The Lilith Blog

May 13, 2019 by

Why I Started—and Then Stopped—Wearing My Tallit

Seven years after beginning to wear a tallit during prayer, I decided to stop. It was not easy to begin to take on the mitzvah wearing a tallit. Neither has it been easy in the nearly two years since I stopped.

When I wore a tallit, it was an outward manifestation of my inner conviction that women and men are made in God’s image, equal, and equally obligated to the mitzvot. As I selected and wore each of my beautiful tallitot, I felt nestled in these powerful convictions. I also felt nimble as I’d twist and braid the tzitziot on my own tallit as I had my grandfathers’ and my dad’s as a child.  Hoping that my son and daughters would someday feel connected to Judaism and mitzvot, too. I first began wearing tallit the year of my eldest children’s b’nai mitzvah.

When I chose to refrain from wearing the tallit, it was the result of the creeping realization of my own naivete: My personal convictions notwithstanding, men and women are not treated equally, are not equally safe in synagogues or the world-at-large. Wearing tallitot conspicuously marked me, exposing the vulnerability of my most deeply held beliefs while living through reactionary times where minority beliefs are so readily misconstrued, denigrated, and marginalized.

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May 9, 2019 Rebecca Katz

Moments My Bubbe Would Hate, Part 2: Put on Some Pants!

 ”Beauty is pain, Rebecca.”

In early 2016, my maternal grandmother, Esther, passed away in her 100th year. Her grandchildren called her “Bubbe,” Yiddish for grandmother. She was a force in life- matriarch of our family, a proud rebbetzin and social worker—and remains a force in death. During significant life moments or times of transition, I often conjure her memory. I think about how she’d vocally disagree with most of my decisions and the pleasure she’d get from explaining why I’m wrong. I know she was proud of me and truly believed that, if only I listened to her, my life would be significantly better.

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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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May 8, 2019 Nylah Burton

I Took a 40-Hour Train Trip to Reduce My Carbon Footprint.

via NASA

via NASA

In March, I was invited to speak at a “Jewish Feminisms” conference, so I tried an experiment: I hauled myself from Denver, Colorado to Ann Arbor, Michigan—all on a long-distance Amtrak train. The journey was 2,460 miles; including delays, it took me over 40 hours to get there and over 35 hours to get back.  

Being on a train for that long was mind-numbingly boring most of the time. I found myself wanting to jump off at several points. There were weird smells, and the food was awful.

And yet, according to this nifty little carbon footprint calculator, taking the train resulted in a carbon footprint of 0.05 metric tons. If I had flown, my carbon footprint for this trip would have been 0.81 metric tons, which is more than 16 times the carbon.

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May 2, 2019 Yona Zeldis McDonough

The Object of Your Affections: What’s a Baby Between Friends?

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Two best friends undergo a bitter falling out and a tearful coming back together. But this is no ordinary rapprochement—because one of the women asks her friend to be the surrogate who carries her child. Author Falguni Kothari talks to Lilith’s fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about the complex, delicate nature of such a relationship, and how it set the plot for her new novel in motion.

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April 30, 2019 Toni L. Kamins

In the Shadow of Notre Dame

Back in the 1970s when I was a graduate student in Paris, I started a couple of traditions for myself. Now, each time I’m in the city I spend some alone time just sitting in the left-bank’s Square René-Viviani just across from Notre Dame Cathedral, and each time I leave Paris I stand on the Petit Pont, toss a coin into the Seine, and promise to return. And return I do, time and again, for short periods and long to the city that has become my second home.

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April 25, 2019 Eleanor J. Bader

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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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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April 22, 2019 by

A Novel Bends Time at the Onset of the Holocaust

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 A talented young female musician, the bookselling man who loves her and a quasi-magical way to escape the rising Nazi horror in Germany are the key elements in Jillian Cantor’s latest novel, In Another Time.

Below she chats with Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about how she crafted this original and compelling story that asks whether it’s really possible to escape the horrors of history.

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April 22, 2019 by

Anxiety Nights II

Anxiety has been a familiar companion in my life. Starting in high school, I have used tv as an effective and addictive coping mechanism for anxiety. Bedtime is a particular battleground for my anxious mind. 

I have to learn how to self-soothe without TV.

(Previously: “”Hello, Anxiety, My Old Friend” and “Anxiety Nights I“)

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