Guest post By Eve Sacks, originally posted at The Center for Jewish Feminism
By Eve Sacks
My two oldest children attended four different Orthodox Jewish nursery schools (kindergarten / gan) in four consecutive years. Of these three were affiliated to Jewish primary schools and one was a stand alone nursery. All four had Shabbat parties where parents were invited. In my work with JOFA I have also spoken to others about their gender experiences in other London Orthodox Jewish schools and nurseries, so I am aware of the issues in many London primary schools.
My first Jewish nursery school experience was nine years ago when my daughter started nursery just before she turned three. We chose a nursery that was local, and connected to the synagogue we were members of, an orthodox synagogue with a mixed membership, including both shomer shabbat (religiously observant) families and also those who rarely attended and were not observant.
The nursery had a great reputation; the children in the nursery came from a mixed of religious backgrounds; indeed at the Chanukah party most Dad’s did not wear kippot and in the summer the mums didn’t think twice about collecting their children wearing vest tops or gym leggings. Less than a quarter of the 18 children would have been from shomer shabbat homes and it’s also worth noting this was a reasonably affluent suburb of London.
Within a few weeks of starting she was asked to be Shabbat Ima – the Shabbat “mother”. I was very excited and took my mother in law with me. My daughter was also very excited to be Shabbat Ima. But I was shocked with what I saw, and as this was the first time I set foot into the nursery I began to worry about what else she was being taught.
“So”, said the teacher, “let’s start with getting ready for Shabbat. Will all the girls now stand up? The Mummies are going to do the cooking and the cleaning for Shabbat.”
My jaw dropped in amazement as I saw the little girls all stand up and pretend to be first cooking and then cleaning for Shabbat. As the Shabbat Ima my daughter was also given props, some play food and then a broom!
“Now”, said the teacher, “the boys can stand up as the Daddies are getting ready for Shabbat! They are all at work and will be coming home soon. Daddies please all march around the room to come home for Shabbat!”
So the boys all stood up and marched around the room.
It continued, my daughter lit the candles and the 3-year-old Daddy went to shul. I don’t remember much more, I just remember being totally shocked that I had chosen a nursery for its orthodox yet inclusive nature and this is what she was being taught? And who knows what else they were teaching the rest of the time? It was even more surprising as the nursery teacher was young; certainly younger than the mums!
Later, my mother-in-law commented on what a “traditional”...
Guest post By Shimona Hirchberg, originally posted at The Center for Jewish Feminism
I’m continuously surprised by the interconnections of life. I had shared my post-Shabbat book recommendations and one provoked a discussion on sexual education in Jewish private schools. Taught in Toronto schools in grade 6, the book in question included a sexual assault (Julie of the Wolves). For myself and the commentator, none of our teachers adequately (hindsight is 20/20) addressed the sexual assault that took place in the book’s pages in preventing negative internalizations and trauma. While not included in last week’s telecourse, Gender issues in Jewish Education topics per se, Marcia Beck, Sally Berkovic, and Elana Sztokman talked about the role of educators in how we internalize messages about modesty, bodies, and sexuality.
We like to think we’re in control of our bodies and world, but we’re not. This week’s two panelists Marcia Beck and Sally Berkovic discussed the impacts of female bodies being policed, controlled, and manipulated via modesty by schools (dress codes) and other people. It’s very damaging for girls and women to have their bodies viewed as powerful & corrupting, internalized from comments by educators, peers, community members, and self-disciplined (‘your skirt/sleeves show too much skin’). Reactions to being told to cover up can be internalized as viewing your/our bodies as sexualized/ugly/fat, all negative messages.
“Of course we’re not okay… we’re punished no matter what we choose [hair, clothes, makeup]; it’s impossible to escape judgment” Marcia Beck’s comment on eating disorders as a functional coping mechanism of these internalized messages was most startling to hear. Bodies, beauty (the thin-kind is the underlying assumption of what beauty looks like), and sexuality are mainly judged in relation to marriage and social status, which carry a lot of weight in the Jewish world (contextualized within the US, Canada, and Israel by the panelists and facilitator).
Read the rest at The Center for Jewish Feminism
A kindergarten teacher noticed that the block corner in her classroom was completely boy-dominated, and decided to do something to bring girls to the space. She took a bunch of blocks and painted them pink and purple. The results were both good and bad. The good news: girls came to the block corner to play with pink and purple blocks. The bad news: girls came to the block corner to play with pink and purple blocks.
This story, recounted by my colleague and friend Dr. Chaya Gorsetman in the first session of our telecourse, “Ready for school? Gender Issues in Jewish Education”, brings up some of the huge challenges and dilemmas that educators face in trying to create equal gender opportunity in schools. Mountains of research
Dr Chaya Gorsetman
demonstrate the negative impact of sex-role socialization on girls from the earliest ages. Girls – and boys – receive the message in direct and indirect ways that boys are supposed to be aggressive, assertive, physical, competitive leaders while girls are supposed to be sweet, dainty, helpful, obedient, small, and nice. These ubiquitous messages come through books, school décor, classroom structures, teachers’ commentary, and of course Hollywood and Toys R Us. Peggy Orenstein’s crucial book, “Cinderella Ate my Daughter” describes in painful detail the pink-and-sparkly takeover of girls’ lives from the time they are born. Girls, especially, are bombarded with these messages from every angle.
But sometimes, if you can’t beat them, join them. If turning the block corner pink – or turning the science lab, or the computer lab metaphorically “girls” – brings more girls into the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), then some teachers are working to use that to girls’ advantage. Such an approach may make some of us cringe (or anyone who has read Peggy Orenstein’s book). But, as the panelists in this telecourses debated, perhaps the end-goal of advancing women and girls in high-status studies and careers is more important than fighting the pink-sparkly wars. Maybe. We all have to choose our battles, right?
Maybe there is another way. Amy Newman, a fabulous feminist teacher at the Gann Academy in Boston, who also spoke on this first telecourses panel, shared some interesting insights about the ways in which gender socialization happens in schools, and what her school is doing to change it. She reflected on the crossover between expectations of “extrovertness” and gender hierarchies. Teacher expectations about student assertiveness in the classroom invariably reward boys, she said, by cheering on boys who jump in, take over, or initiate – sometimes inadvertently punishing the girls who show a preference for being an introvert. She also shared insights about how body commentary shames girls.
In both of these areas, Amy said that her school has been engaged in school-wide discussions and consciousness-raising, and has made some remarkable changes in these areas. For example, teachers are now more conscious about favoritism towards extroverts, and today are not allowed to write on report cards comments such...
Cross-posted from The Forward Sisterhood.Last Thursday, at a meeting of parents of Kids4Peace, I had a remarkable experience that both shocked me and inspired me. It’s unique Jewish-Muslim-Christian camp for residents of Jerusalem and its environs, in which my daughter participated last summer. Over the last year, the children have met regularly and their parents have met simultaneously in adjoining rooms. It has been an eye-opening experience, a powerful reminder of the importance of getting to know people around you — especially people who are different from you.
This sounds like such a simple concept. But it is a remarkable fact of life in Israel that Arab and Jews who are sharing the same air and the same space and the same hot, daily grind, whose lives are so intricately bound up on one another, for the most part barely speak to each other.
One of the most precious aspects about the Kids4Peace parent meetings is the discovery that, as parents, we are all pretty much the same. We all try to get our kids off the computer, we all try to get them to clean up their rooms, we all live for school plays, academic presentations, sports games, and we all really just want a nice life for ourselves.
Still, Thursday night, October 22, was a little different. This was the first time we were meeting in a context of violent tension. Many people at the meeting said that they don’t remember a time when Jerusalem was this edgy: when life had completely come to a halt as everyone seemed to be staying home.
People are so anxious right now that Kids4Peace held a phone meeting for parents a few days earlier, under the assumption that most would not want to come in person. Significantly, Thursday’s group proved them wrong and, despite the surrounding events, some 60-70 parents turned up, from all sectors of society.
As people began sharing feelings and experiences, one Arab woman described a scene that really shook me. She had been looking after her elderly father in the hospital for the past few weeks, which gave her a ringside view of the comings and goings in the hospital around terror attacks. One day, when a female soldier had been stabbed and badly injured, the hospital staff made visitors make room for them to wheel the victim through the corridors. As she stood with her 8-year-old son she had a jarring conversation with him. He assumed, she told us, that the victim was an Arab woman. The mother said, “No, she’s Jewish”
“I don’t understand,” the child replied. “Why would a Jew stab another Jew?”
“No, no,” she gently explained. “The attacker wasn’t Jewish. He was an Arab.”
The boy could not comprehend this. His mother recounted that in his mind, the only violence that exists is Jews hurting Arabs. This is all he knows, and it’s all he has seen. He had no idea that the violence goes the other way, too.
When he realized...
By Allison Kaplan Sommer, in Haaretz:
"Historically, notes feminist scholar and former JOFA executive director Dr. Elana Sztokman, Simhat Torah, together with Purim were the two holidays that the early women’s tefilla movement in the 1990’s latched onto because these were considered exceptional times of the year, and it was easier to convince women that it would be acceptable to read from the Megilla and the Torah. Simhat Torah became the most influential of the two, she says, because “I think that reading from the Torah has been the most impassioned area of empowerment for Orthodox women.”
Sztokman’s major step on her personal feminist journey took place the first time she read from the Torah on Simhat Torah. “It was an entry drug, those Torah readings ... My father was a Torah reader and a chazan, so for me, reading from the Torah was the pinnacle of participation. Once you learn to read Torah, you never look at the text the same way again … Reading from the Torah gives you a real connection. It altered everything for me - it changed my relationship to being Jewish - you are standing at the center, you own the tradition and the heritage. You can’t go back.”
Read more: http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/routine-emergencies/.premium-1.677715...
Many members of the Jewish community are scratching their heads these days about the seemingly bizarre decision by the board of the Riverdale Jewish Center to keep on Jonathan Rosenblatt as their communal rabbi despite significant evidence that he has been acting inappropriately in his leadership role. To be fair there are people like Dr Steven Bayme who, according to the New York Times , decided that they cannot morally justify staying in such a synagogue, despite four decades of commitment, and for that they should be commended. And yet, despite what seems like an obvious history of violations of some basic moral and Jewish tenets, the board is retaining Rosenblatt, making victims of sexual abuse and their allies question the ethical backbone of the entire Orthodox community.
In fact, though, we should not be so surprised by the support that Rosenblatt has gotten from some of his balabusim and some of his peers. There is a long list of sexual predators and other Torah offenders who have received enviable support even as their sins come to light. Motti Elon, for example, who was convicted of sexual assault against his male students, has a strong following in Israel and abroad, and is frequently invited as a lecturer around the country. Marc Gafni , another long-time sexual offender, is considered a celebrity in many places, while his offenses barely find mention in his bio or on his Wikipedia page (“Best-selling author” it is). Michael Broyde , whose bizarre crimes of fraud were not sexual but nevertheless far out of the bounds of Torah, seems to be leading a new minyan of followers. And while Barry Freundel is largely condemned for his outrageously hurtful crimes of mikveh voyeurism, he had many vocal supporters before the undeniable evidence against him came to light, and many voices of support during sentencing – including Orthodox machers and pundits declaring, “It’s not rape” and therefore he should have gotten a much shorter sentence.
It is not only in the Jewish world where high-profile sexual predators find high-profile support. It has taken dozens of testimonies of women and several decades before anyone began taking seriously the allegations against Bill Cosby – and he still has some major celebrity supporters. Accusations against Dominique Kahn-Strauss were dismissed by some of his peers with a jovial, “Everyone knows he likes women.” And in fact all we have to do is look to the Supreme Court where Clarence Thomas has been sitting silently for over two decades despite powerful testimony about sexual harassment against him. It seems as if it is often easier for men in positions of power to wiggle out of accusations of sexual abuse than it is for victims to be believed.
This dynamic has a lot to do with bystander phenomenon. As Judith Herman wrote in her trail-blazing book “Trauma and Recovery,” all that abusers need from the world is passivity in order to continue abusing. Intervention, which benefits the victims, is much harder to receive than passivity. The default position of the observing world, of...
The annoying thing about the Internet (or one of them) is that when ridiculous posts go viral, the kind of posts that are full of lies and misconceptions, you may find yourself in the no-win situation of figuring out how to respond. This is especially true when those posts are about you, or about something you know something about, like your life or your body. The choice to engage with trolls and haters means drawing more attention to them. It also means that you actually have to spend time reading the drivel and letting it enter your brain in order to formulate the right response. It means diverting your energies away from your creative work in order to fight off the nutters. However, the choice not to engage means that they win, because they get the last word. It’s a lose-lose for the good guys.
Such is the case this week with the rubbish being tossed about over at Cross-Currents — a publication that touts itself as “a journal of thought and reflections, from an array of Orthodox Jewish writers”—about the removal of women’s images and names from public spaces and media. A rabbi wrote some really idiotic thoughts about why he thinks it’s okay for him to demand that his world be rid of women’s faces, names, voices and bodies. And some other men responded. And then the original poster complained that people were being mean to him (has he seen the kinds of vitriol that feminist bloggers have to deal with ? Suddenly it’s a problem when you’re on the receiving end, huh). And then another man responded about why erasing women is bad for the Jews. And somewhere outside of this discussion, women were reaching for their buckets. I can still hear the hurling.
Still, here I am responding. So I would like to make a few things clear. First of all, if a group of people is having a discussion about the lives of another group of people in a setting where that other group is not represented, there is a problem. Imagine a conference on Jewish history or anti-Semitism where there were no Jews present. Jews would never take such a conversation seriously, and would more likely be up in arms and calling their Congresspeople. That is how the Cross-Currents conversation looks to some of us women. A site that hasn’t had a woman writer in months if not years (I scrolled back as far as I could to find a woman writer and there were none on the horizon), if such a site publishes a bunch of men talking about women, why should anyone care? What possible interest could such a conversation have? I mean, what kinds of relevant or interesting ideas can anyone expect them to have? They do not even recognize the exclusion of women in their own midst, and certainly don’t view it as a problem, so of course we cannot expect them to have deep insights about excluding women. Sure, it is so easy...
Introducing Safe Sanctuaries: A three-part mini-telecourse, just in time for the high holidays, exploring the meaning and experience of feminist synagogues with some of the greatest Jewish feminist spiritual teachers of our time:
What do feminist synagogues look like?How do you create them?Do they exist?
Sundays August 30, Sept 6, Sept 209:30-10:30 AM LA time, 12:30-1:30 PM NY time, 7:30-8:30 PM Israel time, 5:30-6:30 UK time, 2:30 AM-3:30 AM Melbourne/Sydney time
Sessions are live and recorded, and can be viewed at any time
WEEK 1: LITURGY (AUG 30)
What is feminist liturgy? What are some of the challenges in our liturgical traditions for advancing gender inclusion? What do we do about God language? What are specific challenges around the High Holidays?
Prof Rachel Adler
Rabbi Dalia Marx
WEEK 2: THE SANCTUARY (SEPT 6)
What does a feminist sanctuary look like? Is it possible to have feminist sanctuaries that have partitions? What else should a community do to advance gender inclusion, across denominations?
Shira Ben Sasson Furstenberg
WEEK 3: THE COMMUNITY (SEPT 20)
What does a feminist prayer community look like? What does it mean to create gender inclusion outside of the sanctuary?
Dr Tova Hartman
Rabbi Dr. Judith Hauptman
Dr Debbie Weissman
Image: Youtube Screen Capture
(Read the rest at The Forward)Over the past week, two men heading religious institutions in Israel have been added to the notorious roster of suspected sex predators in the religious Jewish world.
Rabbi Ezra Scheinberg was caught by police two weeks ago at Ben Gurion airport trying to avoid arrest on charges of rape, sexual harassment and indecent assault. Ten women have come forward so far and the police expect more complaints now that the court lifted the ban on releasing his name. According to the complaints, Scheinberg would rape women who came to him for spiritual counseling, and told the women it was part of their healing treatment. The police conducted a search of his house and removed computers, cell phones and other equipment.
Scheinberg, the 47-year-old founding head of Orot Ha’ari yeshiva in Safed, is considered a leading religious Zionist kabbalist and was known for his mystical “blessings” and abilities to “see” into people’s souls. He was considered a protégé of the late chief rabbi Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, father of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the current chief rabbi of Safed. Eliyahu has since disassociated himself from Scheinberg, and ordered him to leave Safed and resign from his yeshivah post. Judge Uri Shoham allowed the publication of the rabbi’s name in order to “encourage other complainants, who have requested not to expose themselves until now, to testify about what the suspect did to theme. There is also room to warn the public against him.”
According to police reports, Scheinberg, who is married and has eight children, had a confrontation with one of his accusers earlier this week, in which he said the sex was consensual. The woman in turn called him “impure.” The woman wrote in a letter to Scheinberg , “Thank God I am free of you…Thanks to your arrest, we can lift our heads again…We know you’re the evil one and we are fine, that you are twisted and we are straight, you are impure and abominable and we are the victims…After all these years of your intimidations, we are no longer scared. Your scare-tactics no longer work on us….If you had one drop of integrity of justice, of truth you would ask for our forgiveness. But your heart was always made of stone”
Although Orot Ha’Ari students originally responded with shock, they no longer seem to be backing their former rabbi. His books have been thrown in a big trash can, and staff are calling him “an abomination”. . One of his former students wrote a scathing testimony accusing Scheinberg of being “an actor who fooled us all,” a rabbi who was never around the study halls of the yeshivah, and about whom “nobody could tell you what he did with his free time–and he had a lot of free time.” The student added that nevertheless, “he knew how to present the image of the highest tzaddik [righteous man].”
The most significant backtrack is of Safed Chief Rabbi Eliyahu, who went from being Scheinberg’s top ally to his greatest detractor. “The...
There was a sense of subdued determination among the 450 people swarming the halls of the Wohl Conference Center at Bar Ilan University during this year’s Kolech conference. Some of the attendees had been coming to Kolech conferences for years, while others had not been born when Kolech, Israel’s premiere religious feminist organization, was established in 1998. Still other Orthodox feminists told The Times of Israel they did not attend the July 13 event because it was no longer necessary for them to be there.
However, judging by the range of topics covered, the unapologetic perseverance driving Orthodox feminism today leaves no stone unturned and no stained-glass ceiling unshattered.
The lives of Orthodox Jewish women have changed dramatically in a relatively short period of time. Just six years ago, no Orthodox women had received rabbinic ordination, only a handful of “partnership minyanim” (Orthodox synagogues that promote women’s inclusion) existed in Israel, sexual abuse was still largely swept under the rug, and Jewish lesbians were still a small and mostly unseen community.
In fact, at the 2009 conference, participants were surveyed about what title they would theoretically give a woman rabbi – rabbanit, rabba, and “important woman” were all on the list. The title of “maharat” had not yet been invented: Back then, it was all still hypothetical.
READ the rest at Times of Israel...