Author Archives: Eleanor J. Bader

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January 8, 2019 by

The Feminist Who Illustrated “The Wisdom of the Fathers”


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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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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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


“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


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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June 24, 2018 by

A Bold Photographer Who Captures Social Justice Movements

For as long as she can remember, photojournalist Natalie Keyssar has been interested in the causes and casualties of violence and civic unrest. But it took years for her to muster the courage to pursue this particular angle; first, she covered metropolitan news and youth culture for the Wall Street Journal and a wide array of online and print outlets. Over her career, she has covered major neo-Nazi rallies, Kosher soup kitchens, tragic accidents and Occupy protests.

As the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Emerging Photographer Award winner, her eclectic work now appears regularly in Time, Bloomberg Business Week, the New York Times newspaper and magazine, and California Sunday, and has won plaudits not only from the ICP, but from the Aaron Siskind Foundation, PDN30, The Pulitzer Center, and the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Nailing 33-year-old Keyssar down for an interview took months—she is on the road for much of the year—but she and reporter Eleanor J. Bader recently met at a Brooklyn café where they spent several hours talking about Keyssar’s career, its unlikely trajectory, and her interest in covering movements for social justice at home and abroad.

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June 4, 2018 by

This Radical Medical Collective Ministers to Protesters

Almost a decade ago, a group of healthcare activists in Portland, Oregon, formed the Rosehip Medic Collective, with the original intent of providing emergency medical care to people attending progressive political events, protests and direct actions. As part of this work, they’ve offered intensive trainings––a 20-hour immersion in advanced first aid––so that people who either lack the resources to obtain medical attention or who feel unsafe in traditional medical settings might have access to basic information, advocacy, and support.

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The collective’s members—many of them Jewish and most LGBTQ—include Emergency Medical Technicians, registered nurses, wilderness first-responders, herbalists, naturopaths, acupuncturists, and teachers. This diversity of experience has led them to a range of Portland events. Individual members also provide care to people living on the street, to IV drug users in harm-reduction settings, and in free clinics.  And some Collective members were present at the 2017 Standing Rock encampment formed by North Dakota’s native community in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Rosehip Medic Collective member Eva Irwin spoke to Eleanor J. Bader by phone in early May about the group’s work and evolution.

Eleanor J. Bader: Let’s start with some history. How, when, and why did the Collective form?

Eva Irwin: We basically coalesced as a Collective in the aftermath of the Republican and Democratic conventions of 2008. At both conventions, protesters met tremendous repression. The police violence served as a crucible for us as individuals.

From the beginning—we incorporated in 2008—we’ve included people with and without medical certifications and licenses. Early on, we were EMT heavy, and many of us had gone to wilderness first-responder trainings.  Some of us knew a lot about acupuncture and herbs; others were experts in naturopathic medicine. A few of us had been street medics before, with an earlier incarnation of Rosehip called Portland Street Medics, so we came into the Collective with a variety of backgrounds.  

The idea was that we wanted to do action/activist medicine. We understood that many communities have to create their own medical infrastructure, taking care of themselves, because of racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia.  Many of us in the collective have not felt safe accessing conventional emergency medical services (EMS). This led us to do a research project on tried-and-existing alternatives to EMS.  One group we profiled was Hatzolah—a global Jewish volunteer ambulance organization which basically recognized that specific communities with specific needs do not always get their needs met by the larger society. Hatzolah was a response to this, a community-created service to care for community members, broadly speaking.

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May 16, 2018 by

Leslie Cagan’s Half-Century of Activism

When Brooklyn for Peace named community organizer Leslie Cagan one of three Pathfinder for Peace award winners in late 2017, it was both in recognition of, and in gratitude for, Cagan’s more than 50 years of social justice activism. Whether pushing for action on climate change, peace, LGBTQ equality, feminism, reproductive choice, or fighting racism, Cagan’s voice, presence, and expertise have long been visible. 

Cagan has worn a lot of hats over the years. Among them, she was the interim board chair at the Pacifica radio network in the late 1990s; was National Coordinator of United for Peace and Justice from 2002-2009; and either coordinated or played a leadership role in some of the largest demonstrations in American history—for nuclear disarmament in 1982; for LGBTQ rights in 1987; against the war in Iraq in 2003; and for climate action in 2014.

Opening comments from Leslie Cagan, a leader in the Peoples Climate Movement NY - Peoples Climate Movement 2018 Kick-off event is a city-wide organizing meeting on learning how you can get more involved in climate campaigns. Followed by brief updates on the exciting work of several campaigns and breaking groups focused on how we can strengthen and expand climate action in New York City and NY State, as well as nationally. (Photo by Erik McGregor)

Opening comments from Leslie Cagan, a leader in the Peoples Climate Movement NY – Peoples Climate Movement 2018 Kick-off event is a city-wide organizing meeting on learning how you can get more involved in climate campaigns. Followed by brief updates on the exciting work of several campaigns and breaking groups focused on how we can strengthen and expand climate action in New York City and NY State, as well as nationally. (Photo by Erik McGregor)

She is presently involved with the Peoples Climate Movement (PCM)—NYC, as well as PCM nationally, and is part of an effort challenging the corporate saturation and over-policing of the Heritage of Pride parade held annually in NYC to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall rebellion. 

Cagan recently spoke to Eleanor J. Bader about her history, ongoing work, and the personal challenges of caring for life partner Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, who has advanced Parkinson’s Disease.

Eleanor J. Bader: Let’s start with your personal history. When did you become involved in progressive political activism?

Leslie Cagan: I grew up in the Bronx, in a Jewish, leftist community. My parents were hardcore activists. I have an older brother and a younger sister and family outings growing up would often involve going to a demonstration. My grandmother was active in the textile workers union so I guess you can say that politics has always been in my blood. Their example was important and impacted all of us. Both of my siblings are activists.  (more…)


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April 23, 2018 by

Meet the Feminist Rabbi Confronting Portland’s “Alt-Right” in the Streets

Rabbi Ariel Stone sounds the shofar at a gathering of the Interfaith Clergy Resistance last August.

Rabbi Ariel Stone sounds the shofar at a gathering of the Portland Interfaith Clergy Resistance last August.

Despite its reputation as an environmentally conscious, progressive Mecca, in actual fact, the Pacific Northwest has a sordid racial history.

For example, from 1857 to 1927, there was a prohibition on African Americans entering Oregon, and while the policy was reportedly inconsistently enforced, the fact that it was included in the state Bill of Rights sent a clear message to would-be settlers of color. Not surprisingly, Portland remains the whitest big city in the U.S. of A.

For some Oregonians, this is exactly as it should be, and they are mobilizing supporters of a racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic worldview. The goal? To build all-white ethno-settlements in Idaho, Oregon, Washington state, and western Montana.

Their groups include True Cascadia, which bills itself as “white, proud, and unapologetic.” Supporters have postered numerous areas of the “beaver state,” and declared their intention of “securing the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

And they’re not all talk. In May 2017, 35-year-old white supremacist Jeremy Christian fatally stabbed two men who were defending a pair of girls against racist and anti-Muslim taunts aboard a Portland MAX train.

This is, of course, horrifying. But as you’d expect, many people on Oregon and throughout the Pacific Northwest oppose the alt-right and numerous anti-racist groups which have formed, among them, The Cascadian Coalition Against Hate, Cascadian Anti-White Supremacy, and the Portland Interfaith Clergy Resistance.

Rabbi Ariel Stone of Portland’s Congregation Shir Tikvah is the convener of the Clergy Resistance. She recently spoke to Eleanor J. Bader about the political climate in Oregon, the work of the Clergy Resistance, and the challenges of organizing in Trumpian times.