishra, a god. It means, a god,” says a waiter.

“I am Suraj, the sun,” says another. 

When I respond that my name is Elizabeth, Indians often say, “Oh, the queen. You are a queen.” Glad to dissuade them of any connection between my name and India’s former colonial rule, I tell people, “Actually, Elizabeth is a Hebrew name, it means house of God: beit means house; el means God.”

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The Lilith Blog

February 6, 2020 by

Anne and Her Shadows

I have kept her photograph, which I purchased twenty-five years ago on my first trip to the Anne Frank House. I embarked on the narrow climb to the hiding place and later, the descent, and imagined all that had occurred in between.  I was attuned to the voices of visitors speaking other languages as I looked out a window and considered the view and the sounds of Amsterdam’s streets and wondered if this is what Anne saw and heard.  At that point, I withheld no emotion and unabashedly cried in front of everyone else in that room.

Only recently have I begun to comprehend the extent of her profound influence on my writing and working life which began with a spring play.  As a fourteen-year-old, I auditioned for and won the role of Anne in my high school’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank.  At that time, I had already read the Diary and attempted to watch a television dramatization, but couldn’t do so in one sitting as I darted in and out of the living room because of a seven-year-old’s fear.  I didn’t know if what I was watching, a family living in hiding, was still happening. I wondered: “If the Frank family is in hiding, shouldn’t I be as well?”

Although the scenes appeared as mere shadows and whispers, I couldn’t make them disappear.  With age came a clearer sense of past and present.  Being on stage playing Anne protected me from those fears. I was engulfed in performing well without a single dropped line or missed cue. But as the fear abated, something else quietly manifested, an inner sense of responsibility.

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The Lilith Blog

February 4, 2020 by

The Foreign Policy Message We Should (But Won’t) Hear from the President

As we prepare to watch President Trump’s election-year State of the Union Address, we can predict one certainty from this unusually vocal president: Once again, he will not utter a single word supporting human rights around the world. For three years, this administration has dismantled America’s moral leadership on human rights—after decades of global bipartisan courage. 

Together, President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo have gone to extreme lengths to destroy nearly all protections for the most vulnerable communities. They have deliberately created policies harmful to the sexual health and rights of women, girls and LGBTQI+ communities, who often live at the margins of their societies.  

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The Lilith Blog

January 21, 2020 by

Roe Still Stands — But Not for Everyone

June 27, 2018 began like an ordinary workday. A recent college graduate, I was spending the summer interning at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, doing grant research.

I was sitting around a table with the staff pitching my initial findings when our phones buzzed.  A breaking news alert: Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy had announced his retirement.

The calls from concerned Texans started pouring in immediately. Kennedy was a decisive swing vote on abortion and other issues of reproductive health. What would his retirement mean for the future of reproductive rights?  

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The Lilith Blog

January 15, 2020 by

Laughter As Medicine for Resistance

I had my first real MS flare following the 2016 election, 10 years after my diagnosis. Once I had recovered, I realized that I would need a way to cope with a changed landscape: the news, the politics, the tension.

And for me, they only way to manage the scary reality of a Trump presidency was through comedy. The importance of living in a country that could jeer at the President without being offed or poisoned—mixed with the sheer release of laughing—provided a certain catharsis needed to process a way forward. I also appreciated the importance of comedians tearing apart the Trump Administration’s lies, policies and hypocrisy and making a huge mockery of the people in power. 

I knew this particular President was watching—and it would irk him. 

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The Lilith Blog

January 14, 2020 by

Edith Halpert: A Pioneering Dealer and Promoter of American Art

The Jewish Museum’s current major exhibition, “Edith Halpert and the Rise of American Art,” has brought renewed interest to the Downtown Gallery and Halpert herself, a remarkable woman whose department store marketing methodology and relentless promotion of contemporary American art and folk art expanded the artistic landscape throughout the United States. Born Edith Gregoryevna Fivoosiovitch in Odessa, Edith immigrated in 1906, arriving in New York City at age 6.

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The Lilith Blog

January 13, 2020 by

Feminist Farming: Learning Teshuvah from the Earth

13984398011106We dig a trough for garlic, bury the seed, and I invite the volunteers working alongside me to bless the garden bed. We often bless our work with a simple prayer that the people who eat this food are nourished by it, and that through our hands we can help heal the land we are on. I say a Shehechiyanu under my breath every time someone new joins me in this.

I farm on twice-stolen land in the Central District of Seattle, Washington, unceded Coast Salish territory. I am a white Jewish woman, and I farm with a white-led nonprofit. And often well-meaning white workers from Amazon and Microsoft come to the small parking-strip-turned-garden-beds that we call a farm, and it is my role to slow everyone down to the pace of the plants, and to be like the plants: to listen, to get to know a place by being shaped by its soil.

At the beginning of each set of community gardening hours, I tell the parts of the story of the Central District that I know. About how Black and Jewish people were redlined to this area. About how the Jews left in their own white flight. About how developers are eating up the land like they won’t ever get enough. I ask volunteers to be sensitive to the fact that people’s lives have been turned upside down, to walk with humility. I explain that we are doing our gardening inside of a wound, and if they can’t fully understand, that’s okay, but to respect that there’s a painful process going on. And that to the people who live here, some of us white folks, whether we like it or not, are the faces and bodies of that process.

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The Lilith Blog

January 6, 2020 by

How Singing (Yes, Singing!) Can Create Radical Jewish Accessibility

LMPS_Philly-13There’s a Hasidic story about a man who lived in Poland, renowned across the country for the fervor of his prayers. So stirring was his reputation that the Baal Shem Tov decided one day to travel great lengths to see this spiritual power for himself. After making a long journey, he found a shepherd boy standing on a hilltop, holding a prayerbook and calling out letters one by one. “Bet! Reish! Vav!” he cried out, on and on, and then, “Master of the Universe, this is all I can do. You know how the prayers should be pronounced. Please, arrange the letters in the proper way.”

When I first heard this story, I recognized myself in it, and countless people I know: those of us for whom Jewish education and Jewish life has not always been accessible. Those of us filled with a hunger to express ourselves, to cry out in prayer, and to contribute, who didn’t start out knowing how to piece the letters together —metaphorically or literally.  I’ve devoted my adult life and my rabbinate to creating spaces where people like me, like this fabled shepherd boy, can access Jewish tradition and thrive. Because, as this story reminds us, brilliance and creativity aren’t dependent on literacy. God receives us as we are, judging not our level of knowledge but rather the depths of our hearts. And as it turns out, one key to finding that space is through music.

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The Lilith Blog

December 31, 2019 by

Can We Cut Off Antisemitism at its Roots?

526493DB-2386-4875-B9FD-82A2A5AD1A07On the antisemitic attack in Monsey:

Last night I had a dream that it was finally time to harvest the root vegetables. In the dream, they had been left too long in the ground, and they were starting to rot.

I woke up, dressed, and went outside to harvest. I wasn’t too late. The first radish, round and bright and pink, allayed my fears. I spent the morning digging up the roots, rinsing them clean, putting them into containers to store. Then I checked the news.

Hasidic Jews in New York attacked with a machete inside their Rabbi’s home on Chanukah. The ninth antisemitic attack in New York during this week. Visibly Jewish people bearing the violent brunt of the story told about all Jews: that we are the ultimate source of people’s suffering. And that by harming us, killing us, that suffering will be alleviated.

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The Lilith Blog

December 31, 2019 by

On Christmas, and Confusion

Passing. There’s no time like the holidays for it. Passing plates. Passing on obligations and invitations. Passing by the Salvation Army jingles and tourists gawking at Macy’s holiday window displays. And passing by all the trees, wrapped up and dreaming of living rooms.

Suddenly, nothing is secular, so everything is secular. I usually don’t listen to music through headphones—music was made for orchestras and turntables and studios and theaters and speakers. But in December, I do. It’s cold, it’s lonely, and there’s a whole catalogue of carols written to address the temperature and the accompanying existential squall. And all the best songs were written by Jews, of course. So, I put in my headphones and join my ancestors and pass.

When I was in fifth grade, I wrote a report about Irving Berlin. I chose him randomly—I browsed the biography shelves after my immigrant parents, who had waited to get the internet until it became necessary, dropped me off at the library. I remember opening a book and seeing a menorah on the first page and reading something about his Russian roots. Perfect, I thought. He’s just like my dad, this’ll be easy. White Christmas meant nothing to me at the time—I didn’t see it until this year and only because I’ve been consumed by religious inversions recently. 

Hanukkah wouldn’t exist without Christmas. It’s been plucked out of scriptural obscurity and magnified to give Jews something to do. Or rather, something to buy, should we not succumb to the cheerful Christmas monolith. I don’t mean to deride the monolith—I mean to define it. I mean to trace its edges and describe its shape in a way that only certain kinds of outsiders can. Jews occupy a particular intersectional niche: we are frequently able to pass and comment both from the inside and the outside on what we see.

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