The Lilith Blog

The Lilith Blog

March 3, 2021 by

Lynn Paltrow on the Prosecution of Pregnancy

Over the past 40-plus years, state and federal lawmakers have doubled down on efforts to only restrict abortion, but to scrutinize pregnancy — zeroing in on low-income women, women of color and drug-using women, allegedly to protect the “right to life of unborn babies.”

Already, 18 states have laws equating drug or alcohol use while pregnant with civil child abuse. Two states, Minnesota and South Dakota, allow civil commitment — mandatory institutionalization — when someone who is pregnant poses a danger to her embryo or fetus. At the initial hearing, the fetus is entitled to counsel but the pregnant woman is not.

National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which seeks to secure the civil and human rights of pregnant people and their families, argues that these efforts mistakenly treat both pregnancy and substance use as criminal — rather than as public health — matters. Worse, NAPW says that these tactics actually undermine rather than improve maternal and child health.

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The Lilith Blog

March 2, 2021 by

Susan Shapiro on Betrayal and Forgiveness

Susan Shapiro is the award-winning writer of over a dozen diverse books, including The Byline Bible, Barbie, and Five Men Who Broke My Heart, to name a few. She’s written so many articles it’s hard to count and on topics so wide-ranging it makes one’s head spin. Shapiro is prolific and bold — it seems there’s no topic that’s off-limits or that doesn’t pique her curiosity. She has written candidly for the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and a plethora of other publications about everything from why we should teach grad students to make a living to her struggles with addiction. In a society that’s uncomfortable with too much intimacy, and that encourages people (especially women) to keep their innermost struggles and opinions under wraps, Shapiro’s writing is a breath of fresh air. 

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The Lilith Blog

February 25, 2021 by

Keeper of the Flame

Whenever I would see Flory Jagoda, it was as if she had been waiting just for me, greeting me with her lovely smile and sparkling eyes. Often, she would say, “Here you are!” And now that she could kiss me–always on both cheeks–and hold my hand tightly, she seemed happy. I know I certainly was.

The truth is, Flory greeted pretty much everyone that same way, whether in her home or a concert hall amid hundreds of people there to see her perform. She was one of those few individuals with the remarkable ability to make each person feel truly special and important to her. 

Flory Jagoda, second from the left.
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February 23, 2021 by

Digging Deeper into Esther’s Mysteries

Some consider the Book of Esther history. Others, a fairy tale. After all, there is a virtuous and beautiful maiden and her protective (non-fairy) godparent, a king, a villain, looming danger, a heroic act and then… an improbably happy ending. Whether history or myth, Esther is more complicated than she seems. Like all biblical literature, there is meaning in the details. With its multiple reversals of fortune and the absence of any direct reference to God, Esther’s story raises numerous questions. So, it’s a thrill to read an author and teacher whose knowledge of rabbinic texts, classical sources and modern critical commentaries combine to tackle these questions. Esther: Power, Fate and Fragility in Exile by Erica Brown [Maggid Press, $29.95], does just that, while remaining accessible to readers of all levels.

Brown’s thought-provoking explorations of character, especially of the mysterious Vashti and her more successful counterpart, Esther, are well worth reading, as is her analysis of their reception throughout history. Brown details rabbis’ condemnation of Vashti’s alleged immorality and also explains how the pioneers of the women’s suffrage movement adopted her as a defender of women’s rights! 

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February 23, 2021 by

Esther in a New World

As part of his only recorded direct speech in the book of Esther, Mordechai exhorts his orphaned cousin Esther to appeal to King Ahaseurus, suggesting that Queen Esther’s raison d’etre was to rise to the occasion and deliver the Jewish people from danger. And yet, as a new anthology of essays suggests, Queen Esther has served many purposes over time — her inspiration and her legacy have been invoked and appropriated in contexts from colonial politics to the coronavirus vaccine clinical trials.

In Esther in America, edited by Rabbi Dr. Stuart W. Halpern (Maggid, $29.95), an array of scholars, rabbis and educators consider the various roles that Esther — and the scroll in which she appears — have played throughout American political and cultural history, making the case that this ancient Persian story of Jewish triumph over evil resonates with many aspects of the American experience. 

The popular and prolific Puritan minister Cotton Mather frequently cited Queen Esther as a model of independent action and fidelity to her husband in his Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion, a conduct and virtue manual. American abolitionist women, including Angelina Grimke, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Sojourner Truth, identified the plight of the Jews in Persia with the suffering of the American slaves, casting Esther first in the role of the Black slave woman, valued for her sexual capital, and then in the role of the Southern Christian white woman, charged to speak out against injustice. In both contexts, Esther emerges at once obedient and independent, abused and empowered.

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The Lilith Blog

February 23, 2021 by

Jewish Artists of Color: A Candid Conversation

Inspired in large part by a call to action put out by No Silence on Race last summer to build a more inclusive, anti-racist Jewish community in Canada, FENTSTER (Yiddish for ‘window’) gallery has focused on programming work by Black and Jewish artists — first in their street-front window gallery in downtown Toronto, exhibiting new work by photo-video artist Ella Cooper, followed by an online conversation and artist showcase that has been viewed over 500 times. Out of those initial projects, an idea was born to create a space specifically for Jewish Artists of Color to come together — a closed conversation that would be welcoming and safe, informal and intentional.

And so, FENTSTER curator Evelyn Tauben teamed up with No Silence on Race (whose founder — Sara Yacobi-Harris — is also a filmmaker, among many other things) to give shape to PRISM. Together, they assembled a diverse core team of JOC creatives from across North America — artists, performers, curators and producers from Toronto, Texas, New York and Vancouver. The PRISM core team includes Rabbinical student/theatre artist Kendell Pinkney, Carmel Tanaka – founder of one of Canada’s only Jewish queer trans organizations, JQT Vancouver, writer / cultural producer Devyani Saltzman, dancer/community organizer Adam McKinney and No Silence on Race’s Yacobi-Harris. Over the last months, this group has been dreaming up a context to allow fellow JOC artists and arts professionals to be able to come together with the hopes of building connections, artistic collaborations and community. Despite the limitations of the pandemic, the move to online gatherings presents possibly the best moment yet to begin to seed a new Jewish creative network.

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February 19, 2021 by

An Open Letter from Vashti to Her Successor

Dear New Queen, 

If you are reading this, I am long gone. I left the palace behind. I may have even left Shushan. I’m not sure where I will be when you receive this letter, but I’m far away from the king, his ministers, and a life that was never mine. Wherever I am, my story is now my own. I am free.

My name is Vashti. The king sent me away because I refused to dance at his party. As a child, I loved dancing. I spun barefoot circles with my mother and her sisters. My palace was in her arms, her stories were in my ears, and her song was my heartbeat. When I think of dancing, I think of my mother, even though she is long gone too.  

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February 19, 2021 by

Where Are the Jews?

On Friday, February 12–the Lunar New Year, Rosh Chodesh Adar, and Shabbat–the first episode of LUNAR: the Jewish-Asian Film Project premiered, a video series highlighting Asian American Jews. As a mixed heritage Chinese-American and Ashkenazi Jew, I was proud to have been featured.

But the sweetness of the New Year was also met with anger and fear. Like many Asian American/Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the country, I was horrified to hear about the attacks against Chinese and Vietnamese elders leading up to the New Year. And I was deeply disappointed at mainstream media amplifying these violent events to pit the Black and Asian communities against each other and justify the need for police. 

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February 11, 2021 by

When Jewish Space Laser Jokes Help the Enemy

Last week, as I was scrolling through Facebook, I noticed all the chatter and jokes about a “Jewish space laser.” It was clear to me that people were responding to a headline. Initially I assumed based on context clues that it was some sort of joke coming from a Jewish leader, or perhaps out-of-context banter about an Israeli space program.

No one’s post directly identified a source, so I went searching to find out for myself. I was a bit surprised and disappointed to learn that it wasn’t “one of our own.” Rather, this absurd antisemitic conspiracy theory was from a November 2018 Facebook post written by Marjorie Taylor Greene, a recently-elected congresswoman and QAnon enthusiast, in which she speculated Rothschild-owned space lasers were the cause of the California wildfires. 

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February 10, 2021 by

A Reproductive Shabbat

On a Saturday afternoon many months ago, I leaned across the center console of my car and pushed open my passenger side door to welcome in a stranger. I only knew her first name and cell phone number, and that she was having an abortion later in pregnancy. 

This was my Shabbat, bringing her back and forth between one of the five clinics that would perform the procedure she needed and the modest hotel a mile away. 

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