Join Jewish Women Watching: Applications Due May 1st!

If you want to get in on the work of Jewish Women Watching, the anonymous feminist group monitoring and responding to sexism in  Jewish communities, apply now! The group is taking applications for new members until Wednesday, May 1st. 

You can find the application here.

 

Seeing Past The Wall

guest post by Eli Ungar-Sargon

For almost two decades, my relationship with the Western Wall, or Kotel as it’s known in Hebrew, has been deeply fraught. Having been raised in a religious Zionist family, I was taught as a child to revere “these stones that have the hearts of men” as sacred. But one year, when I was 15 years old, I had an experience at the Wall that changed all that.

It was the holiday of Shavuot and the custom in my hometown of Jerusalem, was for people to stay up all night studying Torah and then walk to the Kotel to pray at dawn. Having participated in an early prayer, I was on my way out of the plaza when I spotted a few dozen non-Orthodox men and women gathered in the parking lot. Before they were able to get very far into their egalitarian service, the group was surrounded by a jeering mob of ultra-Orthodox thugs who yelled insults and threw garbage and dirty diapers at them. I remember standing with the non-Orthodox group in solidarity until the police arrived and forced us to leave.

Today, I am no longer a religious Zionist. For the past four years I’ve been working on a film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has upended the way I think about Israel, Zionism, and my own Jewish identity. Indeed, I now know that the Western Wall plaza is actually the site of a disturbing crime. A mere two days after capturing the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, the Israeli military approached the residents of the Moroccan quarter, which ended just meters from the Western Wall, and asked them to leave. When they refused, their houses were demolished and they were expelled. More than one hundred Palestinian families were made homeless that day and at least one woman was killed during the demolitions. They were not the first Palestinians to be treated by the State of Israel in this manner and they would not be the last.

In a way, the internal Jewish dispute over who gets to pray at the Kotel is analogous to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The logical and just solution is for everyone to be able to share the space equally. But one group claims exclusive rights and uses the violence of the state as a vehicle to maintain its privilege there. The difficulties in achieving a just solution are not practical so much as they are psychological and emotional. Moreover, the problem is not the presence of Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshippers in the same space. The problem is the inequitable orientation of the police toward the two groups.

I’m hopeful that the latest proposal by Natan Sharansky to solve the problem of non-Orthodox prayer at the Kotel will work. After all, most Israelis do recognize that Jews of different stripes have an equal right to pray at the Western Wall. And what a small step it would be to go from that to seeing the other half of the population living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, along with their brothers and sisters in exile, as having an equal right to share the land. Perhaps it’s time to shift our focus from “the stones with hearts of men,” to “the men with hearts of stone.”

Eli Ungar-Sargon is a documentary filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He is currently raising finishing funds through Kickstarter for his second feature-length documentary, A People Without a Land.

Join Jewish Women Watching

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The anonymous rabble rousing  feminists at Jewish Women Watching are in search of new membership. You can can answer the call here, and also check out past projects (like the one below from Shavuot 5768)  on their website.

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Jackie Hoffman Doesn’t Care If You Find The Feminist Message

cross-posted from Jewsesses With Attitude

Throughout March, Baruch College Performing Arts Center has been presenting a series of Jewish comediennes in partnership with the Jewish Women’s Archive and Baruch’s Jewish Studies Center called Solo in the City: Jewish Women, Jewish Stars. With a mix of well-known names and up-and-comers in the lineup, the series defies the temptation to draw generalizations about funny Jewesses.

Jackie Hoffman, beloved in theatrical circles for her take-no-prisoners approach to musical comedy (sample lyric: “fuck you for asking me to do a show for free! / fuck you and your benefit for charity”), is at once an ideal and a challenging performer for such a series. Undeniably funny and with a deep understanding of Judaism (she’s the black sheep of an Orthodox family), she knows she can draw a typical Jewish audience in with songs criticizing Jewish Buddhists (“Inner peace and joy are overrated / come back to the fold of the most-hated”) and pushy mothers on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. But when her paean to Shavuot includes lines like “Ten Commandments God gave to us so that we won’t sin again / Ten Commandments I break every day by eating pork and Christian men,” you know this isn’t your typical JCC fare.

While the publicity around this series carefully avoided the word “feminism,” I couldn’t help but watch Hoffman’s show and wonder if there was a feminist message to be divined from the woman who counts among her achievements “convincing the Hispanic security guards and bus boys of this city to use condoms” and openly resents the successes of co-stars she deems less deserving.

Jackie Hoffman doesn’t care if you find a feminist message — or any message — in her performances. And that in itself may be the embodiment of a feminist victory.

A Newly Feminist Knesset — Sort Of (Updated)

Updated: New ministerial positions were appointed since time of publishing, including two more women.

There are 53 new faces in the 19th Knesset — 16 of them women. With the 11 women who retained their seats, this is one of the highest women’s representation in Israel’s parliament at 27 MKs. But it’s not just because four more women got elected than last time. Former lawmaker Naomi Chazan was wont to lament last Knesset that barely a tenth of MKs were female and even fewer were feminist. Not the case any longer. Just a week ago, all but one banded together in a new women’s lobby.

The inaugural speeches of Ruth Calderon and Merav Michaelli went viral in Israel. Other new faces include the first female Ethiopian MK, a leader of the 2011 social protests, the former CEO of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, a city council woman from Tel Aviv, the former mayor of Herzliya, professors, print journalists and famous TV hosts.

But the road to a more feminist-friendly legislation isn’t assured as only four will hold ministries and key leaders sit in the opposition. To boot, Netanyahu didn’t attend their inaugural event.

Which is the most feminist party?

MKs will have time to prove their feminist credentials, but as far as numbers go, seven parties have female representatives. Yesh Atid has both the highest number and the second-greatest proportion with 8 all-new women among 19 total party seats.

But we can’t rely on just quantity over quality: could Likud Beiteinu’s 7 reelected women MKs possibly be more pro-women than the life-long women’s activists on Labor’s 4 MKs? Don’t be ridiculous, Labor includes both party chairwoman Shelly Yachamovich, feminist crusader Merav Michaelli, pluralism pioneer Dr. Ruth Calderon, and the leader of the 2011 social protests Stav Shaffir. Together, they’ve already submitted 18 women’s interest bills for discussion.

Meanwhile, half of unabashedly lefty Meretz’s six seats are held by women and Zahava Gal-On is reigning party chairwoman. And what about the HaTnua party, widely regarded as a one-woman party of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with five (male) coat tail riders?And last but not least, we shouldn’t forget the Arab public’s loudest voice, Balad party firebrand Hanin Zoabi.

Who are the most powerful women?

Power can be in the eyes of the beholder, but here’s where matters are least ideal. The new cabinet was reduced to 20 ministers and 8 deputy ministers — only 4 are women when there should proportionally be at least 6-7. The four ministers are Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni (HaTnua), Minister of Health Yael German (Yesh Atid), Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beiteinu), and Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat (Likud).

[Update: Final results since yesterday show that two more women received secondary ministries -- Fania Kirshenbaum and Tzipi Hotovely, both of Likud, who will be Deputy Ministers of Interior and Transportation, respectively. That certainly gives Likud Beiteinu's slate of four women them most formal power, even if only the Ministry of the Interior is a key agency.]

This is disappointing given Israel’s below-average track record in women governmental leaders. As Ynet detailed, the country’s Equal Employment Opportunities Commission called on International Women’s Day for the government to appoint more women. Women have never chaired any of the most important committees like defense or economics, usually comprise barely 7% – 16% of committee members, and only one woman has ever been Speaker of Knesset.

And we’re left wondering how effective the most familiar of our heroines will be from the opposition, where both Labor chairwoman Shelley Yachamovich and Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On sit. Hopefully, the new women’s caucus will allow them to work collaboratively beyond their outsider positions.

More »

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Ultra-orthodox call for protest rally against Women of the Wall; support rallies organized all over Jewish America

This weekend, a poster appeared all over ultra-orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem against Women of the Wall‘s fight for gender equality at holy sites in Israel. The poster calls for ultra-Orthodox opposition to rally at the Western Wall tomorrow Monday, March 11 at 7 am.

And in Jerusalem and cities across America, Jews are rallying to support WoW:

Monday, March 11

  • Washington DC Friends of Women of the Wall’s solidarity service and program will be across from the Embassy of Israel on Monday, March 11. Sponsors include Am Kolel, Ameinu, New Israel Fund, Eizor Moshava-Habonim Dror, Temple Shalom Chevy Chase, Temple Micah, and Washington Friends of Women of the Wall.
  • Seal Beach, California: Rabbi Galit Levy-Slater is holding a congregational solidarity event.

Tuesday, March 12

  • Join Women of the Wall at the Kotel in Jerusalem: A mini-bus (one way) leaves from Gan Hapaamon at 6:30 AM. (RSVP required at wowhebrew@gmail.com.)
  • New York’s Wake up for Religious Tolerance! solidarity minyan at 9 am on the north side of Union Square Park. Sponsors include Mechon Hadar, Romemu, Kolot Chayeinu, New Israel Fund, Bnai Jeshurun, Lillith Magazine, Town & Village Synagogue, Ansche Chesed, Society for the Advancement of Judaism, East End Temple, Jewish Theological Seminary, the National Council of Jewish Women, and many more. (See flyer here.)

Sunday, March 19

  • San Francisco Friends of WOW will meet for a sing-in outside of their Israeli consulate at 11 am. RSVP to sdembitz@gmail.com.

Men being “nice”: Another look at partnership minyanim

“Men come to the partnership synagogue for a whole host of reasons,
the overwhelming majority of which have nothing to do with feminism.”
-The Men’s Section

The Men’s Section is about the men’s side of partnership minyanim in Israel–their reasons for joining and their difficulties after joining. The author was clearly distressed by her own findings, which even I admit were surprising. Partnership minyanim are generally seen as being the “next step” to equality and gender balance. Admittedly, her research is Israel-centric, but one thing was clear: men weren’t joining out of a sense of feminism. In fact, what we know as the ideal of feminism was actually one of the difficulties men had with the minyanim!

Many of the men interviewed reported that they didn’t feel a sense of community in their old shuls, or they felt an emotional disconnect, or that they felt constant pressure to be perfect (the “man-on-man gaze”), or that they were dissatisfied with the hierarchies. Note that none of this has anything to do with women. In fact, many of the problems reported by men were with the women–that they had their own incorrect “women’s trope,” or that they didn’t come on time. The fact that women were never taught the trope as meticulously as men were wasn’t discussed, and as Sztokman observed, women were expected to prepare meals for shabbos, and take care of the children, and still show up on time and stay throughout the service. She found that these men will let women into “their space” via the partnership minyanim only if they are willing to abide by the same rules by which the men were socialized. The irony is that these are the very rules and patterns that the men hoped to escape by joining these minyanim.

Sztokman shows they are replete with the same social hierarchies that one might find in any mainstream Orthodox shul. Feminist deconstruction of gender and manhood was not a concern, and it seemed as if the women were there as sort of an afterthought. In fact, when one of the members had a non-egalitarian member of his family come in for his son’s bar mitzvah, many of the members argued that they should rescind women’s leadership positions. As one woman said, “we all fix things up in our home before the mother-in-law visits. How is this any different?” It was obvious that, as strange as it seems, egalitarianism wasn’t a very pressing item.

Before reading this book, I, like many people, thought that giving women aliyot was an end goal in itself, and that partnership minyanim were an insufficient but ultimately good avenue for the eventual expansion of women’s roles. Sztokman’s research suggests that they could instead be actually self-defeating to feminism. In building these partnership minyanim, we are focusing on the male model of what shuls and tefillah should be, and the men who are joining these minyanim are implicitly rejecting this model even as they insist on retaining it.”The Orthodox synagogue,” Sztokman writes, “remains a men’s space based on the way men are socialized.”

Partnership minyanim seem to have become, at least in Israel (although half the men interviewed were originally from the US), an extension of this “men’s space.” Grace aux male participants, they are still pervaded by:

  • Emotional disconnect (58): There wasn’t an emphasis on enjoying tefillah or singing and the like; rather the emphasis remained on punctiliousness and keeping services short.
  • Absolutist language (80): “When forces of power preempt discussions, there is a control of ideas before they are even publicly aired.” In an attempt to continue being seen as halachic (“in the club,” as Sztokman puts it), there was a tendency to retain social boundaries using the “inflexible language of authority,” or halacha (regardless of whether the subject being discussed was strictly halachic or not). Couching an existing hierarchy in this type of language is effective because, one interviewee said, “people are afraid of what God is thinking.”
  • Clericalism (90): On a similar note, the minyanim were (and are) being judged as “not halachic” because only “small-name” rabbis approved of them. That is, there weren’t exactly any renown rabbis who would publicly underwrite these minyanim. Having no real widely recognzied support, this caused an internal rift as members argued whether to call themselves “Orthodox” (instead of merely “halachic”) in order to appease critics. As someone wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “halakha does insist that each generation has certain leaders whose authority derives from their widespread acceptance. Particularly when attempting to break with established practice, the approval of recognized authorities is essential[...]An environment in which everyone ultimately makes his own decisions[...]may be democratic and tolerant[...]But it is not halakhic.” Of course, some of the men interviewed did wish to see a change in the monolithic nature of halacha. Still, participants sought outside approval from authoritarian structures even as they hoped to break those structures down, as evidenced by their petition to call their minyan “Orthodox” rather than “halachic.”
  • Authoritarian control over discourse (161): When the vaad heard about this petition, they were not pleased. They had wanted the discussion to go through them first. They announced that “only emails that have been approved by the va’ad could be sent to the entire congregation.” This was the beginning manifestations of centralizing an authority that had once been more dynamic, going back to a centralized “Orthodox culture generally,” and forming a “culture of authoritarian control over communal discourse in Orthodoxy, beyond halakha.” It seems that this too is because of the fear that the group will be ostracized by other, mainstream Orthodox groups.
  • Male model of performance (202): Although it seems on the surface that gender identity is being challenged, there is no discussion of punctuality, perfectionism, power structures, and how they shape masculinity. Instead, the minyan becomes a space in which women can practice their (always deficient) roles themselves, modeled on the already present male structure.

“The process of reaching gender equality is often interpreted as offering women as opportunity to internalize the practices of Orthodox masculinity in bits and pieces. Layn here, learn there, be a meticulous, emotionless, perfect performer[...]Orthodox men have not challenged the supremacy of this model at all. The partnership synagogue is a place where men are reacting to gender hierarchies by inviting women to share their space as objects of a male gaze, perhaps to relieve some of their own pressures. They are bringing women into their box, perhaps as a comforting presence.”

  • A dependence on another’s servitude (221): In a way, partnership minyanim will always be an “incomplete revolution,” because the structure is so completely different from that which shul culture has historically been based on; namely, the assurance of having someone at home to take care of the business that must be attended to while the man is at shul (or yeshiva or elsewhere). If women want access to this type of freedom, there is of course the problem of having no one left at home to “pick up the slack.” Even further social strain was exemplified in Sztokman’s observation that women who came in with children weren’t welcomed, and in the particular minyan she attended, women were also criticized for breastfeeding. Women are expected to fulfill their “homemaker’s role” while still attending to the pervasive sense that they must also fulfill the role of a punctual minyan member. In other words, women are still criticized for coming late and leaving to attend to children even while they are simultaneously expected to cook/clean/take care of said children.
  • Idealization of masculinity (224):

“The problem with Orthodoxy, I came to realize, is not just that women are forbidden from doing what men do. The problem is in the entire set of assumptions around men, the idealization of masculinity that, really, is not what I want in life. Orthodoxy is not really a place for women.

More than that, Orthodoxy is by definition a male construct. Orthdoxy is men. The way to be a complete Jew in Orthodoxy–from the bris to the bar mitzvah to giving a woman a ring and maybe giving her a get–is to be a man[...]I am not merely saying that Judaism is a patriarchal culture. What I’m saying is that Orthodoxy as a construct is male[...]a culture that rests on idealized images of human existence that can only really be fulfilled by men. As a woman, I can never really be truly Orthodox[...]I am never quite inside the culture. Because to be Orthodox in its full meaning ultimately means being a man.

[...]We have a nearly two-thousand-year-old Talmudic tradition that prides itself on such punctuality, precision, and perfectionism that the precise words of the Shema must be recited at a certain time. But, really, is that what makes us godly? Or is it just am expression of men seeking control in a world of chaos who measure, cut, and calculate every movement so as to avoid having to actually feel emotions such as fear, uncertainty, and pain?”

Partnership minyanim by definition need men to function–men who are not necessarily ready to give up their previous privileges of power and control. Naturally, these men in turn use what they know from their own male socialization to create more male spaces. Now, I hardly wish to say that this is true of all partnership minyanim, especially since the study was done in Israel, where the culture is very different. But the study shows at least that there is easily precedent for a tendency for these to slide into being copies of the men’s Orthodox culture that has always existed.

Because these spaces are created by men who are “allowing” women greater roles, men who are likely not motivated by concern for women (see quote), I would hardly call them feminist, and I don’t believe they will be until the culture of “men being ‘nice’” enough to give women a “corner” (222) or a bit of practice in masculine performance is replaced by women creating self-functioning spaces themselves (which, of course, is already starting to be done). There is still a long way to go.

Feminism is not only about giving women expanded symbolic roles, it’s not just about giving women aliyot, but in changing the entire atmosphere and breaking down the ultimately harmful paradigm of the masculine ideal of what tefillah ought to look like.

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Shayna Weiss: “Gender segregation goes to the core of a discussion of what a Jewish and democratic state might look like.”

Shayna Weiss is from Jacksonville, Florida. In 2007, she graduated from Brandeis University with a double major in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and International and Global Studies At Brandeis, she received highest honors for her thesis on religious women in the Israeli Defense Forces.  After studying at Drisha, Shayna is now a doctoral candidate at NYU in Hebrew and Judaic Studies and the Taub center for Israel Studies, focusing on issues of religion and gender in Israeli society. She is currently in the midst of a dissertation on swimming spaces in Israel. Shayna is also obsessed with Lipa Schmeltzer, frozen yogurt, and yoga. Tell her your favorite Israeli reality tv show on twitter (@shaynamalka).

Jewschool: Tell the folks out there what your research is about and why you chose to pursue it.

Shayna Weiss: Currently, I am researching the origins of gender segregation in Israel by looking at fights about pools and beaches—fights against mixed swimming, and to establish gender-segregated swimming. My two historical main examples are the first public pool in Jerusalem (which was controversial because it had mixed swimming) and Israel’s first gender segregated beach in Tel Aviv. I then compare these controversies to what is happening with separate buses now, to draw larger conclusions about how gender and religion work in the public sphere, and how we can think about religious-secular relations in spatial terms.

I have several other projects swimming in my mind. I dream of learning Russian to research Israel’s residents from the former Soviet Union.  Another unfinished project I have is on Israeli television, and especially on Srugim, the first show to focus on the religious Zionist community. My fifteen minutes of internet fame so far have come from co-authoring a recap blog on Srugim, a wonderfully fun project. That project lays dormant for now, but I cannot wait to return to it one day—television is wonderfully understudied, and Israeli television is experiencing a renaissance—just look at Homeland.  (You can listen to Shayna’s presentation at the 2010 JOFA conference on Srugim, gender and feminism here.) More »

What if Anat Hoffman wasn’t white?

Anat Hoffman, head of both Women of the Wall and the Reform Movement’s action center in Israel, was arrested while saying the Sh’ma with 250 other American Jews from Hadassah. The Reform movement called immediately for an investigation, the Conservative movement called for global Sh’ma flashmobs, and other groups joined the condemnation.  (Jewschool contributor LJCM rightly asks why there aren’t even more, but here I’ll press a parallel observation.) Something is obviously wrong with this abandonment of American Jewry’s pretenses against criticizing the democratically-elected government of the State of Israel.

Tellingly, the head of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Garry Skolnick, gave hint to this counter-current in an email blast: “When Protestant groups are pushing for a total reconsideration of all American foreign aid to Israel and Iran is working hard to develop the capacity to go nuclear, we must be thoughtful as to how, and in what forums, we choose to address the very real issues that are of burning concern to us.” He continued, “Yes, Israel must change. But those of us who love her must help her change, not hurt her through our good intentions.”

As one (female) Jewschool contributor quipped, “No one’s got the tits at all in this movement.” But it’s not just “wussing out” on women’s rights as another contributor said, it’s the obvious selective outcry of institutions joining this particular outcry. They’ve been silent on recent offenses equally important — and in a few cases, even more dire. More »

Where Were You?

On Monday, October 22, more than 120 viewers logged on to watch a ProZion UK live webcast of Anat Hoffman being interviewed by Deborah Blausten. All over the world, watching and listening, live tweeting and asking questions, people watched Hoffman talk about religious freedom, women’s rights, and democracy.

Anat Hoffman is part of Women of the Wall, a women’s prayer group that started in Israel in 1988. Arguably, she is the most recognizable face of WoW, particularly in the Diaspora. She is the woman whose name I’ve been hearing since my teens, connected to concepts like equality, religious freedom and religious pluralism. She is the one whose name I remember connected to repeated arrests, because a woman praying in a tallit is so threatening as to be a crime. More »

What would Henrietta Szold do?

While building up excitement for their Centennial celebration, Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Org of America was all abuzz about prayer services at the Kotel with Women of the Wall.

Today, following the arrest of several participants and the violent detainment of Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman, Hadassah isn’t saying much at all.

Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman arrested at the Kotel

Nobody attends a Women of the Wall service without knowing that being arrested for wearing a tallit or praying aloud is a distinct possibility. At the group’s monthly Rosh Chodesh services, some women choose to save their voices and their prayer shawls for the Torah service that takes place at a nearby location. Others take the risk. Regular participants advise first-timers regarding how to avoid arrest.

It stands to reason, then, that the Hadassah leaders who were building up anticipation for the joint Women of the Wall/Hadassah prayer service on Tuesday evening were prepared for possible police action against the group of 200 women. One might also imagine that they were set to offer a statement in the event that such action occurred. As of now, however, Hadassah has declined to take a public stand on this issue. Their website and Twitter feed (@Haddashorg) refer the public to JTA articles and Women of the Kotel statements. Hadassah leaders remain silent on the violent detainment of Nashot Hakotel leader Anat Hoffman, or the general mistreatment of women who pray at the Kotel.***

Meanwhile, Hadassah plans to present PM Netanyahu with an award named for Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold.

What would Henrietta Szold do in such a case?

Given that she struggled to be admitted to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and was finally allowed to matriculate together with rabbinical students under the condition that she never ask to be ordained, in all likelihood she would have been at the Kotel, determined to find a way for women to pray there.

At the very least, no doubt Anat Hoffman is correct when she says that the Women of the Wall organization is more deserving of the prize than Bibi is. The vision of Henrietta Szold, whose unique brand of leadership encompassosed the social feminist movement of her day as well as an inclusive, diverse vision of Jewish peoplehood, was much more akin to the work of Women of the Wall than to any aspect of the current Israeli government’s leadership. In any case, the women’s Zionist organization should not be silent now regarding this violation of the rights of women in Zion.

Anat Hoffman in her own words:

Police Shackle Anat Hoffman for Saying Sh’ma at Kotel – The Sisterhood – Forward.com.

 

*** Update: Hadassah has published a one-sentence resolution regarding this:


In Jerusalem, at the National Business Meeting of the Centennial Convention of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, delegates unanimously approved a resolution reaffirming its commitment to and support for freedom of worship for women at the Western Wall.

It is worth following the replies to this by Hadassah members, which have a little more bite:

www.hadassah.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=keJNIWOvElH&b=8347749&ct=12246339&notoc=1

 

Things to do on Yom Kippur

Something to consider when you are doing whatever it is you do on Yom Kippur: on the holiday in September 1907, Emma Goldman held a picnic “for free thinkers and radicals” in Central Park.  Leah Berkenwald wrote last year over at the Jewish Women’s Archive about the way Occupy Wall Street and other activisms  and movements have changed the way we think about prayer and observance and religion, and how Judaism can be a lens to unthink things as much it is to fit them together.

Gmar Tov, folks.

 

 

 

You’re Welcome, People Who Might Get Sexually Assaulted.

In  the world of Israel advocacy, there’s a popular campaign aimed at halting people’s criticism of Israel’s policies by listing all the excellent and innovative technologies Israel has invented (and/or talking about it’s worse to be a woman/queer person in a place that’s not Israel and usually rhymes with Schmalestine).

To add to the list of things Israel has invented (in addition to cell phones, instant messenger, radiation free breast cancer diagnostics) is the Anti Date Rape straw. The straw can detect  two most widely-used date rape drugs: ketamine and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) in a drink and the change of color alerts the person drinking of the presence of those drugs.

Let’s hope that distributing this straw doesn’t become a substitute for not having conversations about consent, power, rape and communication. And if it’s going to become a  staple of the kind of Israel advocacy that I mentioned above, let’s also take the opportunity to talk about the current position of women in Israeli society (shitty), and MAYBE EVEN that rape and sexual assault happen in the Jewish community. It would be a great opportunity to elevate the sad state of Israel advocacy (on campus and otherwise) and talk about something hard that we don’t like to talk about, as a community or otherwise.

Of course, the existence of said straw is  good regardless of whether or not nuanced conversations about it happen. But you know, not better than just  not raping people.

 

Meet Csanad Szegedi, Your New Favourite Jewish Anti-Semite

Csanad Szegedi was enjoying a fine career as a politician in Hungary’s nationalist Jobbik Party. The 30-year-old Hungarian helped market Hungarian nationalist merchandise online, acted as an EU lawmaker, and did not skimp on the Jew-bashing in his public speeches.

Csanad Szegedi, your new favourite Jewish anti-Semite

This all came to screeching halt upon his recent discovery that his maternal grandmother was a Jew who survived the Holocaust.  Shortly after learning of his Jewish ancestry, he resigned from his positions in the Jobbik Party.

That’s right  ladies: Mr. Szegedi is a Jew by halakhic standards. And he’s available.

 

This is almost as good as if the recently-declared U.S. Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan would suddenly find out he’s really a woman.  Almost.

Parshat Pinchas: On Women, Power, Sex and “Having It All”

This guest post was first given as a dvar torah at Shir HaMaalot, Crown Heights’ first trad-egal havurah, by Amy Schiller on Friday, July 13, 2012. Shir HaMaalot meets next Friday, August 3 in partnership with Altshul at Mount Prospect Park (across street from Union Temple, 17 Eastern Parkway) at 7 pm.

Amy Schiller writes about politics, feminism, philanthropy and pop culture. Her work has appeared in The Nation, Salon, Alternet, Heeb, and other publications. She previously worked for five years as a political organizer and non-profit fundraising consultant. You can read more at amybessschiller.com and follow her at @justaschill.

I want to start with a disclaimer that this d’var Torah contains references to adult content and is recommended for mature audiences. And if you think I’m being gratuitously provocative, let me assure you that the Torah started it. But we’ll get to that momentarily.

This week’s parsha, Pinchas, contains a great proto-feminist anecdote, the story of the daughters of Tzelophechad — Machlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirtzah. To summarize, Tzelophechad dies with no male heirs to receive his portion of land in the Promised Land. His daughters go to the tribunals to plead their case, that they should inherit their father’s share in the absence of any sons to claim it. Their case is decided favorably, with God instructing Moses that they are indeed entitled to the land inheritance. Rashi praises these five women, noting they are each named individually to reflect their stature and righteousness. Furthermore, Rashi notes that their legal arguments were of such strength and quality that they perceived the Torah with greater acuity than Moshe himself. So here we have a success story of women’s agency, intelligence and early strides towards equal citizenship within the Jewish people. This interpretation is popular, affirming, and uplifting — and it is not the dvar Torah I can give tonight. More »

In Which Sexism Remains Mysteriously Present.

Sexism can be confusing. Sometimes it doesn’t look like sexism. For example, if you were to auction off dates with your female bloggers, get called out for it, and then decide that in order to escape this mess you got yourself into, you’d auction off some dates with your male bloggers, because, you know, the idea of BUYING someone, regardless of gender is not innately problematic. As a smart friend of mine pointed out: “Involving men is not an equalizing measure because it’s still referencing the original commodification of women. it’s satire of the original problem based on gender differences, i.e. why football players can dress in drag for pep rallies, because men being girly is hilarious.”

So there was a lot that came out of the Jewlicious fundraising fiasco, not the least of which was a total lack of recognition that what was proposed was actually problematic and sexist. Instead, the use of the words “patriarchy” and “misogyny” was mocked, and Naomi Zeveloff, the Forward writer who called out the auction situation, was condescended to. (According to David Abitbol, she “sure seems nice.”)

Here we are a few weeks later, and not only does Jewlicious refuse to take any responsibility for the situation, but they’ve actually continued to engage with the sexist media by posting about the World Air Stewardess Association’s announcement that the El Al Airlines has the “Most Beautiful Air Hostesses.”

Is this confusing? Is this somehow not a blatant commodification of women? If you want to convince people you’re not sexist, it’s not enough to just say you’re not, you have to actually do something. A post about how this list of the most beautiful women who serve you food in the air is a problem would be a start.

To quote David Abitbol himself, “the patriarchy is pernicious and needs to called out constantly.” Once you rely on a trope as antique as lady selling, you and the media that perpetuates it deserve to be held accountable- actively, relentlessly and without hesitation. 

Raising Some Hard Earned Cash

If you have not done so already, please read the last two posts from Jewschool, and then come back here.

[Waiting for you to finish reading...]

Thanks for coming back.

The subject of both of the posts I just asked you to read are intended to be eye-catching and possibly even intentionally offensive. However, the Ms. Holocaust Survivor event, was titled provocatively while the content of the event was empowering and kind. As we look at the buy-us-dinner fundraising idea from the self-proclaimed voice of the Jewish blogosphere you don’t quite get over that initial bad taste in your mouth.

Taking a deep dive into the Jewlicious fundraising ideas, and the lackluster apology/excuses of its editor, we all feel just a bit dirty.

Clearly, as was pointed out in the comments of the Jewlicious post by the same editor making the excuses, we at Jewschool love to drive traffic by talking in-side baseball. However, I am an avid fan of the sport and dabble just a bit in media criticism. And the shameful attempt to pass the buck on this sexist, misogynistic and other “big-boy words” project, could be called a two down, bottom of the 9th kind of moment. More »

Ms. Holocaust Survivor Crowned

“There she is… Ms. Holocaust Surviv- whoa.” The very sound of the phrase “Ms. Holocaust Survivor” grates the ears and sounds like part of some Sarah Silverman sketch. My own feelings about pageants is that they are ridiculous, sexist and generally degrade the participants. Still, this is one I might actually attend and that it had the opposite effect. The New York Times covers as does AP.  79 year old Hava Heskowitz won.

Hosted by Helping Hand, which aids survivors in Israel, the event drew hundreds of participants, a couple MK’s, a fair amount of criticism and a lot of press attention.  Given what we know about survivors, and what we in our worst nightmares can’t even begin to imagine about their experiences, it would seem that a “Ms. Holocaust Survivor” Pageant would be the ultimate in bad taste, the punchline to a gallows humor joke.

In spite of this, there is something sweet about the story of “Ms. Holocaust Survivor” that carries a redeeming quality, the championing of the human spirit over evil.  It seems to have been a celebration of these women in their 70′s and 80′s, and a positive one at that. No blazing lights and cameras broadcasting the affair, no lurid swimsuit segment, no Little Miss Sunshine moments.

More »