I wrote a two-part series at Lilith Magazine about Jewish women who do not fast on Yom Kippur because of eating disorders and/or painful scars from abuse. Part 1:
Choosing Not to Fast: Eating Disorders and Yom Kippur
Last year on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Naomi Malka was busy. The High Holiday Coordinator and Mikveh Director at the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC, she was preparing for a 6PM service for five thousand people and had no time to eat. For most people who observe this holiday – which, according to the Guttman Center, is the majority of Jews – the 25 hour fast is hard enough. But to start the fast already on an empty stomach and to be running around organizing and working, that is bordering on painful. But for Naomi, the challenge was even more extreme: she is also a recovering bulimic.
“My fast started without thinking about it, but by 4:30 or 5:00 the next day, I was in the room where we set up for the security guards and people not fasting, and I was in there stuffing my face,” she recalled painfully. “Imagine, it was Yom Kippur, and I was so embarrassed and humiliated and I was crying. It was a manifestation of so much stress. And then I went and threw up in the synagogue on Yom Kippur! It was just awful and I was so ashamed about it for weeks after. And that’s when I realized, I can’t fast. I can’t be healing from an eating disorder and fast as a Jew. Those two things just don’t work for me.”
Jews are taught that Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year. It is called in the Torah, “The Sabbath of the Sabbaths,” the day when Israelites connect with their Creator rebirth their souls through fasting and praying. But for some people, the day brings on swarms of difficult feelings – dread, trauma, shame and guilt – along with severe risk of self-harm. The idea of fasting for a whole day triggers symptoms of eating disorders and disordered eating – not necessarily the same thing – and can send people into downward spirals and unraveling.
“Food’s distinct role in Orthodox Judaism makes it a prime vehicle for playing out unspoken conflicts and confusion,” Dr. Caryn Gorden, an expert in eating disorders in the Jewish community, writes in Psychology Today. “The religious regulations that demand strict observance can serve as scaffolding for the rigidity, control and deprivation characterizing restrictive anorectic eating,” as well as other disordered eating such as bulimia and compulsive eating.
Indeed, Naomi Malka is not alone. I spoke with a dozen women from different Jewish communities around the world, many of whom were not ready to go public with their stories, about their decisions not to fast on Yom Kippur. Although a 1995 study found that 1 in 19 Orthodox Jewish women suffer from eating disorders—twice the number as the American community generally—the topic is still...
Crossposted from the Lilith Blog
I recently investigated the following question: Does the Bible pass the Bechdel test? You know, this is the test about how pro-women a dramatic production is. The test is simple, and sets an admittedly low bar. In order to pass, the film, show, or play has to have at least two named women as characters, and the two have to talk to one another about something other than a man for more than 30 seconds. I was curious how the Bible fares.
The answer? Out of the 24 books of the Bible, only one book passes: The Book of Ruth. The relationship and conversations between Ruth and her widowed mother-in-law Naomi are the sole example of named women talking to each other about something other than a man. These exchanges are also among the most poignant in the entire Bible, and present such a compelling model of compassion and care that they are credited with initiating the lineage for King David, and hence the Messiah. There is much to adore about the Ruth-Naomi relationship, and women—especially feminists—have been claiming this story as their own for some time. At all my daughters’ bat mitzvah ceremonies, I invoked these passages as examples of what I see as core Jewish values. When Naomi was left destitute in the foreign land of Moab following the deaths of her husband and sons, Ruth dropped everything to stay with her m-in-l. Ruth’s signature declaration of loyalty—“Wherever you go I go; your people are my people and your God is my God”—continues to inspire a vision of love, care and compassion, as well as a deep abiding friendship between women.
I was very surprised to learn that there is a midrash suggesting that the two women were secretly lesbian lovers. I discovered this recently at a phenomenal play, “God’s Girlfriends,” which presents a dramatic, feminist interpretation of three key women’s stories in the Bible; one of which is the Ruth-Naomi story. The play presents these stories—the other two being Sarah and The Concubine on the Hill—entirely from the point of view of the women. This did not strike me as a radical premise, until I realized that the female perspective is completely absent from the Bible.
Certainly women appear in many riveting biblical stories. The story of Sarah is a shallow aside to the narratives of her husband Abraham and their son Isaac, whom she birthed when she was 90 and whom Abraham was willing to sacrifice on the altar for his God. We never really know what her experience of motherhood was like under those circumstances. Similarly, the little-known story of the concubine on the hill is one in which we are told nothing of the woman’s thoughts or feelings. The unnamed concubine decided to leave her husband/master, only to be dragged back home through a contract between her father and her husband. On the way home, they pass through a village in the tribe of Benjamin, where her husband...
The worst tactic was the threatening bullying. He interrupted Hillary incessantly, he talked over her, he literally physically stalked her as she moved, and used every opportunity to attack her.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton look on at the start of their debate.. (photo credit:REUTERS)
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[This is a follow-up to my essay on Everyday Feminism: 10 Tactics of Emotional Abuse that Trump blatantly used in the presidential debate]
It is hard to listen to the video clip in which Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump talks about grabbing a woman’s “pussy”. For many sexual assault survivors, this clip can be very triggering. What he describes in fun and laughter others have experienced as violent, invasive attacks on their bodies. In fact, within hours of the clip’s release, millions of women were sharing their stories of sexual assault, and the ways that they were triggered by the clip.
Katie Dupere, a survivor of sexual assault, described the harsh memories that the recording brought up for her. “My assault began when this boy ‘grabbed me by the pussy’,” she writes, using the exact act that Trump brags about on the clip. “To a sexual assault survivor like me, Trump’s words are not the harmless ‘locker room banter’ he claims they are,” she continues. “They are words that reach into the deepest parts of me, plucking out trauma that gets replayed over and over with each new article and retweet. They are reflective of a culture of men that sees women as available to fulfill their desires, even without their consent.”
Another survivor, Chrissa Hardy, who was raped when she was 17, writes that Trump’s bragging “left me frozen in place. These comments are ones that only a sexual predator would make, and they made me relive my rape all over again.”
What’s more, on the tape he has an engaged audience. Billy Bush, a media celebrity and cousin of former president George W. Bush, can be heard laughing throughout, giving Trump the boost and legitimacy for his descriptions of sexual assault. And then it gets worse: Bush convinces Arianne Zucker — the object of Trump’s ogling a moment earlier — to give him a hug. She unwittingly becomes the object in Trump’s fantasy. She went from being an object for ogling to an object for touching.
“When women watch that interaction between Trump, Bush and Zucker, they’ll think of the countless times they walked up to a group of jovial men in mid-conversation and felt something in the pit of their stomach,” writes feminist commentator Jessica Valenti. “They’ll wonder if their sneaking suspicion was right all along — that they were on the outside, that they were the joke.”
There is mounting evidence that Trump was not just bragging, but has also done what he said he did — that he kissed women without consent,grabbed women’s genitals, and even raped women.
Trump issued an apology of sorts, but his words were not consoling. That’s because even in his apology, he was still using toxic tactics, still using words to assault women.
Like so many other moments of the American presidential election, this episode is replete with examples of toxic abuse. The tape is an example of the connection between verbal abuse and physical abuse. They are often intertwined, with one tactic reinforcing the other. As Gloria Steinem said, “Trump’s rhetoric normalizes dominance and violence, and endangers us all.”
It is important to understand...
I had such an interesting conversation over the holiday with Julie Gray andYael Schuster about who are the people supporting Trump. We discussed the Hillbillies book, about how many of Trump supporters are from these dirt-poor remote-rural areas and have developed a deep and unwavering distrust and even hatred of people who they perceived as academic, educated, elite, New England college types. Anyone who speaks with multiple-syllable words is not to be trusted, is out to get you, is holding secrets, is going to do things you don't understand and somehow screw you over. This election is like the revolt of the hillbillies.
I think also that this is what Barack Obama was saying in that commencement speech that is going viral, the one where he says that "anti-intellectualism" is not cool. Not knowing what you're talking about is JUST not knowing what you're talking about. LIke that. He was trying to talk to would-be hillbilly-type Trump supporters. He was trying to say, don't think that ridiculous conspiracy theories that have no basis in FACT are somehow truth. Don't dig your heels in and vow to make smart people your enemy in life by believing in rubbish. That's not cool, it's just idiotic. But he was saying this at a college commencement, so I'm not sure if his message will reach its intended audience...
But in any case, I think that there is a really important insight here about what drives the Trump popularity. His audience LIKES when he speaks like a fourth-grader, when he spews conspiracy theories, when he allows all those obnoxious thoughts to flow freely and unfiltered -- a child's dream, letting go of all the rules of those snooty people who are bigger than you and think that they are smarter than you. They love that! They have been waiting their whole lives for someone like Trump to come along and let them be as unfiltered as they want! To not be bogged down with logic and fact and manners and rules for how to behave! Like, hahaha, we'll show you guys, all you rich, educated snobs who think you know the truth. We'll show you! That is the dynamic, scary as it is, driving this election.
But I have to say, at the risk of offending people who I went to school with, being dumb used to be considered cool back then, too. People who sounded smart were completely uncool. There was all this pressure to not sound smart, to not BE smart, to not really study, to not engage in conversations that were, you know, interesting. That's how I experienced Flatbush. As we were talking the other day, I really could envision that dynamic, of people trying really hard to be perceived as anything but smart, trying to dig their heels in that anti-intellectualist identity. I've seen that. But maybe that's beside the point. Or maybe that explains why so many Orthodox Jews are voting for Trump. I'm not sure.
Anyway, I think it's really important to try...
FROM EVERYDAY FEMINISM
The current United States presidential election has many people on edge.
Therapists around the country are reporting spikes in patients dealing with election anxiety. Clinical psychologist Stephen HollandtoldThe Atlantic, “Among people who are not Trump supporters, we’re hearing a higher level of concern and dismay than I’ve probably heard in any election cycle, in 25 years of clinical work.”
Selfreporter Haley Goldberg evendescribed the feelingas “right in my chest, a tightening sensation that sent adrenaline through the rest of my body. It felt like I was gearing up to run away from a bear. But, unfortunately, I couldn’t physically run away from the source of my anxiety: Election 2016.”
Political Anxiety Disorder, says theWall Street Journal, is definitely a thing. Although this may ring true in all elections, this time the anxiety is different. This time, one of the primary causes isDonald Trump.
For some people, the anxiety comes from Trump’s proposed policies, which include banning all Muslims, and building a wall between Mexico because, in his view, all Mexicans are rapists.
For many others, though, the language and rhetoric coming out of the elections isn’t just about policy, but is actually personal.
One Mexican-American young woman named Carmencreated a powerful videoin which she responds to the fear that she has felt since hearing Trump’s attacks on Mexicans. “To witness a prominent politician speaking on national television saying these things to a cheering crowd is just unreal,” she says. “Am I supposed to feel ashamed of myself? Or where I come from? It had me questioning my heritage.”
Another woman named Tali Liben Yarmushdescribed the shamethat Trump evokes whenhe calls women fat, or when he described Rosie O’Donnell as a “pig.” “It is not meaningless to me that a man who is running for president thinks it is okay to tell a woman he disagrees with that she is a ‘fat pig,’” she writes.
“Do you not think it will affect some other young and impressionable girl when she hears him say that one of his opponents was too ugly to be president? What kind of message are we sending to children when we tell them it’s okay to call people we don’t like ‘disgusting,’ or to tell them they have the ‘face of a dog?’”
The reason why this year’s election has caused a heightened and exacerbated sense of anxiety among many people is because Trump’s language is not your typical political rhetoric. In fact, the language he employs comes straight out the handbook oftoxic masculinity.
That is, he uses toxic tactics ofemotional abuse– especially emotional abuse aimed at women – in order to put other people down. The tactics are powerful, emotionally violent, and often disarming against their victims.
For many people who have lived with abusers, this election brings back terrifying memories. As author Pam Houston, a survivor of child abuse,wrote, “Maybe it’s because I grew up in my father’s house that I can see Trump so clearly for what he is. A desperately insecure bully,...
Listen to this fabulous podcast about Vashti, the woman who preceded Queen Vashti, by Hannah Turquoise Reich Radio National Australia (spoiler -- I'm in it :-) )
Cross-posted from the Jerusalem Post Op-eds
Last week, I registered to vote in the American elections. It is the first time in my nearly 25 years in Israel that I plan to vote as an American. I am doing it because I love the prospect of Hillary Clinton as president of the United States, and am excited about helping her get into office. She is an outstanding candidate and would likely be one of the best presidents America has ever had. And also, it would be an amazing thing for women everywhere.
Sadly, however, I realize that I am in a minority among Americans living in Israel. I heard some strange things at the registration event. “I don’t know much about the candidates,” one women admitted, “but I think I’ll vote for Trump.” Another woman said, “Trump is a good businessman.” I guess news about his 3,500 lawsuits, four bankruptcies and habit of cheating his suppliers hasn’t reached Tel Aviv.
I have been having a hard time finding a strong cadre of support for Hillary in Israel. An online group of olim for Hillary has only a handful of members. And two weeks ago, I was trying to find someone to go with to attend a pro-Hillary meeting in Jerusalem, and I could not get one person in my entire city of Modi’in to come with me. The apathy was palpable.
Meanwhile Trump seems to have a base of support in Israel that, while mind-blowing in some ways, is not entirely surprising. The idea that Trump is “good for Israel” while Hillary is “bad for Israel” has been filling up my Facebook feed for a while. In the previous presidential election, 85 percent of eligible US voters living in Israel supported the Republican nominee, according to the supposedly non-partisan iVote Israel, and the organization Republicans Overseas assumes this to still be true. In fact, Trump announced that he is opening up a campaign headquarters here to connect with his voter base.
The Trump support among olim reflects some troubling realities about what it means to be “pro-Israel.” Trump is a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic reality television show performer and conspiracy theory aficionado. His voters, a group dominated by what Professor Michael Kimmel terms “Angry White Men,” seem to like that about him. Yet among Americans here in Israel, none of that seems to even matter – because here, the only thing that matters is his stance on Israel. Which means the candidate with the most right-wing, militaristic and unilateral approach to the Palestinian-Israel conflict is considered the most pro-Israel. It is why Trump received an astounding standing ovation at the AIPAC convention. Some Jews are willing to ignore everything about him as long as he says that the Jews are right and the Palestinians are wrong.
For the record, Clinton is very vocal about fighting terrorism and protecting Israel’s security, and is known to be pro armed forces when needed – in fact, she is considered too war-hawkish by her critics.
The Israeli government – currently in the midst of various financial crises like a doctors’ strike and a revolt by municipalities protesting major cuts to education – has miraculously found 10 million NIS for something that until now has never really existed. That is: non-Orthodox mikvehs.
The new initiative to create non-Orthodox ritual baths is the result of a compromise of sorts in which ultra-Orthodox lawmaker Moshe Gafni, who heads the Knesset Finance Committee, pushed through his “Mikveh Law” that gives municipalities the power to ban non-Orthodox Jews from immersing in state-funded mikvehs for their own personal use.
The bill is a disaster, another act of zealot control over who gets to convert to Judaism and over who gets to decide who the gatekeepers of the Jewish people are – only this time the debate takes place over the uncovered bodies of the most vulnerable members of the tribe at their most delicate, intimate moment.
Israeli lawmaker Moshe Gafni
The idea that the state – any state – should be passing bills about any of this is outrageous, a violation of basic rights to privacy and the privacy of spiritual practice, and a huge stain on the State of Israel.
This new jolt of funding for this new thing called non-Orthodox mikvehs, which comes from the Prime Minister’s Office for Diaspora Affairs is meant to be a salve for Jews of the world. After all, it seems to be acknowledging the legitimacy of non-Orthodox conversion. And it is real money for real facilities, which is always nice. But this actually might have the opposite effect. It is a way of marking and denoting non-Orthodox Jews as officially “other”.
There is currently one mikveh in Israel that is considered by the state to be “not Orthodox” – that is, the mikveh in Hannaton run by Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner David. Although she has a doctorate from Bar Ilan University on the Jewish law, or_halakha_, of mikveh practice and has Orthodox ordination as a rabbi, these credentials are not recognized by the state as giving her authority to run a mikveh.
Read the rest at The Forward: http://forward.com/sisterhood/347527/why-israel-funding-non-orthodox-mikvehs-is-a-step-forward-and-backward/...
Bambi Sheleg, a giant of Israeli journalism, a woman of courage, keen intelligence, and unyieliding commitment to truth and justice, died today at the age of 58. Her presence will be fiercely missed. Below is a profile I wrote about her six years ago for The Forward.
In June 2006, the Supreme Court of Israel handed down one of the most important but barely publicized rulings in the history of the Jewish state. The decision to cancel the Law for the Privatization of Prisons halted a process that would have abdicated an unprecedented amount of state authority — that is, the correctional system — to private bodies. Remarkable in this story is not only how quietly the law nearly took effect, but also how the Supreme Court came to its conclusion. The decision was credited to a magazine, Eretz Acheret (“A Different Place”), in particular the April-May 2006 issue, titled, “Can the State abdicate its role as responsible for the correctional system?”
COURTESY OF BAMBI SHELEG
Against the Grain: Bambi Sheleg (above) started the magazine Eretz Acheret. The latest issue (right) is titled ?Art Outside of Tel Aviv? and examines artistic trends in the city.
Bambi Sheleg, the soft-spoken founder and editor-in-chief of Eretz Acheret, recalls this event fondly. “It was an incredible moment,” she said humbly of the victory. “This is why we founded the magazine, to influence the social agenda in Israel and offer a deep analysis of the issues critical to Israel’s identity.”
Sheleg, 52, a mother of three who is married to writer Yair Sheleg, was born in Chile and moved to Israel at age 12. Her family is Religious Zionist, and she began her journalism career as a writer and editor at Nekuda, the magazine of the settler movement. At a certain point, though, she started having doubts about her ideological home. “I was in the religious ‘camp’,” she said, “but sometimes I felt that I connected more with people outside my camp.”
Her sense of inner turmoil came to a head with the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. “I asked myself, ‘How can it be that the divisions between sectors in Israeli society are so strong that they can bring someone to commit murder?’” she recalled. “And I realized that, as a member of the media, I was contributing to the problem. In fact, I was the problem.”
Following the assassination, Sheleg quit her job and began developing a vision for an alternative media in Israel, one that is not ratings based but rather not-for-profit, replacing the journalistic “If it bleeds, it leads” thirst for violence with an ethic that seeks to build connections between people. “In the mainstream media, radicals get all the attention,” she explained, drawing a diagram of a pizza pie to illustrate her point. “Israel has all kinds of sectors — Jews, Arabs, Haredim. See here, where the crust is? Those are the radicals in each social sector… The rest of us are much closer to one another than to...