The Lilith Blog

January 21, 2020 Ally Karpel

Roe Still Stands — But Not for Everyone

June 27, 2018 began like an ordinary workday. A recent college graduate, I was spending the summer interning at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, doing grant research.

I was sitting around a table with the staff pitching my initial findings when our phones buzzed.  A breaking news alert: Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy had announced his retirement.

The calls from concerned Texans started pouring in immediately. Kennedy was a decisive swing vote on abortion and other issues of reproductive health. What would his retirement mean for the future of reproductive rights?  

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January 16, 2020 by

Return to the Garden of the Finzi-Continis

GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS 42020 marks the 50th anniversary of Vittorio De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. It’s the tale of an elite Jewish family sequestered behind the walls of their Ferrara estate, ignoring the cascade of Jewish restrictions in Mussolini’s Italy until too late. Back in 1972, the film changed my life.Now I’m reliving it just in time for anniversary screenings at the New York Jewish Film Festival (Jan. 26 and 27):   partnership of the Jewish Museum and Film at Lincoln Center, now through Jan. 28. 

When I saw the film with my parents at the New Rochelle art film theater on Main Street, I identified with the protagonists, the aristocratic Finzi-Continis, at play on their tennis court, in their gated garden. When they, too, get deported along with the poorer Jews, I thought, “if I’m ever going to be taken away for being Jewish, I want to know what Jewish is.” So I moved to Israel. And it changed my life.  

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January 15, 2020 Laura Beatrix Newmark

Laughter As Medicine for Resistance

I had my first real MS flare following the 2016 election, 10 years after my diagnosis. Once I had recovered, I realized that I would need a way to cope with a changed landscape: the news, the politics, the tension.

And for me, they only way to manage the scary reality of a Trump presidency was through comedy. The importance of living in a country that could jeer at the President without being offed or poisoned—mixed with the sheer release of laughing—provided a certain catharsis needed to process a way forward. I also appreciated the importance of comedians tearing apart the Trump Administration’s lies, policies and hypocrisy and making a huge mockery of the people in power. 

I knew this particular President was watching—and it would irk him. 

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January 14, 2020 Diane Tepfer

Edith Halpert: A Pioneering Dealer and Promoter of American Art

The Jewish Museum’s current major exhibition, “Edith Halpert and the Rise of American Art,” has brought renewed interest to the Downtown Gallery and Halpert herself, a remarkable woman whose department store marketing methodology and relentless promotion of contemporary American art and folk art expanded the artistic landscape throughout the United States. Born Edith Gregoryevna Fivoosiovitch in Odessa, Edith immigrated in 1906, arriving in New York City at age 6.

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January 14, 2020 by

Rabbi Susan Silverman on Adoption, Jewish Leadership and That Famous Bat Mitzvah

Last month I had the pleasure of sitting down with Rabbi Susan Silverman to speak about adoption, foster care, Jewish leadership—and of course, officiating Tiffany Haddish’s Bat Mitzvah. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

MKW: Let’s start at the beginning. What drew you to work as a Rabbi? 

SS: I was raised completely secular. The only Jewish thing my family did was on Rosh HaShanah, we would climb a local mountain and when we’d get to the top our dad would say “if there’s a God we’re closer to him up here than those schmucks are down in Temple.” Once in a while my mom would pull out these candlesticks that were her mother’s that her grandmother brought from Poland and we would light them—my mom knew the prayer. So I really had no Jewish education, but I was raised in a very progressive family. 

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January 13, 2020 mada anne

Feminist Farming: Learning Teshuvah from the Earth

13984398011106We dig a trough for garlic, bury the seed, and I invite the volunteers working alongside me to bless the garden bed. We often bless our work with a simple prayer that the people who eat this food are nourished by it, and that through our hands we can help heal the land we are on. I say a Shehechiyanu under my breath every time someone new joins me in this.

I farm on twice-stolen land in the Central District of Seattle, Washington, unceded Coast Salish territory. I am a white Jewish woman, and I farm with a white-led nonprofit. And often well-meaning white workers from Amazon and Microsoft come to the small parking-strip-turned-garden-beds that we call a farm, and it is my role to slow everyone down to the pace of the plants, and to be like the plants: to listen, to get to know a place by being shaped by its soil.

At the beginning of each set of community gardening hours, I tell the parts of the story of the Central District that I know. About how Black and Jewish people were redlined to this area. About how the Jews left in their own white flight. About how developers are eating up the land like they won’t ever get enough. I ask volunteers to be sensitive to the fact that people’s lives have been turned upside down, to walk with humility. I explain that we are doing our gardening inside of a wound, and if they can’t fully understand, that’s okay, but to respect that there’s a painful process going on. And that to the people who live here, some of us white folks, whether we like it or not, are the faces and bodies of that process.

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January 11, 2020 by

Otherness and Family Secrets—Stories from the Borscht Belt

Screen Shot 2020-01-06 at 4.23.44 PMFloating in the Neversink (Black Rose Writing), a wistful novel-in-stories, evokes a particular moment in American Jewish culture–the Catskills and New York in the 1950s and 60s. Author Andrea Simon talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about her journey back to the past. 

YZM: This is a coming-of-age novel in which Mandy’s family is front and center.

AS: The 1950s and 1960s were a unique time in New York for many Jewish families, before they dispersed to faraway areas for settling and travel. In many cases, families provided the pivotal gathering framework for socialization. This was particularly true for New York’s Catskill Mountains, also known as the Borscht Belt.

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January 9, 2020 by

After She Lost Her Father, She Found Him

Screen Shot 2020-01-06 at 5.01.31 PMIn More Than Words (Putnam), Jill Santopolo’s newest novel, Nina Gregory faces a double loss—the death of her beloved father and the shattering of her illusions when she discovers that he wasn’t at all the man she thought he was. Santopolo talks with Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about what she and her protagonist share—and what they don’t.

YZM: Your mother is Jewish and your father was Christian; how did that shape your characters? 

JS: In my novel, More Than Words, two of the main characters have parents from different places with differing traditions. Nina’s mother’s family is from Greece and her father’s family is from Wales, and Rafael’s mother’s family is from Ireland and his father’s family is from Cuba. Nina and Rafael connect, at one point in the book, when they talk about what it means to feel that duality of identity. That experience, of dual identity, is something that I felt growing up–and still feel today–and the conversation they have was inspired by one that I had with my husband, whose background is the same as mine but reversed. Even though I’ve written many other books, this is the first time that I wrote about that experience, and even though Nina and Rafael’s dual identities don’t match my own, the essence of what it feels like to have a family that’s not simply one thing or another is the same.  

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January 8, 2020 by

The Power of Humor for Smashing the Patriarchy

Screen Shot 2020-01-06 at 5.04.48 PMMost attorneys don’t moonlight as a humorists, so Lori B. Duff’s new collection of essays,  If You Did What I Asked in the First Place (Deeds Publishing), may just be a first of its kind.  Duff talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about her unusual professional pairing. 

YZM: How do the jobs of lawyer and comic coexist in your life?

LBD: I feel sorry for lawyers without a sense of humor. I feel like those two things are the Yin and Yang of my life. They balance each other out. The law can be so harsh. No one thinks, “I’m having the best day of my life. I think I’m going to go see my lawyer.”  People come to talk to me professionally when they are at their lowest: when someone has died, when their marriages are breaking apart, or when they are in financial trouble. When you focus on those things for 40 or more hours a day, you start thinking the entire world is tragedy. It’s important to balance that by thinking about the opposite of tragedy, which is comedy. When you add to that the maxim that comedy is tragedy plus time, they are natural partners.    

YZM: What are the unique features of women’s humor? Jewish humor? Jewish women’s humor?

LBD: Women’s humor and Jewish humor both tend to be self-deprecating. Women and Jews both, in American society, tend not to be in positions of power. They are both groups that have traditionally been excluded from — to quote Broadway’s “Hamilton” — “The Room Where it Happens.” Historically, we haven’t been allowed to be members of the Country Clubs and smoky back rooms where real power sits. That’s the tragedy. The genius of comedy, if you can make it work, is taking tragedy and holding it up to a funhouse mirror so it’s no longer scary, but rather funny. Like the “Riddikulus” spell in Harry Potter that takes something horribly frightening and turns it into something ridiculous. In this way, women, and Jewish women in particular, can take their status as second-class citizens and instead of whining and crying about it, they can make it funny.  It’s a good way to be heard: People listen to jokes more than they listen to complaints, even when the substance is the same. Things are better than they were, of course. We have three female Supreme Court Justices now and female CEOs, and no one will say out loud, at least, that they won’t let Jews in their clubs. But the world is still based on who you know more than what you know, and finding a way to be heard when your granddaddy didn’t know someone else’s granddaddy to get a foot in the door is tough.  Humor can do that.

YZM: Who are your role models in the legal world? How about in the world of comedy?

LBD: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t admire the heck out of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Those are obvious choices, though. I’m equally impressed with people who make waves on a smaller scale.  I’m friends with the first female attorney in the county where I live. Imagine how scary that must have been! We’re still waiting for the first female Superior Court Judge, which seems stunning in 2019. As for comedy, I am in absolute awe of people like Carol Burnett and Erma Bombeck. They seem somewhat old-fashioned now, but they were such groundbreakers. No one had ever done what they did before. They had tremendous talent and ovaries and no role models whatsoever. It’s hard to imagine them in 2019 as subversive, but that’s what they were in their own time.  

YZM: Do you plan to follow up with another book?

LBD: Of course! I’ve already got enough material for another book of essays, but I think I may wait a little bit before putting it together. I’ve got the outline and about 25 percent of a novel written, and the idea for a sequel put together in my head. I also have the research done for a book tentatively titled, “The Plain English Legal Guide for Writers.” What I really need is a month in a cabin somewhere all by myself and I can knock it out. I type about 100 words a minute, and I write in my head all the time. By the time I sit at the computer, it’s just a matter of transcribing what is already written, so it doesn’t take long to do. The trick is being left alone with nothing else pressing, which is no small task.  

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January 7, 2020 by

How Women Can Get Over Our Fear of Asking for Money

“People will go to jail for things they believe in, but they’re often afraid to ask someone for money,” Marjorie Fine says. This is why she travels the country, teaching grassroots, social justice activists the ins-and-outs of raising money from both foundations and individual donors. For women in particular, asking for money and raising it can provide unique challenges, making Fine’s expertise particularly useful.

Fine learned her craft as a development staffer at a host of organizations: The National Council of Jewish Women, The North Star Fund, the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, The Center for Community Change, and the now-defunct Reproductive Rights National Network.

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