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March 28, 2018 by

This Jewish Student Organizer Is Fighting Against Gun Violence and School Militarization

Rosa Lander (right) speaking at JFREJ's Purim Carnival and March.

Rosa Lander (right) speaking at JFREJ’s Purim Carnival and March.

It would be inaccurate to categorize gun violence, particularly in schools, as a new issue. Though the Parkland shooting last month has galvanized a large, primarily youth-led movement against gun accessibility, the United States has a long and deadly relationship with firearms. Though the last 20 years has seen a surge of mass shootings, deadly force has long existed in state-sponsored institutions. It is vital that those involving themselves in anti-gun activism recognize the foundations laid by groups like Black Lives Matter, while simultaneously acknowledging the role that police forces play in perpetuating institutionalized violence.

With these facts in mind, and the Parkland shooting still fresh, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), in collaboration with the Aftselakhis Spectacle Committee, co-organized their Purim Carnival. Officially titled the Kids’ Purim Carnival of Resistance and Parade (co-sponsored by Kolot Chayeinu, the Workmen’s Circle, and Repair the World NYC), carnival attendees—primarily school-aged children—played justice-themed games and painted brightly colored signs before taking off on foot together for New York Democratic Senator Simcha Felder’s office in New York City. (Felder caucuses with the Republicans in the State Senate.) Staff writer Justine Orlovsky-Schnitzler called one of the student organizers, Rosa Lander, to discuss how the event transpired and what broader impact the students hoped to make.

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March 27, 2018 by

There Was More to My Buba Than Her Bad Matzoh Balls

Photo credit: Nate Steiner.

Photo credit: Nate Steiner.

To a modern American Jew, a matzoh ball can be a sacred thing. Jewish chicken soup is a known curative. Countless children—and science researchers at the University of Nebraska in 1993—have proven that there is a particular alchemy when the chicken parts and celery and carrots and onion and water (and dill; there should be dill) come together in the pot. The bubbling and roiling that produces the broth can clear both the congestion from a cold and blockages of the soul. The broth is the base. The matzoh ball is the treat. You don’t need it to cure anything but really, what’s the point of the soup without it?

Mothers and bubbes work hard to claim a place of pride with regard to their matzoh balls, and everyone has a different secret for achieving what she thinks is the best size, weight, consistency. Some say cook the eggs a bit first, some say seltzer is key to the fluffiness, some even use a little vodka. No matter what, you know they should look like beige snowballs in the soup, perhaps with little bits of schmaltz clinging here and there. Push the side of your spoon in and ease off a little bit of starchy heaven.

One recent Passover, my brother David and brother-in-law Mike were responsible for the meal. Talented chefs both, they set about creating decadent chopped liver, gorgeous brisket in a thick, oniony gravy, savory tzimmes with every root vegetable they could find. But matzoh balls made from whole wheat matzoh meal? Just… why?

They were golf ball-sized, small enough to eat two without getting too full but they didn’t taste like matzoh balls. They tasted like they were working conspicuously to be “healthy,” completely unnecessary given the super-powers of Jewish chicken soup. They were brown and dense and starchy and it took some determination to cut through them. But when I heard the familiar click of spoon to bowl, I remembered my Buba.

It almost didn’t matter what holiday it was: Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Hanukkah, whatever. Regardless of what the rabbis or tradition prescribed, our meal was identical. And whether celebrating an exodus from slavery or a festival of lights, Buba’s food was the same: badly cooked.


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March 26, 2018 by

This Writer-Attorney Is Fighting to Get Rid of the Tampon Tax

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf at the Coney Island Polar Bear Swim.

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf at the Coney Island Polar Bear Swim.

Every January 1st, writer-attorney Jennifer Weiss-Wolf jumps into the Atlantic Ocean in a ritual sponsored by Brooklyn’s Coney Island Polar Bear Club. “The camaraderie is almost inexplicable,” she writes in the Introduction to Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity (Arcade Publishing, 2017). “People think it’s crazy. And maybe it is. But it’s actually a very proactive, symbolic way to set an intention and direction for the remaining 364 days of the year.”

Such plans, of course, are all well and good, at least until serendipity enters the mix.

To wit: Three years ago, a few hours after Weiss-Wolf’s 2015 New Year’s Day plunge, she found her gaze turning in an unexpected direction. The reason? An email seeking donations of tampons and sanitary pads for distribution at a local food pantry.

“I was immediately captivated and curious—and honestly, even mildly ashamed, that I’d never, ever, considered this before,” she wrote. “A self-aware, self-professed feminist, I’d marched on Washington, volunteered as a rape crisis advocate and abortion clinic escort, and worked professionally as a lawyer and writer for social justice organizations. How had I managed to completely overlook this most basic issue?”

That question precipitated an avalanche of others and, in short order, Weiss-Wolf was investigating why millions of women throughout the world—in places like Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nepal, Uganda and the United States of America—often lack access to an adequate supply of pads and tampons.  

Weiss-Wolf sat down with Eleanor J. Bader to discuss her work on a cold, mid-March Monday. The interview took place in Weiss-Wolf’s office at the Brennan Center for Justice, where she is Vice President for Development.

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March 23, 2018 by

What the Passover Story Can Teach Us About Inclusion Riders

Act as though you are redeemed already.

Jews are familiar with this idea. Every day, in our morning prayers, we say the blessing “ga’al Yisrael” thanking God for having redeemed Israel, in past tense. I remember Rabbi Chuck Sheer, the Hillel rabbi at Columbia, pointing this out to me. We utter the blessing with confidence, as though it has happened, when of course we know we are living in a far from perfected and redeemed world. In historical time, Jews believe that we were redeemed from Egypt, but in terms of the present… let’s say that there are no governments currently ruling who should in power were we in a fully redeemed world.

During the Passover story itself, who showed the most initiative and kicked the whole event off? Don’t tell me Moses, because during Women’s History Month that is not the only acceptable answer. 

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March 22, 2018 by

No, My Jewish NYC Childhood Was Not Like a Movie

I once met a filmmaker in New York City who believed himself The Man of Lower East Sider-ville and A Serious Artist of the East Village.

He shaved his head, wore dirty clothes, and cried poor all the time, trying to put distance between his new rep and his real history—a nice upper middle-class childhood in the nice part of a nice city somewhere else.

Introduced as his friend’s new girlfriend, I watched his eyes take note and dismiss me—like Columbus dismissed everyone he ran into when he “discovered” the New World.

I remember smiling a lot and feigning interest in his “work,” which secretly I thought was dumb, but, fearing I was wrong, professed respect for.

One day, however, in a rare conversation he accidentally had with me, he found out that I had in fact grown up on the streets he was claiming as his own. And if I grew up there, it obviously meant I was Jewish.

I watched his eyes, and braced for the questions I was so used to getting:

  • How did my JEWISH mother feel about me living in the East Village (because of course all she wanted was for me to marry a doctor or a lawyer)?
  • How come I wasn’t married and was my JEWISH mother upset about that?
  • What kind of eating disorder did I have?

This guy, however, being a filmmaker, couched his inquiry in the cinema.

“So, like, was it, like, Crossing Delancey?” Crossing Delancey is a film about an assimilated Jew-girl living uptown from the Lower East Side shtetl who falls in love with the epitome of a Christian man, all the while ducking her grandmother and friends’ attempts to marry her off to a Nice Jewish Boy, the Pickle Man. I really don’t think you could stuff more stereotypes into that movie, although at the time it came out, I was just grateful there was a movie where the main character, a Jewish woman, wasn’t a fat, shrill second banana.  

I think I replied, “I don’t know what to say to that.” How could I, when a complex universe got reduced into a single-cell stereotype?

Luckily, my then-boyfriend dumped me (via email), and I was thus freed from further-like conversations with any of his friends.

window in les
It was only years later, after visiting my mother in the Lower East Side and looking up at my bedroom window facing Columbia Street, that what I should have said that day burst into my mind. 

No, asshole. It is not, like, Crossing Delancey.

No, I am not from a movie where a Jew-girl runs uptown to escape from cartoon Bubbies and Yentas obsessed with finding nice Jewish boys for all the single Jewish girls. That movie treated those old women like a punch line. 

The Bubbies and Yentas I grew up with had survived pogroms and the Holocaust and horrific poverty in tenements. They had suffered beatings by their husbands and they had buried their babies. They had worked 16 hours a day as maids, piecework seamstresses and pushcart vendors. They had watched their sisters and friends jump out of factory windows in a ferocious attempt to survive fire.

I didn’t have to Cross Delancey to know the world. And neither did my Jewish parents. Or my Jewish grandparents or many of our Jewish neighbors or their families or their daughters or their granddaughters.

We may have been Jewish. We may have been broke and we may have attended public schools. We may have lived on Grand Street or Broome Street or played on Willett Street. 

We may have had strong accents that amalgamated Yiddish and Russian and New York and self-taught English. 

We may even have been in more fistfights than other folk from other cities, because, at least on the Lower East Side, being Jew-girls often meant being a target.

But, whatever we were, we weren’t fucking punchlines to stupid jokes. We read the New York Times, the New Yorker and the Daily News. We studied Chekhov and O’Henry and Alcott and Malcolm X. We went to movies with subtitles.

We crossed ideas and we crossed cultures. We crossed from Mozart to Copeland to Led Zeppelin. We crossed from Lenin to Kennedy and back to Bella Abzug. We crossed to demonstrations and we crossed the police. 

We never crossed picket lines.

And after all our crossings, we came home.

Every school day, I would march from PS 110 on the corner of Cannon and Broome to the corner of Columbia and Broome. There I would call up to the fifth-floor window. My mother would stick her head out, look up Columbia to make sure no cars were coming, and then wave me across.

I crossed Columbia that way every day so that my Jewish mother, who would have killed me if I brought home a doctor or a lawyer, could stay a few minutes longer at the piano to hone her craft and live in her art.

So, no, asshole. It is not, like, Crossing Delancey.

Even living “uptown” as I have for almost four decades, every day I cross from learning to art to expression to heart to healing to home to the universe of story unfolding before me. I still cross Columbia. Just like my mother taught me.

C.O. Moed grew up on the Lower East Side when it was still a tough neighborhood.

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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March 21, 2018 by

What I Learned As a Jewish Doula in North Carolina

baby-1681181_1920There came a moment, in every labor I attended as a young doula, where the task at hand felt not only overwhelming, but entirely out of my depth. I’d usually find myself pulling back the legs of a person I had often met only hours before, struggling and squinting to see through the harsh theatre lights that descended from the ceiling shortly before delivery, all the while dodging insults directed vaguely toward anyone in the vicinity. I tried not to take anything personally. That wasn’t always enough to keep swirling self-doubt at bay. It was never a fault of confidence in my knowledge—instead, I feared that the knowledge was worthless. That for all of my soothing tones and gentle affirmative phrases of support, I wasn’t helping. The cycle of doubt came in waves, and usually subsided around the time I slipped out of the room post-birth, exhausted, to pay for the overpriced tea at hospital café amongst doctors and nurses far more tired than I. By the time I dragged myself back to bed—or to class—the most painful moments had all but evaporated from my memory, replaced by the flashes of joy only the arrival of a new human being could bring.

I became a doula on one of my better whims. Never someone who felt called to the hard sciences, by my third year of undergraduate study, I’d naturally directed myself toward the humanities. I primarily dealt in history, with an emphasis on the United States. I coupled that with a major in gender studies, indulging my desire both to inform my historical analysis with a feminist lens and to read Audre Lorde for credit. Over the course of my time at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I slowly narrowed in on reproductive health as a political touchstone and cultural fuse. Studying reproductive rights meant existing at the intersection of many disciplines, where the personal contends with the political. After three years of increasingly specialized seminars and an invitation to write my senior honors thesis on legal ramifications of zone-of-privacy laws for abortion clinics, I felt almost entirely settled in the path I felt my life was taking. Almost.

I had the sense that I lacked a practical relationship with the people I spent so much time writing about.

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March 20, 2018 by

I Was Alone in Auschwitz

auschwitz-1066516_1920Last month I went to Auschwitz alone. I was in Warsaw for a conference, and I took an extra day to go to the camps. It sounded like a good idea at the time. I mean, how could I go all the way to Poland and not go to the camps? My own family is Persian, and fled from Iran to the United States with me when I was a small child, so my own family photos do not include relatives murdered by the Nazis. But as a Jewish educator, and an educated Jew, I’ve taught Holocaust classes. I’ve sent my two older daughters on the March of the Living. I’ve watched dozens of movies, seen hundreds of pictures, met with survivors and heard their stories. My trip to Auschwitz felt like the right next step.

I booked the trip, I was picked up at 6:15 am (those who know me know this in itself is pretty impressive), and I boarded a brand-new high-speed train from Warsaw to Krakow. Two hours and 15 minutes. With free tea and coffee. “Mark it down Moji,” I said to myself. “The first ironic moment of the day.” There would be several more.

When I got off the train, I was met by Marta, a cherubic woman holding a paper with my name on it. Marta smiled when she spoke, and laughed at all of my attempts at humor, so I liked her immediately. She seemed smart and thoughtful and empathetic. It was an emotionally smooth car ride, and I was thinking about what a good person she would be to have this experience with. Cue the second moment of irony. The one person who made me feel comfortable left me at the gates. She told me that she would pick me up at the end of the tour. Marta wasn’t allowed to take me in herself, but she assured me that “all the guides are good.” So there I was, standing all alone. Except for the fact that I was surrounded by thousands of people. Literally thousands. Auschwitz gets two million visitors a year, all people who walk through these gates voluntarily.


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March 19, 2018 by

Passover, Food Insecurity, and a Silo of Justice

Soon it will be Passover, time to rid our cupboards of accumulated foodstuffs and eradicate anything with leavening.

This past year, I have been immersed in writing a follow-up to my original book on poverty-reducing technology. The new volume focuses exclusively on tools for reducing postharvest food losses. In the developing world, 800 million people are food insecure, but about 40% of food grown and harvested goes to waste en route to the table. A myriad of infrastructural deficits contribute, a major culprit being inadequate storage facilities.

Just when we are at the end of winter, moving into spring, we gear up and get rid of our excess leavened food. But for way too many families on the planet, this in-between time has another name: Hunger Season. No need to clean out the pantry. There is no food there.

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March 16, 2018 by

This Week’s Parsha Lays the Groundwork for Post-Patriarchy

moon-182145_1920I learned about the menstrual cycle at the age of nine in the same class as a discussion on the structure of the Israelite camp in the desert. Since then, I’ve been acutely aware that the changing feminine form is not one to be proud of. There’s hiding your changing body at puberty, concealing your growing form during pregnancy, and of course, endless days of avoiding comments from coworkers about how your work ethic, emotional needs or eating habits might align with your monthly cycle.

“She must be on that time of the month,” a statement made about countless women in workplaces everywhere, sometimes in sympathy, more often than not in derision. From an ancient culture that revealed the human, female form and its ability to produce and give life through its changing cycle, we’ve become a mechanized society that requires women to perform and produce, every day of the month, with identical output day to day.

Recent shifting views and research suggests that the varying hormones of the menstrual cycle may actually prove to be beneficial to the various functions required of today’s working woman. There’s the time of month when we feel more creative, more nurturing, more independent or more productive. There’s a time to go inward and reflect; a time to step forward with power and precision; and a time to build our nest and get organized. While the industrial revolution and its impact on our workplaces means we’re often discredited for being too emotional, the fact is that these ever-changing abilities to flow with the rhythms of life have been advantages for generations.

There’s another natural form that also ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes, just as we do as human menstruators. The moon has been a focal point in Jewish text and tradition for millennia.


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March 14, 2018 Shira Small

Why My High School Class Voted to Stop Reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Depictions of Women

EverythingIsIlluminatedI love reading Jewish literature. Seeing my culture and experience come to life on the pages of a book can be meaningful and validating; it makes my idiosyncratic religious practices feel legitimate. The representation and recognition of Judaism in popular culture is crucial, but what do you do when the author gets it wrong? Or what if certain parts of your identity are illustrated perfectly while other facets aren’t done justice? I faced these quandaries when reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated this year in my English class.

Everything Is Illuminated has comfortably rested in my family’s bookshelf for many years, accompanied by other books my family read, enjoyed, then never touched again. I was excited when it was assigned in my “Immigrant Literature” class because I recognized the novel, and vaguely recalled watching the movie with my parents a few years back. Our copy was even signed by Foer, which I excitedly told my class. However, once we began reading, I noticed a peculiar and disturbing pattern: the female characters are repeatedly gratuitously objectified.

The book alternates between the present day, wherein a Jewish man, Jonathan, travels to Ukraine to explore the place his family lived pre-Holocaust, and a story set in the past, beginning in the 1700s, about Jonathan’s heritage and ancestors. One of these family members is a young girl named Brod, who grew up in Ukraine in the 1700s, and is Jonathan’s very-great grandmother.

It bothered me (and many of my classmates) that Brod, one of the only female protagonists of the book was often sexually harassed and assaulted, as well as excessively sexualized. We especially objected to the way that her character was sexualized even when it was completely nonessential to the plot. For example, in the moment when she discovers her father lying dead on the floor of her home, she randomly gets naked. Foer describes her pubic hair and her “cold, hard” nipples. She is 12 in this scene. When discussing chapters like these, we would get into in-class disagreements that felt personal and painful.