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Tag : Jewish

July 27, 2020 by

Camp, Even When It’s Not Summer

ELANA REBITZER spends summers at Camp Ramah in Northern California and is pursuing a masters degree in English education from Brandeis University.

When the summer camp I work for announced the cancellation of all in-person programming for summer 2020, many of my campers quickly took to Instagram to proclaim “until 2021.” This summer and the upcoming year are going to be really hard for the camp industry; many camps rely on camper tuition to sustain themselves during the year and will face uncertain financial futures without it this summer. For the campers who were going to start their camp journey this summer, the high schoolers who were going to be counselors-in-training, and everybody in between, the loss of this summer will no doubt weaken their connection to camps and could damage camper and staff retention for years down the road.

But, as my campers’ commitment to returning down the road shows, the loss of this summer could also strengthen the connections that people feel to their summer camps. So many of the things that people lose during coronavirus (like large group social interactions and physical closeness with others) are the very same things that make summer camps the special places that they are. Rather than do away with those important qualities, I imagine that (as soon as they can safely do so) the reopened camps will look very similar to the pre-pandemic world.

Outside of camp, one thing that could change for the better is the quality of year-round virtual programming. As camps have prepared to announce their canceled summers, many have also instituted virtual programs like weekly Shabbat / Havdalah ceremonies and summer reunions to maintain the community connection year-round. If camps can find a sustainable way to support staff to continue providing these programs, the non-summer months could be filled with much more camp content in years to come. 

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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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July 27, 2020 by

“Not That Jewish” •

At a Los Angeles kitchen table in 2007 three women hatched a plan to welcome and encourage contemporary stories by Jewish women and to adapt them theatrically, giving them life in front of a live audience. Harking back to the age-old idea of women hosting culture of the day in their homes, sparing the expense of a theater, sets, costumes, and props, Jewish Women’s Theatre focuses on presenting powerful stories in unexpected and convenient venues. Presentations include stories, poems, comedic monologues, songs, and art. Now, in its 12th season, JWT seeks stories celebrating a diverse Jewish population, regardless of gender, generation, degree of Jewish observance, ethnicity, cultural background, or sexual orientation, drawing on audiences of all ages, both women and men, mostly Jewish, but not all. Some notable shows are: “Saffron & Rosewater”—about the Persian Jewish immigrant; “Stories from The Fringe”—trailblazing stories of women rabbis; “Eden According to Eve”—bible stories from a female perspective set in contemporary times; “Chutzpah & Salsa—the Latino Jewish experience, and more. You can enjoy several brief clips of comedy writer Monica Piper’s commissioned one-woman show, “Not That Jewish” here: jewishwomenstheatre.org/notthatjewish.

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July 27, 2020 by

Poem: “Playing Scrabble With God”

Last Thursday

God and I were playing Scrabble

eating peanut brittle and listening to Joni Mitchell.

I used all my letters

w-h-i-s-t-l-e-s

and I saw a side of God

I’d never seen before.

First he insisted that whistles has no ‘h’

which is utter bullshit.

Then he started to pout

complaining all his letters were vowels.

And in a flurry of frustrated gestures

He “accidentally” knocked the board over

with such force that tiles flew

to the four corners of the room.

 

“Oh please” I said. “It’s just a game of Scrabble.”

And that’s when I saw his eyes fill.

“What is it, God? Why are you upset?”

 

“I’m losing my ability to spell,” he said.

“The letters are confusing and I’m not even sure

what some of them are.”

 

I went limp. If God couldn’t recognize letters

what else was out of his grasp.

 

And then God asked me to shepherd him down the stairs.

 

“But you are supposed to guide me,” I said.

“Things change,” he sighed.

 

Poetry editor Alicia Ostriker comments:

This is almost two poems in one. At first it seems to belong to a common genre of Jewish writing where we playfully (or not so playfully) question God. Jews have been doing this since the Book of Job. Gradually we realize that the “God” here is probably the speaker’s father or grandfather—a figure both of authority and comfort, who now is, in the popular phrase, “losing it”—Losing not only at Scrabble, but becoming mentally and physically frail. How do we cope when this happens to those we love? And can we cope if the Jewish God, too, is losing his grasp—his grasp even of his own scripture? Suddenly a domestic anecdote becomes metaphysical, and a game is more than a game.

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July 27, 2020 by

In My Persian Immigrant Family…How My Brother Mothered Me

“Estaire is not here!”

Gwendolyn, my third-grade classmate, had come over to play. As soon as she walked through our front door, dressed in pink-and-blue argyle socks and a matching cardigan, my father gave her a stabbing stare.

“Estaire is not here!” he said icily.

I was standing right there, right next to him, in plain view. Gwen’s eyes met mine. I quickly looked away and tried to hide in the spaces between his words. With a ferocious wave, Pop sent her away and swept back into the living room without a glance in my direction. I was invisible to him. I looked at my feet, touched my elbows, then began shaking like a rag doll. My mind gunked up. Could he be right? Am I imagining me?

The shame was immense. A heart punch. Would Gwen tell our entire class what had just happened? Would she say, “Esther’s father is Iranian and that’s what they do”?

It wasn’t the first time Pop had insisted I wasn’t visible when I was, but I was no less mortified. How could I be unseen when seen? How could I disappear upon demand?

I didn’t call out, “I’m here!” I was afraid of words. Pop often cautioned, “Speech makes lips unclean.” So at age eight, fearing his angry outbursts and wanting clean lips, I chose silence.

I wished my mother were home. She, born with sword in hand, would never have let this happen. She would have shoved Pop aside, invited Gwen in, and offered her trays of piping hot home-made Persian pastries. Gwen would have loved my mother and been fooled into thinking my home was much like hers. She’d never know what I knew.

By third-grade, I was practicing shrinking, abiding by Pop’s rules to avoid his wrath. I ate little, spoke minimally, breathed soundlessly while my mother worked at becoming ever more visible, expanding to the point of bursting, no matter the consequence.

I was a consequence.

Born in 1925 Iran, Mom had been forced to live as an underground Jew in the fanatically religious city of Mashhad, a Shi’ite stronghold and pilgrimage site with a long history of maiming and massacring infidels. Head bent, breathing through a black chador, peering through an eyeslit, she slunk through alleyways, faceless and shapeless, passing as Muslim. The chador was more to her than just a cloth covering. It was the symbol of her suppression and target of her rage. Years later, Mom told me about one sun-scalding summer afternoon when she and her stepmother, Yocheved, were hauling sacks of fava beans home from the market. Both were heavily shrouded, properly groomed, Islamicized for outside eyes. My mother, 14 and recently married to my 34-year-old father, was already three months pregnant. As her cloaked face dripped with sweat, she spat out in Farsi:

“I hate chadors. I’m ripping mine off. Why are we hidden? Why can’t men look at us? We’re allowed to look at their hideous faces, their bare arms and legs.”

“Shh!” Yocheved gestured for her to lower her voice. “The Imams are keeping us safe. A woman’s lips, hair, elbow, even her ankle can drive a man crazy. If we conceal ourselves, men can control themselves.”

While chadors were designed to hide women, hers incubated visions of a headlong and noisy break for freedom. Eight years later, urged on by an older brother who had already emigrated to the United States, she uprooted her husband and two young sons and spearheaded the family’s fretful, lengthy, circuitous migration from Mashhad to Manhattan. On the eve of their departure, Mom lit a match and torched her black chadors, turning heavy cloths and the weight of their meaning to ash.

In New York City, unveiled and thoroughly seen, she speed sorted through Saks Fifth Avenue’s dress racks, searching the very finest. She ran her fingers along crushed velvet, squeezed densely sequined organza, and fondled sumptuous chiffon, scanning for plunging neck-lines that screamed: Look at me. At home she donned bright colors, convoluted patterns, 3-D textures that made me cringe as an adolescent.

My father shuddered with disapproval and deepened their divide by labeling everything she did “unnecessary and excessive.” Too much huff-puff, too much noise, too much upheaval. In Mashhad, Pop had also relied on duplicity to survive, kneeling and bowing in public squares, reciting the Koran, and chanting namaz, while inwardly praying to HaShem, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. However, he had experienced Iran quite differently than Mom. While my mother’s face was always concealed, his was always visible, easier to identify as an underground Jew. Even in the secrecy of their home, behind shuttered windows, they both lived in constant fear of being outed.

Treasuring silence, happy with dry toast and tea, he implored Mom to stop the constant activity. “Your noisy hands and feet give me a migraine!” Mom deafened her ears and soldiered on. As ghormeh sabzi bubbled for hours on the kitchen stove, its thick aroma of dill, parsley, scallions, veal, lima beans, turmeric, cinnamon, dried lemons, and mint blanketing our home, Mom was crocheting shawls, embroidering four-yard-long tablecloths while rhythmically pedaling our Singer sewing machine with her right foot, churning out floor-to-ceiling red velvet curtains. By adolescence, I knew Mom wasn’t the woman I wanted to be. Her hustle and bustle weren’t repugnant to me; her driving need to be the best backbreaking housewife who ever lived was. By out-cleaning, out-cooking, she felt she was outshining all other wives. Striving for perfection as she tackled domestic chores seemed foolish, trite—a waste of life. While she stood on top of a ladder, triple-checking ceiling moldings in search of a missed speck of dust, I vanished into Moby Dick, Popular Mechanics, whatever printed matter I could lay my hands on. The more she scraped and scoured our spick-and-span home, the more I dove into schoolwork, disappeared into textbooks, acing every exam. She was loud, latchless, and emphatically visible. I, her polar opposite, navigated my path concealed, seeing much and saying little. While she publicly aired whatever crossed her mind, I conducted inner dialogues I knew no one could hear but me.

By my teens, I had renounced her, telling myself she was vapid and vain—just a random, reckless person I happened to be born from with no real relation to me. I distanced. As mother and daughter, we became intimate strangers.

When I was seven, I’d follow my brother Al into his bedroom and watch with awe as he drew. The rulers and my brother seemed one and the same. He measured winding spaces that spilled open, sunlight bouncing off walls, and the length and breadth of complicated shadows. Museums, concert halls, stadiums, bridges, highways burst from his penciled lines. His dream was to become an architect and sculpt space in ways that had never been done before.

Pop preferred to see Al become a Persian rug dealer. Now that had prestige. According to my father, drawing buildings wasn’t a trade. Mom, on the other hand, wanted educated sons. She licked her lips as she boasted to her butcher, “My son vhant be ar-kee-tect,” not quite knowing what it meant but enjoying the sound of its hard consonants.

When I was eight, Al was awarded a full scholarship to Cornell University’s College of Architecture. With shoulders thrown back and blueprints in hand, he left for Ithaca. I cried for weeks, sorely missing him. Al worried about me. As eager as he had been to escape our war-waging parents, he was also fearful of leaving me behind, less shielded, with only one brother to protect me.

Before each college break and visit home, Al would instruct me to make lists of all my problems, large and small, so that, in the quiet of my bedroom, we could discuss and solve them. And so I did. When I turned 11, Al noticed that my breasts were budding. He never said so, just casually asked if my sixth-grade classmates were wearing bras.

I was amazed. “Al, how did you know? Yeah, in fact Walter Gonzales likes to sneak up from behind and twang bra straps. The girls act real annoyed, but they love it.”

“What makes you think they love it?” he asked.

“Oh, I can tell. It makes them feel sexy.”

“Es, what do you say we go shopping and get you some training bras? We’ll find a saleslady to help us out.”

Albert had spotted my breasts? I didn’t think anyone was aware of them but me. Mom hadn’t noticed, and I kind of hoped she wouldn’t. I knew the more my body changed and turned into a woman’s, the harder Pop would push for marriage. If I had to go bra-shopping with anyone, I was glad it was Al.

The very next day we hightailed over to Queens Boulevard and sauntered, hand-in-hand, through Alexander’s department store. Eyeing a triple-chinned, buxom saleswoman standing near the lingerie counter, Albert whispered, “She looks like that British actress Margaret Rutherford. I get a good feeling. Let’s ask her.”

With a solid voice, far beyond his 21 years, he began: “This is my sister and she’s never worn a bra. Do you think—”

Before he could finish, the saleswoman gripped my wrist and whisked me into the dressing room. As if fulfilling her life’s purpose, she measured length, width, breadth, slipping me in and out of styles that fit my bust. Her gray and white jumbo curls bounced as her nimble fingers snapped and unsnapped hooks, rapidly chattering like a Mary Poppins. At one point, standing behind me, she unexpectedly wrapped her arms around my skinny waist and, with tearing eyes, gave me a tight squeeze. I figured she thought I was motherless. Why else would a brother be buying bras for his kid sister?

Margaret Rutherford, looking scrubbed and scoured, ruled out transparency, stretchy beginner bras that flattened my chest, and bras that wouldn’t hold up after multiple washings. Settling on thick white cotton without itchy lace, we returned to Al, who was waiting by the counter. With a generous smile he opened his wallet and bought me five. Glamorized by bras, I felt I had entered womanhood.

All the way home, swinging a shopping bag filled with wrapped- up lingerie, I mused: Will Walter snap my bra straps now?

A few weeks later, Albert came home carrying a small brown paper bag and asked me to follow him into my bathroom. Steeped in silence, he sat on the lidded toilet with his upper lip weighed down by worry.

“Es, I’ve been thinking about your legs.”

“You have?” I groped for words. “What about them?”

“You’re going to start wearing stockings soon, and I want you to look really great. So I asked around and found out: You should never use a razor. It will make your hair shoot up fast and thick.”

I threw up my arms and let out a sigh. “Thank goodness I’m not using razors!”

My brother rolled up his khaki slacks, placed one leg in the tub, opened a tube of Neet and smeared a strong-smelling pink cream all over his bushy shin.

I broke out laughing a younger sibling’s laugh. “Al, you’re crazy! What are you doing?”

“This is a test run. I picked this up for you, but first I want to make sure it won’t sting or burn your skin.”

After waiting the prescribed ten minutes, he rinsed his leg. My mouth fell open as I watched clumps of coarse black hair wash off and spin down the drain.

“Perfect!” he winked. “It doesn’t hurt one bit.”

I reached over, stroked his silky-smooth leg, and cackled uncontrollably.

“Okay, Es. Now it’s your turn.”

Following his example, I coated my legs from ankles to knees with thick pink paste. During our ten waiting minutes, he said my legs were beautiful and reassured me “hair-free they’ll be even more gorgeous.” It all sounded pretty good to me.

A few months later, Al knocked on my bedroom door, clutching a human anatomy textbook. We sat on the floor as he flipped to pre-tabbed pages. In a flat and factual tone, he said he needed to inform me.

“When you hit twelve or maybe thirteen, you’re going to begin to ovulate.”

“Ovulate” sounded awfully close to salivate and mutilate. Acid dripped into the pit of my stomach. Thinking hard and fast, I suspected “ovulate” was some kind of teenage crime I might soon commit… he did say between ages 12 and 13. He was forewarning me to make sure I didn’t screw up.

“Al, I’m scared.” I ripped off a nail. “Tell me what I’m about to do that I shouldn’t.”

My brother turned to colored illustrations of womb, ovaries, eggs, and explained why and how females ovulate and menstruate. I sat stunned. Who knew a nest was growing inside me?

In this thoughtful way Al filled in for Mom, knowing she couldn’t take it on, surely not the way he’d want her to—not the way some American mothers might.

I didn’t know if my mother knew that Al was preparing me for womanhood. If so, she gave no indication, and I didn’t ask. Everything I learned about my body came from Al, until I started high school and grew bold enough to talk over such matters with my closest friend, Bernadette. She and I shared a friendship of secrets, one of which was menstruation. Every high school girl who hadn’t yet gotten her period was obsessed with it: When will it come? What does it feel like? What will it look like? And what do I do when it does show up? Should I buy sanitary napkins now, carry them in my pocket for a year or two, just in case? Or do I do nothing, just wait to be stained? Should I buy tampons? If so, don’t I need to know where they go? The girls who had gotten their periods weren’t talking. It was as if they had all joined some exclusive club. I couldn’t discuss any of this with my mother; nor could Bernie with hers. Bernie did some research and found out that we have a narrow road inside us that leads to an inner room, but neither of us knew where this road was.

One afternoon, she brought over a box of Tampax and behind shut doors unfolded the diagramed pamphlet.

“Wow,” we both sighed.

“Mom makes me feel like what I know is there just isn’t,” I told Bernie. “I may think I have a uterus, but she acts like I don’t. Only Mom determines what’s real, even if it isn’t. A total brain-blitz.”

“Es, that’s nuts.”

“But I have Al….”

Esther Amini grew up in Queens, New York in a Persian-Jewish household, the American-born daughter of parents who had fled Mashhad, Iran. In her memoir Concealed, she tells of being caught between these two worlds.

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The Lilith Blog

July 14, 2020 by

Everyone Is an Artist

Screen Shot 2020-07-03 at 4.30.29 PMIn April, Lilith Magazine’s staff found themselves discussing the intense feelings of isolation that they were experiencing during quarantine. What practices were we turning to ground ourselves? How were we connecting with friends and family when we could no longer be in the same space together? Two Lilith staff members, Rachel Fadem and Rebecca Katz, discovered a joint love of zine making that allowed them to wrestle with all the uncertainties surfacing at the beginning of the pandemic– and find time for joy. As a result, Lilith’s Jewish Feminist Quaranzines Maker Space was born.

On Tuesday, July 14 and July 28, 8-9 PM Eastern, join Lilith to explore questions at the intersection of art, justice, and Judaism through the feminist medium of zines. RSVP Here.

Zine, short for magazine or fanzine, is a self-published work motivated by the self-expression of the creator. From their creation in the 1930s to today, zines have been a radical, disruptive tool dedicated to sharing narrative, voices, and information ignored or erased by mainstream media.

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April 20, 2020 by

Writing Outside the Frame

What was it like to be a politically engaged young Jewish woman in 1930s Germany?
In her ambitious historical novel, The Girl with the Leica (Europa, $18), Italian novelist Helena Janeczek explores in fiction the life of Gerda Taro, a real-life photographer and an anti-Fascist activist who died at the age of 27 while covering the Spanish Civil War. Janeczek creates a complex portrait of Taro and her friends—a group of German and East European Jews who came of age in the years leading up to World War II.

At the center of the novel is Taro (born Greta Pohorylle) whose specter haunts the three friends and lovers narrating her life. While still a teenager Taro was arrested for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets in Leipzig. Defying convention, she had several love affairs and worked as a typist. By the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Taro had become an accomplished
photographer. Along with her partner André Friedmann, known as Robert Capa, she documented the war with an unflinching eye, supplying the world with jarring images of modern warfare.

And yet after her death Taro was remembered only as Capa’s partner, her work largely forgotten. The first exhibition of her photographs was organized in 2007, 70 years after her death. The novel opens with a captivating prologue featuring photographs of Spanish militiamen in moments of leisure. In the first two, a man and a woman smile flirtatiously at one another, a rifle propped in the man’s arm and his military cap. Capa and Taro, we are told, saw something of themselves in this couple when they photographed them.

These photographs can serve as a metaphor to Janeczek’s indirect approach to her subject. Instead of following the prologue with a more intimate portrait of Taro, the novel takes the reader to Buffalo, New York, several decades after the war. Buffalo is home to Dr. Willy Chardack, who’d been known in Gerda’s set as the Dachshund. Though Willy was briefly Gerda’s lover, his love for her was mostly unrequited. Now a respected researcher and family man, Chardack remembers Gerda as a fearless activist and a consummate “modern” woman, possessing “unreal, cinematic elegance”— but, surprisingly, not a photographer.

The next chapter, told from the perspective of Gerda’s friend Ruth Cerf, paints a fuller portrait of the protagonist. Here Gerda is still a glamorous socialite, but Ruth sees the ambition underneath that exterior. Remembering Gerda’s remark about a new job at the Photo Alliance, Ruth reflects: “[T]hat small woman who attracts every gaze, that incarnation of elegance, femininity, coquetterie, and no one would ever suspect that she reasons, feels, and acts like a man.”

Not long after, with Friedmann’s support, Gerda takes up photography in earnest. The recent invention of the first portable camera, the Leica, allows photographers to capture events as they happen. The young couple excels in this new type of photography, which is as thrilling as it is remunerative.

Shortly before the beginning of the Spanish Civil War the couple decides to change their names. Friedmann becomes Capa and Pohorylle becomes Taro. In Janeczek’s reimagining, the idea is entirely Gerda’s. It’s obvious that the names mask the couple’s Jewishness; but, thinking like a publicist, Gerda also chooses names that sound American and are reminiscent of contemporary celebrities.

In the ensuing dialogue the characters reflect on identity, but say little about the
Jewish identity that they leave behind. Despite being one generation away from
the shtetl, Gerda apparently doesn’t view Jewishness as central to her identity. Like
her comrade and lover Georg Kuritzkes, Gerda resists Fascism not, primarily,
because of its consequences for the Jews, but out of a universalist socialist ethos.
Such ideals captivate Gerda much more than her parents’ religion.

In the last chapter, which gives us Georg’s view, Gerda’s portrait coheres. Troubled by Gerda’s wartime photography, both Georg and Ruth try to imagine their friend on the battlefield. “I don’t understand what she felt. Hardly any fear, O.K. And then?” Ruth asks years later. And Georg reflects that “The war … changed Gerda, just as it changed everyone, civilians and, much more, the men at the front. And why shouldn’t a woman who went to the front almost every day resemble a soldier?” For Ruth, Gerda’s work represents political commitment and an ability to remain “ein Mensch.” Georg, on the other hand, affirms that Gerda “had become a photojournalist,” determined to document “the things that needed to be shown.”

While I wish that Janeczek had focused more on the historical aspects of Gerda’s life—her Jewish identity, her proto-feminism—this portrayal of reminds us that before the concentration camps forced a monolithic, tragic fate on millions of Jews, Europe’s Jews forged identities apart from ethnicity or religion, just as many do today.

Polina Kroik is the author of Cultural Production and the Politics of Women’s Work. She teaches at Baruch College, CUNY.

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April 20, 2020 by

Gender-Related Pay Inequity in Jewish Organizations? •

On average, women working full time in the U.S. are paid just 80% of what men in comparable positions are paid. Sadly, this gender pay gap also exists within Jewish institutions, and at similar rates. The leadership of the Reform movement has created the Reform Pay Equity Initiative to correct this injustice. You can access their information for employers and employees, including education resources, best practices, and comprehensive tools to help close the gender wage gap.

reformpayequity.org

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The Lilith Blog

August 13, 2019 by

Are There Lessons in Quiet Judaism?

Back in junior high school, the girls had to participate in an extracurricular sports team, and my friend Sheila and I played junior-varsity outfield. Sheila was slightly less awful an athlete than I was, and we shared a mutual strategy: since most of our classmates couldn’t hit the ball too far, playing outfield meant that all you had to do was stand around and pretend you were interested in the game. The Phys Ed teachers only paid attention to the athletic girls, which meant Sheila and I could stand near each other and talk about important things, like boys and that cute new social-studies teacher.

There was a small Jewish community in our suburb. In the first community my family had lived in, on the other hand, we were the only Jewish family on the block. And it was a very long block. My parents were quiet about our faith, and told me when I was still a little girl that some people didn’t like Jews and that sometimes I might hear mean comments directed to me. Both my mother and father suffered terrible anti-Semitism in their youth—my father in particular was the object of hideous physical violence that left his face scarred forever—not in Nazi Germany, but right here in America. So they did not deny being Jewish, but were quiet about it, although the mezuzah proudly hanging on our front door might have given things away to our neighbors.

Sheila was Jewish too, and we talked about it sometimes, especially about The Diary of Anne Frank, which staggered us both. We knew about the Holocaust, which took place just before we were born, and we knew that, although Judaism had to go underground at certain times—much in the way the Franks and the Van Daans and Dr. Dussel were hidden in the attic—it was a religion and a people of survival. So we smiled with pleasure when we found out that the young actress who played the Norwegian-American Dagmar Hansen in the television series “Mama” was really Robin Morgenstern, not Robin Morgan. And on the ball field one day, waiting for fly balls that never came our way, Sheila asked if I was still a Girl Scout.

“Yes, I am.”

“Do you read The American Girl?” The Girl Scouts’ monthly magazine featured articles about young women who earned merit badges by picking up neighborhood trash and knitting socks for the poor. It also featured short stories about slender, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls named Krissy and Gwen and Mary. My friends and I hated our dark, curly hair and dumpy body types and longed to look like them.

“Yes, I do.”

“Did you see it? The name?” We smiled at each other. One of the stories featured a heroine named Shayna, which we knew meant pretty girl. Shayna Punim, the name our grandmothers called us. And this Shayna was more than just a pretty girl; she was a clever girl who sneaked into a story about bland, conforming Middle America.

A few years later, being Jewish became fashionable. Girls flaunted Stars of David to let the Jewish boys know we were available. We bragged that all the best doctors and lawyers were Members of the Tribe, and although the lives of people in books by Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud and Saul Bellow bore only superficial resemblance to our own, they came to define Jewish society in America. We celebrated our leadership in arts and culture, science and medicine, moral righteousness and the quest for social justice. It was an extended moment and lasted many years, but I suspect I’m not alone in thinking that things are changing now. The newspaper columnists and talking heads on television, the young physicians who treated me during a recent hospitalization, the authors of newly-published fiction about coming of age in America are less often Jewish than they are African American, Latinx, or Asian. 

That’s as it should be in a country that is increasingly diverse and conscious of different experiences and opinions. Nevertheless, friends who are leaders in the Jewish community worry about the global rise of anti-Semitism, a turning away from Israel, and a general erosion of the centrality of the American Jewish community in the lives of many American Jews. I’m aware of this too, of course, but what gives me confidence in our people’s endurance is that, as my friend Sheila and I recognized as young girls, Jews don’t always have to make a bold fuss about who we are. Like Shayna, we come through.

After retiring from a career in public relations, Kathryn Bloom went back to school and received a PhD in literature from Northeastern University in 2018. She now teaches at several Boston-area institutions and writes critical articles and essays for a variety of publications. 

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The Lilith Blog

April 30, 2019 by

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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