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Author Archives: Nechama Liss-Levinson

The Lilith Blog

July 13, 2020 by

How To Save a Life in the Next 72 Hours

Just a week ago, as we celebrated the July 4th holiday weekend, the American festival of freedom, one thing I did stood out from the rest. The true celebration of freedom for me was when I sent my comments to the Federal government opposing the new regulations being proposed regarding those seeking asylum. This new proposal, which will become law by executive order if it is not stopped, basically strips asylum seekers of the few rights they have. Judges will be able to dismiss cases without hearings. The definition of ‘persecution’ would be changed, so that fleeing threats of violence or even death may not be sufficient.

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The Lilith Blog

April 6, 2020 by

Food for Thought on Passover

In some ways, I have always been a gastronomic Jew, that is, my Jewish identity intertwined with eating and enjoying traditional Jewish foods, like chicken soup with knaidels, noodle kugel and mandelbread.  I knew in my heart that for some of us, these foods were our “madeleines,” the tastes, smells and memories that connect us with our past.  

Years ago, after my mother died, I would wander down the aisles of the supermarket at Passover, looking at the lovely stalks of fresh asparagus, the bags of tiny marshmallows, the chocolate covered orange peels and the matzah redolent of matzah brei and I would silently weep, missing her presence.

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The Lilith Blog

December 13, 2017 by

#MeToo: The Saga of Bilhah, Zilpah, Hagar, and the List Goes On…

MetooAt its best, Judaism offers me an existential anchor in life’s difficult times­–for example, in the laws and customs dealing with death and mourning. But at its worst, Judaism’s patriarchal underpinnings and assumptions cause me both grief and anger. The Torah portions in the book of Genesis, which we read at this time of the year, are filled with stories of creation, of the world, of families, of nations and of the Jewish people.

But in full sight are numerous heart-rending #MeToos, sexually questionable and at times sexually abusive relationships between the men and women who are our forebears; for example, between Abraham and Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar, and between Jacob and the handmaidens of Rachel and Leah, namely Bilhah and Zilpah.  In both narratives, the wives offer up their slaves to become impregnated by their husbands. The slave becomes a kind of surrogate mother, enacting the hope that the “real” wife will thereby become a mother.

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The Lilith Blog

April 10, 2014 by

Passover Midwives, Birthing Change

417px-The_Childhood_of_MosesIt was Friday morning March 27, 1964. It was the morning of the first Seder, exactly 50 years ago, that the news broke. The New York Times ran a story with the headline, “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police.”  The story, of course, was about the brutal attack and murder of Kitty Genovese in Kew Gardens, New York, a criminal act that was reported to have been either seen or heard by dozens of neighbors, some of whom were quoted as saying they just “didn’t want to get involved.”

The story, written by reporter Martin Gansberg at the urging of his Metropolitan Editor, A.M. Rosenthal, opened a floodgate of soul-searching and recriminations as we suddenly viewed ourselves and our society as apathetic, disconnected and uncaring. An entire branch of social psychological research developed around the various issues that could explain and change the “bystander effect.”

Though in the years that followed, further investigative reporting countered the initial story of complete lack of responsiveness (some neighbors had indeed called an unresponsive emergency number, and one or two had yelled at the attacker from their windows), the main bones of the story still stood as a symbol of a dark side of human relatedness. And the case of Kitty Genovese is still taught today in most colleges and universities as a cautionary tale of the existence of individual callousness and indifference.

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The Lilith Blog

November 5, 2013 by

How the Lilith Auction Helped Me Become a National Jewish Book Awards Finalist

Learn more about the Lilith auction here!

Hurricane CoverThe story starts on August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans with a fury. The damage was unimaginable and the suffering of those affected was sprawled on the 24 hour TV news. Many philanthropic and social justice organizations responded to the need, and I was fortunate to be able to join a relief mission to New Orleans under the inspired leadership of by Rabbi Joel Soffin. We helped to rebuild three homes destroyed by the storm, including the home of a Holocaust survivor who had done battle with the racist and anti-Semitic David Duke and the home of an elderly Hebrew school teacher whose hand-written academic scholarship was destroyed by the waters of the storm. 

I went back the following March, leading a group from my own synagogue, and we brought home-cooked and frozen meals to distribute with the meals on wheels program in New Orleans along with clothes and medical supplies for the grassroots clinics that that blossomed deep in the Ninth Ward. We played bingo with the residents of a nursing home who no longer had volunteers come to visit, cleaned yahrzeit plaques at one synagogue and brought and catalogued library books at another synagogue whose books were turned to mush.

When I came back to New York, I began to write a story for children about the storm, or more specifically about resilience. The hero is a feisty nine-year-old girl named Gertie, who must flee New Orleans with her family in the wake of Katrina. She leaves behind her house, her friends, her “stuff’ and life as she knew it before the storm. In the ensuing year, she discovers what’s really important, including the love of family, community, faith and the healing magic of tikkun olam, helping the world to be a better place. And so my book, “When the Hurricane Came,” was born.

When the story was awarded the 2009 Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award, I was flying high. First of all, I had been a tremendous fan of Sydney Taylor, the author of the All of Kind Family series as a young girl, that amazing series about a family of five girls living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I was (naively) sure that this award meant that traditional publishers would be calling me. I fantasized about bidding wars for the book. 

I sent an inquiry to all of the publishers I could think of and then I waited. And I waited and I waited. I followed up with phone calls or emails where appropriate. And then I waited some more. It was the middle of the economic turndown. Publishing was no longer a profitable enterprise. All books are now only being published as ebooks. Publishers could only take a chance on well-known names. Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath was a downer. Who would want to read it? 

As one publisher said to me, “The market isn’t in your favor. After all, how many young Jewish girls were in New Orleans at the time of Katrina?” I turned this over in my head. And with some degree of overstepping, I wondered aloud, “And just how many Jewish girls were locked up in an attic in Amsterdam?” 

And so, I was at an emotional low point when I began randomly looking at items in the 2010 Lilith Auction. Hmmmm, a beautiful antique Japanese tea set for my daughter who collects tea pots. Go for it. And then I saw it. A ticket to an all day workshop on Alternative Publishing, at the BookExpo America in New York. 

Most of us buy books from publishers whose names we know. But the extraordinary changes in technology, digital publishing and publishing on demand have changed the rules of the game. Year ago, publishing houses that helped people to publish their own works were called “vanity presses,” a term quite wounding to the very vain egos of their writers. But things have changed and the field is now opening to people who are outside of the mainstream in some way. I put in a bid in the Lilith auction and I won the entrance pass for the conference. There was a wonderful parallel process for me. Alternative publishing was exactly what Lilith had been for all of these years. Now here was Lilith helping to open up this possibility for myself and my own creativity.

The conference was an eye opener. After listening to a day’s worth of amazing stories, I chose to work with an alternative publisher, Createspace. Partly I was inspired by stories of others who had published with them and partly because it is a sister company of Amazon and they make it remarkably easy to get one’s books listed on the Amazon site. And so, my career in alternative publishing began. I should say that I’ve had the joy and pleasure of having three books published by traditional publishers (Jewish Lights, Skylight Paths) and there is definitely a thrill that accompanies that path. But now I was pursuing another one.

I was on my own. Before actually attempting to publish my book When the Hurricane Came, I decided to beta test the whole process by publishing a children’s book I had kept in my files for many years, Cookie the Seder Cat, a whimsical children’s book about two sister cats, Oreo and Cookie, who prepare the Seder together. The illustrations are photographs of our cats from my children’s childhoods. In doing the Cookie book, I learned how the various features of Createspace worked, and also in what areas I would need more help. The Cookie book let me see that I would be willing to pay for the help of the Createspace staff for the computer intensive issues of layout. I even treated myself to getting professional help with designing the cover. It was a go.

It’s hard to describe the joy of getting the actual book in the mail. It’s even more joyous to hear the feedback of young people who read the book and identify with or are inspired by Gertie. Gertie, by the way, is the name of one of the sisters in the All of a Kind Family series, and Gertrude was my mother’s name. Giving her name life again in this energetic and social-justice-minded young girl is my tribute to her.

So with the book finally published by Createspace, I was able to enter it into the 2012 National Jewish Book Awards. This past March, my book, When the Hurricane Came, was named a Finalist, Children’s and Young Adult Literature, National Jewish Book Award.

Thank you Lilith. My experience with the auction is a mirror image of your message to Jewish women. It’s worth taking a step outside of your comfort zone, outside of the mainstream. Each of can be empowered to making our personal dreams a reality. So look at the items on the auction and take a chance. It may change your life .

Nechama Liss-Levinson is a psychologist and author. Her most recent book, When the Hurricane Came (Createspace), was chosen as a finalist for the National Jewish Book Awards. 

 

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