Tag : Naomi Danis

June 25, 2020 by

Powerful Adolescent Girls

Tragedy, courage, chance, loss and healing, fear and hope— women who survived the Holocaust as youngsters are telling their stories for young readers. Four Perfect Pebbles by Lila Perl and Marion Blumenthal Lazan (Greenwillow, 1996); Parallel Journeys by Eleanor Ayer (Atheneum, 1995); Hiding to Survive edited by Maxine B. Rosenberg (Clarion, 1994); and The Holocaust Lady by Ruth Minsky Sender (Macmillan, 1992) are recent examples. These join memoirs such as Aranka Siegal’s Upon the Head of the Goat, Johanna Reiss’s The Upstairs Room; Esther Hautzig’s The Endless Steppe and Judith Kerr’s fictionalized autobiography When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, in documenting, with great spirit, this terrible chapter of human history, which we read about in The Diary of Anne Frank.

Young readers apprehensive about this subject can approach it with some of their most beloved novelists. In Judy Blume’s Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself (Bantam, 1977) Sally, in 1947 Florida, is certain that an elderly neighbor is Hitler in disguise and determines to help capture him. In Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic (Puffin, 1990), a bored Hannah Stern opens the door at her family seder in Brooklyn, circa 1990, to step into a Polish shtetl in 1942 on the eve of a Nazi roundup.

Several authors who are not Jewish also write about the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism, these authors are saying, is not only the problem of Jews, but of those who hate them, and of those who witness that hate. Eve Bunting’s picture book Terrible Things (Jewish Publication Society, 1989) is an allegorical treatment. Novelist Lois Lowry in Number the Stars (Dell, 1989) tells of brave ten-year-old girlfriends in Denmark, one from a righteous gentile family who helps her family and others escape the Nazis. And Laura Williams tells of a thirteen-year-old Hitler Youth group member who discovers her parents are hiding a Jewish family—Behind the Bedroom Wall (Milkweed, 1996).

It’s no surprise that a post-Holocaust generation of powerful adolescent Jewish girls are portrayed in fiction set in Israel. Feminism (females are human) and Zionism (Jews are human), are woven seamlessly in Israeli author Gila Almagor’s Under the Domim Tree (Simon and Schuster, 1995). The female protagonist shares the growing pains of young survivors at a residential school who, having lost the important grownups in their lives, learn to be family to each other. In Nessa Rapoport’s Preparing for Sabbath (Biblio Press—currently out of print), a religious teenage girl in the maelstrom of the 1970’s searches for love and spirituality in the Holy Land. And Lynne Reid Banks brings us, in Broken Bridge (William Morrow, 1993), a young Canadian immigrant to Israel, Nili, who explores complicated issues of Israeli- Arab co-existence through her controversial decision to keep a secret.

Historical fiction of an earlier period, not to be missed, includes Miriam Chaiken’s I Should Worry, I Should Care (Harper, 1979), set in Brooklyn; Karen Hesse’s A Time of Angels (Hyperion, 1995), set in the 1918 worldwide flu epidemic; and Johanna Hurwitz’s The Rabbi’s Girls (Morrow, 1982) set in the 1920’s in the American Midwest. Real life role models spring from biographies such as Betty Friedan: Fighter for Women’s Rights (Enslow, 1990) by Sondra Henry and Emily Taitz, Our Golda (Viking, 1986) by David Adler, and Molly Picon: A Gift of Laughter (Jewish Publication Society, 1990) by Lila Perl.

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

The Lilith Blog

April 15, 2019 by

From “I Hate Everyone” to “While Grandpa Naps,” Naomi Danis on Her Fiction for Young Readers

Naomi Danis is Lilith’s resident angel/soother of souls/bridge over troubled waters. She combines a practical-get-it-done attitude with an uncommon amount of kindness and empathy and she is much-loved within the office and beyond. 

while grandpa napsDanis is also an accomplished author of several well-received picture books and as she prepares to launch her latest, While Grandpa Naps, illustrated by Junghwa Park, she talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about the way she keeps so many balls spinning in the air with such effortless grace.

YZM: Tell us when you started working at Lilith and a little bit about what the job has been like.

ND: I started working at Lilith in 1988, after nine years at home raising three children, during which time I began seriously writing for kids. I had trained as an early childhood teacher, also have an MA in English, but learned from a friend at my Forest Hills synagogue who did grant writing that Lilith was looking for someone. The position turned out to be administrator, and I really wanted to be called something like assistant editor, but two friends in publishing I consulted said if you like the people, take the job. I still love it after all these years, and feel very lucky and grateful every day. I have the kindest, smartest, funniest, most caring, talented, inspiring and encouraging colleagues. 

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

The Lilith Blog

June 7, 2018 by

Mazel Tov to Lilith’s Literary Staff

Major moments for two Lilith staffers and book authors this week has us rejoicing—and we’re sharing the good news.

Ilana Kurshan Photographed by Debbi Cooper #6589 (3)

First, Ilana Kurshan, Lilith’s book reviews editor, has won the Sami Rohr prize for Jewish Literature from the Jewish Book Council for “If All the Seas Were Ink: A Memoir.” As the council’s reviewer wrote of her tour-de-force literary and Talmudic memoir, “Due to Kurshan’s deft explanations of Talmudic personalities and principles… Readers will be inspired by Kurshan’s resilience and renewal, with the Talmud by her side.” We couldn’t agree more–Kurshan’s book is deeply literary in the best way. 

Naomi Danis photo

Also this week, Lilith’s Managing Editor Naomi Danis got a superb write-up in the New York Times Book Review for her children’s book “I Hate Everyone,” with critic Marisha Pessl describing the story in glowing terms: “The book reads like a version of Whitman’s barbaric yawp. It’s wildly alive with the girl’s unchecked bursts of word and emotion. The way she grasps at and simultaneously rejects love, wanting to be both acknowledged and left alone, is universal and timeless.”



Continue Reading

  • No Comments

April 12, 2018 by

You’ve Come a Long Way, Sister: 20 Years After Carlebach Allegations, His Daughter Hears #MeToo

Lilith’s editor in chief Susan Weidman Schneider sent out an email, subject line “and now, Neshama Carlebach weighs in.” She was writing to Managing Editor Naomi Danis and to Sarah Blustain, who reported for Lilith in 1998 about allegations of sexual harassment against famed rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, and the response from his daughter—20 years later. “Want to respond?” Susan wrote.

The daughter’s belated response brought up a slew of memories about what it was like to report on sexual harassment before #MeToo, in a community that only now is beginning to reckon with the dark side of its spiritual leader.


I cannot tell you how this brings me  back, Susan.

In 1997 a few women—I mean a very few; were there three or four of us?—who mostly worked around a dark wooden table in a small office in New York, started to hear from women talking about Shlomo Carlebach’s unwanted sexual advances. We sat with this information for days, weeks, and with the fact of his beloved-ness in the Jewish community. I remember it as a physical weight, knowing and resisting knowing, and being afraid. At some point, I remember someone saying, maybe it was me, “but how can we not tell this story?” So we did.

The reporting was slow, the writing painful, every word weighing his spiritual legacy against a less rosy one. There was a sentence we reported that seemed an admission. Carlebach to a woman who confronted him: “Oy, this needs such a fixing.” This was told to us by a woman, not by Carlebach himself, who by then was long gone. I remember my own nausea as we considered that sentence, sourced it, knowing what it would mean to have this (almost) in his own voice. The family opposed us. They would not comment.

On the eve of publication, word went out in the Carlebach community: This must be stopped. I cannot describe fully what it was like in that office, four rooms, a pro-bono lawyer blessedly taking our calls, as the phone started to ring, all day and night. Beseeching us against lashon hara, speaking ill of the dead. Telling us this couldn’t be, or shouldn’t be. We stopped answering the phone and listened to the messages pile up on the answering machine. Hours and hours of calls, and we few in the office, listening and working both. I remember the sun went down. Eventually we shut off the phone and finished.

And now I read it again, this time written by his own daughter, who 20 years later describes the scene we worked so hard to pin down. “Oy this needs such a fixing.” This time not denied. Did she hear it herself? It’s not clear. It is vindicating but also crushing to see how easily this becomes truth, when I remember how hard it was, and how many said it was false, both before and after publication.

We were doing then what so many have done now—finding truth in multiple voices when a single voice would not be enough. But that was before #MeToo made the job of speaking up — and of reporting on such accusations—a bit easier. And it was before Noreen Malone and New York Magazine breathtakingly put 35 women on the cover talking about a different powerful man and calling out “The Culture That Wouldn’t Listen.” Neshama Carlebach writes ”My sisters, I hear you.” Keep listening.


What I want to add is implied: that the way #MeToo has made it easier does not take away from how hard it was, and is, to go up against power and culture. Although I am relieved that the way is smoother now, that does not erase the silencing, of us as feminists and journalists least of all, and of the victims the most.


Thank you so much for this, Sarah. I don’t think we’ve ever gone public with all those details, have we?

It’s surprising to me how easily we can re-enter the mood of those weeks before Lilith published your brave account.

The threats and the phone calls from those who would stop the publication were frightening. We monitored all incoming calls. But we did still answer knocks at the door to our small office, and Naomi remembers opening the door to a man in a wheelchair, a Carlebach partisan, who had come to the office to beg us not to publish. I stood by, horrified to realize that people were still held in thrall to his memory.

Lori Alhadeff, mother of slain Parkland student Alyssa Alhadef

Lori Alhadeff, mother of slain Parkland student Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, pleaded with President Trump to take action against gun violence while interviewed on CNN before her daughter’s funeral. “The gunman, a crazy person, just walks into the school, breaks down the window of my child’s door and starts shooting, shooting her, and killing her… President Trump, you say what can you do? You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands.”

And then there was the phone call I did pick up—from a Carlebach family member—urging us not to publish and telling me not to believe the accusations; that the women speaking out were unreliable; that the rabbi attracted “garbage people” who were unstable; that their stories should not be heeded. And from another source, threats of a lawsuit against Lilith for impeding the ability of people to earn money from his music.

One man reached me on my home line in Washington late in the evening to threaten that Shlomo Carlebach would punish me from “up there” in the heavens if the magazine went ahead with the story. I began to feel queasy. My husband, seeing me blanch, had to remind me that “Lilith’s mission is not just to publish Rosh Hodesh rituals.”

Sarah, when I came into the office the next day and shared this, you were the one who said “How can we not tell this story?” And then you added, I remember vividly, “We told the women who came forward that we would publish their experiences. We have an obligation to them” not to turn away.

The aftermath of publication was hard as we struggled against more attacks, but it also bought more stories forward, and with each one we felt justified in our decision to publish, also grimly aware of the even greater scope of the misconduct. There were myriad phone calls and (sometimes) anonymous letters. One stands out in my mind, from a woman who had been a 12-year old girl at a Jewish summer camp where Carlebach was invited for Shabbat. Her group was told that a famous and wonderful rabbi would be visiting — and that the girls must be careful not to find themselves alone with him. The woman contacting Lilith was outraged on behalf of her younger self. Can you imagine asking us to make sure we avoided being alone with him? Why did the camp directors invite him if they knew this?

The most recent direct communication we had about Carlebach came this fall. A man who said he’s now in his 80s phoned Lilith’s office to say he has been feeling guilty all these years, that he’d known about Carlebach’s behavior toward women and had been a bystander, enabling the misconduct because he’d never, til now, spoken out against it.


Yes, Susan, I still get Facebook messages from people sometimes. Someone wrote me in 2013, 15 years after the piece, saying that she wanted to add her name to the list of people he had called and touched. Like others, she said she hadn’t felt she could call him out on his behavior — a dynamic that persisted well past his death.


I remember approaching people I respected, my rabbi, my sisters, to ask what they thought of the ethical dilemma in reporting allegations of misdeeds by a dead person who couldn’t respond or defend himself.

To me, a compelling reason for Lilith to cover the story was that the women who were coming to us were ready to go to the secular press with the story if it was not going to be covered in the Jewish media. I felt sure Lilith could handle the story with more nuance, complexity and, perhaps most importantly, more compassion than anyone else. Sure enough, Sarah’s expose in Lilith made news. I remember the disapproval of some in the Jewish world that we had written ill of a dead person. And I remember a letter to the editor of New York’s Jewish Week excoriating, in the writer’s words, the “lesbian, man-hating” editors of the Lilith magazine—which kind of made us giggle. We were sorely in need of a smile in those heavy-hearted days. In the quarterly issue that followed Sarah’s article, we ran five pages of letters; this was most unusual for us, but much in keeping with Lilith’s mission of publishing voices that too often are not allowed to be heard.

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

January 20, 2015 by


Stitching History from the Holocaust

In the winter of 1939, Paul Strnad wrote his cousin Alvin in Milwaukee. Desperate to obtain an affidavit to escape from Nazi Germany, Paul sent Alvin sketches by his talented dress-designer wife, Hedwig Strnad, hoping examples of her work would prove their financial independence. Despite Alvin’s best efforts, both Hedwig and her husband Paul were murdered in the Holocaust. All that remained of their story were the letter and Hedwig’s drawings. The Jewish Museum of Milwaukee worked with the costume shop of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater creating the dresses Hedwig sketched to tell the Strnad family story. A video tells how the unusual exhibition came to be. Through February 28 in Milwaukee, then available for travel. stitchinghistory.org.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 10.54.20 AM

Fierce and Brave Females 

Artist-activist Linda Stein, perhaps best know for her Wonder Woman paintings focusing on imaginary female heroes, is now focusing on real ones. For her new project she has produced tapestries of 10 women of particular bravery during the Holocaust: Anne Frank for her courage under duress and representing the loss of 1.5 million Jewish children. Ruth Gruber, the 104-year-old journalist who rode the ship Exodus and helped Holocaust survivor refugees. Vitka Kempner, a leader of the only known undefeated ghetto uprising. Noor Inayat Khan, the first female radio operator sent from Britain to aid the French resistance. Zivia Lubetkin, an underground leader in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Nadezhda Popova, a military pilot in the Soviet Union. Hadassah Bimko Rosensaft, who worked in the Jewish infirmary at Auschwitz, and after liberation helped rehabilitate thousands of Jewish survivors. Hannah Senesh, who assisted in the rescue of Hungarian Jews. Yukiko Sugihara who encouraged her husband, Japan’s consul in Kovno, Lithuania, to issue visas, saving 6,000 Jews. And Nancy Wake in the French Resistance, one of the Allies’ most decorated wartime servicewomen. The project includes tapestries in leather, metal, canvas, paint, fabric, and mixed media, an illustrated catalogue with essays, limited-edition fine-art prints, a video about the artist’s process, a teaching guide and public programs. lindastein.com.

A Tribute to the Disappeared

Artists and writers are invited by New York City-based visual artist Andrea Arroyo to participate in creating an “online quilt”—like the AIDS Memorial Quilt, only virtual —that will focus on another epidemic: the loss of lives to political “disappearances,” from the 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, and the women of Juarez to all of the disappeared the world over. Jewish women in particular were among the disappeared in Argentina’s Dirty War 1976–1983. To send literary and artistic contributions for the quilt project: facebook.com/tributetothedisappeared.

Jews, Arabs and Art

The Arab Museum of Contemporary Art and Heritage (AMOCAH) in the Galilee, opening in December, will showcase original works of contemporary art alongside items of Palestinian heritage, and will host artistic cooperation and collaboration between Jews and Arabs. “This museum is an opportunity for Jews and Arabs to meet, for their cultures to meet,” says Israeli artist Avital Bar-Shay, one of the founders. The museum, located in Sakhnin’s Old City, has more than 2,000 objects related to Palestinian Arab heritage and some 200 contemporary artworks. An artist-in-residence program is in the works. Following Operation Protective Edge last summer, the museum’s launch was stepped up, in order to reduce the tensions between Jews and Arabs. The opening exhibit is “Hiwar,” the Arabic word for “dialogue.”

The Fez as Storyteller

Artist Camille Eskel’s newest work explores the Baghdadi-Jewish experience in India that formed her family history and psychological legacy. Both grandfathers manufactured or traded fez caps, and the artist’s hats carry information about identity, cultural influence, gender relationships, and intergenerational beliefs, practices and attitudes. The Hebrew words on this fez quote from the archaic morning prayer recited by men giving thanks that “I was not created a woman.” The backdrop is a section of the Bombay synagogue Eskel’s mother’s family attended, and the women portrayed are from her family. camilleeskell.com/gallery/the-fez-as-storyteller.

Religous Women Dancing

Nehara, an Israeli dance troupe for professional female dancers who happen to be religious, aims to combine traditional values — such as not performing on Shabbat and being a women-only performance group — with dancing at its highest level. “Dance and religion do not mesh easily. On the contrary — they clash in almost every way possible. Yet, ever since I can remember, I have juggled my way between these two opposite worlds,” says Daniella Bloch, founder and artistic director. Revolutionary within the dance world and within the Orthodox Jewish world, their performances are open to all audiences, Orthodox and secular, men and women. neharadance.org.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 10.55.00 AM

Wartime Lullabies

“Birth in a Time of Bloodshed” is a CD anthology of lullabies from 18 conflict zones, sung in their original languages. The songs were collected by Israeli musician and storyteller Hanna Yaffe, whose goal is to emphasize the universality of lullabies and our shared humanity. The lullabies contain stark contrasts, with the melodies communicating sweetness and love, while the words relate fear, uncertainty and darkness. lullabies-of-loss.org/#!lullabies/c1h6a.

Judaism & Islam in America

Sharing the Well: A Resource Guide for Jewish-Muslim Engagement features common themes such as caring for others, prayer and life cycle events, plus guidelines for dialogue. A joint project of Jewish Theological Seminary, Hartford Seminary and the Islamic Society of North America, it is the fruit of almost five years of academic workshops and community-based pilot projects. Contributors include Kim Zeitman, Karen Nell Smith, Joyce Schriebman, Sarah Sayeed, Suumaya Khalifa, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Maggie Siddiqu, Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, Rabbi Amy Eilberg, Rabbi Ita Paskind, Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld. Available as a hard copy and online as a free PDF. isna.net/uploads/1/5/7/4/15744382/sharing_the_well_final.pdf.

Helena Rubinstein

“Beauty Is Power” is the first museum exhibition to focus exclusively on this cosmetics entrepreneur and patron of the arts, born in 1872 in a small town in Jewish Poland. By her death at 92, in 1965, Rubinstein was in her seventh decade of business, producing and marketing the means for ordinary women to transform themselves, and challenging the myth of beauty and taste as inborn, or something to which only the wealthy were entitled. If latter-day feminist debates have focused on cosmetics as objectifying women, they were seen in the early twentieth century as a means of asserting female autonomy, contributing to women’s empowerment, and advocating exceptionality in a world that discouraged nonconformity. One’s identity, Rubinstein asserted, is a matter of choice. At the Jewish Museum in New York through March 22. thejewishmuseum.org

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 10.54.49 AM

Free the Nipple

A group of fearless women fight for their right to go topless in public, as they smash societal taboos one bare breast at a time. Based on a true story, this spirited satire follows New York City activists Liv and With, who take their crusade for gender equality from the streets of the urban jungle to the courts. More than just a movie, Free the Nipple has launched an empowering real-life movement, inspiring women across the globe to take back their bodies. freethenipple.com

Dreaming in Yiddish

The Adrienne Cooper Dreaming in Yiddish Fund was established in memory of the beloved pioneering teacher, researcher and performer of Yiddish music. (Cooper wrote about stories of intimate violence in Yiddish songs by women in Lilith, Spring 2011.) Now, with the support of her brother Michael Cooper, the Adrienne Cooper Archives will be housed at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. The fund also sponsors the annual Adrienne Cooper Dreaming In Yiddish Award Concert which supports risk-taking artists who are making art in, with and around Yiddish. gohproductions.org or email marshagildin@gmail.com or call (212) 740-9644.

Compiled by Naomi Danis. For more, follow Lilith on Facebook and Twitter, and check out Lilith.org, where you can sign up for Lilith’s free email newsletter. Send ideas for this section to info@Lilith.org.

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

October 7, 2014 by


Congregation Beit Simchat Torah

In response to a small ad in the Village Voice, barely a minyan of gay Jews gathered to Happening - CBSTcelebrate Shabbat on a cold Friday night in February 1973. The first 40 years of what became the pioneering and influential synagogue CBST are documented in Changing Lives, Making History: Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, by Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, who now leads the congregation of 600 households writes in her foreword: “These past 40 years have witnessed among other things, the impact of AIDS, breakthroughs in reproductive technologies and the gay baby boom, the emergence of the queer and trans movements, and major Supreme Court decisions in support of equal rights.” cbstbook.com

The December Project

Shortly before Jewish renewal movement founder Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi died in July at age 89, the book The December Project: An Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Take Aim at Our Greatest Mystery by Sara Davidson appeared. In it, the guru-like rabbi shared eldering wisdom and anticipatory thoughts on dying well: dis-identifying with your body, coping with memory loss, forgiving others and yourself, making room for intuition, hanging a bell that will periodically remind you of the passage of time, and rehearsing your final moments. The book is a chance for a wider audience to access the teachings of Reb Zalman, one of the early ordainers of women rabbis. harpercollins.com

Adoption and Jewish Identity

Were you adopted? Are you between 18 and 36, raised in a family that identified at least in part as Jewish, or do you know someone who fits this description? To help improve the lives of Jewish adoptive families, creating broader understanding of the unique religious, cultural, and identity issues they face, the Adoption and Jewish Identity Project wants to hear stories from young adult adoptees raised in American Jewish families. Jennifer Sartori and Jayne Guberman head the research team. Adoptees, share your story in writing or via other media (audio, video). Questions? adoptionandjewishidentity@gmail.com Survey: www.surveymonkey.com/s/AJIPAdopteeQuestionnaire

“It Gets Besser”

Happening - it gets besser 2People who leave ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Judaism often feel trapped by the myth that they can’t have happy and healthy lives if they go “off the path.” A project, using Yiddish to play on the message “It Gets Better” for gay youth, “It Gets Besser” lets Haredim know that if they do want to leave, they can have a better life than the frightening stories they’ve been warned about. This volunteer grassroots project, created by 

Happening - it gets besser 1

Photos: getsbesser.com

former ultra-Orthodox Jews, began with a video compilation of beforeand- after photos as evidence of welladjusted post-Haredi life. The online gallery has garnered over 40,000 views since 2012. Now the project includes in-depth profiles, a video showcasing the unique identities of former ultra-Orthodox Jews and more. getsbesser.com, itgetsbesser@gmail.com


When Your Baby’s a Girl…

Sociologist Rela Mintz Geffen notably said that the birth of a daughter is “likely to startle a Jewish woman into an awareness of her inequality in the tradition…when all the people who’d planned to come for the bris [i.e. circumcision] cancel their reservations.” Scholar Sharon R. Siegel, in A Jewish Ceremony for Newborn Girls aims to take our rituals for newborn girls into a new phase, describing the customs and experimentation of recent decades, incorporating, reframing and proposing a liturgy that, as the subtitle of the book states, will be “The Torah’s Covenant Affirmed.” From the Hadassah Brandeis Institute’s series on Jewish women. upne.com

Guns and Domestic Violence

In July 1988, a 41-year-old woman who was a member of Jewish Women International in Gaithersburg, MD. was gunned down by her estranged husband in the parking lot of her workplace. The shocking murder gave the 100-year-old Jewish women’s organization a new mission — to protect all women and girls from violence. The organization’s CEO, Lori Weinstein, recently testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee’s first-ever hearing on the intersection of gun violence and violence against women, saying “From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the U.S. by an intimate partner using a gun — more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.” JWI is the first Jewish organization to join the newly created Women Leadership Network founded by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords and other women leaders. #ProtectAllWomen Leadership Network

A Century of Sisterhood

An important anniversary can both revive memories and revisit history, as evident in Sisterhood: A Centennial of History of Women of Reform Judaism, edited by Carole B. Balin, Dana Herman, Jonathan D. Sarna and Gary P. Zola. Having grown from 52 chapters in 1913 to more than 500 today, with 65,000 members, WRJ’s activities range from promoting the building of sukkot, the sending of Purim baskets and the recitation of the blessing over bread before meals, to the raising of funds for major institutions of Reform Judaism and the creation of the 2007 book The Torah: A Women’s Commentary. And then there are those iconic community cookbooks and sisterhood gift shops. huc.press

The Road Taken

“If being single is a challenge for those who grew up with high school proms and tryout first kisses, it is nothing compared to finding yourself in the midst of a modern singles scene while coming right off the boat from a five-year-arranged marriage and a sex-segregated youth.” So says Frieda Vizel, in “After the Double Life.” The tenth-year anniversary journal of Footsteps, the organization helping those leaving ultra-Orthodoxy, gives a glimpse into that complex journey and of worlds both gained and lost. footstepsorg.org

Preparing the Body for Burial

“Nothing can really prepare you for seeing and touching a dead body.” The body is not only lifeless, but also vulnerable,” writes Ronna Kabatznick of her first experience preparing a woman’s body for Jewish burial. After washing and purification, she continues, “The body is then clothed in trousers with closed feet, a blouse, a kittel (robe), a face cover, and a cap. We also tied sashes below the knees and around the waist. The ties are twisted four times while reciting, “aleph, bet, gimel, dalet’ the names of the first four letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Each sash is tied in the form of a shin a symbol for God.” Taharah, the ancient Jewish ritual of preparing a body for burial, is described in detail, including liturgy and physical actions, in the new edition of a book by Rabbi Stuart Kelman and Dan Fendel originally created for volunteers at Netivot Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Berkeley CA, to train them to become members of a hevra kadisha, a Jewish burial society. Chesed Shel Emet: The Truest Act of Kindness. Related resources at Gamliel Institute and Jewish-Funerals.org

How to Lose Your Virginity

Happening - virginity 2

Billboard in New York City subway station. Photo: Therese Shechter

It has launched both purity balls and porn franchises, and defines a young woman’s morality — but has no medical definition. This is the fraught and near-magical world of virginity, where a white wedding dress can restore a woman’s innocence and replacement hymens are sold online. What if all we had to lose were our virginity myths? A new documentary by Therese Shechter, director of “I Was a Teenage Feminist,” uses her own path out of virginity to explore why our sex-crazed society cherishes this so-called precious gift. Along the way, we meet sex educators, virginity auctioneers, abstinence advocates, and young men and women who bare their tales of doing it — or not doing it. “How To Lose Your Virginity” uncovers the myths and misogyny surrounding this creepily misunderstood rite of passage. virginitymovie.com 

Compiled by Naomi Danis. For more, follow Lilith on Facebook and Twitter, and check out Lilith.org where you can sign up for Lilith’s free email newsletter. Send ideas for this section to info@Lilith.org.

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

July 15, 2014 by

Your resource guide, compiled by

Jewish Genetic Lessons
The basics of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease are some of the topics of a series of web lessons that address the question, what do these conditions and technologies mean for me because I am Jewish? Many of the lessons have an associated short public service announcement as well as a longer webinar presentation, supplemental reading materials and links to resources and support organizations. This site is an initiative of the Program for Jewish Genetic Health of Yeshiva University and the Einstein College of Medicine. MyJewishGeneticHealth.com

Find Out if You’re a Carrier
Screening for genetic diseases commonly found among Ashkenazi Jews has now become more accessible and more affordable. A nonprofit public health initiative at Atlanta’s Emory University School of Medicine developed an at-home saliva-based test so you can screen yourself for Cystic Fibrosis, Tay-Sachs, Gaucher and 16 other diseases. JScreen also provides genetic counseling. The test is intended for everyone planning to have children —people with Jewish ancestry as well as interfaith couples. www.jscreen.org

Vibrant Jewish Life in Poland
Before the Holocaust, Poland was home to the largest Jewish community in the world, and was one of the great centers of Jewish political, cultural, and religious life. Glimpse the rich and complex portrait of that vibrant Jewish community through thousands of digitized documents, manuscripts, photographs, artworks, films, and audio recordings online at the YIVO Digital Archive on Jewish Life in Poland. http://polishjews.yivoarchives.org

Would Your Family Have Made It?
Under today’s strict immigration rules perhaps many of your ancestors would not have been permitted to enter and settle in the United States. Advocating on behalf of fair and just immigration reform, the Jewish social-justice organization Bend the Arc has created a website where you can enter your own family history to see how likely it is that your forebears would be admitted today. EntryDenied.org 

Debbie Friedman Complete
Debbie Friedman (1951–2011) wrote and sang Jewish folk music that has been adopted by congregations, youth groups and summer camps of all denominations. “Debbie’s unique contribution was the courage to blend Hebrew and Englishin the same song, using spiritually clear and poetic English to bring meaning to a Hebrew text or concept,” says Rabbi Daniel Freelander of the Reform movement. Now her music is available in book form. Sing Unto God: The Debbie Friedman Anthology features the more than 200 songs she wrote and recorded, some previously unavailable, with lyrics, melody line and guitar chords, plus photographs, biographical information, and tributes. urjbooksand- music.com/product.php?productid=13090& cat=0&page=1&featured

A Land Twice Promised
“Jumana looked at me across the picnic table and asked, how was it for you growing up in Jerusalem? I didn’t know what to say. Those soldiers, so terrifying for her, were our boys, our symbol of security… Would it be all right to tell her?” A Palestinian living under Israeli occupation as a child and as a student, an Israeli child’s experience of the 1967 war, a young Palestinian mother’s memory of the same war, and an Israeli woman’s experience of the 1948 war are performed by U.S.-based Israeli storyteller Noa Baumin, in English, in an attempt to help audiences realize that the most necessary ingredient for the resolution of a major conflict is mutual compassion. noabaum.com 

Artists’ Yenta
Ever thought you wanted someone to set your poetry to music? Have a performer enact the ideas in an essay? Choreographer, special events performance artist and collaborator Shandoah Godman has set up a weekly email matchmaking service“facilitating the love affair between disciplines.” Here you can describe your own gifts or what kind of artists you’re seeking to work with. carteblancheperformance.com/artsyentawhitepage

Unchained at Last
Dedicated to providing free legal and other support to help women leave arranged/ forced marriages, Fraidy Reiss founded Unchained at Last. This nonprofit also works to prevent women from becoming trapped in arranged marriages in the first place by advocating for changes to laws regarding minimum marriage age and religious arbitration panels that oversee marriages and divorces. The work is directed at women of all ethnic and faith groups in the U.S. unchainedatlast.org

Honor Diaries
Spurred by the Arab Spring, women who were once silent are starting to speak out about gender inequality and a long history of oppression. A new film profiles nine courageous women’s rights advocates with connections to Muslim-majority societies. Told exclusively in female voices, the film seeks to expose what prevents many feminists from addressing this international human rights disaster. Restriction of movement and education, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation are among the abuses explored. honordiaries.com/end-violence-women

Judy Chicago 
Long gone is the era when women wouldn’t reveal their ages. Now it is a mark of honor. Now we can celebrate the 75th birthday of the artist most famous for her iconic installation “The Dinner Party,” on permanent display at Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. That’s also where a new exhibit, “Chicago in LA: Judy Chicago’s Early Works 1963–1974,” will be on display until September 28. Speaking at a lecture at New York City’s Jewish Museum in May, delivered in honor of Mildred Weissman, Judy Chicago announced that because there is still no museum willing to devote adequate space for a retrospective on a female artist, her own work is on view now, in honor of her birthday, in multiple venues: “The Very Best of Judy Chicago,” through August 1, at the MANA Contemporary Museum in Jersey City, NJ; “Re: Collection,” through September 7, at Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY; “Judy Chicago: Through the Archives,” though September 30, at The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Cambridge, MA;“Judy Chicago: A Butterfly for Oak- land,” through November 30, Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA; “Local Color: Judy Chicago in New Mexico 1984–2014,” through October 12, New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, NM; and “A Survey: Judy Chicago,” October 17–December 28, RedLine, Denver, CO. More at www.judychicago.com/news/events.php. 

3000 Years of Poetic Subversion 
At the annual KlezKanada Festival in Toronto this summer, the theme will be the “YeneVelt”—the dark side of the Ashkenazi mythic lore, including dybbuks, ghosts, hallucinations, various spirits and “undead elements.” Adeena Karasick and Jake Marmer will host a poetry retreat, with four days of lectures, discussions, master classes on writing and performance, Aug 18–24, 2014. klezkanada.org/poetry-retreat

Tzitzit Designed for Women 
Described in the Bible, Numbers 15:37-41, tzizit refers to a ritual fringed garment worn under the clothing and associated in rabbinic texts with performance of commandments and awareness of God and Torah. You can read about the experiences of women wearing tzizit, find textual sources and even a partner to study with, as well as order tzizit garments designed for women in a project created by Maya Rosen, Alexandra Polsky, Nahanni Rous and Avital Morris, who share the belief that mitzvot should be accessible to the entire Jewish people. netzitzot.com

And We Were Commanded
“When I wrapped my tefillin, I felt bold,” wrote Judith Rosenbaum, incoming executive director of the Jewish Women’s Archive reflecting on her first feminist decision as a bat mitzvah girl more than 25 years ago. Her blog post is one of several on a site exploring the idea of “commandedness” and obligation as it pertains to women wearing ritual garments. vtzivanu.blogspot.com 

Torah Texts That Rock
Here I Am is a rock oratorio from composer/ performer Lainie Fefferman in which she takes a personal look at Torah excerpts she finds puzzling. The passages she chose include: the laws in Leviticus where insulting your parents, being homosexual, and seeing ghosts are all equally punished by death; the story in which Lot offers his virgin daughters to the people of Sodom in exchange for the safety of his guests; and Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son to show his devotion. Each of nine movements for three singers, clarinet, violin, cello, electric guitar, piano, percussion, and drum set uses disparate genres and styles. vimeo.com/88618400; lainiefefferman.com/hereiam 

“Her Voice” in Jerusalem
Friday afternoon September 12, 2014 hundreds of women from dozens of choirs from Israel and around the world will walk together for the closing performance of the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival in the Tower of David to the courtyard in front of the Jaffa Gate. In that public space the women will sing, a brand new musical-vocal work composed and conducted by Maya Dunietz with lyrics by Dorit Weisman and texts by female poets from Israel and abroad. This is one of several events of the Jerusalem Season of Culture. The public is invited to join in singing the final part, which you can learn, on video, at JerusalemSeason.com. 


Continue Reading

  • No Comments

April 8, 2014 by

A Dementia Epidemic

Ever since reading her sweet and mischievous picture book Tell Me A Mitzi to my kids, decades ago, I have loved the writing of Lore Segal. In one of these stories, little Mitzi gets up very early one morning, changes her baby brother, helps him out of his crib, out of their apartment and into a cab to visit their grandparents. Only… she doesn’t know the address, so the driver patiently helps them out of the cab, they go back home, get into bed, and their parents never suspect their travails. In a second story, the little brother, a bit older now and at a parade, complains so loudly about wanting gum that the president of the United States stops his entourage to give the boy a piece. And in the final story, everyone in the household, one by one — including the grandmother who comes to help — gets the flu. With everyone in bed you get a sense of the world falling apart, yet this is all somehow normal, and even amusing.

Perhaps in these, her early stories for children, we can see the seeds of themes — of a child taking on normally adult responsibilities; of the power of words, of speaking up; and of the world seeming to come apart but going on — that have long intrigued the author. In 1938, when she was 10 years old, Segal was, as a Kindertransport child, sent alone by her parents from Vienna to England, where she took upon herself — as per her dad’s instructions — to make every effort to secure the escape of the rest of her family. She eventually made her way to the United States, and two of her novels, Other People’s Houses, and Her First American, tell something of her own life story.

Now we have Segal’s tender and irreverent portrait of old age, Half the Kingdom. This is a sobering yet somehow even hilarious novel, charming and wise. In it, the lives of old friends with histories, long-married couples, elders and their adult children, colleagues, former lovers, friends and friends of friends converge in and around a hospital where everyone over the age of 62 is coming down with dementia, including the senior members of the think tank hired to study this strange and alarming situation.

In one subplot, a gift to the aspiring writers among us, a writer’s manuscript submitted to a magazine has been neither acknowledged nor rejected, and she seems unable to stop herself from patiently inventing new communications, at turns furious and friendly, hopeful and hopeless, to address the indignity of being ignored. She never actually mails the letters she drafts which Segal seamlessly weaves into the main predicament of this novel:

“The ambulance attendant is new at the job. He suspends his pen over the report, which he will hand in when they arrive at the hospital. He is supposed to check either ‘constant’ or ‘when you move’. Next question: “Would you call this a dull or a stabbing pain?” “Dull? Hell hell hell! No, I would not call this pain a dull pain! God. And I would not call it ‘stabbing’.” The man in pain focuses on the pain, the exact location of which he is unable to pinpoint. He compares what he feels with what he understand the word ‘stabbing’ to connote, and stabbing is not what this is, nor is it ‘biting’, ‘shooting’, ‘burning’, ‘searing’, ‘throbbing’, ‘grinding’, or ‘gnawing’. He searches the language and does not find in its vocabulary the word that names this peculiar excruciation. ‘Get me Roget’s Thesaurus!’ shrieks the man in pain.”

Don’t miss this delightfully playful and humane novel.

Naomi Danis is Lilith’s managing editor and author of It’s Tot Shabbat.

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

April 3, 2014 by


Headpieces for Peace

Here’s a witty installation with a video and stylized headpieces representing iconic women’s gear: a nun, a religious Jewish wife, a Muslim woman, an astronaut. Described by its creator, Columbian-born artist Jessica Sofia Mitrani, as “a non hierarchical, nomadic organization on a tandem bicycle that seeks to initiate free political action. Recently on view in New York, before that in Tel Aviv, and available for travel.

Dare to Use the F-Word

A monthly podcast series from Barnard College and its Center for Research on Women tells the story of today’s young feminists through the ideas, art, and activism that define them. Listen to a conversation with Barnard President Debora Spar about her book Wonder Women: Sex, Power & the Quest for Perfection, about women’s struggles for perfection in every area of their lives, with millennial feminist Jamia Wilson. bcrw.barnard.edu/podcast-sections/dare-to-use-the-f-word/

Feminist Jewish Ethics

How can Judaism and feminism be reconciled? Count the ways! A comprehensive new Wikipedia article on Jewish feminist ethics does just that. It was created under Professor Michal Raucher’s guidance by her seminar students, candidates for the Jewish Theological Seminary’s new MA program in Jewish ethics. Judith Plaskow, Rachel Adler, Blu Greenberg, Tamar Ross and Tova Hartman are featured as key thinkers on such topics as feminist ethical approaches to traditional Jewish texts, theology and Jewish practice. Like all Wikipedia entries, this one is open to contributions and improvements from readers. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminist_Jewish_Ethics

Ways We Memorialize

Celebrities and noncelebrities are interviewed by authors Meryl Ain, her husband Stewart Ain and brother Arthur Fischman in their book The Living Memories Project: Legacies That Last. Included is performer and playwright Ellen Gould, who wrote her play Bubbe Meises, Bubbe Stories as a way to resolve the untimely passing of two siblings and to pay tribute to her deceased grandmothers. A chapter honors the founders of Jewish Savannah. Contribute to a second volume; submit your story to: LivingMemoriesProject@gmail.com. facebook.com/LivingMemoriesProject, thelivingmemoriesproject.com

Jews & Mid-Century Modernism

Discover the role of mid 20th-century Jewish architects, designers, and artists in the creation of a new American domestic landscape in an exhibit featuring modern household items from furniture and textiles to dinnerware and serving utensils. The exhibition highlights such well-known designers as Anni Albers, Joseph Eichler, and Richard Neutra, as well as critically overlooked ones like Ruth Adler Schnee, Marguerite Wildenhain, and Alex Steinweiss, also patrons, merchants, and media figures who disseminated this modern aesthetic to a broad audience. At the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco from April 24 through October 6, 2014. thecjm.org

Skilled Volunteers for Israel

Teachers, university faculty, business consultants, photographers, social workers, Jewish communal professionals, archivists, scientists, translators, and other experienced professionals can find meaningful skilled volunteer opportunities helping meet the critical needs of the Israeli nonprofit sector via this organization founded and directed by Marla Gamoran. A commitment of one month is expected and volunteers fund all expenses.

Body Traces

Jewish sculptor and proto-feminist Alina Szapocznikow —born in Kalisz in 1926, and died in Paris in 1973 — was one of Poland’s outstanding post-WWII artists. Before her death at 47, she traded the language of classical sculpture for an idiosyncratic lexicon of new shapes, and unusual materials, processes and themes. Surviving the Holocaust and battles with tuberculosis and cancer, she expanded the definition of sculpture while casting parts of her own body in testimony to its deterioration. Through May 31, 2014 at the Tel Aviv Art Museum. tamuseum.org.il

Life-Saving Breast Milk

Mothers from the U.S., Canada and Mexico can donate their extra breast milk to stock nonprofit breast-milk banks that provide pasteurized milk to fragile and sick infants, thus improving their potential to survive and thrive. All donors undergo a screening process that begins with a short telephone interview, and the costs of screening and shipping are typically covered by the receiving milk bank. More info at Milk Banking Association of North America. hmbana.org/milk-bank-locations

Esther Broner

Esther Broner (1927–2011), with Israeli feminist Naomi Nimrod, researched and wrote The Women’s Haggadah for the women’s seders first held in 1976  one in New York City with an English text and another in Haifa in Hebrew. This new film by Lilly Rivlin documents the evolution of these seders over 35 years. Along with her “seder sisters”  among them feminist luminaries like Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Marilyn French, Grace Paley, Vivian Gornick, Carol Jenkins and Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Broner developed feminist interpretations of traditional texts, including a feminist version of the plagues and a narrative of Miriam, Moses’s sister. Rivlin’s film also features Broner herself (who wrote as E.M. Broner), reciting from her classic novel A Weave of Women. www.estherbronerthefilm.com

Women Drawing Talmud

Feminist artists Jacqueline Nicholls, above left, and Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli, above right, integrate pop-culture sensibility with serious investigation of Talmudic dilemmas in an exhibit titled, “Tosafot,” referring to the medieval commentators on the Talmud and representing a continuation of the tradition of adding to the Talmudic text. The artists take the liberty to imagine the physical setting, the scenery, the clothing, and much more that does not actually appear in the written text. Until April 22 at the Ein Harod Museum. museumeinharod.org.il/english

Resource Generation

Organizing young people with wealth to leverage resources and privilege for social change is the goal of this evolving nonprofit, founded as “Comfort Zone” in 1997. They hold events like “Making Money Make Change Conference” and “Creating Change Through Family Philanthropy Retreat.” Resources on their website support cross-class relationships, and a recently posted blog “Giving More, Praying More” by Jessica Rosenberg tells of her Friday afternoon ritual of making online charitable gifts while baking challah, before she turns her computer off for Shabbat. Resourcegeneration.org

Campers with Disabilities

The much-heralded Ramah camps have consolidated their ongoing programs open to Jewish children, teens, and young adults with a wide range of learning, developmental, cognitive and social disabilities. Campers with disabilities participate in activities with other campers throughout the camp. These interactions provide an exceptional benefit to the entire Ramah community by fostering a heightened sensitivity toward individual differences. The National Ramah Tikvah Network is also an incubator for young Jewish professionals who are motivated and trained to work with individuals with disabilities in the Jewish community. campramah.org/content/specialneeds

A Tombstone, a Ghost, a Film

Ghila Valabrega is an Italian-American Jewish filmmaker whose first work, “Felice Nel Box,” is a short comedy based on a true family story of her dad, a stolen tombstone from Sabbioneta in northern Italy, and a Jewish ghost from 1800 named Felice. Valabrega is launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to complete the post-production of the film and to help restore the synagogue of Sabbioneta, which was severely damaged by an earthquake in 2012. ghilavalabrega.com 

For more, follow Lilith on Facebook and Twitter, and check out Lilith.org where you can sign up for Lilith’s free email newsletter. Send ideas for this section to info@Lilith.org.

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

Feminists In Focus

February 6, 2012 by

Feminists in Focus: In Darkness on the Shortlist

In Darkness, a film by Polish director Agnieszka Holland (Europa, Europa), is based on the true story of Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), a Catholic sewer worker and petty thief who, though not especially fond of Jews, is willing to court danger in 1943 Nazi-occupied Lvov in order to make some easy cash, and hides a group of Jews underground for over a year.

Jolanta Dylewska’s startlingly beautiful color cinematography lends a heartbreaking immediacy and vividness to all the lives depicted, and the film’s photographic feat creates a powerful contrast between the above ground light and the underground darkness, conveying more than a metaphorical moral gravitas. Shot in Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, German, Yiddish and even a little Hebrew–all with English subtitles–the film feels thankfully un-Hollywood, and it depicts a humanity replete with kindness and selfishness, cruelty and courage,fortitude and desperation, hope and goodness, with the Jewish characters, too, shown in all their human frailty.

There were moments in the film when I wanted to cover my eyes, like one of the characters who covered her own eyes and her daughter’s, but however troubling and terror-filled, this compelling film tells an important story we may never understand, but ignore at our peril. As the director noted, it continues to echo in different places in the world, from Rwanda to Bosnia.

Continue Reading


  • No Comments