“Passover,” Arthur Szyk, 1948. Yeshiva University Museum.
There is no holiday that brings out the screaming in my head as much as Passover.
There are two sets of noise that take hold of my brain at this time of year: the pre-Pesach (Passover) trauma and the Seder night trauma. Or as I have come to experience it, the trauma created by women’s stuff, and the trauma created by men’s stuff.
Growing up, the pre-Pesach anxiety began as soon as Purim was over. We were only allowed to eat from a pre-determined collection in the kitchen, we were on a schedule around what rooms were already sterilized, and my mother’s mood went from the usual cold and cranky to the downright hostile. Nothing was ever right, we walked on eggshells, and life was insane and frenetic. Although I often wonder how many of my traumas are from religion and how many are from my particular family, in this particular case I have come to learn that this kind of thing was going on not only my own house but also in many Jewish homes around the world. Even women of privilege engage in the panic. (I’ll never forget the time, years ago, when a mother frantically came to pick up her daughter from a play date around a week before Pesach, saying, “Hurry, I have to rush home and watch my cleaning lady do the kitchen.”) Pre-Pesach insanity, it seemed, was the Women’s Way, no matter how you celebrated the holiday.
I’ve been living in Israel for over 20 years, and it is still astounding for me to watch how this culture takes over Jewish women’s lives, no matter what kind of religious observance they adhere to during the year. Conversations in shops, on the street, and online, revolve around Jewish women of all backgrounds managing the minutia of obsessive cleaning, shopping, and cooking. There seems to be an uncontrolled lust for women comparing themselves to one another—who started cleaning and cooking earlier, who is having more guests, who is more efficient, who is more creative, and ironically also who has more time-saving hacks. Facebook doesn’t help, by the way.
Growing up in Orthodox Brooklyn, I found this pre-Pesach cleaning-cooking-hosting-mania was compounded by the other assault on women’s bodies: clothing shopping. Our job, as religious girls, was not only to manage the kitchen, but also to look gorgeous as we did it. We prepared our shul and Seder outfits meticulously and expensively, down to the last perfectly-matching accessory. But let me tell you something: there is nothing quite as dysfunctional within the female experience as surrounding yourself with copious amounts of food and then forbidding yourself from eating it. Women’s and girls’ table conversation, once we finished serving, invariably revolved around calories, points, fat content, carbs, gluten, GI, cellulite, whatever. (Each year, the measures for what we should or shouldn’t eat changed, led by trends announced by The New York Times. This added to women’s competition...
Well, it's official: I'm going to Australia, as the NCJWA Scholar-in-Residence!! I will be giving talks on topics related to the status of women in Israel to groups in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Canberra, as well as participating in the Melbourne Jewish Writers' Festival! And visiting Shira, yay, as well as some of the schools..... I have not been back to Melbourne since we moved back to Israel in 2005. That is a long time..... Looking forward to catching up and reconnecting with family and friends. Thank you Shirley Krause Glance and Di Hirsh for believing in me and making this happen. And to those of you who want to catch up, send me a note -- looking forward! May 18-June 3. Really really excited...
Acting against type, the Israeli military canceled the promotion of an Israeli general after he was accused of raping a female soldier and sexually harassing another. Brig.-Gen. Ofek Buchris, a highly praised commander who received a citation for bravery during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 and was reportedly shortlisted for the next chief-of-staff. He was about to become head of the prominent Operations Division when one of his alleged victims filed a complaint with the police. After polygraphs with both the accused and the complainant, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot recalled the nomination.
The prosecution told the court martial that the brigadier general is suspected of five counts of rape, sodomy and indecent assault over a long period. Buchris denied having sexual relations with the soldier and his counsel submitted to the court a polygraph. Nevertheless, the court was not convinced of his innocence.
“Sufficient evidence has been gathered to provide a basis for the suspicions against the officer,” the judge ruled, in a special court martial convened at Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Buchris was initially suspended for two weeks, but Eisenkot extended the suspension by another month while the investigation continues.
MK Merav Michaeli, a key feminist legislator from the Zionist Camp party who has been working on the issue of sexual violence against women for three decades, posted a vlog on Facebook describing the significance of these events:
“This is an earthquake for us. This is the best response to those who have been trying to blame the victim, again – even though she went straight to the police and not to a trial of public opinion or Facebook. It is the best response to those who conduct their own trial of public opinion against the victim. So it’s true that it is seems far-fetched to cancel an appointment ‘just’ because of an accusation. But it is also far-fetched to appoint someone to such a senior position while he has such a heavy cloud over him. True, it wasn’t long ago that being accused of rape wasn’t considered a ‘heavy cloud.’ Today, the Chief of Staff cancelled an appointment because of a rape accusation…… This is a huge step towards justice and equality. And it is a massive step in the fight against rape.”
One in three women in Israel experiences sexual violence in her lifetime, Michaeli added, and the rape hotlines in Israel receive 43,000 calls per year. The IDF says the number of sex crime investigations it has undertaken has been around 125 annually over the last two years, but thenumber of rape complaints has risen each year from five in 2013 to eight in 2014 to 12 last year.
Read more: http://forward.com/sisterhood/335857/in-earthquake-for-israeli-feminists-military-cancels-promotion-for-alleged/#ixzz430RtL3UC ...
Are sexist jokes harmless? The ball-and-chain jokes about wives and mothers in laws, the comments about women's body parts, the hardy-har-har about blondes who have no brains? Are these harmless or are they actually a form of abuse?
These are some of the questions that have come up since I wrote my piece two weeks ago about non-contact sexual abuse. Can jokes be abuse? But they are just so "normal"? How can that be abuse?
Consider this: What some of us may have been taught is "normal": a family sits around the table for shabbat lunch. the men of the family -- father, uncle, brother-in-law, all busy telling jokes are about women, about men and sex. about women's bodies, about women's dumbness or stupidity or lack of common sense. Meanwhile, the women are serving and the men are sitting. Men get to deliver opinions and women get to be servers. The house may even have a rule that men get served first. And at the same time, girls who are too opinionated are called "provocative", or "annoying", or "chutzpahdik" or "disrespectful". And their bodies are commented on during all this. Whose skirt is too short. Which women in synagogue wore skirts that were too short. Who gained weight or lost weight. Who should go on a diet. Who should be losing weight. Who "looks great". This is what is happening in the house.
Consider the experience of the 10 year old girl in all this. What is she experiencing about her body? About what it means to get attention? About what it means to be correct as a woman? What is going through her mind? What kind of relationships is she developing with her body? With her sexuality? With men? With power and voice? What is she internalizing? What kinds of relationships might she eventually have with boys and men? What kinds of body issues might she have?
Now imagine this: The girl desperately wants her smart, charismatic father to love her and admire her. She wants to be in his circle. she tried having opinions but got punished for that. so she tries another tack. she makes a sexist joke. She makes the kind of joke her father would make about, say, Kim Kardashian's ass. She knows it is considered funny, even if she doesn't really get why. But she is smart enough to know how to fit in and get some attention. The father looks at her, stunned, and then laughs in pride. Later he will say that she is his smartest daughter. Almost like a boy. She is like his vicarious son. She is so smart.
What has this girl internalized? Think about it.
When is a joke not just a joke but part of a culture of sexual abuse? Even when there is no actual touching involved......
This was the Dvar Torah I delivered at the Toronto Partnership Minyan, March 5, 2016:
The “half shekel” is a fascinating story. In this community custom, which began in the desert and continued throughout the Temple periods, Jewish adult men would have a half shekel to the priest leadership during the month of Adar each year, in advance of the new fiscal year, which began on the first of Nisan. According to the Mishna (Shekalim, chap. 4) the courts would post reminders regarding this tax a month earlier, on the 1st of Adar.
The practice can be viewed in one of three ways. It can be seen as a tax, as a charity, or as a spiritual practice.
Viewed as a tax, the half shekel was a collection that enabled the new leadership to provide services for the collective. According to the Mishna, the half shekel tax was used to purchase the animals which were used for the communal sacrifices. The leftover funds were used for a variety of communal purposes, including providing salaries for the judges and maintenance of the Temple and the city walls )Mishna Shekalim chapter 4).
The tax view gives it a bit of a cynical rendering. In political theory, what gives a governing entity authority is the ability to incarcerate and to tax. It is an expression of “Consent of the governed” – that is, if you can convince people to part with their money, you have authority. In that sense, if this is a tax, it is about giving authority to the priests by giving them the ability to tax, thereby creating a powerful financial component to the central religious authority.
Viewed as more of a charity, the practice is more utopian and less cynical. It is perhaps the original charity offering of the Jews. Put differently, it was the Jews’ first collective budgeting tool – like a precursor to the Federation system or to giving circles. It is about coming together to embrace giving to create a collective enterprise. Perhaps it had echoes of the kibbutz – pooling what you have in order to create a communal life built on a shared ethos. It gave everyone an equal part in the collective.
The constancy of the donation, built on a vision of horizontal equality, may have been natural in the desert, where there was actual equality. Everyone had the same tent, the same lifestyle, the same expectations, the same amount of rain. Nobody was getting rich off of the manna or building gold-plated bathrooms. Among Israelite men, equality was the given. The half-shekel practice in later generations – even when conditions changed towards more stratifications –idealized the equality-among-brothers, maintaining an echo of desert life in the community’s consciousness. Thus, even in temple times, when socio-economic differences existed, the Torah insisted on equal half-shekel donations to remind people of fundamental human equality, at least among free Jewish men. “The rich [man] will not give more and the poor [man] will not give less than the...
Had a wonderful time in Toronto. Spent Shabbat at the warm community of the Toronto Partnership Minyan, with Paul Adam, Rachel Cousineau, Joanna Sasson Morrison, Rebecca Ihilchik and many others. I gave a class in the morning on social dynamics of single-sex spaces versus coed spaces within the process of gender change in society. And then later gave a dvar torah with a gendered reading of the "Half Shekel". I will try to turn at least one of these into a blog post later this week. Dena Greenberg Bensalmon was an awesome hostess, as were her parents, so thanks so much for that!
Then, I went to Limmud Toronto, invited by Limmud organizers Shimona Hirchberg and Shalom Steinberg, Had a wonderful time, gave a talk on gender and religion in Israel. Saw some people but missed some others.Sara Ivry Nora Gold Aurora Mendelsohn. Posting some photos here. Limmud was really great. 600 people, klezmer music and dancing in the lobby, Yid Life Crisis, and more. Good times...
And of course, biggest thanks go to Chana Erin Erin for being my "melava", chaperone, therapist, tour guide, editor, hostess, confidante and overall amazing friend. I have never had a trip quite like this, constantly surrounded by all that love and support, everywhere I went. It was transformative, on the deepest level. AND of course, there was also Niagara Falls in the snow....
A few months ago, a fifteen-year-old girl named Lee was taking a shower, she thought alone. When she went to school the next day and found her classmates laughing at her, she learned that a boy in her school in Beersheba had installed a camera in the stall. Now, thanks to Whatsapp, her naked body was on everyone’s phone. She was mortified. Although the school expelled the boy and her family filed charges, the boy was returned shortly thereafter, following a debate of the Education Committee of the Knesset. And to add salt to her wounds, last week, the Israel police announced that they are closing the case. “The situation does not warrant a criminal investigation,” they told Lee’s parents. Although Lee’s lawyer says the family plans to appeal since “the boy’s actions are clearly against the law,” for Lee it is almost irrelevant. She has not returned to school.
The story, which barely made any headlines in Israel or elsewhere, is part of a phenomenon known as “video voyeurism”, a psychopathic set of behaviors the impact of which has multiplied a result of technological advances. What was once a problem of so-called “peeping toms” hiding in bushes is now a worldwide epidemic of men who use microscopic video cameras and both the regular and “dark” internet to shame victims for perpetuity. Victims can have their intimate photos or videos taken and shared with the entire world without their knowledge.
We do not yet have an effective name for the type of trauma that a girl or woman experiences when the entire world sees her naked. It is a type of trauma that did not exist in the world before the past decade. And it includes a magnitude of shame that we do not yet, as a society, fully comprehend.
Imagine going to a job interview or on a date, only to discover that the first thing Google has shown the person sitting across from you is a photo of you naked. There is a shame in this experience that, according to experts in sexual assault, can be even worse than rape. As sportscaster Erin Andrews said this week about her own experience of falling victim to video voyeurism, “Oh my God ….. I was naked all over the Internet”. She says that "every single day, either I get a tweet or somebody makes a comment in the paper or somebody sends me a still of the video to my Twitter or someone screams it at me in the stands and I’m right back to this…I feel so embarrassed and I am so ashamed.” Even with the perpetrator in prison for stalking, the impact on the victim will never be erased because, well, the internet. It is like being forced to walk around in public naked every single day.
Take for example the story of Amanda Todd, the Canadian girl who fell victim to an online pedophile. As most 12-year-olds, she enjoyed hanging out with her friends, listening to music and playing...
So excited to be visiting Toronto this weekend -- snow and all! I'll thrilled to be giving a talk at Limmud Toronto called, "Gender, Religion and Politics in Israel". Will also be giving two talks at the Toronto Partnership Minyan -- one on "Gender issues in the half shekel", and one on "Did the partnership minyan kill the women's tefilla group". I'm also doing a women's oneg on Friday night. If you're in the neighborhood, say hello!
“There are seventy faces of Torah,” the midrash says. It’s a beautiful concept, a celebration of diversity and multiple perspectives, a reminder that every text is an open book, subject to multiple human interpretations.
But people are Torahs too. We are tightly wrapped up scrolls of text, chock full of experiences, memories, scenes, narratives, ideas, beliefs, images and creations. In yoga they are called “samkaras”, thousands of imprints of experience and memory, all embedded in our consciousness, guiding us and serving as a lenses and triggers in our lives. We walk through the world interpreting and reinterpreting, trying to make sense of our pasts, constructing our futures, and trying to stay balanced and awake in the present. Each of us has seventy faces, at least. Maybe thousands, or millions, depending on how far down we are willing to dig.
Many years ago, when I was participating in a new circle of colleagues and we were asked to introduce ourselves, I stood up and counted my seventy faces. It went something like this:
I AM a woman, a Jew, a mother, a daughter-in-law, a wife, a cousin, a niece, a friend, an author, a blogger, a colleague, a researcher, a student, a teacher, a business owner, a client, a service provider, a professional, a mentor, a volunteer, a cook, a consumer, a shopper, a pedestrian, a driver, an Israeli, an American, a Barnard graduate, a PhD, a Yeshivah of Flatbush alumni, a traveler, a native English speaker, a Caucasian, an Ashkenazit, a native New Yorker, a brunette, a petite, a size 38 shoe, a pitta-vata, a Sagittarius, an otter, an extrovert, an introvert, a group facilitator, a Hebrew speaker, a home-owner, a voter, a liberal, a Zionist, a feminist, a Hebrew University graduate, a speaker, an activist, a Facebook user, a music-lover, a piano-player, a sometimes artist of sorts, a Modi’in resident, an immigrant, a free-range parent, a yogini, a meditator, an able-bodied, a swimmer, a bank-account owner, a bread addict, a tea drinker, a survivor, a former compulsive dieter, an advocate, an ally, an earner, a believer, a spiritual seeker, a night owl, a Hillary supporter, a bare-headed woman, a pants-wearing woman, a former head-covering and skirt-wearing Orthodox woman, a kosher eater, a dual citizen, an IDF parent, a peace activist, a Reiki practitioner, a book-lover, a book reviewer, a scrabble player, a puzzle enthusiast, a sleep-talker, a hoarder, a hugger, a risk-taker, a warrior, a truth-teller, a free person…..
What are your seventy faces? Feel free to share below.
In peace and friendship,
I read obituaries. I like getting the whole picture about a person’s life, to be moved by other people’s passions and work. Perhaps it is the sociologist in me, inspired by Margaret Mead, who liked to be inspired by people’s real lives.
Perhaps it is more compulsive, my need to know where we are headed, like my habit of reading the last page of book before I am done. I want to know the purpose of this story – our lives, the narratives we craft for ourselves – where the narrator is trying to lead us. I’m impatient for the ending. I want to know right now, every day, what makes life – my life, your life – meaningful.
Or maybe I like commiserating with mourners, because being in a space where sadness dwells give me permission to embrace my own mourning needs, without having to explain too much. Being a woman in the world often means living with constant injustices and assaults, and maybe sometimes I want to dwell in the reality of loss, an incessant daily loss.
Indeed, as I read obituaries, I cannot help but feel the dearth of women. Most days, on the New York Times home page, where there is only room for mention of three obituaries, there are no women at all. Some days one of three will be women, but I have only rarely ever seen two women there, and never all three. (I am reminded of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comment that she will only be satisfied when all nine seats on the Supreme Court bench are occupied by women. I suppose that is how I feel about the obit section.)
The absence of women in the obituaries was noted last year by Lynn Melnick and then picked up by Amanda Hess at Slate. Melnick counted 9 out of 66 obituaries about women, or 13.6%. Melnick told Slate, “I would guess there are dozens of writers, scientists, and academics whose lives and deaths go unnoticed because the men’s lives are perceived as more of note”. Indeed. It is this sense that women’s lives matter less – that sense which so many of us experience on a daily basis – that is permanently reinforced by a life slipping away unnoted. It is a tragedy that pours truckloads of pain over the already painful loss of life. It is that unbearable sense that our presence on this earth is simply not important.
Last week, as I pored over lists of “Notable Deaths of 2015”, I decided to look a bit more scientifically at this phenomenon. So I sat down and counted. Yes, I went through a bunch of major news outlets and actually counted how many women were mentioned – and why. Here is some of what I found:
Read more: http://forward.com/sisterhood/330631/for-women-gender-bias-continues-even-in-death/#ixzz3xmQ1swtS...