Tag : from the editor

October 23, 2020 by

Can Good Things Possibly Emerge from 2020?

In real life, I’m not a Pollyanna personality. My eye goes to what needs to be fixed rather than seeing first what’s already shiny and bright. A misplaced modifier or coffee mug calls me quickly into critique mode.

But these past eight months, soon rounding into a year, have not felt like real life. And so, out of character, I find myself meta-phorically squinting to discern what few good things seem to be emerging from behind the dark clouds of this pandemic, with its grim losses and its miseries.

A few potentially positive developments are surfacing from our generally unwelcome experiences, and I note them while also recognizing my privileged perspective as a woman with health insurance, an adequate pantry, and fairly reliable internet with which to do my work and connect, gratefully, with family and friends.

The first change that struck me was that The New York Times, that daily arbiter of our reality, is reviewing unprecedented numbers of books and art by people of color, especially women of color. Perhaps the impetus is to right a wrong, correct an oversight. With so little to review in the performing arts––no live concerts, no Broadway––there’s room to open the arts coverage lens wider than usual.

Of course there’s more. Horrific hunger is becoming more widespread, even in lands of plenty. And everywhere, an acknowledgement of scarcity—both of funds and of access––from fridge- foraging posts on social media to shortages of canned goods. One consequence is that during the pandemic the upscale restaurants likely to have warranted publicity are now off-limits, and even the august New Yorker magazine has had to pivot its spotlight from indoor fancy dining to small-scale take-out joints, frozen foods you can make at home and local places feeding their neighbors that might have escaped notice in a more conventional time.

These may seem like small shifts relative to the vast problem of global hunger, but they suggest that a certain democratization is at work. Perhaps this small seed will grow into greater awareness of what’s really important, with empathy shaping food policy.

Another unintended, unexpected outcome from the pandemic’s necessities is less quantifiable, but this one holds lessons too: we have been forced to reimagine not only our mourning rituals (Zoom shivas, recorded funerals and eulogies) but also our simchas, those celebrations of life’s happy landmarks. People are finding ways to seize joy by all available handholds. The bat and bar mitzvah ceremony for a family’s twins, originally planned as a multi-generational tour of Israel, instead evolved as a masked outdoor service, the 13-year-olds prepared by their grandfather, in a service led by a great-uncle, with the few close relatives,

socially distanced, smiling together in a sunny backyard. The direct
involvement of the older generations, this family reports, brought
an unexpected resonance that would have been missing in a more standard-issue event. Or the decision made by an engaged couple to advance their elaborate wedding, scheduled a year from now, replacing it with a small outdoor chuppah ceremony this fall. Judging from the jubilant photos, no one’s happiness was diminished (except perhaps the caterer’s). The bride and groom could share their joy in the present rather than waiting a year through who-knows-what-uncertainties of health and fortune.

Look, these are not universally cheering panaceas, or anodynes for painful, significant losses—of loved ones, of jobs, of the chance to be with people we care about. But these glimmers of good news are reminders that we have points of connection available to us still, and that simplicity, born of necessity, brings its own pleasures and poignancy. They also remind us of the enduring ability to adapt to adversity.

For me, the enforced isolations bring both gain and pain. As an editor working remotely, with concentrated time to write and to process a complete, uninterrupted thought? A plus, mostly. But having to communicate via email or text when I’m accustomed

What good things can possibly emerge from our present circumstances?
to the pace of immediate, lively conversations in person? With people I’m accustomed to seeing in real life in Lilith’s office? Not very satisfying.

In a singular way, though, the pandemic has provided gradual easing into an anticipated change that would have been far more unsettling were it to have happened in Before Times: Naomi Danis, Lilith’s longtime managing editor, plans to retire at the end of 2020 to write more of her wonderful, perceptive children’s books. The pandemic’s work-from-home routine has become an accidental dress rehearsal for the separation when, after 30 years, Naomi will no longer appear under “staff ” on the masthead, although we look forward to keeping her close as a contributing editor. In addition to her tireless and creative work ensuring that Lilith’s humans and systems work smoothly, Naomi has modeled how to ask hard questions and how to smooth ruffled feathers. Rabbi Susan Schnur, Lilith former senior editor, once wrote that the women at Lilith operate “like teabags in a single pot,” steeped in one another’s quotidian lives. But beyond that steeping is Naomi’s own particular skill in honoring differing opinions while holding steady to the course of her own moral, Jewish, feminist, writerly compass.

I’m spurred to paraphrase Arlene Agus: May our dreams become our blessings in the year ahead.

Susan Weidman Schneider Editor in Chief susanws@lilith.org

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

April 2, 2019 by

Are You Prepared to Listen?

Are you prepared to listen?

This issue of Lilith has revelations aplenty, some from unexpected sources, as we discovered while the magazine was in its editing stages. I’m asked about once a week—and more often than that when we’re in the process of interviewing prospective interns—how we decide what to publish, and whether there’s a theme for the issue in process. Truth is, we rarely start with one overarching idea for an issue’s content, but sometimes the zeitgeist or the current preoccupations of Jewish feminists will jump out at us as we shape the magazine. That’s what happened this time as we were led to our cover line: Unfaithful.

Listening to the writers in this issue, I’ve learned many things; your takeaways may differ. When I listened to women proposing questions for any next big survey of North American Jews, I learned what (and, importantly, who) those previous agenda-shaping demographic studies missed about how people actually live out our diverse Jewish identities. When I read the three short stories here, I became privy to lurking dissatisfactions in marriage. Although no subject was suggested to writers when Lilith announced its annual fiction contest, this year the winning works are all, coincidentally, driven by challenges to these intimate relationships. One of them, to my surprise, hints that mother-daughter closeness might be a driver.

Listening to an Other who is a stranger is part of the hard work going on at the School for Peace created by Nava Sonnenschein, as Israeli Jews and Arabs try to dissolve calcified suspicions and really hear what’s being spoken about violence, women’s issues and the obstacles to overcoming ingrained hostility.

And then there are foremothers. While I didn’t always listen attentively enough to my own mother’s life experiences, I found Alice Shalvi’s multivalent activism and Matilda Robbins’s unflinching toughness—both featured in this issue—to be exemplars of brave resiliency. Both are worth knowing better. Here’s to many more opportunities for listening, attentively, to strong women.

A change in this issue.

You may already have noticed something new on the facing page. Lilith, as a nonprofit organization, depends for its strength and survival on the generosity of donors like you. And we’re changing the ways we recognize our indispensable donors. Not only are there new (and more Lilith-like) names for our the donation categories, but we’ve also added a dollar range with these donation levels.

Why? Because philanthropy is changing. According to the Women’s Funding Network, the future of philanthropy is female. Almost three out of four donors worldwide are women. Of the impending $41 trillion wealth transfer between generations, 70% will be inherited by women. And women give away almost twice as much of their wealth away as men do.

At the same time, for many women, our philanthropy has been in the shadows. One of Lilith’s longtime fans articulated a valuable response when I asked her opinion about listing levels of support on our donor page: “My support for Lilith is not at the level of a bake sale. It takes real money for this very real magazine to do the work it does. And I’m realizing how proud I am of helping make this happen.”

Lilith is thankful to all the women and the men who make our work possible at every level of support and we proudly list our partners. There is gratitude all around—for the donors and readers, writers, artists and staffers alike who make Lilith happen. To all, we say… Thank you!

Susan Weidman Schneider

Editor in Chief

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

January 20, 2015 by

From the Editor

This has been an extraordinary season of news on every front, including (but not limited to) several stories that have had particular resonance for women and for media. Among them: Rolling Stone magazine’s much-discussed coverage of campus rape, followed by an ugly round of victim-bashing after parts of the story were challenged; the resignation of almost the entire staff of the 100-year-old New Republic magazine and the subsequent round of discussions on how a venerable print brand can keep its balance in the roiling mix of digital media sources, and the fact that for many people social media feeds have become the most consistent news feeds.

The impact of stories like these loom large for Lilith readers, and some are unprecedented in content and scale. Our national conversation about race, the Barry Freundel mikveh scandal, and the rise of women politicians in Israel and the U.S. as preface to the next round of elections are just three of them. All are subjects Lilith has covered, in print and on the Lilith blog — and we will continue to write about them with this magazine’s characteristic nuance.

Lilith magazine launched in 1976 with two founding missions: to use the power of independent media to gain greater access for women (and greater value for women’s concerns) in the Jewish world, and to speak with a Jewish voice on urgent women’s issues. I think Lilith’s tagline says a lot about our approach. “Independent, Jewish and frankly feminist,” Lilith charts Jewish women’s lives with exuberance, rigor, affection, subversion and style.

Yet at the same time as mega-stories are breaking, and are being bruited in the office, online, and in Lilith salons, there are smaller-scale, more deeply personal narratives that lurk beneath the surface, stories that are huge in the lives of the women they affect but don’t always make it into the headlines. These, too, are Lilith’s beat: the regrets of some people who have never had children; the strong feelings of those who take justifiable umbrage at the assumption that every woman wants to be a mother; and the challenges faced by same-sex female couples looking for a sperm donor. In this issue, for example, Ilana Kramer probes the experiences of gay and lesbian couples wanting to have children and deciding if the other-sex biological parent will be someone they know, or a stranger.

When we edit a story like this one, we’re very conscious of who’s left out. What about a single woman wanting to have children? Where does she turn for a sperm donor? What about couples trying to have a child, whether by birth or adoption, who are tripped up by financial or personal or bureaucratic stumbling blocks? Fertility challenges are a nexus where the personal, the political and the communal all intersect.

Those for whom infertility can bring, monthly, the bitter taste of disappointment wrestle with how they will have children when the standard method of conception fails them. We hear how the heartache, frustration and economic toll can be as overwhelming as the physical challenges. So the article here about a couple who manage to conceive after only two cycles of trying, in a wonderfully low-tech D-I-Y fashion — using not costly high-tech medical interventions but a simple syringe and a jar of sperm kept warm on a bicycle ride home — can trigger pain for some readers. A story hugely validating for some, and a source of curiosity-fulfillment for others, may for one cohort just spur sadness.

Perhaps because women and men today are older when they are ready to consider having children — and hence less fertile — this cohort appears to be growing. (And you’ve heard the perpetual outcry about the dropping birthrate among non-Orthodox Jews.)

Here is one possible source of succor for people who might need help in creating their families. Assuaging at least some of the financial problems and the feelings of exclusion from a community full of ubiquitous Instagram or Facebook photos of other people’s kids lighting Hanukkah candles or making challah, would be a fund to help Jews afford the high cost of adoption or assisted reproduction. The cost of one cycle of IVF can be $15,000. Some Hebrew Free Loan societies offer interest-free loans for adoption and fertility treatments, but these sums will barely cover one round of treatment, and often many rounds are necessary. Plus, a loan has to be repaid. Especially for a single woman — who may lose income once she’s taking care of a child — an outright grant would be more effective in enabling her to become a parent.

So here’s a modest proposal. Jewish women’s foundations, now funding projects to empower women and girls in many communities, could spur the creation of a national fund to help defray the costs of fertility interventions. Perhaps a percentage of each contribution to these community foundations could be earmarked for such a fertility fund. After all, for about a century, there has been a fund for Jewish women’s education, and for decades there has been much-needed funding for reproductive-rights work. There will be challenges to creating and managing any fund that makes grants to individuals, but San Francisco’s Hebrew Free Loan Society says it well: the process should be “personalized, confidential, and respectful.”

Then the small-scale stories become a larger story, played out under a bigger tent.

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

October 7, 2014 by

From the Editor

Maybe you’re like me and you’ve tended to see economic justice in terms of fair labor practices, access to good health care, fresh produce in urban food deserts, affordable housing. Big goals with big consequences. Beyond carrying bills in a pocket to give tzedakah graciously or nervously on the street, what small (or larger) potential acts of the pocketbook have escaped our notice?

Well, you’ve heard the chatter about doing good while buying more stuff. The manufacturer who promises to give a new pair of shoes to a poor child for every pair of its brand you purchase. The company that pledges to donate to breast cancer research an undisclosed portion of its profits from the pink item you’ve just acquired.

Like the rest of us, I figure that I make choices every day—every waking hour, practically—that reflect my values. A lot of these choices are made reflexively, because I’ve practiced them so many times that they’re inadvertent habits. The food I eat—or avoid. Whether I run the water while brushing my teeth or turn off the tap. Which charity solicitations I open and consider vs. which ones I put immediately into the recycling bin. You too?

But there’s another order of choices that feel new to me, a fresh kind of economic consciousness I’ve been thinking about thanks to two women whose actions are worth emulating—and expanding on. These two rabbis have recently been modeling, through their own actions, a different tzedakah. They’re good at remembering that tzedakah comes not out of the idea of charity—giving alms to the poor—but from the root tzedek, righteousness.


This righteousness takes a slightly different approach to economic justice, one that involves putting our bodies where our dollars go.

Rabbi Susan Talve, whom you’ll meet in this issue, decided with her St. Louis congregants in August to go into the nearby suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. First they went to support the protests that closed streets after a black teenager was shot and killed by a police officer. And then, some of them decided to patronize the businesses hurting from the protests. Lunch in a Ferguson coffee shop. An appointment at a Ferguson hair salon. Via what I’ve been naming to myself a tzedakah of intent, Susan Talve and the people she leads are doing what they’d do anyway—having a meal, getting a haircut—but are deciding very consciously where they’re going to purchase these services, the same way we consciously decide what impact we want when we allocate our charity dollars. Doing good not just by spending money loosely connected to a good cause (that pink-ribbon purchase) but by thinking about what ancillary good can come of the purchase—including the benefits of being geographically selective and alert.

Rabbi Rachel Isaacs is the rabbi of Beth Israel Congregation of Waterville, Maine, and Jewish chaplain of Colby College. Waterville is a town where the main street has been suffering the etiolating effects of cheap-goods big box stores on its outskirts, with a concomitant shrinking customer base for local goods and services, and this means the quality of life is likely to diminish for all the residents. No one loves a sad and empty main street, not the hurting merchants and not the populace when they realize that their town square is empty. (Remember the Lorax; timing is all, in these matters.)

After she delivered a High Holiday sermon a few years ago about the benefits of local shopping, Rachel Isaacs’ congregants noticed that she practiced what she preached. First, it was Talmud study group in a local coffee house, since “everybody wants coffee anyway,” which was followed by regular meetings of Thai and Torah, and then Torah on Tap. Now when Isaacs meets with her congregants for study groups, she schedules her adult-education classes over a meal in one of the local restaurants. “Everyone needs to eat,” she told me (over breakfast is a non-chain Manhattan diner), “and we want to get together to learn, so why not build in this added support for a local place that really benefits from our presence?”

Of course there will be those who argue that economic determinism is what shapes how a once-flourishing village can devolve into a dusty downtown. If the small local stores would only carry better goods at cheaper prices, if the café served tastier food, customers would come, so goes this argument. But Isaacs is making sure, in a small and significant way—a way many of us can pretty easily emulate—that Waterville’s spine doesn’t crumble in the meantime.

Teach a woman to fish. Then go to her local restaurant and order the fish. 

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

July 15, 2014 by

Susan Weidman Schneider on the processes of making change.

Gloria Steinem, who just celebrated her 80th birthday, wrote to congratulate Lilith a few years ago on one of our own landmark anniversaries. She praised the magazine for doing its groundbreaking work “with anger and delight.”

“Lilith creates a voice where there was silence; it saves what is good within the patriarchy while transforming what is destructive; it offers scholarship for argument and women’s personal voices for enlightenment; and it does all of this with anger and delight, good writing and humor,” she wrote.

At the time, I was charmed by the fact that anger was on Gloria Steinem’s approval list, and charmed also that in Lilith it was paired with wit. Somehow that took the curse off anger. I’ve always held fast to the idea that the ways in which we work for change matter. And I’ve never believed anger works as a teaching tool. As reviewers have pointed out, the light tone of the new romantic comedy “Obvious Child,” with its straightforward portrayal of an unmarried woman’s uncomplicated abortion, can do more for abortion rights than outraged op-eds. Could be.

But now, in the wake of recent news out of the U.S. Supreme Court, I’m ready for just plain anger. The righteous kind. And we don’t even have to dress it in wit.

It’s not often that an issue arises where you can feel equal outrage as a woman and as a Jew. June’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that some corporations have the right to deny employees contraceptive coverage under their health insurance plans means that one religious group—Christians who believe that contraception methods equal abortion—has the right to foist its beliefs on the bodies—on the health—of a whole nation of women. It’s enraging.

Here is the scathing dissent written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

“Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions ( Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”

Our collective response to this decision to have corporations control women’s bodies has got to be anger, staying true to our own feelings and not masking them.

As I look through Lilith’s archives at our coverage of abortion rights, contraception, and laws affecting our bodies (and hence our minds) I notice a change of tone through the years. First it was diagnostic and hortatory: Here’s what’s wrong, and here’s how you should fix it. Righteous anger was a staple, and writers hoped it would help move the needle, help push for positive change and more rights for women.

Then, anger began to be replaced by nuance. In almost every Lilith article or blog post now, we as editors encourage writers and thinkers to probe how deeply they can go in exploring all sides of a story. We want readers to understand motivation, to ask the many what-ifs. In fact, we pride ourselves on nuance.

But in the case of the recent news, why delve into the motives of the justices who decided that it was OK to deny an entire class of people—women—the insurance coverage for drugs or devices they need? The five male justices seem to have accepted as truth the misunderstanding of the plaintiff, the Hobby Lobby crafts corporation. They were looking to limit contraception access based on a religious belief that abortion is wrong, and that the medicines and devices used for contraception actually cause abortions—a misunderstanding of how contraceptive drugs and IUDs work in the first place. (Disappointingly, some right-wing Jewish religious organizations filed an amicus brief in favor of denying coverage.)

Lilith has written from time to time about the schism between Christian and Jewish dogma on matters of reproduction. But I can’t think of a case where that difference is highlighted quite so starkly. The damage to women is obvious. The damage to Jews includes the setting of a bad precedent —that the religious beliefs of one set of Americans has the power to affect the way others practice their religion.

Women living—and voting—in the United States are horrified, are at risk, and are angry at the decision made by five men. It’s a decision that will likely bring bad news and bad consequences to women, who now have fewer rights than corporations do. The horror —and the accompanying anger —are justified.

At one of the gatherings marking Gloria Steinem’s birthday, Letty Cottin Pogrebin remarked that “Well-behaved women won’t change the world.” I don’t expect that by getting mad we’ll get even—whatever that would mean in a world where men do not need contraceptives. But we can get results. Especially at the polls, and especially in our local communities. When women’s needs are denied en masse, righteous anger can be a tool to shape election outcomes and the court cases to come. 

Continue Reading

  • No Comments