Author Archives: Eleanor J. Bader

The Lilith Blog

March 22, 2019 by

Disability Rights Activist Emily Ladau on How to Make Feminism Include Everyone

While sipping tea in a funky, independently owned café in Babylon, New York, disability justice activist-writer Emily Ladau suddenly makes an unexpected confession: “I have a fraught relationship with feminism,” she says.

It’s not ideological. 

Ladau is pro-choice, pro-ERA, pro-LGBTQ equality, and supports equal pay for work of equal value. But as someone who uses a wheelchair, she has frequently felt excluded. “I don’t think feminists who are not disabled identify with me, even though I identify with them,” she explains. “Feminist groups often ignore the fact that disability intersects with every other marginalized identity.”

Changing this—not just within the women’s movement but in the world at large—is Ladau’s passion and, as editor of Rooted in Rights (rootedinrights.org), she and other writers work tirelessly to expose—and push back against—the many ways in which the disabled are belittled, condescended to and all too often completely ignored.

Ladau and Lilith’s Eleanor J. Bader met in late February to discuss how she became an outspoken advocate and educator.

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February 13, 2019 by

What It’s Like to Help Immigrants at the Border Right Now

When Hillary J. Exter retired in February 2018, after nearly 40 years as a public-interest lawyer, she knew that she wanted to spend at least some of her time working on immigration issues. This led her to the New Sanctuary Coalition.  As a volunteer, Exter has accompanied people to ICE check-ins and court dates, including bond hearings for those in detention, and for about six months has participated in the Coalition’s weekly pro se immigration clinic where she has provided information to those women and men who are not represented by counsel.

In early January she traveled to the Tijuana-San Diego border and worked with other volunteers to give information and solace to the thousands of asylum-seekers who are hoping to enter the US.

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January 30, 2019 by

From Yesterday’s Institutions for the “Feeble-Minded” to Today’s Prisons

Anne E. Parsons was a teenager when her mother told her that her grandmother had had a sister named Ruth who’d spent 40 years at the Delaware Colony for the Feeble-Minded at Stockley, an enormous residential hospital in Georgetown, Delaware.

“Aunt Ruth was not a secret, but, at the same time, the family did not speak openly about her,” Parsons told Eleanor J. Bader in a recent telephone interview. “It wasn’t until I was an adult that I understood the weight of what it must have been like for both Ruth and for my family.”

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The Lilith Blog

January 17, 2019 by

Dancing as Politics: Interview with Hadar Ahuvia

When Hadar Ahuvia took a World Dance class as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College, she recognized that she could not properly investigate other cultures until she had a better understanding of her own. Her parents had been born and raised on the kibbutz Beit Hashita, and her grandparents had helped found the Israeli state, and so she began to untangle the roots of the Israeli folk dances she’d grown up with. She found Bedouin, Druze, Palestinian, Yemenite, and Mizrahi influences on those childhood dances, and began to use them to choreograph her own.

Ahuvia’s most recent piece, “Everything You Have is Yours?” explores her Israeli American identity and addresses cultural appropriation. What’s more, the dance, nominated for a 2018 Bessie Award for Outstanding Breakout Choreography, gives Ahuvia a platform to address her own conflicted relationship with a state she sees as an occupying presence.

Ahuvia now lives in Brooklyn, NY and sat down with Eleanor J. Bader in late November to discuss the challenges inherent in creating and performing dances that are simultaneously entertaining, provocative, and politically impactful.

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January 8, 2019 by

The Feminist Who Illustrated “The Wisdom of the Fathers”

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When artist Jessica Tamar Deutsch was finishing her studies at the Parsons School of Design, she decided to illustrate the famous collection of rabbinic wisdom, Pirkei Avot—typically translated as The Ethics of the Fathers—as her senior thesis. It was 2013. Her colorful 128-page effort was then shopped around to every publisher of Jewish texts that Deutsch could find. Rejections piled up. Some bristled at her depiction of pants-wearing women holding the Torah. Others disliked seeing men with their heads uncovered. And still others did not want to take a chance on something they saw as little more than a religious-themed comic book.

 

Thankfully, Deutsch reports, a small-but-growing Philadelphia company called Print-O-Craft decided to buck the trend and The Illustrated Pirkei Avot: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Ethics, was released in April 2017. To date, nearly 4,000 copies have been sold.

Deutsch sat down with Eleanor J. Bader on a chilly December morning to discuss the book, art, and the creative process.

Eleanor J. Bader: Since the release of The Illustrated Pirkei Avot more than a year-and-a-half ago, you were named one of Jewish Week’s 36 Under 36 in 2018 and are currently doing a Fellowship with LABA, at the 14th Street Y in Manhattan. Can you tell me more about your current projects?

 Jessica Tamar Deutsch: I’m presently illustrating two different books. One is being written by Rabbi Jon Leener and will introduce children (and adults) to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. It’s sort of a Rebbe Nachman 101. The protagonist is a five-year-old girl named Esther.

The other book is being written by Rabbi Simcha Weinstein and is the story of his Jewish journey.

I also design Ketubot, Jewish marriage documents. This includes interfaith couples and incorporates new traditions where women make a Ketubah for their spouse instead of being the one to receive the document. I love when people make up their own customs. I work with each couple to find meaningful texts but I don’t do the actual calligraphy. I have friends who are amazing scribes so when I make art that I want hand-lettered, I gladly collaborate with them.

Lastly, I’m the resident artist at the Lab Shul. It’s been exciting and an education for me to work with communities that practice Judaism differently from one another.

EJB: You’re juggling a lot! What’s your project for the LABA fellowship?

JTD: The idea is to explore the Hebrew word for truth, emeth.

I recently completed a three-day training to become a doula, to help in the delivery room and be a calm support to the person having a baby. Fellowship funding allowed me to pay for the training and I intend to get more instruction before I begin this work. At the same time, I’m learning about death rituals in Judaism and am working with the Chevra Kadisha, the Jewish Burial Society, in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The idea is to be in these two book-ended moments simultaneously and see what happens. I hope to make art from these experiences but I am not yet sure what form the project will take.

EJB: Have you always made art?

JTD: I think you can safely say that I’ve been making art practically since I exited the womb! Before I even went to nursery school, I made a collage by cutting my hair and arranging the strands on paper–and I’ve always painted.  In elementary school I became obsessed with Renaissance paintings.

My maternal grandparents were in the textile business so growing up I was around fashion, color, and fabrics. When I got to Parsons, I began with the intention of studying fashion design, swapped over to fine art for a semester, and finally completed my BFA in illustration. Along the way I took several sewing classes but, for me, sewing was soul-wrecking. I’ve always loved drawing best. 

EJB: By combining your love to Judaism with your love of painting and drawing, you’ve figured it out.  

JTD: I think so!  I grew up modern Orthodox in New Rochelle, New York, and was one of those kids who absolutely loved Judaism. In fourth grade I had a cheder-style teacher who taught Torah as a song. Judaism became music to me.

EJB: Have you always been a fan of graphic novels?

JTD: As a kid I read Archie, and I’m only now learning about some of the greats. 

When I was at Parsons, I’d walk by a store on my way to class called Forbidden Planet. I discovered a book there called Blankets by Craig Thompson. I bought it and remember thinking to myself, ‘This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.’ In it, Thompson described growing up in middle America, in a religious Christian family, falling in love and experiencing heartbreak for the first time, and then moving to New York City. This spoke to me. 

The art I like best tends to make the everyday look sacred and Thompson did that. It was eye-opening to find his work.

EJB: How about your relationship to feminism?

 JTD: People have asked me why, as a feminist, I made a book about male wisdom. It’s a good question, but I think we have to deal with things we find uncomfortable in our traditions.

I think that some of the discomfort comes from the progress of Jewish feminists, something I benefit from. People my age can’t relate to a time when only male voices were canonized. 

Rabbi Eve Posen and Lois Sussman Shenker have written Pirkei Imahot: The Wisdom of Mothers, The Voices of Women as a feminist response to the Pirkei Avot. It’s fabulous. They’ve written it in the way you would construct a Mishnah, by turning to powerhouse women for advice. The people who are making new Mishnahs today are keeping Judaism alive.

EJB: How did working with the Hebrew text affect you?

 JTD: What I love most about Hebrew is that it is a playful language and the ways my publisher and I interacted with my manuscript allowed us to title it The Illustrated Pirkei Avot. Perkei means chapters of collections and avot can be translated as fathers, but it can also be translated to mean important things; the book can be called a collection of the most important teachings or the most important wisdom, instead of Ethics of the Fathers. 

EJB: How has your feminism come up against the realities of different Jewish communities?

 JTD: I often assume that what I am up to is considered unconventional, but I may be wrong about this.  I was speaking at the Sixth Street Synagogue in Manhattan’s East Village about the book and there was a man there, dressed in black and white, with peyes. After I spoke, he came up to me and said it was inspiring to him to hear a woman deal with Mishnah in a serious way. That’s change happening.

 Still, there are things in Judaism I don’t want for future generations. For many women, diving into Jewish texts can seem daunting, I am disheartened when women assume they must rely on male teachers. We forget that the Torah is something manageable, something they can learn. When women role models aren’t present as clergy, it’s difficult for women to see themselves in a direct relationship with Torah. They may miss an opportunity to develop their own study skills or learn from someone who might have a better understanding of their lived experience. When I want to learn something, I go to a text, and on my own, try to find an English translation and then wade in.At the same time, while I’m grateful to have supportive male colleagues and teachers, I often have to deal with being the only female voice in a particular space. it can wear me down and feel lonely.

EJB: So, how do you handle it?

JTD: I’ve started writing something I call The Torah of my Kishkes: The Diary of a Twenty-Something-Year-Old Jewess. It’s the place I put my thoughts on Jewish practice, the disappointments, joys, and hopes for the future. It’s been the best way I’ve found to deal with the knots in my heart. I also make sure to take care of myself by running, doing lots of yoga, seeing friends, and playing music. In addition, I’m now taking a dance class for the first time.

EJB: What is your favorite art-making activity, something that you do for pleasure? 

JTD: I love being outdoors with my sketchbooks. Sketchbooks are the best. There is no expectation or judgment when you use one. 

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.

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The Lilith Blog

December 3, 2018 by

Nancy Romer’s 50 Years of Activism

Although Nancy Romer taught psychology at Brooklyn College for 42 years, she is adamant that she is not an academic. “I’m an organizer,” she says.

For the past 50-plus years, Romer has participated in, and often led, some of the most important social justice movements in the US: opposing war and militarism; fighting the increasing privatization of public education; and challenging racism, sexism, and homophobia. Her most recent work has centered around food and climate justice, including pushing pension funds to divest from the fossil fuel industry, and supporting the struggles of workers at home and abroad.

Lilith’s Eleanor J. Bader caught up with Romer a few days after she returned to New York from Ohio, where she’d spent several weeks knocking on doors and making phone calls to ensure that the state’s progressive senator, Sherrod Brown, won re-election.

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The Lilith Blog

November 20, 2018 by

Lovingly Skewering The Liberal Elite

When Elly Lonon and Joan Reilly got word that powerHouse Books wanted to publish their graphic novel, Amongst the Liberal Elite: The Road Trip Exploring Societal Inequities Solidified by Trump (RESIST), in January 2018, they were absolutely thrilled. 

But then reality barged in.

91+vHyrzIOLNot only did the publisher want the book completed in just five month to peg the book’s release to the midterm elections—but the same week that they signed the contract, Reilly was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer that necessitated surgery, radiation, and chemo.

“Our mantra,” Lonon told Lilith, “quickly became, ‘don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.’” She spoke by phone with Lilith in early November and covered the book’s evolution and its hilarious depiction of Alex and Michael, a well-meaning, straight, white couple who are nonetheless often clueless about their class and race privilege.

 

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August 28, 2018 by

The Radical Potential of Fresh Food — and Why It Can Be So Hard to Come By

FB0409E5-5CE9-4680-8777-D5E3FEB95A1AAsk Julia Koprak, Senior Associate at The Food Trust, an organization dedicated to ensuring that US residents have access to affordable, nutritious food, about the most surprising aspect of her work, and her answer is immediate. “People assume that folks need to take personal responsibility and eat healthy meals,” she says. Missing, she continues, is recognition of the fact that many US residents live in areas where grocery stores are few-and-far-between and farmer’s markets are either non-existent or unreachable, sometimes referred to as “food deserts.” “These areas exist in virtually every city and state in the country,” Koprak continues. “There are lots of places where people have to take three buses or drive 30 miles for food, places where the only nearby place to buy groceries is the gas station.”

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July 20, 2018 by

Marilyn Sneiderman on Finding Optimism and a Life of Labor Organizing

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“You have to be an eternal optimist to be a community and labor organizer,” Marilyn Sneiderman, Executive Director of the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization, says with a laugh. “You have to believe social change and social justice are not just some distant hope, but are something we can win through our day- to-day organizing and vision of a more just world.”

Sneiderman spoke to Eleanor J. Bader several days after she was arrested—along with more than 600 women from throughout the country—at a sit-in at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC. The action was called to protest the family separation and incarceration policies of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

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July 11, 2018 by

An Artist Who Welds Jewelry, Glass and Performance Together

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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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