Author Archives: Amy Stone

The Lilith Blog

January 15, 2019 by

The Women’s March 2019: Muslim and Jewish Women Navigate the Waters

Side by side in prayer, Muslim women (front), Jewish women (back) at Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom national conference. Photo: Amy Stone

Side by side in prayer, Muslim women (front), Jewish women (back) at Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom national conference.
Photo: Amy Stone

The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is a grassroots organization bringing Muslim and Jewish women together to get to know one other and together stand up to hatred. Yet despite its mission, the organization is not getting involved with the competing Women’s Marches being held in New York (two of  dozens of marches around the country) this Saturday, January 19.

Not shying away from inflammatory issues, back in November, SOSS members at their 5th annual national conference got the challenge from co-founder and sister-in-chief Sheryl Olitzky, just after the murder of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh: “America is on fire. Are you ready to be the firefighters?”

In the all-is-right-in-America autumn splendor of a college campus, some 600 women, some in hijab, a few in yarmulkas, had come together at the conference of the only American organization of Jewish and Muslim women and teenage girls. Galvanized by Trump’s incendiary pandering to racism, SOSS membership has more than tripled since the 2016 election. After the Pittsburgh killings, SOSS provided some comfort. Black paper strips for all were the conference equivalent of the cut black ribbon worn by Jewish mourners. We mourned the 11 Jews murdered at Tree of Life synagogue and the two African Americans gunned down six days later at a Kentucky supermarket when the white killer couldn’t get into a black church.

Edina Lekovic, a founder of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, based in L.A., told  the assembled groups, “I’ve been here too many times – Muslim, Latino, LGBTQ, African American. Too many times, we’ve come together to grieve.” Quoting the Quran: “Surely with hardship comes ease.” But then this woman with the elaborately braided head covering put a new spin on it: “I used to think it meant, ‘First hardship, then ease.’” But then the subtler understanding: “It’s not sequential. Surely with the hardship, within the hardship is the ease.” Her message: “It’s time to go deeper. Neither fight nor flight but reconciliation and justice.”

What does that mean for Lekovic as an American Muslim? “Not just by marching in the streets but sharing the hard stuff, sitting together in living rooms, going deeper.”

That’s a bedrock principle of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. For instance, the group has a directive: don’t try to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict till you’ve known each other for at least a year and built friendships that, hopefully, will humanize seemingly intractable political positions.

And now, a new test case: the dangers for Muslim and Jewish women of taking positions on the competing women’s marches with all their attendant drama. 

At least in New York City, there will be two simultaneous events:

1 ) Women’s March Alliance, with a march organized by the same group that did the first two New York City marches, is assembling at Central Park West and 72nd Street at 10 AM, stepping off after a rally at 11 AM. Their home page states: “We do not support any organization or person that is anti-Semitic, anti-gay, anti-woman, or does not support equal rights for every human. We welcome any and all people who want to raise women’s voices through education and activism.”

2) Women’s March Inc. NYC, an offshoot of the 2017 national march in D.C., will join with the New York Immigration Coalition for a rally at Foley Square, across from the federal courthouse, from 10 to 2 on Saturday. Their home page states: “The Women’s Unity Rally in NYC will highlight the leadership of Black women, immigrant women and women of color as part of the national #WomensWave, and in response to the Trump Administration’s continued assault on immigrant communities and communities of color.”

Reading about these dueling events, I feel I’ve just sustained a punch to the gut. I wonder: is a mass movement of women of all religious beliefs, colors, ages, sexuality and classes, standing up against our racist, misogynist administration, being threatened by corrosive politics? Why come to a city that already has a locally organized women’s march and start your own instead of working to bring more women of all colors and beliefs into the local march?

At least for this New York Jew, the locally organized march rallying at Columbus Circle then marching down Sixth Avenue is the one I’m going with. I’m gritting my teeth at the idea of women’s unity being threatened when we’re perilously close to losing our rights, including our rights to our own bodies. I don’t think boycotting the Women’s March or the competing rally is the answer. Judging by online comments, most women seem unaware of the competing marches or are frustrated and confused.

I’m making this choice in part because of the D.C. march’s problematic leadership that reportedly excluded Jews from the early organizing two years ago and still seems to wobble on whether it supports outspoken anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. (As of January 14, the march’s leadership has expanded to include at least three Jewish women of color among the 23 women on the steering committee.)

My pre-Sisterhood self would have jumped in, criticizing the D.C. march leaders for excluding Jews from the original leadership then reportedly trying to move in on the local New York leadership. 

But wait. I have decided to tread carefully. Jews and Muslims from our Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Civil Rights Bus Trip  are coming to New York City for the Women’s March and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Some of my Muslim sisters may support the D.C. march, its local presence, and its leaders, including co-president Tamika Mallory and national march co-chair Linda Sarsour, an American Muslim of Palestinian descent. The D.C. leadership has publicly reaffirmed a welcoming stance towards Jews. Personally? I’m feeling different strokes for different folks.

Many Jewish Women of Color are weighing in. A group of JWOC, led by Yavilah McCoy, among others, is asking all Jewish women to march (wherever we are, including in the “official” Washington, D.C. march). We are being called to march under the banner and hashtag #JWOCMarching, signifying that Jewish women of color are living their lives at the intersection of racism and anti-Semitism, and that white Jewish women are part of that same cohort, regardless of skin color. McCoy and longtime feminist and social justice activist Shifra Bronznick, writing in the Forward, encouraged all Jewish women to join the official Women’s March to stand up for our rights.

Back to the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. Fortunately the organizer of our New York Sisterhood gathering is, literally, a rocket scientist. She’s laid out our personal options with precision: 1) Participate in the locally organized New York march. 2) Participate in the D.C.-linked New York rally. 3) Feel free not to participate in either. 

Returning to Edina Lekovic’s “Neither fight nor flight,” all of us – Muslims and Jews – will be sitting down together after the march to talk about the tough issues we’ve restrained ourselves from struggling with online.

But wait – there’s more. Rev. Cathy Bristow, an interfaith minister whose mission is “relanguaging” the conversation around race and gender, came to my aid. Her advice: “Don’t say ‘competing marches’. The two marches are not competing. Women are not one concentric circle. There’s racism within that circle.” And then, her additional insight: “If there are two competing marches and you think there should be one, go with the other march.” In other words, lean in to your discomfort. 

I am shaken out of my position. To my amazement, I think I’ll go to the Foley Square rally. And then, another breakthrough: I’ll go to both.

Wish all of us luck. Or maybe even pray for us. 

Resources:

 

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The Lilith Blog

November 19, 2018 by

A Final “Shoah” Installment Tells Women’s Stories

What’s left for filmmaker Claude Lanzmann to tell us about the Shoah? At his death at 92 this past July, with rare honors at Les Invalides in Paris, he had gone from teenage fighter in the French resistance to the tireless creator of “Shoah,” its 9-plus hours of interviews followed by feature-length spinoffs.

Much of Lanzmann’s work concentrates on men’s stories. Now women are getting the last words. And the telling is in the details.  Would these stories have the same impact if they were not part of the Lanzmann canon? I think not. But he showed us a different way of looking at the Shoah. As historian Deborah Lipstadt says, Lanzmann was trying to instill modesty of judgment. We don’t know what we’d do in their place.

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The Lilith Blog

July 5, 2018 by

Muslim and Jewish Women on a Southern Civil Rights Road Trip

Reaching across the aisle – Cyndy Wyatt (left) and Dorene Alama discovered they both attended the same Catholic school in upstate New York. Cyndy, now living in Stowe, Vt., converted to Judaism. Dorene, in Charlotte, N.C., converted to Islam. Photo credit: Amy Stone

Reaching across the aisle – Cyndy Wyatt (left) and Dorene Alama discovered they
both attended the same Catholic school in upstate New York. Cyndy, now living in
Stowe, Vt., converted to Judaism. Dorene, in Charlotte, N.C., converted to Islam.
Photo: Amy Stone

Back in April, a busload of white and brown Jewish and Muslim women, some in hijab, headed south along the civil rights trail from Georgia to Alabama to Tennessee. What could go wrong?

We’re riding with Brenda, a third-generation female bus driver from Asheville, North Carolina, and Todd, our African-American civil rights expert. We’re a world away from the 1961 Freedom Riders aboard Greyhound buses attacked by violent mobs for attempting to integrate southern bus terminals. But this is also far from a Disneyland outing. We’re in the Trump era of hate with his Muslim ban and war on immigrants.

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The Lilith Blog

January 16, 2018 by

At the NY Jewish Film Festival: “The Impure”—Yes, nice Jewish girls and women were prostitutes in Argentina

More timely than ever—think trafficking and violence against women, think Time’s Up‑ “The Impure” (New York Jewish Film Festival Jan. 16) digs into Argentina’s subculture of Jewish prostitutes and pimps in the massive immigration from Eastern Europe starting in the 1880s.

the impure lilith article photo

Argentina’s legal prostitution attracted Eastern Europe’s Jewish underworld, riding the wave of 100,000 Jewish immigrants, mostly male. “Impuros” was the term created by the respectable Jews of Argentina to distinguish themselves from the similar-looking immigrants in the sex trade.

What opens as workmanlike documentation–shots of neglected headstones, black-and-white stills of 1880s Buenos Aires, soulful music–gets interesting as the film’s director discovers his own family connections to the sex trade.

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The Lilith Blog

January 10, 2018 by

Where Are the Women Directors? Very Few at the NY Jewish Film Festival

Fresh from the #MeToo / Time’s Up show of unity at Sunday night’s Golden Globe awards, how could we not do a count of the number of women directors at this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival, opening today (January 10)? Natalie Portman’s words at the Golden Globes are still ringing in my ears. Co-presenter Ron Howard: “We are honored … to be here to present the award for the best director.” Portman: “And here are the all-male nominees.”  (FYI, the only woman ever to win a Golden Globe award for Best Director was Barbra Streisand for “Yentl” in 1984.) 

Certainly the NYJFF has a world of directors to choose from. A partnership of the Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the 27th annual New York Jewish Film Festival is truly an international event, bringing films and filmmakers from Israel, North America, South America, North Africa and Europe to the Walter Reade Theater and the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center. 

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The Lilith Blog

January 5, 2018 by

Meet Maysaloun Hamoud—Fearless Female, Palestinian Filmmaker— Director of “In Between”

In Between's director Maysaloun Hamoud. Photo credit: Joan Roth.

In Between’s director Maysaloun Hamoud. Photo credit: Joan Roth.

By Maysaloun Hamoud’s tattoos you shall know her—her film’s title on her arm in Arabic transliteration and English, “BAR BAHAR” “In Between.” Then an unexpected choice, the John Tenniel illustration of Alice in Wonderland, key in hand, pulling back the curtain to a tiny door. And at the nape of her neck, the surprise of a little head, looking just like her, peering out from the basket of a brightly striped hot air balloon.

At 36, Mayasloun Hamoud, a Palestinian Israeli filmmaker, is savoring international success with her first feature film, which she wrote and directed.

In Between,” which opened the Other Israel Film Festival at the Manhattan JCC in November, starts a commercial run today (January 5) in New York, then January 12 in Los Angeles. The feature, in Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles, has already garnered international film festival prizes. In Israel, its popularity soared after Hamoud was issued a fatwah for depicting young Palestinian Israelis in the Tel Aviv nightlife scene of drugs, sex and all-out partying. 

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The Lilith Blog

November 1, 2017 by

This Director Got Death Threats. Her Work Will Open the Other Israel Film Festival Tomorrow.

in betweenWhat better film to open the New York JCC’s Other Israel Film Festival than “In Between” – the first feature by a 35-year-old Palestinian woman, with scenes triggering death threats and a fatwa. 

With the slogan “Film. Change. Action,” the 11th Annual OIFF opens at the JCC Manhattan tomorrow evening (Nov. 2). Director Maysaloun Hamoud will appear in conversation with other filmmakers after the screening. (“In Between” has already won numerous international film festival awards and opens commercially in the U.S. in January.) 

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The Lilith Blog

June 19, 2017 by

On the Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Trail

What’s a Jew to do?

In the last 24 hours, two brutal attacks on Muslims made the news: on Sunday, the bludgeoning death of 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen after leaving a Virginia mosque with friends; then Monday, a van driven into a crowd leaving a mosque north of London, one man dead at the scene, eight hospitalized. The attacks make calls for Muslim-Jewish solidarity even more compelling. 

But just a little over a week ago, I answered the call to action with hesitancy—“NY ♡ Muslims” rally and march Saturday, June 10. A gathering of love in response to the nationwide rallies of Act for America, a Southern Poverty Law Center designated hate group, against sharia law (read “Muslims”).

Photo credit: Amy Stone

Photo credit: Amy Stone

First my quibble over the name – “NY ♡ Muslims.” Sounds so condescending. Would anyone say NY ♡ Jews? NY ♡ Women? Beyond that, does a rally reacting to racism only increase the attention?

But I decided to put my body where my mouth is—and show up at the Manhattan rally at City Hall, just a few blocks from the Foley Square court buildings where the Act for America March Against Sharia was taking place.

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The Lilith Blog

February 14, 2017 by

Upstanders

"We Stand for Refugees," photo by Amy Stone

“We Stand for Refugees,” photo by Amy Stone

Rain, sleet, slush under foot, lower Manhattan’s tall buildings cloaked in fog.

Undeterred, hundreds of men, women and children turned out for the Day of Jewish Action for Refugees called by HIAS this past Sunday (Feb. 12).  The rally was one of some dozen across the country.

I was unprepared for my emotional response – unlike anything I felt at the Women’s March in Washington. Tears triggered by the middle-aged woman silently holding a sign with the childhood passport picture of her mother – it could have been Anne Frank. And the message: Donald Trump, This is my mom, with her swastika covered passport. Germany 1937. Would you let her in? Jewish Values. American Values. We stand up for refugees.

The rally in Battery Park was just across the harbor from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. But the anchoring landmark was Castle Clinton, where HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) welcomed Jews to America in 1881. HIAS has gone on to help settle newcomers to America regardless of where they come from or what they believe.  

In the words of HIAS VP Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, “For the first time in history, the Jewish people are not refugees. We are a free and empowered people in America and around the world. And we have a role to play – a responsibility we must live up to. We are called by our mandate to welcome the stranger and to love the stranger. In cities across the country today, Jews are holding rallies, vigils and actions. Together, we are raising our voices up to say that we must keep our doors open to people who are fleeing for their lives.” 

For more information: http://www.hias.org/day-of-action. 

Check out these powerful images. 

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The Lilith Blog

February 3, 2017 by

Film: ‘Heather Booth: Changing the World’ Don’t Despair. Organize!

Photo credit: Shira Gorelick

Photo credit: Shira Gorelick, taken at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

Filmmaker Lilly Rivlin hit it right on this one.

“Heather Booth: Changing the World”—the final film in Rivlin’s trilogy of activist Jewish women (Grace Paley, Esther Broner) premiered in New York at the Manhattan JCC just before the Trump inauguration. The documentary of a woman whose lifelong work has been organizing for progressive change ends with the date November 9, 2016 (11/9 – the eerie reversal of 9/11) filling the screen, the date of Trump’s electoral college victory. Then Trump’s face fills the screen, and we hear Booth’s voice: “We will organize. We will stand up.”

The three-year project was a collaboration between filmmaker Rivlin (hard to believe she’s now 80) and Booth, now 71. Booth insisted that the film be a tool for organizing. And it is.

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