[Cross-posted from The Jewish Week]
This week would have been the 85th birthday of Adrienne Rich, the Jewish feminist poet who died three years ago leaving behind a tremendous legacy of ideas and words that helped shape many people’s gender identities and inspired the work of feminist activism.
Adrienne Rich narrated her life and our world through her poems. Her poetry chronicles her transformation from bored, repressed suburban wife to restless, passionate, lesbian feminist activist. Her descriptions of the inner lives of women – radically spoken at the time from a woman’s point of view – were revolutionary then and continue to resonate today. As women (and others) struggle to break free from societal expectations of gender, Rich’s voice gives power and credence to the process of social change and discovering freedom. She embodied the personal as political.
She did not merely narrate feminism; she also urged it along with power and vision. Her impact on the evolution of the feminist movement can be felt in the many tributes to her since her death, which testify to the sometimes very personal ways in which her writing affected people, liberated women and often validated the desire to live fully and embrace their passions and identities. The Jewish Women’s Archive also paid tribute to her last month as part of Poetry month.
Still, I think that in the Jewish world, her impact has perhaps not yet been fully actualized. We still have a lot to learn from her. Her poetry leaves signposts for Jewish feminist activists, bits of power and encouragement along the way.
One poem that articulates the mission in a way that particularly relates to Jewish life is “The Roofwalker” (1961), where Rich wrote of the “half-finished houses”. She asks, “Was it worth while to lay--/with infinite exertion--/a roof I can't live under?/All those blueprints/ closings of gaps/ measurings, calculations?/A life I didn't choose/ chose me: even/my tools are the wrong ones/for what I have to do.” This resonates deeply with me, and possibly with others who are trying to make changes around gender within Jewish life. I also feel that the life chose me, of fixing the roof of the half-finished house that I am not sure I can live under. It is half-finished because Jewish women have not been fully able to make our mark on the culture. And the “measurings, calculations” remind me of all the Talmudic and halakhic discourse with which the Jewish house is built. There are other, better tools out there, and Rich reminds me to search for them and use them.
Adrienne Rich also brilliantly revealed the ways in which gender oppression take place on the female body. In the poem "Tear Gas," she wrote "The will to change begins in the body not in the mind/My politics is in my body." Her book, “Of Woman Born,” goes even further in unpacking the myriad societal constructs around motherhood. Indeed, in Judaism the female body is at the center of incessant discourse...
Convicted of recording 52 women naked in the mikveh, with another 100 women who are past the statute of limitations.... Untold emotional, psychological and spiritual damage to the women..... victims who can no longer step foot in synagogue, who can no longer trust rabbis, who no longer want to be Jewish, who are reliving nightmares of abuse, who do not want to go the mikveh, whose marriages are strained, whose identities are in question...... Below is a detailed description of the crimes of Barry Freundel. Read it and tremble.
SUPERIOR COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CRIMINAL DIVISION - MISDEMEANOR BRANCHUNITED STATES OF AMERICACase No. 2014-CMD-18262 Hon. Geoffrey AlprinSentencing Date: May 15, 2015V.BERNARD FREUNDELUNITED STATES' MEMORANDUM IN AID OF SENTENCING
The United States of America, by and through its attorney, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, respectfully submits this memorandum in aid of sentencing. The defendant, Bernard Freundel, is before the Court for sentencing after pleading guilty to 52 counts of Voyeurism, in violation of 22 D.C. Code §§ 3531(6) and (c), involving surreptitiously videotaping 52 separate women. In light of the extraordinary scope of the defendant's crimes, the premeditation and planning involved, the substantial abuse of the defendant's position of exceptional trust, and the severe impact on the victims, the United States submits that a sentence of 208 months of incarceration would serve the interests of justice in this case. In support of its recommendation, the government relies on the following information.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORYBetween approximately 1989 and October 2014, the defendant, Bernard Freundel, was the sole rabbi of Kesher Israel Congregation, located at 2801 N Street, NW, Washington, D.C. The defendant also taught courses on ethics at Towson University for approximately five years, and seminars on Jewish law at Georgetown Law Center since the early 1990s. The defendant's influence was felt not only within Washington D.C., but around the world. For years, the defendant was a leader in an effort to establish uniform standards for conversions to Orthodox Judaism in the United States, and to ensure that many American conversions would be accepted by Israel. At one time, his reputation was that only his conversions would be guaranteed to be deemed valid by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. As a result, people came from all over the region and the globe to study with the defendant and convert with him as their sponsor.
In 2005, a Jewish ritual bath (known as a "mikvah") opened at 1308 28th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. Known as the National Capital Mikvah, the building is located across a courtyard from Kesher Israel.' A mikvah is used primarily by Orthodox Jewish women for monthly spiritual purification and by individuals as the final step in the Orthodox Jewish conversion process. The use of the mikvah and many of its attendant rituals and blessings are prescribed by Jewish text and tradition. As an initial matter, immersion in a mikvah is regarded as an intensely private and spiritual experience. As noted in a community...
The following is a guest blog post by Naomi Pelled, the new Technical Director of "A Jewish Feminist", and a self-described third-generation Jewish feminist.
When I was asked to work with Elana on the tech side running and recording a Telecourse series on Jewish Feminism, I was delighted. I thought how fascinating it would be, a series on issues affecting Jewish Women from every walk of life, and where I could listen and learn from some world renowned Jewish Women, who have expertise in many pressing women's issues. I had always considered myself a feminist, following in the footsteps of my mother and her mother before her, but I wasn't an ‘active feminist'. When we met, Elana gave me a copy of her book, 'The War on Women In Israel'. I thought to myself, what a great new Shabbat reading book, but feared that it would irritate my Israeli husband, who is so closed when it comes to Feminism. This is not because he is anti-women's rights, but because he grew up in the Israeli religious school system and is very naive about these issues.
I started reading the book on Shabbat and realised that there are so many news items in Israel, that I take for granted, which I should actually be questioning and not just accepting. I was so proud as a religious Jewish women, that I have my own mind and do not vote according to what my husband says, but was struck by the number of religious women, whose political affiliations are controlled by their husbands, to the detriments of their human and women's rights. I always believed in woman's rights and equality between men and women. Before making Aliyah, I worked for corporations in HR. One aspect of my role was to enforce HR governance, working to ensure men and women were paid fairly and equitably to one another. I grew up in the UK, the youngest of three children, and the only daughter. My mother separated from my father when I was two and a half years old. My mother never remarried and says her life is far less complicated without a man. My father, on the other hand, remarried within eighteen months. My mother demonstrated that she was self-sufficient and an emotionally intelligent woman who could hold down a full time job, be a single mother, look after her children and do all home duties, to a high standard. She was a great role model. She taught us all that she, as a woman, could be a successful teacher and sensitive mother. My elder brother, helped around the house with vacuuming, cooking and clearing away and babysitting for me. He has grown up to be a great dad, who shares all household responsibilities from caring for the children, as soon as they woke up, to cooking and cleaning. He is involved in many other tasks that 50 years ago would have been considered a woman's duty, When I see my father now I see...
Here are 7 tips for how to make the most of your Dynamics of Jewish Feminism telecourse:
Watch with friends! Invite your friends over -- you know, the ones who you are ALWAYS talking to about these things -- plug into a nice big screen, find comfy seats and make a fresh batch of coffee. And the added bonus: you get to split the registration fee! A win-win.
Shut everything else off. Take a little break from your cellphone, your email, and shuttling your kids around. Turn this into "me-time", a little present for yourself
Save the recording. If you can't watch live, you can make a time to watch any time.
Join the conversation. Sign in to the group conversation and find out what other people are thinking, too.
Collect the reading list. You will be receiving lots of book and article recommendations. It's a treasure chest for Jewish feminist readers!
Tell others about it. Tell other people about it -- colleagues, co-workers, community members, neighbors -- and find out who shares your interest in Jewish feminism.
To register, click here
Have you signed up yet for the “Dynamics of Jewish Feminism” telecourse? Still deliberating? Well, here are SEVEN great reasons to join that will help you make up your mind:
Engage with the best and the brightest. Hear Prof Judith Plaskow (author of “Standing again at Sinai”) talking with Prof Rachel Adler, (author of “The Jew who wasn’t there”) discuss and debate what Jewish feminism means.
Take on the hard issues. Send in your own questions to Lilith founder Susan Weidman Schneider and feminist artist Jacqueline Nicholls as they debate “s*lut-shaming” in Jewish life
Break open taboos. Be part of the conversation on sexuality in Jewish life, with experts Talli Yehuda Rosenbaum, Rabbi Haviva Ner David (founder of the Reut mikveh), and Carrie Bornstein (Mayyim Hayyim)
Help make change. Find out how women like Debbie Gross, Lori Weinstein (Director of Jewish Women International), Debbie Gross (founder of the Crisis Center for Religious Women) and Yudit Sidikman (founder of El-Halev) address sexual abuse and violence against women.
Demand action. Learn what veteran agunah activists Dr Susan Weiss and Dr Susan Aronoff are working on to fix this problem.
Envision the future. Be part of the conversation where Rabbi Naamah Kelman(HUC) , Nancy Kaufman (NCJW) and author Letty Cottin Pogrebin discuss and debate women’s leadership
Connect with others just like you. Be part of an online community like no other, a group of like-minded Jewish feminists from around the world
So what are you waiting for? Sign up today!...
It’s hard to be a feminist in Israel today. You walk around thinking that it should be obvious that women are equal human beings, fully capable of living independent, free lives. But that belief is challenged in every corner of your life, every day.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Michal Patelle
Sure, there are some signs in Israel that women are doing great. We have women pilots, women as heads of the Supreme Court, and even a woman Nobel Prize winnerin science. We once even had a woman prime minister, elected back in the sixties. Indeed, today more bachelor’s degrees are handed out to Israeli women than to men. All these are nice little snapshots of a country where there is a possibility of women to make real advances.
But these snapshots are only part of the picture. Looking deeper, they do not reflect the reality on the ground.
Take the issue of women in academia, for example. The bachelor’s level is where equality ends. There are more women than men in universities, but fewer female professors. In fact, as the professional level rises, men outnumber women in increasing proportions, like an inverted pyramid. Men are promoted more and more, despite a larger pool of women. This obnoxious pattern has persisted for decades.
Or take women in politics. Although the number of women Knesset members has increased gradually over the past 15 years, we are still below 30% female representation. What’s worse, on the municipal level only two out of the 230 cities in Israel have women mayors. It is an appalling statistic. And by the way, even though we have had several women heading the Supreme Court, all told only 10 out of 64 Supreme Court justices.
The issue of women in the army is also a problem. Although the army has also been slowly including more women in coveted positions many of the most elite units are still all male. Women’s positions are also under tremendous threat from the pressure to conscript more religious soldiers – whose first demand is always to remove women’s presence. The army is reportedly building an all-male base, and already a few weeks ago women soldiers were asked to leave the mess hall when religious soldiers needed to eat. Get ready for more of that. All of this somehow makes sense to the army establishment. And that’s because in general there is an entire sexist culture in the army which assumes women to be weaker, lesser, not serious. My daughter, a Captain in Intelligence in the IDF, constantly tells me stories of the grassroots sexist culture she experiences. Sure, women can rise to certain places, but the sexism remains ubiquitous.
This in turn affects the entire culture of women in business. Israel is heralded as a hi-tech haven, and yet women are systematically excluded from that world, where business relationships are usually culled from those elite army units where women are usually absent. Women head fewer than 8% of top hi-tech companies in Israel and are a mere 16.6% of board members all told. Women are often just not seen, like in the bestselling...
For Yom Ha’Atzmaut -- Israel’s 67th Independence Day – I decided to create a list of 67 inspiring women in Israel. To do this, I crowdsourced this assignment, with a simple Facebook status update, “Who are the most amazing Israel women that you know? The ones changing the world for good?” Well, the answers came fast, with the most beautiful, loving energy. I was so moved. And once I started collecting them into a list, the numbers far surpassed 67. In fact, the list became closer to TWICE 67. So actually, here is a list of 134 amazing Israeli women for you to get to know this Yom Ha’atzmaut – and at a certain point I really just had to stop (apologies in advance to those I left out who deserve a place here. There are many of you….).
The women on this list are activists, educators, artists, scientists, rabbis, writers, and “firsts”, and leaders in a whole range of fields. Some of the women I know well and love, and some I am meeting myself for the first time in this list. They are all worth getting to know. Get ready to be inspired.
[PS Feel free to leave comments with names of other women who should be on the list!]
"Firsts" -- Breaking Glass Everythings
Jewish educators and scholars
Linor Abargil. Israeli beauty queen who won the Miss World beauty pageant in 1998, shortly after being raped. Since then, she has become a global advocate in the fight against sexual violence with the film “Brave Miss World”.
Daphni Leef. Social activist, video artist, and editor. In July 2011 she was one of the organizers of a tent camp in central Tel Aviv, sparking the 2011 housing protests in Israel.
Beth Steinberg. Executive Director and co-founder of Shutaf, Inclusion Programs for Children with Special Needs in Jerusalem. As a parent of a child with special needs, she struggled to find workable, appropriate activities for her child. Beth believes that a well-run inclusion program can help educate and change values, creating meaningful and lasting social change.
Rachel Schitskovsky-Ivker. Founder of Hadadi, Breast Cancer support center, a comprehensive center that combines both emotional and material support for women coping with breast cancer – everything beyond the medical - a supportive community, information, support for family members, specialty accessories for coping with the side-effects of treatment, and other services.
Ilana Pinshaw. Director of Microfy, an Israeli based NGO that helps Israeli and asylum seeker entrepreneurs living in the Tel Aviv area become economically independent through loans, training and mentoring.
Efrat Degani-Toperoff. Programme Officer at Yad Hanadiv, Co-Founder and Chair of Bema’aglei Tzedek and Co-Founder of the Good Neighbour Association and the Psifas Israeli Fund, and a member of the Youth Forum of President Shimon Peres.
Avigail Sperber. Filmmaker and activist advocating for religious lesbian women. Founder of Bat Kol organization for religious LGBT community, and creator of award-winning film, “Probation time” about her...
It's been a long time since travelling by air was a glamorous way to go. We're pretty well become used to removing the shoes at security check ins... and the ever-shrinking seat sizes in Economy.
But now some women, especially on flights to and from Israel, are encountering what they say is an unacceptable aviation irritation. They're being asked to switch seats by some ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who refuse to sit next to a woman who are not their wives. The practice has become prevalent enough to motivate a campaign, and inspire an online video spoofing the Israeli airline, El-Al. Now, we should note that not all passengers report being upset at requests to switch seats with ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi men... But Elana Sztokman certainly was.
Listen here http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-april-17-2015-1.3037126/flight-seating-spurs-dispute-over-religious-beliefs-civil-rights-1.3037189...
Here is my own take on the Hagaddah:
"For four daughters did the Bible speak: The Curious One, who excitedly asked everyone, 'What is this amazing looking Matza?' and asked the same about every item on the table and in the world.
The Passionate One, who loved the scents, colors, and flavors of the seder table and all the people around it, who sang and danced with all her heart, who put on plays with her cousins and laughed so hard the back-door neighbors heard her and looked forward to hearing her voice every year.
The Caring One, who lovingly went around ensuring that everyone had what to eat and a hug to go with it, who never sat until everyone else was safe and happy.
And The Sad, sometimes Angry One, who remembered all the hurts and pains of women who came before her, the ones who never achieved freedom, the ones who were neither seen nor heard. She sat through the seder praying for healing for herself and her people, whoever they were.
And the first three daughters loved and accepted the fourth daughter, and they were so grateful to have her with them.
And they were all grateful for the presence of the other, knowing that each one enriched her.
Talia Kohen interviews Elana Sztokman about women in Israeli politics in advance of the upcoming elections in Israel, Part 1 and Part 2 below. And please share your comments and feedback.
Elana Sztokman on the Arutz Sheva Website - Could There Ever be a Female Prime Minister of Israel Again?