Author Archives: Sharrona Pearl

The Lilith Blog

May 21, 2019 by

Mel Gibson’s ‘Rothchild’ Film Ditches the ‘S’ But Keeps the Anti-Semitism

As the endless reboots, remakes, and superhero movies show, no Hollywood exec is seriously asking if we need another movie about a given topic. Movies aren’t about need. They are about want. Desire. Wish fulfillment and fantasy. Movies are where we go to imagine other worlds, and be transported from ours.

So what does it say about our world that Hollywood has greenlit a major film that uses an almost identical name to Rothschild, a name almost synonymous with anti-Semitic tropes? Whose subject is a wealthy and corrupt family who will stop at nothing in pursuit of the almighty dollar? What does it say that the film stars one of the most notoriously anti-Semitic actors of our time—you know, who I mean? If you’re not aware, google Mel Gibson and his vile comments.

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The Lilith Blog

April 23, 2019 by

No, You Can’t Just Use Jewish Wedding Rituals if You’re Not Jewish

My Jewish ritual should not be used for your Pinterest wedding. 

I understand the desire to make a wedding unique. It’s pretty much impossible, honestly, but do your best. You want to hold it in an abandoned train station with a farmer theme while everyone sits on water balloons? Gezunteheit.  You want your guests to feel transformed, moved by all the little ways your infuse meaning into the moment, to create lasting memories that will stand out amongst all the white dresses and rustic farm settings with wildflower centerpieces?  

Go for it. 

Just don’t use my (or anyone’s) sacred ritual to make your wedding pop on Instagram.

It’s a thing.  I had no idea it was a thing until I read a 2011 Washington Post article entitled “A Jewish Wedding for Two Non-Jews” that recently got widely re-circulated. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw the headline; maybe it would tell the story of a couple getting in touch with the Jewish roots or finding the religion as adults and using the wedding as a way to honor their personal journeys.  Maybe (though it seemed unlikely) it would be a thoughtful narrative about how an interfaith family was struggling to incorporate their two traditions in a way that respected them both. Maybe the two non-Jews in question were not the bride and groom, but other people involved in the ceremony and celebration.

Nope. The article was literally about how two non-Jews decided to make their wedding stand out by having a Jewish ceremony, complete with chuppah, ketubah, breaking of the glass and – wait for it – the ritually unnecessary but photo friendly Rabbi as officiant. Until I read the article, I didn’t even know about these kinds of weddings, but it turns out that this article isn’t an anomaly: non-Jewish people do borrow Jewish rituals for their weddings. 

I was so angry. I actually shocked myself by how angry I was. It felt, simply, like the grossest violation of history, tradition, and the ties that bind a community and a religion together. 

I know that debates about cultural appropriation are complicated. I know that there is a meaningful difference between appropriation and appreciation. I know that it can be hard in some cases to point to clear origins in culture and that culture itself is constantly shifting and changing precisely because of the interplay of traditions with history and practice. But there’s a huge difference between, say, white women getting praised for wearing cornrows, a style that women of color have been discriminated against for using on the one hand, and all the people of New York enjoying a good bagel on the other. 

The Jewish wedding thing is the bad kind, though. The chuppah isn’t just a canopy, although there are some beautiful ones out there. Breaking the glass isn’t just a chance for people to hear a loud bang and shout mazel tov. The ketubah isn’t just a piece of artwork to be framed on your wall as a reminder of the day, though you can get all kinds of imitation Chagall styles that document the rights of the bride and how many goats she is worth.  

All these pieces are links in a long chain that connect the Jewish people across time, across space, and yes—across struggle. They are, in part, designed to emphasize how the marriage celebration is a communal event that isn’t just about the bride and groom but their place amongst the Jewish people. Our wedding rituals, while beautiful, aren’t about photo ops and guest reactions. They are about our future, but they are just as much about our past. And they are not static: they have changed, and grown, and diverged across our wonderful and living religion, and they will continue to evolve.  But this is not their next stage.

These traditions are ours, and that actually really matters.  Others don’t get to just borrow them on a whim. Of course, this couple did, and they are certainly within their rights to do so—but I absolutely have the right to say that it is wrong. These weddings don’t seemingly affect me in any way, nor do they seemingly pose a tangible threat to the safety of the Jewish people, the sanctity of Jewish ritual, or the rights of Jews to practice their religion freely.  Some could argue that this wedding was an homage to our way of doing weddings, and we should be flattered and even encouraging of this (ugh) trend.

 Nope. Not flattered.  Not encouraging.  And, frankly, not agreeing that it isn’t a threat. When ritual and religious practice become a matter of style, they become a matter of negotiation.  They become a matter of taste.  They can be evaluated by the whims of others, and they can be encouraged or repressed by those same tastes. 

When religion becomes a trend, it can stop trending.  Violently, or otherwise.  There’s a big – and meaningful – difference between someone who things my taste is bad, and someone who thinks my religion is bad.  There’s a big difference between someone who wants to appropriate my taste (enjoy!) and someone who wants to appropriate my religion.  And there’s a big difference between trying to change my taste and someone trying to change my religion. 

Maybe find a scenic railway station instead.

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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

March 5, 2019 by

Don’t Assume Anything About That Kid on the Bus

I see where the mistake came from. Unfortunately, there just aren’t that many Jews of color in our community. But still: don’t assume that that the black boy on the Jewish day school bus is the bus driver’s kid.

Yeah. That happened. I don’t think I need to tell you how it made the kid’s mom feel.  I don’t think I need to tell you what that says about our school community’s assumptions, commitment to inclusivity, and default gatekeeping. But to be crystal clear: it was devastating. 

There’s some context, to be fair. Our bus had been a mess the first couple of weeks of the school year. The driver was late (hours late), partly, it emerged, because of childcare challenges. (Insert full rant about the need for much better and more comprehensive and more affordable childcare in the US.) So yes— there was a day when the driver’s kids, an older girl and an infant boy, were on the bus. Once. Neither of them was five years old.  Neither had been riding the bus every day since the beginning of the year.

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The Lilith Blog

January 22, 2019 by

This Jewish School Tradition Needs to Change.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t see the problem with the Imma (mother) and Abba (father) of the classroom Shabbat ritual until a friend pointed it out. The opposite, honestly: when my three kids came home from school on Fridays, I eagerly asked who in their classes was given that honor. I made a big deal of it, especially when it was their turn. Because it is kind of a big deal: in kindergarten and first grade, every week one boy and one girl get to make the blessings over the candles, grape juice, and challah. They are given a sticker. They get to show off their knowledge. They love it.

I love it too. Or I did, until I realized that not every kid has an Imma and an Abba. And that not every kid will be an Imma or an Abba, or be an Imma in partnership with an Abba. And that, really, no little kid should be inhabiting the role of an Imma or an Abba.

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The Lilith Blog

October 31, 2018 by

Let’s Vow to Stand With Those Who Are Standing With Us Now

At first I thought: we need space to mourn. Eleven of our own have been shot. We need to cry together. Alone.

We know, of course, that it is all connected, that the attacks on our fundamental humanity and right to exist are connected to all the other attacks on people’s fundamental humanity and right to exist, that people chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville (some of them “very good,” according to our President) were empowered to shoot two shoppers at a Kroger in Kentucky because they were black.  We know (of course we know) that others affiliated with those “very good people” sent pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and their supporters. 

And we know in our bodies, in our broken hearts, in our historical memory and the memories of our grandparents whose bodies have never forgotten, and in the cries and shock of our children who also now know what it means to have someone want you dead for an identity that is at the very core of who you are. And then that one of those people’s ideological brethren went on to massacre 11 Jews in shul on shabbat morning during a bris. During a bris, for God’s sake.

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The Lilith Blog

September 5, 2018 by

Rosh Hashanah Forgiveness for #MeToo Offenders? Not Yet.

MicWill no one think of the poor abusers in the #metoo moment?  Don’t they get a shot at redemption?

The question sounds like a joke, or maybe a gross parody at first. We’re nowhere near the point of spending enough time supporting and thinking about the victims survivors to feel anything close to an obligation to help their abusers. Not. Even. Close.  But right now, that damn question (phrased in almost exactly this way — I’m not kidding!) is everywhere. As the summer ended, Louis C.K. quietly showcased a new set at the Comedy Cellar, his first since he admitted, and sort-of-apologized , for forcing aspiring female comics to watch him masturbate, the question of redemption is everywhere. 

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The Lilith Blog

August 22, 2018 by

When a Queer Feminist Professor is Accused of Harassment

canada-ontario-toronto-front-campusWe defend our friends. It’s natural. It’s powerful. It’s what friendship is all about. Certainly Avital Ronell’s friends— the most powerful philosophers in academe, for what it’s worth—wanted to defend her from the recently revealed allegations that she’d sexually harassed one of her male graduate students. The Title IX complaint by Nimrod Reitman  resulted in her year-long suspension from NYU.

But she had high-profile defenders in the feminist world. Judith Butler. Slavoj Žižek. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Shoshana Felman. These are just a few of the famous progressive scholars who lept to her defense in a widely circulated letter excerpted in the New York Times. Presumably without all the facts, they chose to attack the survivor. That’s certainly not a surprise, human behavior being what it is.

But to be honest, as an academic, I expected more. From the most revered names in the humanities, people who would be expected to make conclusions based on evidence in the name of social justice, I expected more. 

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The Lilith Blog

June 26, 2018 by

If “Incivility” Makes You Sympathize with Racism, You Were Racist Already

When I was an undergrad, I sat on my Women’s Center Collective. We made decisions by consensus. All it took was one person to block something and it wouldn’t happen. So it took a while for things to happen. We had to talk about everything. And it could be super frustrating when something you cared about died in process because of the deeply held convictions (or intransigence) of some who maybe didn’t even totally understand the issue.

God, it was annoying. God, were we annoying. Believe me when I say that I fantasized more than once about a (benevolent, run by me) dictatorship of liberal ideals. Think about how much we (ahem, I) could get done! Imagine how quickly we could organize if we weren’t so minutely attuned to what might cause offense to…someone. Anyone. 

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The Lilith Blog

April 20, 2018 by

It’s (Past) Time for the Gun Conversation

We’ve never had The Gun Conversation with our kids.

Not because we don’t have strong feelings about guns. (We do.) Not because we don’t think it is important for our kids to know what to do if they see a gun, loaded or unloaded, in someone’s hand or not. (We definitely do.) Not because we think they are too young or too delicate to encounter the realities of what guns can do and have done. (They aren’t too young to be shot.)

We’ve never had The Gun Conversation with our kids because we didn’t quite realize that we had to.

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The Lilith Blog

March 13, 2018 by

What My Dislike of Book Clubs Taught Me About Feminism

reading-3088491_1920I’m not a book club kind of person. I love books, and I love clubs. I mean, I really love books. I read in the gym. I read in the bath (always have, as the history of sodden, fat books on my mother’s shelf attests). I read on my walk to work. I read at work. Sometimes I even read for work.

For some reason (who knows why?) book clubs just have not worked for me.

I’m lying. I know exactly why book clubs haven’t worked for me. It’s because I don’t work for book clubs.

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