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Tag : identity

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

A Beloved Sci-Fi Novel Says a Lot about Gender and Politics

Kids today. (This isn’t going to be what you expect.) They navigate the world of gender fluidity freely. They don’t stumble upon words or terms. They are the natives in this world, and it can feel like we—the older generations—are immigrants in this land. We seem dated to them, from another time and place when things were needlessly complicated and needlessly cruel.

I was struck, when the pandemic led me to pick up the classic science fiction novel The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin, by how prescient it is about this generational split. Once we were all the protagonist Genly Ali, an envoy from another world struggling to communicate with the Gethenians, struggling to convince them that his and other worlds exist, struggling to get them to understand the value of what he is offering them: knowledge, power, peace. And he’s struggling partly because he cannot understand their world, in which there is no war (but it’s coming); in which there is no gender.

Even as the novel seems timeless, and prophetic, and even as it offers us hope of another way of being as both individual beings and as citizens, there are reminders that it comes from another time and place. The default pronoun for the genderless Gethenians is “he,” and most of the scenes involve traditional male labor. We read nothing of childbearing, and little of cooking, cleaning, and nurturing, even as we bear witness to moving moments of kindness, all the more powerful for the backdrop of a harsh, cold, and cruel environment. Quite literally: this is a freezing, freezing land.

It’s also a land of great hospitality. In the land of snow and ice, that’s a necessity, but it’s also a value. This kind of hospitality for strangers in a strange land alongside family and friends is another radical lesson, even as it is one that for many of us within the Jewish community is easily understood. When you have a long history of being outside, you create a world that welcomes others in. Including outsiders (and gender non-conformers!) like Genly Ali, who don’t quite fit in and can’t quite understand or be understood.

We are all—but not The Kids today— Genly. We too, reading this now 51-year-old book, struggle to understand a world in which there is no gender; in which sexuality is limited to a set time each month—called Kemmer—for which one gets time off to satisfy these needs without embarrassment or judgment, or even pause; in which everyone can be both a mother and a father; in which there is no division of labor, no division of professions, no division of value, no division of desire.

When you remove gender, it turns out, you change everything.

That’s one of the enduring lessons of this remarkable novel, but it’s far from the only one. It’s also a finely drawn portrait of daily life and a great quest, with world-altering stakes. It’s a political treatise, musing about the relationship between nation-state and aggression, and asking whether those stages can be skipped entirely through a model of Enlightenment that is both aspirational, and, to these despairing eyes, impossibly naïve. And yet also deeply prescient. The novel asks: would you work with someone you hate to save the world you love? And, as it progresses and that hatred abates, the novel asks: would you sacrifice your life to save someone you love?

Sharrona Pearl is an Associate Professor of Medical Ethics at Drexel University. Her most recent book is Face/On: Face Transplants and the Ethics of the Other

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June 25, 2020 by

Roseanne (Yes!) on Yidn in Utah

Growing up Jewish in Utah was a kind of Diaspora experience of its own. The Bible is quoted from regularly, and is often at the heart of even casual conversation.

I pored over it, looking for examples that upset prevailing logic, such as the passage in Genesis that says, “The sons of God visited themselves upon daughters of man and saw that they were fair.”

My Mormon friends got a blank look when I showed them that one, and a shocked look when I showed then the passage in Psalms where David says to God, “My skin is black,” because Jesus was a descendant of David, and at the time Mormons considered black skin a curse from Cain.

I felt powerful, strange, and exotic all at the same time, to think that it was my people’s history that formed the basis of the dominant culture’s codes of moral, legal and scientific wisdom. Paradoxically, my ancestors and my God were at the center of everything holy to the culture from which my people were excluded.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Roseanne knew by the age of three that she was going to be a comic and have her own show. She would entertain family members on Friday evenings when they would all gather in her grandmother’s apartment for Sabbath dinner. The reviews she received convinced her she was indeed the Center of the Universe, which she believes to this day. “Roseanne ” debuted on ABC in October 1988 and continues to be a top-rated series on television. Roseanne’s autobiographies, Roseanne: My Life As A Woman, and My Lives (published in 1994) also established her as a best-selling author.

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June 25, 2020 by

Jewish Before I Was American

My grandparents, my aunt, uncle, two cousins, my parents and I lived in one Williamsburg, Brooklyn brownstone until the early 30s. I spoke Yiddish before I learned English. I was taught to read and write in Hebrew and in Yiddish. Aunt Dora generously shared her public library books of Yiddish poetry and stories with me. We read daily Yiddish newspapers. “Yiddishkeit” was part of my everyday life, not just reserved for Shabbat and holidays.

I wrote about my early years in my first juvenile novel {Ruthie, Meredith Press, 1965). Thinking back to those Williamsburg years, I realize that I became a Jewish person before I became an American person.

Norma Simon is the author of more than 50 children’s books, 13 on Jewish holidays or subjects; 2 new ones due out in 1997 on Passover and Hannukah (HarperCollins). She moved to Cape Cod 27 years ago.

 

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April 20, 2020 by

Generation 1.5 •

Russian-Jewish-Americans—“Generation 1.5”—have their own particular identity issues. A unique adult Jewish learning program wants to empower them to explore this multilayered identity, and become leaders, volunteers, and philanthropists. Founded in 2015 by seven Russian-speaking Jews, the Jewish Parent Academy aims to build a Russian-Jewish-American community educated about its Jewish and Russian heritage, taking responsibility for its needs, giving back to the broader Jewish community, and building Russian-Jewish-American community connections.

jpacademy.org

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The Lilith Blog

February 24, 2020 by

You Are Your Name

You are your name. In India, where I’m living for seven months as a Fulbright scholar researching the relevance of archaeological relics today, I’m constantly reminded of this. 

“My daughter’s name is Zianna, it means bold and strong,” an acquaintance tells me.

“My name is Arushi, it means first ray of the sun,” says another new friend. 

“My name is Pormishra, a god. It means, a god,” says a waiter.

“I am Suraj, the sun,” says another. 

When I respond that my name is Elizabeth, Indians often say, “Oh, the queen. You are a queen.” Glad to dissuade them of any connection between my name and India’s former colonial rule, I tell people, “Actually, Elizabeth is a Hebrew name, it means house of God: beit means house; el means God.”

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July 9, 2019 by

An Unanticipated Birthright Effect

In college, a Jewish friend told me her experiences during an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel. I was impressed when I learned about Taglit-Birthright Israel and its mission to ensure that Jewish young adults have the opportunity to visit and learn about Israel. Last year, as a graduate student, I traveled there with several Jewish classmates. I was moved by—and somewhat envious of—their strong sense of shared identity and how the trip nurtured it.

I couldn’t forget that feeling. The PBS series “Finding Your Roots,” in which Henry Louis Gates Jr. investigated the family history of well-known Americans, was another reminder to me of how powerful it can be to learn about the genetic and cultural ties that connect us all to stories and communities much bigger than us. 

This year, I finally organized a trip for a group of my black friends and classmates and me to explore our own heritage. On that trip I learned to cook jollof, a rice dish that is a staple of West African diets. I learned about investment opportunities in Nigeria, including cashew farms and start-ups. I had my hair braided. I visited castles where enslaved people were kept in dungeons before they exited through the door of no return. We discussed Nigerian history over dinner and learned about the political turmoil and wealth of the country… I reflected on what life would be like if I lived in a nation where I was part of the dominant racial group.

MERCEDES BENT, “The Trip I Hope All African-Americans Can Take,” The New York Times, May 4, 2019.

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The Lilith Blog

June 29, 2018 by

Six Young, LGBTQ+ Jews Get Real About Identity

As Pride Month comes to an end, we asked six Jews who are also in the LGBTQIA+ community to speak about the interactions among their many identities. It is daunting to describe your identity in a few words, but the people featured below have done so with radical frankness —telling stories of coming out, coming to terms with identity, and joining together as a community, all of which define their lives Jewish, as LGBTQIA+, and at the intersections between the two.

Rochelle Malter

Rochelle, 22

I feel as though being Jewish prepared me for being queer. When I was a small child, I learned how to move through the world with my Jewish identity always present but semi-hidden, and how to gauge when was a safe time to reveal it. I hold my lesbian identity very similarly, though recently I have been struggling to find ways to make both more visible.

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