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Tag : Jewish Women

The Lilith Blog

August 11, 2020 by

Black Jewish Women Artists You Should Know…Jessica Valoris

Art–whether it be dancing, painting, drawing, film–creates a space for self-examination, helping us to envision possible futures, and better versions of ourselves. And the Jewish month of Elul is traditionally an opportunity for introspection before the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Recognizing the power of art to be transformative, Lilith is highlighting Black Jewish women artists in this time leading up to and through Elul. On Lilith’s platforms you’ll have a chance to experience, share, buy and celebrate their work.

You can also participate by letting us know (at info@Lilith.org) Black Jewish women creators we should include!

2 (1)Jessica Valoris is a multidisciplinary installation artist who weaves together sound, collage, painting, sculpture, and facilitated ritual to build installations and experiences that have been described as sacred, intentional, and activated. She’s inspired by Afrofuturism, metaphysics, and historical memory.

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The Lilith Blog

August 10, 2020 by

Countering Isolation with Poetry

Over the last few months, I have found myself attending fewer and fewer of the Zoom live-streamed events that keep popping up on my Facebook page. What at first seemed like an exciting way to connect to new and old faces in the age of social distancing has started to feel like more of a chore, a less-than-pleasant activity to be avoided whenever possible. Time and time again, I exit these Zoom events feeling even more isolated than before.

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“Poetry in Times of Peril,” presented by Hebrew College-Interfaith Youth Core PsalmSeason project, with co-sponsors Jewish Women’s Archive and Lilith magazine, could have added to that feeling of isolation. Instead, it addressed those feelings of isolation head-on, and as a result, actually left me feeling more connected to the rest of the world.

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The Lilith Blog

July 28, 2020 by

Why We’re Doing Public Teshuvah to Fight White Supremacy

Photo by Hannah Roodman

Photo by Hannah Roodman

Heading to Grand Army Plaza at 7:20 pm. Seeing a group start to gather, forming a circle. Picking up the protest sign that speaks to me from the middle of the circle. Finding a place in the circle to stand and hold up the sign. Stepping into the center to share what aspect of systemic racism I am mourning that day. Or, stepping into the circle to confess how I myself have participated in and perpetuated racism and anti-Blackness. Actively listening. Turning my body East at 8:00 pm. Blowing the shofar for one long breath. Hearing those around me cry out to the Heavens. Standing silently for a moment. Turning back to face the circle. Stepping into the circle again, this time to share a specific way that I will be actively anti-racist moving forward —my commitment to this community. Actively listening. Putting the protest sign back in the middle of the circle. Saying hello to friends and community members. Returning home. 

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The Lilith Blog

July 27, 2020 by

Get Your Chill On

The first cold soup I ever tasted I hated. For years. 

How unfortunate that it was introduced to me (dare I say pushed on me?) by the two women I admired most, my mother and my small-but-mighty Russian grandmother. Imagine walking seven long blocks home from elementary school for a tasty lunch, only to be met by a bowl of beet borscht from a jar. Yes, jarred!  Two women who made from scratch the hit parade of Ashkenazic food– chicken soup, brisket, tongue, sweetbreads, both potato and noodle kugels, even gefilte fish– loved their industrial borscht, adding sour cream to complete the dish. I gagged trying to get it down, rarely succeeding.

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April 20, 2020 by

LGBTQ Jewish Hero of Color Poster •

Rabbi Sandra Lawson is a veteran, a vegan, a weightlifter, one of the first queer women
rabbis of color, and Associate Chaplain for Jewish Life at Elon University in North
Carolina. “One of the things I want the larger Jewish community to understand is
that rabbis today are a diverse group. Many are people of color. Many are not straight.
Many might be married to non-Jews. My difference, my diversity, is helping people
become aware of that.” Keshet’s LGBTQ Jewish Heroes poster series is available to
synagogues, day schools, JCCs, and other Jewish institutions to demonstrate their commitment to LGBTQ equality and visibility.

keshetonline.org/resources-and-events/lgbtq-jewish-heroes

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April 20, 2020 by

Prayer, Your Way •

The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance’s goal is to expand spiritual, ritual, intellectual and political opportunities for women within the framework of a Modern Orthodox interpretation of Jewish law. Their resources can help you discover where women can say kaddish, join women’s prayer groups, find “partnership” minyanim (for women and men) and hear women read from the megillah on Purim.

jofa.org/prayer-compass

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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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The Lilith Blog

February 19, 2020 by

Becoming an Abortion Doula

Earlier this year, Lilith asked me what my pro-choice New Year’s resolution was for 2020.

Without hesitating, I knew what my answer would be: I would become an abortion doula, who guides folks through the procedure. It is a very straightforward and simple goal on the surface, especially since I had already sent in my application to become a trained doula with the DC Doulas for Choice Collective (DCDC).

But there’s a lot of meaning to this choice. I’ve wanted to be an abortion doula for years, since I learned what it meant. Like a birth doula, an abortion doula is someone who is dedicated to guiding the patient through the abortion procedure. This can include answering their questions, remaining with them during the procedure even if they are under anesthesia, and remaining with them in the recovery room. It can mean acting as an advocate, getting water or snacks, praying with the patient, or just chatting about the Bachelor. Being a doula can take a lot of forms, but my primary goal is to support the patient with whatever they may need at any given moment.

Why go this extra mile in support of patients? Because I’m not only pro-choice, but I am pro-abortion and pro-access. That means going beyond supporting someone’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy but fighting to remove the barriers that may prevent them from doing so.

I do not believe that abortion is a necessary evil, but a moral and social good. It’s what has led me to become not only a doula but a volunteer in other ways as well. I am a clinic escort with the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force (WACDTF) and I walk patients to and from their vehicles among anti-choice protestors who can be loud, in the way, and occasionally violent. I am also a volunteer with the DMV Practical Abortion Support Network, DAPSN, an organization that provides rides or walks to and from a patient’s hotel and the clinic and housing, all for free.

Washington, D.C. is one of the few areas in the country where someone can get an abortion throughout pregnancy, so there are hundreds of folks who travel from often very far states to access care here. Many of those folks rely on abortion funds to pay for their travels and expenses but can’t afford to bring someone with them. That’s where DAPSN and DCDC come in. Our job is to be the stand in for folks who cannot be with the patient.

This work is very different than fighting a political campaign. I am a proud volunteer with NARAL Pro-Choice America where I sit on their all-volunteer Action Council. I show up to protest whenever I can. I have even spoken out at the Supreme Court and been arrested for civil disobedience over abortion. But this year, I want to focus on the patients who make the choice to obtain abortion care. Often, lost in the noise of the political struggle to keep abortion safe and legal are the patients themselves who have to navigate complicated TRAP laws, legalese, and financial barriers to receiving care but who are human beings and moral agents like the rest of us, and who deserve a friendly face and sympathetic ear during their medical procedure.

It is easy to forget that the fight for abortion means fighting for real people, with jobs and families and social lives. They have names and faces, beyond a statistic. These are the people I am committing to supporting and getting to know.

Since my resolution was published, I successfully made it through the interviews and will begin my training in March. This year, I will not only fight for the right to abortion access, but hopefully sit with people and be their support as they exercise that right.

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November 5, 2019 by

A Woman of Valor Who’s Single

Edreifus birthrightrika Dreifus is a generous soul on the overlapping writerly and Jewish internet. Her monthly e-newletter, “The Practicing Writer,” and its weekly supplements provide valuable resources for writers. On Fridays, she also publishes a roundup of Jewish literary news in her Machberet (Hebrew for notebook) blog.

One of the delights of these sources is that Dreifus shares her own writing process, including rejections and successes. Like her 2011 short story collection Quiet Americans, Birthright, her new collection of poetry (Kelsay Books, $17), is one of those successes. These accessible meditations on being a Jewish woman, a Zionist, a critical consumer of social media, and a witness to violence committed and averted reflect a soul dedicated to repairing the world with smarts, spirit, sincerity, and a bit of snark.

With any such gathering of poems, there are those that you move through quickly and those that speak to you with an intensity that causes you to linger and to reread. For me, “A Single Woman of Valor,” a revisioning of Proverbs 31, falls into the latter category. Here—and elsewhere— Dreifus uses Jewish textual traditions to champion the diversity of Jewish women’s lives and to value those who, by choice or circumstance, are not wives and mothers.

Being such a champion of self and others comes “After years of self-doubt, and therapy” and with the sometimes sad recognition that her mortality will represent, as she puts it in the title of another poem, “The End of the Lines.” Yet, in “This Woman’s Prayer,” she clearly and explicitly affirms her own divine self-worth with the words, “Blessed be the One/who made me me.”

Just as Dreifus values her own unique being made in the image of God, so does she employ a midrashic impulse to revalue and reassess those Biblical foremothers who have found themselves on the margin of tradition. In “The Book of Vashti,” Dreifus powerfully gives voice to Esther’s predecessor: “I was cast out/the royal stage cleared for another/whose name would live on in light/while mine receded./ Until now.” And in “The Price of Lilith’s Freedom,” she imagines the namesake of this magazine embracing her “liberation from . . . unequal coupling” and asserting that, despite the “pain, loss, grief,” she would “take that deal again.”

In a series of Israel poems that includes “The O-Word,” “Questions for the Critics,” and “Pharaoh’s Daughter Addresses Linda Sarsour,” Dreifus poetically exposes double standards when it comes to discussing the Occupation, the death drive that seems to animate disproportionate criticism of Israel, and a tweet by a leader of the Women’s March that declared Zionism “creepy.” The awareness in “The Smell of Infection” that social media can sometimes be likened to a tooth needing root canal leads to “Sabbath Rest 2.0,” which entails keeping the “Sabbath free from Facebook and Twitter.”

Birthright ultimately reminds us that we are an amalgam of still-relevant old stories as well as new technologies. Dreifus’ poetry is a worthy read, as is her Twitter feed.

Helene Meyers is the author of Identity Papers: Contemporary Narratives of American Jewishness.

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November 4, 2019 by

That Was Not My Plan!

Art by Liana Finck

Art by Liana Finck

I’m in the car jammed between my two- and three-year old boys in their bulky car seats. My in-laws are driving us to a playground in our new city, Los Angeles, and my cell phone rings showing an incoming call from my GP. The news isn’t good. My second-opinion cancer surgeon has found something new—an aggressive tumor that throws into question all of the conversations and thinking and agonizing my husband and I have been doing for the last several weeks.

One second I had a mess of stage-zero cancer in my right breast, a noninvasive kind also known as DCIS (Ductal carcinoma in situ). The next second it was DCIS plus something else entirely: an invasive and especially aggressive tumor outside the milk ducts. The shorthand for the type of tumor was “triple positive,”—much more dangerous and frightening than “noninvasive stage-zero”— and I was in shock.

“Not my plan!” I screamed in my head.

In those days, when things didn’t go my older child’s way, he would cry, “That was not my plan!”

Ahh. The Plan, with its many transitions. After six years of major personal and professional transitions, I met my husband-to-be, Benjamin, the very week I started a new job in a new field; then, three months later, after years of working in an unrelated field, came his epiphany that he wanted to become a rabbi; we got engaged, planned our wedding, got married, and planned the next steps with careful intent. He started rabbinical school with a first year in Israel (I stayed in N.Y.), we moved house, we had two beautiful and exhausting boys 18 months apart (unplanned: I struggled with postpartum depression with the first one), and my husband launched a non-profit organization in the midst of our first son’s birth.

It was finally time to take a freaking breath.

The most recent transition had involved a high-stress job placement process for Benjamin in his new career as a rabbi. There was heartache when he didn’t get the offer we had hoped for, followed shortly thereafter by euphoria when an unexpected opening led to an offer at a wonderful synagogue in Los Angeles.

There was also my job: I had been offered a continuing position in L.A. with my New York employer, only to find out, a few weeks before the move, that the arrangement wasn’t going to work out. I scrambled to negotiate a severance package, and realized I’d have to look for work within a month of moving.

Not my plan.

We arrived in L.A. in the summer of 2016. The transition was intense. Also great. And exhausting. And lonely. There we were, using the GPS just to get to the supermarket, with no easy access to public transportation, no babysitter, no friends or nearby family for relief.

Unplanned for, we were caught between old and new cities, old and new career, friends and no-friends. Our boys were between toddlerhood and childhood, between worlds really, with only us to tether them.

I was between being a regular private person and being in the very public role of rabbi’s spouse in a community where neither of us had any history.

By almost any measure, these whiplashing shifts presented a lot to process and adjust to.

Then came the sharp pain in my chest on August 21st, less than five weeks after we

touched down in Los Angeles, and a week before my 43rd birthday. The pain was followed by an emergency room visit, two rounds of antibiotics, then, a few weeks later, ultrasound, a mammogram and a painful biopsy, all of which culminated, one sunny day in September, with the DCIS diagnosis.

Not my plan.

This was days before the High Holidays. I visited my second opinion doctor between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. While I awaited the results of those biopsies, I sat in a pew and my husband sat on the bimah. Rather than the annual theoretical contemplation of mortality, I was dialing in to very real contemplations of whether I might, in the next number of months or years, live or die.

Even in that terrifying moment, I felt the melodrama, as if I were starring in a Jewish-themed Lifetime Original movie: new rabbi and family join a community far from home. His spouse gets breast cancer and the congregation pulls together to make the family’s first awful months as un-miserable as possible, thus cementing a bond that would last for years. Which, in fact, is pretty close to what happened, unplanned.

How did I get through? Oddly, I don’t remember ever feeling depressed. I felt sad and scared and low and miserable for chunks of time. I remember having a diminished tolerance for my children when they were demanding and whining, or sometimes when they just wanted to play. 

I know depression and how it slithers in and quietly attacks, boring its teeth into all your soft bits. I experienced depression for a couple of years in my early 20s after my 24-year-old sister died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. Then again after my father died suddenly when I was in my mid-30s. Then again after my first son was born and the exhaustion and shock of taking care of a newborn rattled my body and brain for months.

Perhaps because of those devastating experiences, the cancer seemed to me, perhaps irrationally, something I could tackle. My mind always returned to the thought that nothing could be worse—not cancer, not a million simultaneous transitions— than the two worst events in my life, the sudden deaths of my sister and father.

When some of the people I grew close to remarked on my relatively upbeat attitude through six rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy, and the many weeks of daily radiation treatments that followed, I would explain by telling about those earlier losses. But we were also buoyed by waves of emotional, spiritual, financial and culinary support. Friends and family from afar visited throughout the year, and our congregation set up a “meal train” to bring our household extraordinary sustenance four nights a week for seven months.

I found a support center devoted to cancer. In addition to free lectures, gentle exercise classes, and family programs, there were dozens of support groups targeted to specific cancer diagnoses. Mine was made up of badass women of every age with stage 1 and 2 breast cancer. These women, many of whom became friends, shared their struggle with delayed diagnosis, botched surgeries, residual pain, unsympathetic doctors, dreadful side effects, unsupportive spouses, and having to couch-surf all through cancer treatment because of poverty. 

Cancer wasn’t not my plan, but I came to see that while I had an invasive, life-threatening tumor, in so many respects I had it easy. 

I had Benjamin, who with incalculable and selfless love and care supported me every single day, no matter how exhausted from our kids’ sleeplessness and his own new-job and new everything fatigue. He organized the kids, mobilized visitors, brought me delicious snacks, encouraged me to take walks, or lie down, or do whatever I wanted to do. All of this in spite of his own very intense emotions about what we were going through. I know with certainty that I could not do the same; he has an extraordinary capacity to be self-reflective without loitering too long in his own psychological goo.

Then there was media, no small part of my survival. I binged on dystopian fiction: audiobooks of 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, TV series like Cold War-era The Americans and any dark British mystery series I could get my hands on.

I did punctuate the bleakness with some levity in the form of The Great British Baking Show, Project Runway and Downton Abbey, but mostly I wanted dark. I wanted to swim in other people’s problems. Gratitude with a pinch of schadenfreude.

My dark mood was not purely about my own circumstances. I started my chemo infusions the day before Donald Trump was elected. I now had the shock of that political and social bomb to contend with. I tried to process what had happened to our country. I tried to understand how so many could have voted for him. I tried not to catastrophize. When, later that week the worst of the chemo side effects hit—exhaustion, diarrhea and a generalized awfulness that I called the gaping yaw, it felt like a days-long fever dream.

One thing I did not do was turn to the Internet for solace, help, connections or information related to cancer. I didn’t research the diagnosis, or seek alternative medical paths, or arm myself with the latest statistics and thinking. I found that I was able to be an advocate for myself even without that.

Some women in my support group found all the data grounding and empowering. I found it overwhelming and unhelpful to learn about all of the things I could have or should have done differently to reduce my risk—and which might not have made a difference at all—like get a mammogram sooner, have children earlier, breastfeed for longer, eat less fat, take different birth control. The Web was aswarm with all the ways in which my choices may have contributed to my illness. I’m not proud of not wanting to educate myself more. It’s just where I was.

Once I was diagnosed and had a plan (I went with the second-opinion doc’s approach), life began to feel somewhat knowable again. It would be awful for sure, but if all went according to plan, the worst of it would be contained to roughly one year. Despite the aggressive nature of the tumor, the prognosis was good, because there was a targeted therapy to treat the very attribute that made it aggressive. (Five years earlier, before the treatment was available, things would not have been so relatively rosy.)

The first three of six rounds of chemo were the worst. The gaping yaw took hold and made me want to put myself into suspended animation until the symptoms subsided. It was a challenge to interact, to eat, drink or enjoy anything. It was one of the tightest, chokingest places I’ve ever been.

By the fourth round, I was doing acupuncture and taking medical cannabis (a combined THC and CBD tincture). The two together made a world of difference. My symptoms were far milder and I had more energy. I was starting to come out of that choking narrow place. Mitzrayim. I don’t know a whole lot about the Bible, but this I knew. I knew it from 42 years of seders and from my husband’s commentary. Mitzrayim, the narrows where the Hebrews were held captive, and from which they emerged to a better place.

I emerged with no more cancer, a more practiced parent, a humbled and grateful Angelino.

Elizabeth S. Bennett leads the content strategy team at Capital Group, a global investment manager.

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