Author Archives: Eleanor J. Bader

The Lilith Blog

September 18, 2019 by

This Woman-Owned Business Has Everything You Need to Dress for Activism

If you like to wear progressive politics on your sleeve—or maybe on your coffee/tea/matcha mug or cell phone case—check out HeedtheHum.com, a queer, Jewish, woman-of-color-owned company created and run by Brooklyn activist Rachel Levin. 

Heed the Hum’s nearly 2000 products sport a variety of messages, from the word RESIST to Eve & Esther & Miriam & Deborah & Ruth, a celebration of Biblical sheroes. Other products promote world peace or provide a way to declare one’s identity: Black and Brazen; Nasty Woman; Feminist Zionist, among them.

Levin, a professional graphic and web page designer, sat down with reporter Eleanor J. Bader in early September to talk about the challenges of being a feminist entrepreneur.


 Eleanor J. Bader: Let’s start with the name of your company, Heed the Hum. What does it mean?

Rachel Levin: I’ve always been an activist and prideful about being queer, Jewish, and of color. But growing up I had deep moments of unhappiness and feelings of loss. I had been adopted at two months old by a straight, white, Jewish couple in Chicago. I was born in Chile, and for a long time kept my shame over being adopted private; it was always on a back burner of my mind though.

I was raised in a very safe, but sheltered, bubble, surrounded primarily by Ashkenazi Jews. They treated me beautifully, but in my gut, I felt like an “other.” I knew I was Chilean, at least by blood, and even though I had food, shelter, and an incredibly loving family — the best parents and a wonderfully supportive and inclusive older brother who was also adopted—there was always this hum that something was a bit off. For many years, I ignored it.

 As I got older, I wanted to live fully, out in the open as a queer person, as a feminist, and as a Jewish person of color. To do this, I literally started to heed the hum, to listen to the signs around me. I began to pay attention to what I was feeling both personally and politically. A bit later, when I was in college, I realized that I wanted to help other people become visible and become empowered by what made them an “other.” I also wanted to do something that would start conversations about political issues. 

I started Heed the Hum in May of 2017. In the past two years I’ve sold several thousand t-shirts for adults and children, as well as mugs, hats, pillows, posters, pieces of jewelry, flags, totes, and phone cases. The proceeds of The GIVE Collection benefit organizations I support, like the Red Cross and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. It’s work that I think makes a difference.

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The Lilith Blog

September 13, 2019 by

The Relevance of Grace Paley in the Trump Era

In the late spring of 2016, writer Judith Arcana began to reckon with the probability of Donald J. Trump ascending to the US presidency. “As I watched the emergence of Brexit in the United Kingdom, I was electrified,” Arcana told Lilith’s Eleanor J. Bader in mid-August. “I understood how—and why—Donald Trump could become president.”

This conclusion frightened her; nonetheless, Arcana found solace in thinking about activist-writer Grace Paley (1922-2007), the subject of her 1993 biography, Grace Paley’s Life Stories. “Grace’s life is a model for us right now, in the streets and on the page,” Arcana wrote in the Preface to the recently-released second edition of the book (Eberhardt Press). 

Indeed, it’s impossible to read Grace Paley’s Life Stories and not be inspired by her energy, optimism, and fortitude. Add in her literary output—essays, poems, and three short fiction collections—The Little Disturbances of Man (1959); Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1975), and Later the Same Day (1985)—stories that showcase the everyday interactions of working-class men, women, and children, and it is clear why Paley’s work remains relevant years after her death.

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The Lilith Blog

August 1, 2019 by

Making “Black Hat”: Director Sarah Smith Tells All

As a Lutheran growing up in Minnesota, Sarah Smith had no way to anticipate that she would one day direct a film about a gay-curious Hasidic man living in Los Angeles. But her award-winning film,” “Black Hat” zeroes in on Shmuel [played by Adam Silver], a married father, whose wife and kids are visiting out-of-state relatives. Suddenly footloose, the devoutly observant Shmuel allows himself a brief foray into gay L.A. where he meets Jay [Sebastian Velmont], a man who lives without the constraints of community expectations. What ensues is tender, provocative, and open-ended, a tiny glimpse into a world that is all-too-often exoticized and ridiculed. In a short 14 minutes, the film—written by Phillip Guttmann, produced by Yaniv Rokah, and co-produced by Loriel Samaras and Guttmann—tells a compelling and fresh story.  Eleanor J. Bader spoke to Sarah Smith by phone in June.

Eleanor J. Bader: Were you familiar with ultra-Orthodox or Hasidic Jews before directing “Black Hat”?

Sarah Smith: I first came to New York from a suburb of Minneapolis to attend New York University and stayed in the City for nine years. At first, I felt some culture shock, but by the time I directed the film, I had familiarity with the community. From 2002 to 2006, I worked as a writers’ assistant at the now-closed JC Studios in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. While there, I’d encountered many Hasidic and Orthodox people and had learned a little bit about them.

EJB: A number of recent feature films have introduced Hasidic life to mainstream audiences. How does “Black Hat” fit into this genre?

SS: There are a range of films about Hasidim. Some condemn the community and others just tell a story. Disobedience falls into this latter category.

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The Lilith Blog

July 15, 2019 by

Belladonna Founder Rachel Levitsky on Poetry, Politics, and What Comes Next

Rachel Levitsky calls herself a “lesbian, commie, poet, and polemicist who makes things.” And she does: Levitsky has written three full-length books and nine chapbooks herself, teaches undergraduates, and is the founder of the Belladonna Collaborative, a 20-year-old feminist avant-garde literary salon and publisher of experimental, multi-gendered, and linguistically bold titles.

Among Belladonna’s releases are award-winning texts from writers including LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs (Whiting Award) and Beth Murray, whose posthumous book of poems, Cancer Angel, won the 2016 California Book Award. Levitsky sat down with Eleanor J. Bader in Belladonna’s office.

Eleanor J. Bader: Have you always been a poet?

Rachel Levitsky: When I was a child my dad told me not to be a poet. Writing poetry was not an occupation in the Levitsky consciousness. I did not come out as a poet until 1994.

LevitskyEJB: Do you know why your father had this attitude?

RL: My parents seemed to value invisibility. My mother had been born in Germany and came to the US as a toddler in December 1939. Her uncle survived Auschwitz, but no one in my family was willing to talk about any of this and I always wanted to know more.

EJB: Is this why you became interested in history?

RL: Maybe. I was a history major as an undergraduate at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Albany and got a Master’s in American Social History. My focus was labor. My thesis looked at the way the cigar industry in Binghamton, NY became segregated by gender.

EJB: But you chose to pursue activism.

RL: I wasn’t interested in pursuing further academic study in History. I plunged into activism in New York City, joining ACT-UP and WHAM!—Women’s Health Action and Mobilization.

My job at the time was with the Home Program of the Bond Street Homeless Center run by Catholic Charities. Every night, five of us would load into a van and drive around Brooklyn trying to convince mentally-ill, chemically-addicted people to come to the Center’s drop-in program.

I did this work in 1991 and 1992, until I got a job teaching adult basic education classes for the Consortium of Worker Education (CWE), an educational organization that serves union members. In 1993-94 I taught English in Mexico. When I came back to the US, I returned to the CWE and eventually got a full-time job running an English as a Second Language program at the Painters and Finishers Apprenticeship program in Long Island City.

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The Lilith Blog

May 29, 2019 by

Restorative Justice in the Classroom: An Interview with Cassie Schwerner

It’s been six months since Dr. Cassie Schwerner became the Executive Director of the 37-year-old Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility in New York City and she has many items on her organizational to-do list. The group’s mission – to promote equity in public schools through reliance on restorative justice over suspension for rules infractions; increase social and emotional learning in the classroom; and inspire honest, well-facilitated discussions about the impact of race on everyday interactions — is enormous, but Schwerner says she’s up to the challenge. 

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The Lilith Blog

May 8, 2019 by

Deborah Ugoretz Heals Wounds with Paper Cuts

unnamed-1Visitors to the Red Hook, Brooklyn, studio of artist Deborah Ugoretz are greeting by a poster-sized crossword puzzle with the words: “Why didn’t I do more/What more can I do/ Why not do more” in large black letters.

Ugoretz says that she made the piece shortly before the 2016 presidential election. Called My Favorite Crossword Puzzle, this piece contains some squares to remind viewers of the problems that continue to plague planet earth: age discrimination, apathy, child abuse, drug addiction, poverty, racism, human trafficking and overdevelopment, among them.

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The Lilith Blog

April 25, 2019 by

Revisiting the Turmoil of the Late 60s, In Fiction

51kNv-Ay6ZL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_-1Nicole Burton’s sweeping first novel, Adamson’s 1969, (Apippa Publishing Company) tells the story of Henry Adamson, a young British immigrant to the U.S. whose arrival coincides with some of the most dramatic political movements and events of the late twentieth century.

It’s 1969, the year of Woodstock, numerous massive anti-war protests, multiple plane hijackings and growing pushback against repressive gender norms. And Adamson—he prefers to be addressed solely by his surname—pays attention to each unfolding event as he is trying to finish high school and figure out the college application process, all of it done without parental counsel.

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The Lilith Blog

March 27, 2019 by

Standing Up for Immigrant Families, One Case at a Time

When New York Law School professor Lenni B. Benson created the Safe Passage Project in 2006, she did not anticipate that the number of unaccompanied minors trying to find asylum in the United States would skyrocket, going from 16,067 in 2011 to 41,456 in 2017.

But it has, causing tens of thousands of children to be taken into federal facilities where they will face formal removal proceeding that require them to appear before a judge and explain why they left home.

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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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The Lilith Blog

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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