Tag : Family

The Lilith Blog

September 9, 2020 by

My Hair as a Metaphor

I lived trying to fit in. It was much more than “curly hair wasn’t in style back then.” It was: “You can’t exist.” It was: “Do not exist.” It was expressed as: “What’s wrong with your hair?” with the questioner trying not to laugh when asking.  

My hair was a problem to be solved. From inside and outside the walls of my house, my hair was a symbol of something larger that had nothing and everything to do with me.

(more…)

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The Lilith Blog

July 30, 2020 by

Why My Hair Falls the Way it Does

When I was 11 years old, my father sat me down on a broken, four-legged stool that had been in our apartment for years. Facing me, he began to hum the tune of a Tracy Chapman song. As I sat staring at him, I noticed his long dreads and the scar he had from when he was a boy in Jamaica. I prayed the song would never end.

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July 27, 2020 by

Relative Privilege in a World of Suffering

YAEL SCHONBRUN is an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Brown University and a co-host of the Psychologists Off the Clock podcast.

Brandishing the Captain America shield we crafted out of duct tape and a Tupperware lid, my three-year-old proudly said, “Mommy, you will never be alone. I will always be protecting you.” I told him (very seriously) that I appreciated it.

Later, though, I half-joked to my husband that our son had just confirmed my deepest fear: I’ll never again have a moment alone.

In a larger world of suffering over health, economic crisis, and horrifying social injustices, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that pandemic working parenthood has been hard. Like many female co-parents with the more flexible job, I’ve taken on the bulk of parenting for our three boys. I yearn for a better choice than snippets of work time with three hyper bodies bouncing off the walls or getting work done after an exhausting day of parenting is done. I pine for rest and I fantasize about alone time.

At times I feel ashamed. I have no right to complain.

I am with my small superhero and his two big brothers, enshrined in my privilege of having a job, health, a stable residence, and White skin. But as I often tell patients who see me for therapy (virtually, now), pain doesn’t acknowledge hierarchy. If you stub your toe, it hurts. It hurts even if your neighbor has broken her leg. It hurts even if your neighbor has shattered his spine. To be sure, your neighbor isn’t likely to rush over to console your toe pain. But you don’t do yourself any favors by pretending your toe doesn’t hurt.

Pain—physical and emotional—is meant to be felt. Without pain, we can’t know when something has gone awry, we can’t determine what problems need to be addressed, and we are without a compass toward healing.

We need to open up to our pains, even as we contextualize them in the larger world. For parents during this time it means the weariness of never having a moment alone, the exhaustion of needing to work late into the night to make up for the day you spent parenting is real. The injustice of women taking on more childcare burden and suffering greater loss of work is real—as is the peril facing the long-neglected childcare industry which so many depend on, and the fear that gains in gender equality both at home and work will be undone if these trends continue.

All this is accompanied by the broader horror of the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to Covid-19. And the horror of fellow humans being brutalized—yet again—by those meant to keep them safe.

All of this pain needs our thoughtful attention. If we are willing to let it in, that pain will teach us what matters to each of us, and to our society. And that clarity in “what matters” can become a superpower guiding us towards a better future.

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July 27, 2020 by

Jewish Grandparents •

To explore and support the sometimes under-recognized role of grandparents in the complex dynamics of today’s “new Jewish family,” Lee M. Hendler and David Raphael in 2017 co-founded the Jewish Grandparents Network. They seek to develop materials and partnerships that will advance the blessings that grandparents represent. Recent video conversations have featured experts, also grandparents themselves, such as Jane Isay, author of Unconditional Love, Hedda Sharapan, consultant to Fred Rogers Productions, and Marshall Duke a psychologist who has researched the role of family narratives in promoting emotional stability in children. jewishgrandparentsnetwork.org

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The Lilith Blog

June 9, 2020 by

Where Was the “Peace” 400 Years Ago?

My father is the most peaceful man I know.

A few years ago, he came home from the watch store, and told us that the owner had said to him, “What would people think if they walked in and saw a nigger working here?” after my father had casually said something about becoming his apprentice and learning how to fix watches. In that very moment, I wish my dad hadn’t been the peaceful man that he is.

“… a nigger working here…”

I think about this story frequently. I was so angry at my father for not screaming in the owner’s face, or arguing with him until he had lost his voice. My father had let me down. I wanted him to fight, but I never told him this.

A few weeks ago in an argument, I brought this story up again, and in an instant I finally revealed to my father how I truly felt; how I felt about him walking out the door before an argument could even begin. About how his actions made me lose faith in his ability to defend the color of my skin. As he listened to my concerns, with his legs crossed and his eyes calm but focused, he soaked up the emotion that poured out of his 18-year-old daughter. That day, my father told me that if he had gotten into an argument, he would have been risking his daughters having a future without a father or his sons having to lock the door at night, because they would now be the oldest men in the house. He wanted to fight, but he had to choose.

I thought my father hadn’t fought that day because he gave in. I thought he had let them win, when in reality, he had decided that his life, vows, and the promises that he had made to his wife and children trumped everything. His family was more important than defending the color of his skin, in that rundown watch shop. My father decided to swallow his anger in the face of a man who only saw his Black skin, a man who perceived my father’s brown eyes as more threatening than the small pocket knife dangling from his own jeans.

My father chose us. He chose to come home instead of lying on a rug in a pool of blood, alone, and unable to defend the skin that would be soaked in the very red that is printed on the flag of a country that promised to protect him.

There will be more racist shop owners, there will be more blood, there will be more sons and daughters waiting on the stoop for their fathers who are never coming home.

Who’s gonna raise the kids of the parents who were murdered screaming “George Floyd?” Who’s gonna carry the body of a young Black man who has not even graduated high school yet?

My father is the most peaceful man I know, and I love him for that. But I won’t wait for my brothers to be the next young Black men that “fit the description.” I want to see my 13-year-old brother graduate from middle school.

I want to be peaceful, but where was the peace when my people hung from trees, naked and stripped of their lives?

Where was the peace when Emmett Till was mutilated and murdered at the age of 14? 
Where was the peace when unarmed Breonna Taylor was shot eight times in the comfort of her own home? Where was the peace when two men in a pickup truck chased Ahmaud Arbery, an innocent man, and fired a shotgun into his stomach?

We need more peaceful people like my father, but I won’t wait for his blood to be spilled.

So let me ask you again,
Where was the peace 400 years ago?

—-

Makeda Zabot-Hall is on the editorial board of jGirls Magazine, where this piece was originally published. You can read more of Makeda’s work here

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The Lilith Blog

May 30, 2020 by

A Debut Novel About Family

When La La Fine is eight, her mother disappears, and her father, Zev, starts taking her with him to work. Unfortunately, Zev’s work is part-time locksmith, part-time burglar. Fifteen years later, when Zev gets arrested, La La quits veterinary school to raise money for his legal defense the only way she knows how—robbing houses. What constitutes a good mother? A good father? A good daughter? A normal life? These are questions posed by R.L. Maizes in her compelling debut novel Other People’s Pets (Celadon Book, $26.99).

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The Lilith Blog

April 20, 2020 by

Dayenu: Dispatches From the Covid Sick Ward

The Week Before

Washington, DC is beginning to shut down and our two adult daughters want to come home—one from Iowa and one from Boston. First Daughter owns a car [Dayenu], and can drive from Iowa City, where she’s in graduate school, but she has obligations in Iowa, along with legitimate concerns that there may be nowhere that she can stay along the way. Second Daughter is already working remotely [Dayenu, she has a job] because Massachusetts is under an emergency decree.

By the end of the week, they are here; First Daughter has driven, and Second Daughter has flown in.

Day 1

Second Daughter wakes up, does not feel well. Has shortness of breath and tightness in her chest. She’s 25 and is otherwise—[Dayenu]—in good health. 

We call our doctor, who says to isolate her immediately, “Lock her up, do the deepest clean possible, and leave food outside her door as needed.”

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The Lilith Blog

March 29, 2020 by

Bubbah’s Bat Mitzvah

 

IMG_0967We call her by many things: Bubbah, Mom, Meryl. Earlier this year, at 71 years old, she gained a new identity: Bat Mitzvah girl. Recently called to the Torah as a Bat Mitzvah in front of her husband, her kids, her grandkids, and friends, she took this meaningful step after two years of study, and an entire lifetime of deep religious observance. My mother has, for most of my life, been our family’s religious beacon. Growing up, most Jewish kids I knew held on to their Jewish traditions through their grandparents. For our family, my mother, upon the death of her own beloved grandmother when I was five years old, dove more deeply into her faith and became more religious than anyone else I knew, including her own parents. Her energy and enthusiasm for Jewish life, history, culture, food, art, and music never waned. And she always embraced feminist and progressive values through a Jewish lens. 

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The Lilith Blog

August 20, 2019 by

What the Editors Never Knew About a Lilith Cover!

In 2010, when my then teenage daughter Emma was a camper at URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI), I went into a local bookstore to find an appropriate book to add to a care package we were sending her. I told the salesperson that I wanted something for a strong, self confident, feminist Jewish young woman. I was expecting a new book but she took me over to the magazine rack instead, explaining that she had the perfect magazine for her. She pulled out Lilith and said why its mission and purpose fit exactly with my objectives, giving it to me to look at.  

The cover story of that issue featured a lesbian rabbi from Philadelphia who had raised this amazingly diverse family of 5 kids as a single mom. Three of her kids were her own biological children from 2 different donors, and the other two were adopted from Guatemala. It was an inspiring story of love, commitment, Jewish life, family solidarity and diversity, and the importance of cultivating strong individuals.   

As I looked at the front cover I recognized the people and the story of Rabbi Julie Greenberg immediately: Julie is my sister-in-law (my wife’s sister), and the children are my nieces and nephews—Emma’s aunt and cousins. 

The salesperson asked, “Do you think this would interest Emma?”

I smiled and said, “Yeah, I think she might be interested!”

Andrew Rehfeld is the President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. This recollection is from his welcoming remarks at a launch party for Lilith’s summer 2019 issue held at HUC’s Dr. Bernard Heller Museum in Manhattan on August 14, 2019.

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April 2, 2019 by

Fiction: What Forgiveness Might Look Like

Art: Ofri Cnaani

Art: Ofri Cnaani

Dana and her husband, Jonathan, stand next to each other on a footbridge, separated by a loaf of stale bread and a gulf of regret. Below them, a few dozen members of their congregation lace the shoreline of Rock Creek. Save for Dana and Jonathan they are either families with children or gray-haired empty nesters.

The first year they were married, Jonathan had pulled her along to the tashlich service, the symbolic casting away of sins at the start of the Jewish new year. The ceremony, in which bits of bread are thrown into a body of water, didn’t move Dana the way it moved Jonathan. As far as she could see, they were both good people without much to apologize for. She wasn’t too stressed about her name being inscribed for another year into the Book of Life, whatever that meant. Jonathan had said it was a nice excuse to take a break from the busyness of life, to experience a sense of renewal. Dana had said it was an elaborate way to feed ducks.

But now she is five years into her marriage and wonders if redemption is possible. What forgiveness might look like. 

Their synagogue dues have been paid for by Jonathan’s parents, Howard and Barbara. If only Dana and Jonathan lived closer, Barbara had lamented, they could come to Temple Beth El for services. But since the annual fee at B’nai Israel included tickets for the High Holidays, the in-laws reasoned, the membership almost paid for itself. Plus it had a nursery school, Howard had said with a gleaming smile.

What Howard and Barbara never considered was that it wouldn’t have occurred to Dana to worry about attending services on the High Holidays. Her parents had separated during the year leading up to her bat mitzvah, and while they had shielded her from their feuds over child support and visitation times, they did not spare her the spectacle of their arguments over the guest list or the budget for her party. Her father accused her mother of thinking she was planning a wedding, while her mother retorted that she couldn’t do everything on a shoestring, and solved the problem by slashing most of her father’s guest list. To the extent that the day had felt joyful, it was because the whole ordeal was over. After that her parents let their synagogue membership lapse. That it was no longer needed seemed to be the one thing they could agree on. Dana didn’t attend services again until she met Jonathan.

And now here she is on a bridge, cradling day-old bread. Cantor Joan, a slender woman wearing a flowing lavender dress, white prayer shawl, and beaded kippah made of silver wire, smiles as she leads a niggun. The notes of the wordless chant seem to lift her body. She does not look like someone who has come to the water to unburden her soul, Dana thinks. She looks like someone who loves her job. As the song concludes, Cantor Joan opens her prayer book. In the open space of nature, with no walls or ceiling, and with the sound of cars passing on the parkway above the water, she shouts to make herself heard.

“Micah said, ‘God will take us back in love. God will cast— tashlich—our sins into the depths of the sea,’” she calls. “Micah is telling us that we can separate ourselves from our past sins.” She pauses and surveys the crowd. “Just as the water carries away these crumbs, our mistakes can be carried away too.” She closes her prayer book and throws some bread into the water, then turns out her dress pockets to shake them over the water’s edge.

Dana clutches the crusty oblong loaf, which protrudes from the white paper bag. She feels a tug as Jonathan breaks off a piece. He holds it in both hands. He is crying.

“I don’t know where to start,” he says.

“We probably should have brought more bread,” she says. 

 

JUST WEEKS BEFORE, THEY HAD BEEN STANDING in their kitchen prepping dinner when Dana said, “I called the clinic today. There’s been a cancellation. They can see us this Friday.” Dana was chopping vegetables and didn’t look up when she said this.

“Have you been calling them every day?” Jonathan asked, peering from behind the open refrigerator door.

“Well it’s not like we have time to waste.” Dana pushed a pile of carrots to one side with the back of the knife blade and set to work on a red pepper. Jonathan came to one side and picked up a couple of carrot spears.

“I’m sorry, Babe, but I have a meeting Friday.”

Dana wondered why he had to chew so loudly. “You didn’t even ask me what time.”

“Okay, what time?” Jonathan took another bite of carrot.

Dana put the knife on the cutting board and turned to look at her husband. “Unbelievable,” she said.

“Well who knew getting pregnant could be so inconvenient? Can’t we just go the old-fashioned route?” Jonathan shimmied his hips from side to side and licked his remaining carrot stick. Dana was unsure whether he was trying to be sexy or if he was making a joke about how people look when they are trying to be sexy. Either way she was not impressed.

“We’ve been going the old-fashioned route for over a year. We could’ve had a baby by now.”

“My parents said it took them two years to conceive me.” Jonathan slid the carrot into his mouth and reached for a bit of pepper. His temples pulsed as he chewed.

“You’ve talked to your parents about this?”

“My mom says that women who are too health conscious sometimes don’t ovulate.”

“She’s just pissed because I actually have some control over what I put in my mouth. And what comes out of it for that matter. She’s probably blabbed to her whole book club that I can’t get pregnant.”

“Why do you care what some old ladies are talking about at their book club?”

“You’re right. I don’t care about that. I care that you talk more to your parents about our problems than to me. You’re not a child. Your parents don’t need to be involved in every aspect of your life.”

“I just think you should relax.”

“Who gave you that advice—your mom or your dad?”

“How about we open up a bottle of red? I bought a nice Cab on the way home.”

Dana wiped her hands on a dishtowel and shouldered past her husband. “I’m going to work out. The appointment’s at 2:30 on Friday. Make it work.”

At the gym, Dana set the treadmill to a faster setting than usual. The whirring of the machine coupled with the pounding of her feet on the belt didn’t quite soothe her, but it brought some satisfaction. Her phone lay in the cupholder, and she saw it light up. A text from Jonathan.

“Remind me and I’ll c if I can move my meeting”

This, Dana thought, was what passed in Jonathan’s mind as an apology. She tossed the phone back in the cupholder, turned up the incline of the treadmill. Her phone flashed again.

“Have you called insurance to make sure fertility covered”

Dana typed, “maybe you should have your parents call the insurance company,” but didn’t hit send. She tossed her phone back into the cup holder, with the screen turned away from herself.

That’s when she noticed Marco from her spin class. When they met she had enjoyed his flirtatious asides—his funny facial expressions evoking the instructor’s overplucked eyebrows, the way he would wink at her and sing along every time a Madonna song came on. He had suggested they exchange numbers so they could coordinate their workouts. Dana had assumed he was gay.

He wasn’t.

She found out when she complimented his new workout clothes, green-trimmed mesh shorts cut high on the side with a tank top that showed off his arms. Dana had reached out to pinch the piping along the hemline. Marco caught her hand and gave it a squeeze. Dana pulled away and hopped onto her bike. When the class ended he asked if she wanted to grab a bite to eat. She told him she had to get up early for a work meeting.

Now she decided to ask him for a drink. Marco didn’t seem at all surprised by her invitation. He said he knew a place a block away with a great deal on margaritas.

They found two seats at the end of the bar. They laughed easily over small things, inventing nicknames for the other spin class regulars. When Dana realized they had drained the pitcher Marco had ordered, she hopped off her barstool, said she should be getting home. Marco stepped down from his seat too, leaving only inches between them. “Let me guess—early meeting?” he smiled, his eyes on her mouth. His teeth were perfect.

“Well, not too early,” she said, rolling onto the balls of her feet to kiss him.

 

NOW, DANA STARES DOWN AT THE WATER. “I never meant for it to happen,” she says.

It’s warm for September. A hint of sewage wafts upward, turning Dana’s stomach. She takes a bit of bread and holds it in her mouth. Focuses on the sensation of it moistening and softening upon her tongue. A bicyclist coasts across the bridge; the wooden boards rattle under Dana’s feet.

Cantor Joan and the congregants begin to drift away. A little girl in red leather shoes and oversized hair bow toddles to the water. She leans forward to grab a stick that is peeking above the surface. The front of her dress dips into the creek. Muddy water drips down her shins, soaking her lace-trimmed ankle socks. Her father, unruffled, rolls up the sleeves of his crisp buttondown shirt and scoops her up from behind. Dana expects him to be annoyed, but he bends his neck to kiss the top of his daughter’s head. He is tall and slender like a heron, or a stork. He holds his child like a prize.

Jonathan watches the father pick his way up the embankment, then sends a morsel of bread sailing over the metal railing.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“Why are you sorry?” Dana asks.

“I’m sorry I dragged my feet on fertility treatment. I’m sorry I questioned the cost.”

Dana swallows. “That doesn’t justify what I did.” She holds some bread over the water and lets it drop.

“True. You’ve ripped my guts out, Dana.”

Dana’s eyes fill with tears. She knows that if she blinks they will stream down her cheeks. But it doesn’t seem fair to cry.

“Who is it,” Jonathan asks, “that guy from the gym? Matteo?”

“Marco.”

“Marco. Jesus. I feel like such an idiot.” Jonathan takes a deep, jagged breath in, lets it seep out through his lips. “Can you at least tell me it’s over?”

Dana tears off another piece of bread and considers how to answer this question. Marco had been better at flirting than he was at fucking. Once inside his apartment that night, his clumsy fingers fumbled across her skin like furry caterpillars. He pushed his tongue so far into her mouth it felt like he was licking her molars. They shared his bed with a pile of unfolded laundry, which smelled like it had been forgotten in the washer for a day or two before being transferred to the dryer. A bit of trash crinkled under her shoulder blade as Marco moved on top of her. By the time he finished and heaved his body down onto the mattress beside Dana, one leg strewn across her pelvis like a fallen tree limb, she was sober enough to notice the row of half empty glasses lining the windowsill above the bed. The old metal blinds were open; the light from the street gave the room an orange glow. She reached under her back and pulled out the foil wrapper of an energy bar. Within moments, Marco was snoring. Dana pushed his leg aside and collected her clothes into a bundle against her chest. Deciding the shower was probably even filthier than the bed, she dressed in the hallway before slipping out for home.

After that, Dana stopped going to spin class. Changed her gym schedule to avoid running into Marco. He texted once, “where u been?” Jonathan read it over her shoulder, asked who Marco was. “Just a friend from the gym,” she said, and deleted his contact information from her phone.

Then her breasts were sore. Her period was late. She peed on a stick.

“It’s over with him,” she says. “It’s been over for weeks.”

 

IT HAD BEEN DANA WHO CANCELLED the clinic appointment. After her failed experiment with Marco, she needed time to think. She told Jonathan that he was right, that they should be patient. But then she avoided him. Stayed late at work. Went to bed early. After just a couple of weeks, going to bed early became less about staying away from Jonathan and more about giving her body something it craved. Rather than flailing in the darkness, she slumbered. Would wake feeling like she had been flattened by a steam roller, so would hoist the blankets to her chin and descend back into her dreams.

When she was awake it was difficult to mask the changes in her appetite. Vegetables held no appeal now. She kept pretzels and Wheat Thins at arms’ reach. She discovered that avoiding an empty stomach was the best way to keep from throwing up, so she stashed almonds in her nightstand. Carried a little container of grapes in her purse to pull out one by one on the Metro.

She sensed that Jonathan noticed a change in her. Felt his eyes resting on her as she trailed back to their bedroom at 8 o’clock. But he said nothing. She wanted him to confront her. Scream at her. Instead he looked at her with a searching sadness that told her he was worried about her. He would reach out to touch her elbow, her shoulder. She pulled away.

 

“YOU’RE PREGNANT.” HIGH ABOVE, a breeze rustles the tulip-poplar leaves. Dana drops another bit of bread into the creek, watches it bob in the water before the current pulls it under the bridge and out of sight.

“I don’t know how to wash this away,”she says.

“Would you want to wash it away? Even if you could?”

“I want a baby, but I don’t know if I want this baby. I want your baby.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Of course I’m sure. I love you, Jonathan.”

 

FINDING OUT SHE WAS PREGNANT WAS nothing like she had imagined it would be. No rush of joy, no Jonathan scooping her into an embrace as they hugged and laughed in their narrow bathroom. Instead she sat on the toilet, pants around her ankles, watching the absorbent material inside the pregnancy test wick her urine upward, immediately turning both lines blue. She didn’t have to look back at the package instructions to know what it meant. She felt her heart—the organ, not the symbol of love—open and empty as the blood blossomed up through her neck and filled her ears, flooding her mind with fear.

 

“I KEPT TELLING MYSELF YOU’D GET pregnant when the time was right. But in the back of my mind I was afraid the problem was me. Looks like I was right,” Jonathan says. He puts his elbows on the railing, cradles his forehead in his palms. His shoulders rise and fall with quiet sobs. Clipped to his soft curls is the black suede kippah he wore at their wedding. Their names and anniversary date are embossed in silver on the inside. The same date is engraved inside their wedding rings. Dana tucks the bread under her arm and looks down at her ring, twists it with the fingers from her opposite hand. Whether it’s the heat or the pregnancy, it doesn’t want to turn. She slides the rest of the loaf from the bag and flings it over the railing. It lands with a thud in the shallows.

“I’ve ruined everything,” she says, and turns to go.

“That’s it?” Jonathan looks over his shoulder at her, his voice rising. “You’re giving up just like that?”

“Aren’t you?” she says, turning back around.

“You’re my family, Dana. Baby or no baby.” This word—family— makes Dana realize she hasn’t felt like a part of one for a long time.

“I don’t know how you’ll ever be able to forgive me,” she says. “Or how I’ll ever forgive myself. It would take an ocean to wash this mess away.” She crumples the empty bread bag into a ball.

“I don’t know either,” he says, wiping his nose with the back of his hand. “But I think I want to try. If you do.” He moves toward her and tucks her hair behind her ear. “Do you want to try? To be a family?”

Dana looks at the water. With the exception of the soggy loaf of bread, it is beautiful. She reaches for Jonathan’s hand and allows her own tears to fall. “Yes,” she says. “I do.”

 

Briana Maley’s fiction has been published in Chaleur Magazine, Literary Mama and The Passed Note. She lives in Takoma Park, Maryland.

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