Tag : activism

The Lilith Blog

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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July 27, 2020 by

Beyond Instagram Activism

“Performative wokeness.” You know, the kind of “activism” white people do while scrolling Instagram late at night from bed. A bed we sleep in without a shred of fear that cops will bust through our front door and massacre us. “I stand with #.” Is to post to stand? If to post is not to stand, who “should” post? And when? And what? And if I don’t post, have I revealed myself to be someone who is on the sidelines? The discomfort here is good.

White people’s comfort is literally why we’re here. Millions and millions and millions of black and brown bodies and spirits have been sacrificed, are still daily sacrificed, “in service” of our comfort. It is one of the central premises of this country’s founding. As such, we must work steadfastly to de-prioritize white comfort. This is key to white people’s anti-racism work.

As for the question: but do we post? If a post feels hollow to you, it probably is. If it feels like it isn’t enough, that’s because it isn’t. Go ahead and post—and be ready to welcome the self and external criticism of your “performance.” Be prepared to listen, to learn, and to do much, much deeper and larger work than posting.

MEG SULLIVAN, from “Going Beyond Instagram Activism,” The Lilith Blog.

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July 27, 2020 by

Now. Next.

A cross-section of activists and thinkers weigh in on the present and its future— what perils we face, and what we might build from this epidemiological, social and political crisis.

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The Lilith Blog

July 13, 2020 by

How To Save a Life in the Next 72 Hours

Just a week ago, as we celebrated the July 4th holiday weekend, the American festival of freedom, one thing I did stood out from the rest. The true celebration of freedom for me was when I sent my comments to the Federal government opposing the new regulations being proposed regarding those seeking asylum. This new proposal, which will become law by executive order if it is not stopped, basically strips asylum seekers of the few rights they have. Judges will be able to dismiss cases without hearings. The definition of ‘persecution’ would be changed, so that fleeing threats of violence or even death may not be sufficient.

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April 20, 2020 by

Raising Feminist Boys


Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash.

Now that I am the mother of two sons, I find myself remembering the sexism of a male friend during my teen years. When called out on his behavior, he loved to grin and blame it on his mother. Her career, you see, was explicitly feminist. Feminist mom begets sexist son went the joke. A classic tale. Hilarious!

I have begun my motherhood journey in a world that feels blanketed by male aggression.  Meanwhile, I watch my older son, age 4, begin to discover gender: he says “ladies” instead of “women,” which is extremely cute—for now. Coping with a new little brother in his life, his frustration can manifest as hitting, kicking, testing limits. I feel the weight of this moment: I know as a good, overeducated feminist that this is the age when boys’ emotional worlds begin to shrink and toughness becomes normalized. Each learning opportunity feels precarious. And yet ever since I heard the words “little man!” unexpectedly fly out of my own mouth three years ago, I have understood how difficult it is for all of us to un-learn masculinity. I swing through worry, resolve, and perverse hope. Maybe his stubbornness, so typical and so maddening, will save him as the world pressures my children into being sexist. Better to encourage them to resist social forces, right? Right

“None of us think our sons will be the one who says something really vile in the locker room, but most will stay silent,” says Peggy Orenstein, author of the new book Boys and Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity (HarperCollins, $29), said in an interview with Lilith. “How do we break the silence? It takes a lot of work by adults.” Orenstein, the Cinderella Ate My Daughter author who has long been considered a cultural expert on the obstacles facing young and teenage girls, has at last turned her lens on boys—something her readers had clamored for.

In Boys and Sex, interviews with over a hundred college-age young men from all walks of life reveal a mix of progress and stagnation, consciousness paired with regression. “Nearly every guy I interviewed held relatively egalitarian views about girls…. They all had female friends; most had gay male friends as well,” Orenstein wrote. “Yet when asked to describe the attributes of ‘the ideal guy’, those same boys appeared to be harking back to 1955. Dominance. Aggression… Sexual prowess. Stoicism. Athleticism. Wealth.” Needless to say, these are the views that in their mildest form lead to everyday sexism and, in their strongest, lead to violence. 

Orenstein told Lilith that this mirrors the problems she has found with girls, who are now urged to be “empowered” and run the world, while at the same time they face unaltered social whispers about body image, pleasing men, being subservient and silencing themselves. Even as feminism and LGBTQ+ awareness have put phrases like “toxic masculinity” into the mainstream, toxic masculinity persists. 

Yet there is a silver lining, Orenstein said. Despite feeling emotionally curtailed, her subjects were eager to open up: “I worried they weren’t wrestling with this stuff— that was wrong,” she discovered. “Their interior lives are guarded. But they’re there.” Young men and boys need adults to help erode the limits patriarchy puts on them, just as we tackle the limits placed on young women. So where to begin? 

After speaking at length to Orenstein, to several Jewish educators, and to many of my fellow parents, I came away with a few general principles for raising the next generation—with less patriarchy this time. They feel useful for parents, grandparents, relatives, teachers, and anyone who wants to see a world with more equity, kindness and caring. Will these ideas work without broad social and legal change? Maybe not. But here’s a start. 


This is the most common way that parents of young children are now trying to break the mold—discussed almost daily in parenting groups on Facebook. “From a very early time in my older son’s life we asked him if it was okay to hug him,” says Chicago mom of two boys Katie Colt, who had been a writing fellow at the parenting blog Kveller. “We felt like that was the best way to offer him autonomy over his own body and affections. We don’t force him to give hugs to us, and when he says no, we respect it. We frequently remind him to ask friends if they’d like a hug, along with reminders to him that not everyone always wants one, and that’s okay.” 

“This may seem like a small thing, but I hope we are teaching him that he is in charge of his body, and so is everyone else of theirs,” she says. 

This practice gets difficult when, say, your kid is covered with peanut butter and refuses to take a bath, or won’t wash his hands after sneezing. A constant renegotiation is required. But the learning opportunities are always there. “Interactions between siblings offer constant opportunities to discuss and model consent, but doing it in a way that’s not shaming is not easy, especially if you are having an emotional reaction,” says Rabbi Tamara Cohen VP and Chief of Program Strategy at Moving Traditions, which is pioneering teen support groups for boys, girls, and trans and gender-noncomforming teens, “give them the tools to know and express what they want on the one hand, while not using physical power to make other people do things.” 


Whenever possible, opening the narrow box of masculinity means showing kids when and how the gender binary can be broken down. This includes wholeheartedly rejecting a pink-and-blue world: making lots of space for trans, nonbinary and gender-noncomfoming people in your discussions, and being accepting of those around you who don’t fit into neat boxes. Right now, shifting ideas about gender give us all plenty of opportunities to expose kids to a spectrum—whether it’s someone’s pronouns, a sign on a bathroom door that says All-Gender, families with different configurations, or even a local Drag Queen Story Hour. For some kids, “boy” might not even be the right word going forward: and more and more parents are adjusting in a variety of ways. 

“When other adults talk about our child liking ‘boy’ stuff, we say things like: ‘I’m not sure he knows whether or not he’s a boy yet,’” says Rosalie Roberts, a parent of a toddler in a queer/multi-racial family. Pushing back on “boy” also means treating feminine-coded play as natural for all kids: bring forth the baby dolls. “With regard to fashion and toys, many people who aim for gender-neutral for some reason gravitate toward androgynous clothing, and we think including femme clothing and toys in the mix is also important,” she says. Parents describe painting their young boys’ nails, encouraging their Frozen obsessions and pushing back on relatives’ criticism of these choices. 

Julie Sissman, a Manhattan-based consultant who facilitates gender awareness workshops for educators, recalls what happened after she spoke up about gender roles in her kids’ class. One male teacher picked a pink cup to be “his” for the year, because he was newly mindful of stereotypes. “A boy immediately said ‘you can’t have that cup, that’s for girls’,” Sissman recalls. “It opened up a beautiful conversation about whether things really can be for boys or for girls.” 

Creating a non-binary world opens up a huge opportunity that Orenstein sees as crucial for building better boys: mixed-gender play. Verbal encouragement when preschoolers of different genders play together can keep friendships going for longer, she says, which has a lifelong effect. This held true for me growing up. My twin brother and I were given plenty of outrageously gendered toys, but our life as smooshed-together siblings meant that we constantly used each other’s toys, and shared friends as well. From dolls to baseball gloves, my parents often had to get two of everything— and as grown-ups, my brother and I feel lucky we lived in this double world. 


Tamara Cohen, a parent of two boys herself, has realized that talking about consent and healthy sexuality is a years-long conversation, and navigating the omnipresent media world—in which kids are “fluent”—is a key part of the task from the very beginning. 

“Kids are going to be brainwashed by the culture. You’ve got to get in there and brainwash them first,” jokes Orenstein. All kids should have the same conversations about images of women that we might have with girls: if a princess movie strikes you as sexist, or the proportions of a female doll are physically impossible, why discuss this only with your daughters? We can discuss it with any kids who are nearby. Some parents go above and beyond: “I routinely change the pronouns in children’s books I read to my son,” writer Ester Bloom told me. “Why on earth do all crayons except the pink crayon need to be male, anyway?” One of the most common practices parents described to me is seeking out female protagonists for their boys to relate to. “We choose books that don’t have flagrant gender stereotypes and books such as Feminism Is for Boys and Julián is a Mermaid,” says Rosalie Roberts. 

With older kids and trickier subjects, Orenstein suggests using media to open up many of the conversations around sex and healthy relationships that feel difficult. It’s a way in, whether it’s leaving an article or book lying around or (separately, perhaps) watching a particularly forward-thinking show like Netflix’s “Sex Education,” about teens and sexuality, or “Big Mouth,” about puberty. 


Whether it’s the scars of sexism in our own lives or received ideas about masculinity and femininity, our own feelings influence how we raise the next generation. That’s why, despite our best intentions, many heterosexual couples fall into gendered patterns around work and caregiving. Darcy Lockman’s 2019 book, All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership, is one of quite a few recent books to explore this phenomenon. “The couples who navigate workload equality the best, I’ve found, don’t just understand that our culture’s biases—and frankly, its baked-in sexism—result in most of the family management defaulting to the mother, but also decide as a couple that they do not want that to happen,” she has written. 

So, sharing the load of caregiving and pointing out to kids when we do things that defy stereotypes isn’t good only for our marriages; turns out, it’s also good parenting. For women-identified caregivers tell your kid what you like about your job, volunteer work, or hobby. One of Lilith’s perennially popular articles, by Tamar Fox, describes her mother’s approach to “low-touch parenting,” a life oriented around her own singular passion for art that encouraged her daughters to follow suit. “Mothers, let us imagine a few hours a week when we can orient ourselves around the things we care about most that do not require diaper changes or lunch boxes,” Fox wrote. 

For male caregivers, raising feminist sons means showing how soft and loving maleness can be: not only doing caring tasks, but pointing it out to kids so they see. “I model egalitarian behavior,” says writer Gordon Haber. “I make sure my kid sees me cooking, cleaning, negotiating equitable childcare.” Men are making plans even before their kids are born. Joshua Stanton, a rabbi awaiting the arrival of his first child, wrote a blog post for Lilith last year about his plans to take significant time to care for his baby to start the parenting cycle on more even ground. “All of us can do more to change gender norms, especially around parenting—especially men,” he wrote. 


Getting men involved, to Orenstein, is crucial for “breaking a cycle.” She says that the young men she interviewed directly spoke of limits imposed on them by male figures in their lives, specifically fathers. It wasn’t that these men were violent or angry or demeaning, but rather that they left to women the emotional connection with their sons. 

“Adult men have to be engaged in this work, whether it’s a father, uncle or friend,” says Orenstein. “It’s so important that adult men remain connected in an accessible, intimate way. What the young men I spoke to said often was, ‘My dad’s not sexist or homophobic, but I learned not to have these conversations with him.’” She said, “Men need to talk with the boys in their lives about what emotional accessibility means, what vulnerability means, what true courage means.” 

My fellow parents and I are trying hard to use words like “sad” instead of “mad” with our sons. “I never tell my son to stop crying if he’s upset. Sometimes I want to!” says my friend Emily Dreyfuss. “But I know men are so socialized from birth to not express their emotions. I work really hard to always try to say I hear you and I’m sorry you’re upset, rather than say calm down or any of those things that would silence him.” 


Julie Sissman was so passionate about gender roles at her daughters’ schools that she developed a workshop for teachers and camp staff, and has created a sample email that she encourages parents to send to schools and camps (see sidebar). In her workshops, she leads authority figures to reconsider their own biases and the ways they pass them on. Anyone teaching Jewish texts, or praying using traditional liturgy, or reading the Torah, encounters patriarchy, gendered God language, many more men named/talked about than women, very old-fashioned (understatement) rabbinic understandings of women’s bodies and gender norms, Sissman notes. “All of that is ‘in the air,’ and if schools aren’t naming it and asking critical questions about it, then it’s a real problem.” Ultimately, this is no different from other kinds of changes schools can adopt. Another example of micro-activism: “At my kids preschool, I asked the teachers: Why are all the dress-up clothes either princess or firefighter or cop?” she recalls. “The next year they got rid of all their play clothing and they put in big pieces of fabric and told the kids to create characters with these fabrics’.” 

Getting into the habit of being an active parent at school will help when the big question emerges later on: sex education. Most schools fail miserably at this, and one of the major points Orenstein makes is that by abandoning sex-ed we are letting porn and sexist media educate our kids. Because sex makes us all squeamish, the fight for sex-ed is waged with much less fervor by parents like me than by conservatives who fight against it, leaving a vacuum. 

Besides raising our own awareness and trying to change this national disgrace, we can change norms in our communities. Orenstein points to the Unitarian church as an example of a faith-based group that has its own sex-ed curriculum starting young, and notes that Jewish schools and camps should be doing the same. “We can make a profound difference,’ she says of Jewish groups. “We have this youth group culture—my whole life was youth group, religious school and camps. That can be leveraged.” 

Some Jewish groups are doing a good job with this. At Moving Traditions, the teen groups for boys build up slowly to a discussion of masculinity and consent, with the goal, says Rabbi Tamara Cohen, of sending their graduates off to college to be active allies. “The goal is building a place, a space, a trusting, safe space where boys can really grapple with these ideas together,” she says. 

Beyond our own communities, broader activism, whether it’s marching for abortion rights or a living wage, or writing letters to elected officials, is a way to model engagement while also building a better world for our kids. 


“We don’t use boy/girl/man/woman and instead say kid, person, child. We have friends who are choosing to refer to their children using singular/they pronouns, and we are thinking about switching to that now that we’ve seen how relentlessly people gender children, even those in utero.” says Roberts. “Our child has long hair and is often referred to as ‘she’, and we don’t have a habit of correcting people because we want to model that there’s nothing wrong with being a ‘she’.” 

In religious contexts, language matters too. “We have been using feminine God-language in our Shabbat practice,” says Cohen. “In a values and spiritual and religious level, ask what are the words we use, and why? And what are your assumptions about God and your assumptions about power?” Sissman agrees that bar and bat mitzvah prep are another chance to be “gender-critical” with kids using the same lens you might use to dissect themes in a TV show, for instance. 

These kinds of lessons have an effect. “I remember when my son was seven and would be putting on plays for his cousins and would say ‘Ladies and gentlemen and people of all genders’” Cohen said. 

All these principles connect with each other: to change our language, we have to revisit our own gender assumptions, reject a gender binary, and have vulnerable conversations. “I have the opportunity to talk to men who are coming to lead our groups, and it’s clear they’re in a process themselves,” says Cohen. “They are grappling with messages they received as children.” 

And voicing unpopular opinions or using different language teaches our kids that resisting peer pressure or popular conceptions is okay, which will serve them well in the environments of intense masculine pressure that Orenstein describes. 

We cannot turn the world upside down overnight; as parents in a society that is particularly cruel to families, we are often barely staying afloat in our daily lives. But Orenstein’s book reminds us that masculinity is a box that limits those within it, every day. We can’t entirely free ourselves, and our children, from the box, but we can begin to pry it open. 

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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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January 16, 2020 by

Making America Smart Again

I LIVE PART-TIME IN RURAL MICHIGAN. While helping me pull weeds in the summer before the 2016 presidential election, a friend of mine, a non-college- educated white woman, told me that the increase in her health insurance premium under the Affordable Care Act would make her more likely to vote for the Republican candidate. (This was before Donald Trump was nominated. I have not asked her how she voted.) Her health insurance premium had been significantly less under the old system when she could purchase an individual plan with a high but manageable deductible. According to her, no similar plan was offered in Michigan after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

There was no mistaking her sense of hurt. She talked about how much she was suffering, even though she worked hard and was a responsible employer and employee. She shared how unfair she thought it was that, even with these qualities, she was still suffering.

Several months later, I talked with my friend’s aunt, also not college-educated, about the job situation in our area of rural Michigan. “There are no jobs here,” she told me, as we discussed the fact that there once were many more in manufacturing, for instance at nearby Whirlpool, which has moved much of its manufacturing abroad.

These two smart women identified two policy arenas of life-saving importance to every woman: health care and jobs. I don’t know how they voted in 2016, but I do know this: they want the same economic security that I, a college-educated woman, do.

No woman needs a formal education to understand the advantages of being a self-interested voter, but every woman deserves as compelling a case as possible for her consideration.

In the Chicago Tribune, Renee Elliott, who lost her job at the Indianapolis Carrier factory that Donald Trump promised to save, wrote:

Last month, despite Trump’s promise, Carrier laid off another 215 employees and shifted their work to Mexico. I lost my job. As a result, I’m losing my health insurance, my retirement benefits and quite possibly my home…. I feel betrayed, angry and forgotten— and I’m not alone…. Even though working people like me helped put Trump in the White House, the truth is that he’s done nothing to keep his promises to save American jobs.

The action I propose here is to make America think again, which starts with finding ways to educate voters about why it is important to vote in their self-interest.

The remedy here is educating every voter about the importance to her own life of supporting candidates who propose economic policies that advance economic security for every woman, even when other policy proposals may be distasteful.

Rebecca Sive, who has taught politics at the University of Chicago and founded one of the nation’s first women’s centers, is an advocate for women’s political power and public leadership.

From Vote Her In by Rebecca Sive, copyright 2020, Midway Press.

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November 5, 2019 by

When Life Imitates Your Own Art

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Picture this: you get an email inviting you to be on a panel at a university symposium about Jewish feminism. It challenges you to reflect back on the last 50 years and look to the future. It will be held at the university you graduated from, and you’re invited to speak about the early women’s movement at that university.

In fact, I was that invitee, and I was delighted. Some of the other invited speakers are feminist activists I know and love; others are women I’ve heard about, read, and admired from afar.

I was also worried. Most of the other invited speakers are more “Jewish” than I am, more observant and more attentive to religion and spirituality. Most of the other speakers are professors and I’ve never been an academic. I’m a novelist. But I was deeply involved in the early days of the second wave of feminism in Ann Arbor in 1968 through 1971. I have pondered those days a lot, and I do have some thoughts to share.

I accepted the invitation. The more I learned about the content of the symposium, the more excited I became. Not only because the content was so interesting, and maybe I can go home again, but also because it somehow feels very familiar, almost a déjà vu.

And then it hit me. I wrote this scenario. As fiction. It’s part of my next novel, under contract with my publisher and scheduled for publication in just a few months.

Of course, it’s not exactly the same thing. In the novel there are two sisters, Jewish activists who graduated this same university. At an anti-war demonstration in—yes, 1968—the sisters try to stop mounted police from beating protestors, and they cause serious harm to a police officer. One sister has a baby and will do anything to stay out of prison. The other sister wants a political trial. Profound family and political conflict ensue. And many years later, one of the sisters is invited back to that same university to speak at a conference on the antiwar and feminist activism of the late 1960’s.

To write that section of the novel, I had once before returned to Ann Arbor, to do research. I had wandered back and forth across the University of Michigan’s core, that quadrangle crisscrossed by “The Diag,” had noticed the changes worn by the decades, changes Rosa noted in the novel:

Rosa untangled the misshapen scarf Emma had knit her for Chanukah the year she was released from prison, and wound it twice around her neck. She walked across the Diag toward the Engineering Arch. It could be a mistake, returning to the university, but she was intensely curious to see Ann Arbor again. Allen had urged her to accept the conference invitation, saying you didn’t often get a chance to return as a hero to a place you left in the back of a police van. The campus looked so different now, ringed by chain bookstores and yuppie coffeehouses. The expansive windows of the Fishbowl were bricked up. The Diag looked small.

My real-life experience returning to the university for this conference, in the spring of 2019, was both similar and different from Rosa’s fictional one. Rosa returned alone to the university; her family and friends were long gone and her bridge burned. In contrast, my participation in the symposium was a delight of connections, both old and new. The reality of “Jewish Feminisms, American Visions: Perspectives from 50 Years of Activism,” turned out to be even more exciting than the anticipation. Panels ranged from mine on the early days of the women’s liberation movement in this university city, to #Metoo in the Jewish community, to Jewish lesbians and Jews of color, to perspectives on Israel today. The presenters and the ensuing discussions were inclusive and thoughtful, mind-stretching and hopeful. There were many differences among symposium participants, differences in age, generation, gender and sexual identification, race and ethnicity, spiritual practice and political positions. But I felt almost no friction or fractures based on those differences. Yet I worried that my story, my experience, was too different from those of the other speakers.

I spent hours writing my short talk, trying to condense three intense years into five minutes. Like Rosa, Ann Arbor had been my place of political coming-of-age, as I became involved in Students for a Democratic Society, the women’s movement, reproductive rights, the 1970 Black Action Movement strike, and other anti-racism work. But it was more than that, I told the symposium audience. I moved to Ann Arbor to live with my boyfriend, Robby Meeropol.

My first night in town, lying on his mattress in the communal house where he lived with other SDS members, Robby told me his secret, speaking the words he had never spoken aloud before.

He told me that he was the younger son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

Learning about the Rosenberg case over the five decades since that night, as archival material has become available, has profoundly affected my identity as an activist and a Jew. The rulers murdered Robby’s parents, just as other rulers had exterminated our extended families in Europe. And they could come for us.

I was shaking when I sat down. Shaking too as I understood that for me, as for the fictional Rosa, the years-ago events in Ann Arbor had been life-changing. Revisiting the landscape where they took place, especially in the company of my new sisterhood of Jewish feminists, moved me in profound ways.

Writers often mine our own histories to enrich our fiction. It’s not often that we dig into our own novels and the narratives of our made-up characters to excavate a deeper reflection of a real-life experience. For me, on that campus, it happened.

Ellen Meeropol’s fourth novel, Her Sister’s Tattoo, will be published in 2020 by Red Hen Press. Her previous novels are Kinship of Clover, On Hurricane Island, and House Arrest, and her dramatic program telling the story of the Rosenberg Fund for Children was produced in New York in 2013 featuring Eve Ensler, Angela Davis and Cotter Smith.

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July 15, 2019 by

Belladonna Founder Rachel Levitsky on Poetry, Politics, and What Comes Next

Rachel Levitsky calls herself a “lesbian, commie, poet, and polemicist who makes things.” And she does: Levitsky has written three full-length books and nine chapbooks herself, teaches undergraduates, and is the founder of the Belladonna Collaborative, a 20-year-old feminist avant-garde literary salon and publisher of experimental, multi-gendered, and linguistically bold titles.

Among Belladonna’s releases are award-winning texts from writers including LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs (Whiting Award) and Beth Murray, whose posthumous book of poems, Cancer Angel, won the 2016 California Book Award. Levitsky sat down with Eleanor J. Bader in Belladonna’s office.

Eleanor J. Bader: Have you always been a poet?

Rachel Levitsky: When I was a child my dad told me not to be a poet. Writing poetry was not an occupation in the Levitsky consciousness. I did not come out as a poet until 1994.

LevitskyEJB: Do you know why your father had this attitude?

RL: My parents seemed to value invisibility. My mother had been born in Germany and came to the US as a toddler in December 1939. Her uncle survived Auschwitz, but no one in my family was willing to talk about any of this and I always wanted to know more.

EJB: Is this why you became interested in history?

RL: Maybe. I was a history major as an undergraduate at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Albany and got a Master’s in American Social History. My focus was labor. My thesis looked at the way the cigar industry in Binghamton, NY became segregated by gender.

EJB: But you chose to pursue activism.

RL: I wasn’t interested in pursuing further academic study in History. I plunged into activism in New York City, joining ACT-UP and WHAM!—Women’s Health Action and Mobilization.

My job at the time was with the Home Program of the Bond Street Homeless Center run by Catholic Charities. Every night, five of us would load into a van and drive around Brooklyn trying to convince mentally-ill, chemically-addicted people to come to the Center’s drop-in program.

I did this work in 1991 and 1992, until I got a job teaching adult basic education classes for the Consortium of Worker Education (CWE), an educational organization that serves union members. In 1993-94 I taught English in Mexico. When I came back to the US, I returned to the CWE and eventually got a full-time job running an English as a Second Language program at the Painters and Finishers Apprenticeship program in Long Island City.

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July 9, 2019 by

“Can I Borrow Your Wheelchair?”

“A culminating moment for me was when one of the resident advisors in my dorm—an able-bodied woman—asked if she could borrow my wheelchair for a simulation during Disability Awareness Week. Of course, I said no. I was so frustrated that the university saw disability as a problem to be fixed. I was also the first student who used a wheelchair to be enrolled in the Honors College. The building had a ramp, but not automatic doors, and there was no easy way for me to get to the lounge or computer areas. Some of the professors held events in their homes and I was never able to go. I felt as though I was always throwing a wrench into their erudite plans. I was not mistreated, but they were unprepared for a physically disabled student. It was a complete lack of recognition that dealing with disabilities involves complex and nuanced solutions.”

Disability rights activist Emily Ladau on “How to Make Feminism Include Everyone,” an interview with ELEANOR J. BADER, The Lilith Blog, March 2019.

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