In the day (!!)since I announced that I am studying to become a Reform rabbi, responses have been overwhelming. I’ve been chatting with people around the world, each with their own story about connection, community, spirituality, and Judaism. The vast majority of those responses have been resoundingly supportive. And this is not only from Reform friends. Many of my Orthodox friends have been incredibly understanding and even sharing in the excitement. Despite all the predictable naysaying Orthodox gatekeepers who have been doing their thing (some you can see in the comments on my previous post, or on my FB page; I left them in because it is important to know what kind of discourse is out there, what we’re all up against), despite all that, I have been receiving an incredible amount of support, even from places where I thought the reaction would be harsher.
I am so relieved about that. My biggest worry was that Orthodox feminist activists would see me as the one who jumped ship, and leave it at that. But for the most part, I’ve been getting a lot of love, and that makes me really happy. I see us all as fighting the same fights but from different corners.
On the other hand, some Conservative, (Masorti) and Reconstructionist friends are a bit upset that I passed over their denominations. Especially stinging was the fact that I wrote that I felt Reform is the “only place” where women can be truly free. If there is one word that I regret in my original post, it is that word “only”. I would like to change that to say the “best”, or “one of the best”, instead of the “only”. I will not change the post now because that would be intellectually dishonest. But I do think that I was wrong to write it that way. I have some wonderful mentors and friends around the Jewish world. Professor Alice Shalvi, for example, who became Conservative after decades of work as an Orthodox feminist, is someone I consider an incredible role model. I think I came off too dismissive of the work of feminists in other denominations, and I’m very sorry about that.
I would like to emphasize how much I consider feminist activists across denominations to be allies. This is where the work is. I’m not here to trounce on hard-working women trying to change the world. I want to work together. That is the vision. I’m sorry that I didn’t do a better job of emphasizing that in my original post....
So this week I did something really new. I began my journey to become a Reform rabbi. For the next four years I will be studying at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. And I am positively ecsatic.
You probably have questions. The most common question I've received so far is, why Reform and not Conservative? There are several ways I can answer this question. My primary answer is that the Reform movement is the only place where I think a woman can truly be free to be a whole person. And as a woman, I place that high on my list of priorities!
There are all kinds of people serving as Reform rabbis -- with all kinds of identities, cultural backgrounds, and practices. During my first conversations about taking this path with Rabbi Alona Lisitsa, a beautiful rabbi who actively combines compassion and scholarship, Rabbi Lisitsa described HUC as the ultimate "big tent", the only place in Judaism where everyone truly can belong. She also showed me how many Reform rabbis keep Jewish practice with no visible distinction to Orthodox Jews. They keep Shabbat, kashruth, and ritual immersion practices and engage with Jewish law. One of my most esteemed mentors, Rabbi Professor Rachel Adler, is a brilliant scholar whose commitment to halakha is unquestioned, and deeply compelling. Everyone has a place, and that is a powerful vision. This is a place where nobody is judging your practice. It is where you are fully embraced for being who you are. That is so refreshing, so new, and so healing for me.
The other question that I get is about abandoning Orthodoxy. Most of my Orthodox feminist friends have been loving and accepting, and I keep hearing from them that it is clear that this is exactly where I belong. That has been a beautifully validating experience. I feel like I have been fighting for a long time to find or create a suitable spiritual home. And it seems clear that this is it.
Still, other people have been less generous. One Orthodox friend told me that this will delegitimize me. Yes, of course it will, in the eyes of certain Orthodox self-assigned gate-keepers. I have been called "Reform" for much of my adult life, in a way that uses the word as a slur. Orthodox feminists in general are called "Reform" as a way to delegitimize them all the time. Most of the time, the response is, "I am not!" But now, my response is, "I take that as a compliment!" To be Reform means to place human compassion before all else, to understand that we must be human beings before we are Jews. I am so excited about the idea of really living that way, and being surrounded by people who also live that way. And rather than internalize the notion of delegitimizing the other, we should figure out ways to truly see one another, to understand what is the ethical force driving each other. Rather than internalizing the hate, we...
Amanda Borschel-Dan writes a comprehensive and honest report on the issue of counting women in Jewish prayer.
Here is how she quoted me:
“Not counting as a person standing before God is the deepest offense you can lodge at a person. You know, when some guy starts counting heads and you are standing right there, you literally do not exist. Your body. Your soul. Invisible,” said Jewish feminist writer and researcher Dr. Elana Sztokman, author of “The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World.”
What do you think about that?
“Build the wall! Fuck those dirty beaners!” screamed a man at a Trump rally in early 2016.
“You can’t trust Latinos. Some maybe, but not most,” said protesters at another Trump rally. “Immigrants aren’t people, honey,” another responded. “You know them crazy black girls, how they are.”
“Fuck Islam! God bless Donald Trump!” screamed a man at another Trump rally, who was also wearing a t-shirt with big, block letters that read “Fuck Islam”. Another man screamed, “Islam is not a religion, it’s an ideology [sic].” He moved closer to the man in front of him, raising his fists, and said, “You don’t come here and talk about America when you are supporting Muslims.” A sign nearby read “Sieg Heil”.  A Georgia high-school teacher who wears a hijab received a threatening note on her desk that read, “Your head scarf isn’t allowed anymore. Why don’t you tie it around your neck and hang yourself,” signed “America!”. The same day, "Make America White Again" was spray-painted on a softball dugout in upstate New York, along with a large swastika.
“We got a new president you fucking faggots,” strangers screamed at Chris Ball as he watched the election results at a bar in Santa Monica. When he left the bar, a group of men violent attacked him, smashing a bottle over his head until he fell to the pavement and lost consciousness.
This is The Trump Effect, the impact of hateful political speech on people’s everyday interactions with those who they see as different from themselves. It is what happens when people do not see the other as a whole person but rather insists on classifying the other based entirely on physical attributes – the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their gender, their sexual orientation, their clothing, their bodies.
The Trump Effect is the legitimizing of hate-filled, bigoted abuse. And it is real.
According to a study of over 2000 teachers conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center about the ways in which the election brought hate into American schools, called "The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation’s Schools," there is “an increase in the bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates.”
Trump was not like any other candidate, and 2016 was unlike any other election. We are living in a time when toxic, vitriolic, hateful abuse has entered the public sphere and is now mistaken for legitimate, political discourse.
But make no mistake: This is not politics. This is verbal violence.
 Mayra Cuevas, 'Trump' as anti-Latino epithet: Ugly incidents at high school games. CNN, March 1, 2016 http://edition.cnn.com/2016/03/01/us/midwest-trump-school-chants/
 Joseph Serna, Principal on leave for alleged anti-Trump comments; student who voiced support for Trump attacked. LA Times, November 11, 2016 http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-trump-students-targeted-20161110-story.html
 Joseph Serna, Principal on leave for alleged anti-Trump comments; student who voiced support for Trump attacked. LA Times, November 11, 2016 http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-trump-students-targeted-20161110-story.html
 Cory Zurowski, Maple Grove students greeted with...
The Trump Effect. So I recently gave a ride to a guy from my neighborhood. He is an older man who I know superficially, and he needed a lift in my direction, so I agreed to help him out. (I'm often without a car, so I appreciated his need.) When he got in the car, we started chatting – how long have you been living here, where are you from originally, like that. Turns out he is from Texas, and I excitedly told him that I was in Houston not long ago where I spent three weeks visiting a dear friend, thinking that would be a connecting tidbit. But then, when he asked me where I was from, and I said, “New York”, he responded with a kind of grimacing little grunt. “New Yorkers are okay – except for one thing,” he said sardonically, looking straight at me. “You are all liberals.”
And there it was, I thought, another random guy willing to verbally attack me, in my space, even as I’m doing him a favor. Another mini-Donald Trump replacing common decency with obnoxiousness, a reminder that we are now in a post-Trump world where insulting the person next to you is fine and expected. Verbal aggression, thanks to Donald, is the new normal.
Lots of people have been experiencing moments like these, interactions with trump-like folks who make our personal space unsafe. With this guy in the car, in an instant, my entire life and person was reduced to one generalized caricature: New York Liberal. My work, my family, my relationships, the complexities of my ideas or actions – none of this existed any more. All I became was this stereotype, and it was used as an insult. (Actually, I personally do not consider “liberal” an insult or even a significant identifier – I don’t introduce myself at cocktail parties saying, “Hey, I’m Elana, and I’m a Liberal”; and if I had to choose the One Thing You Should Know About Me, that wouldn’t be it. – but the word is used as a slur by those who do, and it is that intention that is hateful.) Even though the label he put on me is not who I really am, the L-word, like so many other pieces of language that are casually thrown about, was intended to flatten me and blur my entire person by ignoring all the other aspects of my being. I was no longer a friend, a mother, a writer, an activist, a professional, a neighbor, or even a driver willing to do an act of kindness. I was just a thing that some guy decided I was based solely on information about where I was born.
Score one for meaningless stereotypes and zero for genuine human connection. The Trump Effect.
Like a Phoenix, coming back to life from the ashes:
Tomorrow I am hosting my first event since the elections, called "Finding Light Amid Darkness". This will be an online discussion with the wonderful Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman, founder of the Jewish Mindfulness Network and a leading voice calling for compassion, equality, justice, healing and action in this post-election world.
It has been quite a difficult time for those of us concerned with issues like social justice, equality, compassion, and the progress of our society and humanity. The American elections, followed by some other terrible events -- from the Dakota Pipeline to the tragedy in Aleppo and the entire wave of hate and prejudice that has been unleashed and empowered in our world -- the enormity of all this has left so many of us stunned, paralyzed and fearful.At The Center for Jewish Feminism, we, too, have been struck by the challenging energies around us and by the realization of how many dangers lurk in our everyday lives. It has taken us some time to recover and regroup. And now, we have decided, it is time for us to begin the hard process of moving forward, reconnecting, and taking action.The first step in this plan is to come together, connect with like-minded people, and talk through the impact of recent events as well as potential next steps as a Jewish feminist community. Towards that aim, we are hosting our first on-line event since the American elections. This Sunday, December 18, 9AM PST in an online panel discussion titled, "Finding Light Amid Darkness", I will be hosting a conversation with one of my favorite people, Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman, founder of the Jewish Mindfulness Network, and a leading voice in the Jewish world for integrating social justice and spirituality.You can read more about the event here, or read more about Rav Jill here. The event will take place online on Sunday, Dec 18, 9AM PST, 12 noon EST, 7PM Israel time, 5PM UK time (and apoligies once again to the Aussies and kiwis in the group who will either wake in the middle of the night or wait for the recording...)You can purchase tickets to the event here .Please note that we are asking for donations of $5-$18, at your own discretion, to help us build the framework for an ongoing conversation. Our plan is to use this time slot to host conversations with other leading Jewish feminists and to create a global Jewish feminist community of spiritual and social-activist warriors who are dedicated to keeping the light of justice and compassion shining. But to do that, we need your help.Thank you for your support and understanding.A few other items to note:* This event, like all our events, are conducted in the spirit of Jewish feminism, and are open to everyone. You don't have to be a woman or Jewish to join. All who want to be part of the community are welcome.* You don't need any special technological abilities to participate. You will receive a simple link for logging on. But if that is too...
It has been quite a while since I’ve published book reviews, but this is not for lack of enjoying Jewish women’s books. I read some great books this year by Jewish women, some of whom I really love and follow adoringly. I owe sincere apologies to all the writers here for not being more diligent and effective in getting full-length reviews out there. They all deserve better than what I offered them. In any case, here are some quick reviews of books by Jewish women who are definitely worth reading:
Nora Gold, The Dead Man. Inanna Publications & Education, Incorporated, 288 pages
This is the story of a music therapist and composer who confronts her own past and a tumultuous affair with a giant in the Jewish music world who also happens to be an abusive narcissist. Gold’s writing is evocative as always, and she winds her way through the streets of Jerusalem with the same emotive flair with which she navigates the intricacies of the human psyche. I particularly loved the way music is woven throughout the story, and how she captures the internal meanderings of a musician listening to the world (a baby’s cry in A, a bird song in G). Gold, in addition to being an award-winning novelist, is also the founder and director of the pioneering Jewish Fiction.net, which is the kind of place that makes you wonder how we ever managed without it.
Marjorie Ingall, Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers do to raise successful, creative, empathetic, independent children. Harmony Books, 240 pages
Marjorie Ingall, a witty, smart and thoughtful writer and parent, shares sound and insightful parenting advice. The book is about raising children with independence, geekiness, laughter, passion, acceptance, a healthy dose of chutzpah, and sincere but non-intrusive spirituality. She combines humor with wisdom, research with common sense, stories of the past with contemporary realities. She has a wonderful ability to sew ancient texts and modern life together with one beautifully integrative stitch, as well as to find lessons of joy and humor within the madness. I was impressed with her breadth of knowledge on an array of important topics, as well as her willingness to talk back to some commonly held misconceptions. Her treatment of praise, for example, and her exploration of the work of Carol Dweck (whom I also hold in high esteem), was one of the best sections of the book. I also really loved that she honored her exceptional mother, Carol Ingall (although I have very different experiences with feminism and motherhood). I actually follow the work of both mother and daughter and found a deeply moving inspiration in reading the feminist daughter write about her mother/ing that way. Reading about those relationships amid the formation of a parenting vision provided me with a powerful and personal corrective experience about mothering adult daughters.
Danya Ruttenberg, Nurture the Wow: Finding spirituality in the frustration, boredom, tears, poop, desperation, wonder and radical amazement of parenting. Flatiron Books, 308 pages
Women have never needed tools for empowerment more than we do now. As America puts an admitted sexual predator into the White House, when the hatefulness of sexism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia have been unleashed and legitimized in one of the most powerful offices in the world, as stories of violence and intimidation are starting to flood in, we need tools to help us maintain our own safety and the safety and that of our communities. In supermarkets, malls, subways and public spaces all around the world, new faces of fear are being unleashed. Just today, a friend posted a story about being attacked at her gym in New York for wearing a Hillary Clinton t-shirt. Now, more than ever, women need tools for dealing with everyday sexism and abuse, to help us ensure safe spaces for ourselves and the people we love.
Enter El Halev. This phenomen organization directed by Sensei Yudit Sidikman, is leading the way in women's empowerment self-defense and safety. El Halev ran an outstanding conference this week for educators and therapists to mark the International Day against Violence Against Women, which falls tomorrow. The conference explored approaches to providing safe spaces and dealing with trauma. People from all around Israel participated in a range of lectures and workshops providing insights and tools for dealing with physical, emotional, and sexual trauma. Sessions included samples of El Halev programs such as Freedom to Choose, Impact, the Young Lionesses, as well as crafts, bibliotherapy, and brick-breaking. Speakers also explored the role of self-defense and "Personal Safety Literacy" as key components of the broader feminist vision of gender equality and creating a world in which women and men can both thrive.
Admittedly, as the Board Chair of the organization I am possibly biased about how amazing the conference was and about the organization generally. But my feeling at the conference was really one of privilege. I felt truly honored to be part of all this. I was so excited to speak to so many people there, all of whom share this vision. The atmosphere was electric. And it is so gratifying to watch the organization -- with its incredible staff and throngs of magnetic students, instructors and parents -- to emerge as a leader in thought and in practice about women's power in the world.
The truth is, I became Chair in 2014 because of my experience with the organization, not the other way around. I decided to join the board because I had taken the self-defense course, Impact, which teaches you to stave off attacks -- physical, emotional, and sexual. The course changed my life in many ways. Before I took it, I thought, I'm a pretty tough and experienced woman. I thought I knew how to say "no". I thought I knew how to set my own boundaries. But I didn't. It was only through the course that I realized how vulnerable I really felt and acted, how I participated in my own disempowerment. I am still learning...
The US Presidential election results have left many people shocked, depressed, and afraid.
The victor, Donald Trump, spent his campaign threatening entire populations within American society – Mexicans, Muslims, LGBTQIA+ folks, and women – and with his win, many are shell-shocked and panicking about their futures.
And with good reason: Already there are reports of spikes in hate-crimes and violence against Black, queer, and Jewish people. Trump has announced plans for immediate deportations of millions of people, and he has hired white supremacist Steve Bannon as one of his top aides.
This video of a woman yelling at a Muslim woman on the train gives a pretty clear example of how this election has emboldened bigotry and hatred.
As Rebecca Traister wrote, “The heartbreak of this election…[is] the loss of the idea that this country was so very close to being better, more inclusive, more just, and more representative.”
It can be very hard to stay balanced and process your own emotions when fear and viciousness surround you. What’s more, as many people are working to figure out how to handle their new reality – whether in mourning or in protest, in public or in private – the emotional abuse carried out by Trump supporters has continued and even escalated.
Perhaps this isn’t surprising.
After all, Trump utilized tactics of emotional abuse throughout the campaign, and his tactics paid off nicely for him, empowering his followers and sending the message that emotional abuse is a legitimate (and even successful!) form or discourse.
In fact, since Election Day, some new tactics have emerged, along with some revised old one. This makes the healing process even harder.
Here are some of the new tactics of emotional abuse to be wary of as you work through the impact of these elections.
The first trend I noticed in Facebook feeds right after the election was the new language of “sore loser.”
Many of those who were expressing deep sadness, mourning, or disappointment were attacked Trump supporters coming onto their feeds with mocking comments, like “Haha, you’re just upset that you lost,” “Grow up and stop being a sore loser,” or “Stop crying.”
This tactic is the kind of behavior that we’re taught in preschool not to engage in. But the Trump campaign has brought back many of those toxic behaviors that we thought society unlearned long ago.
Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic aimed at twisting reality and making you seem and feel confused and disoriented. And some Trumpists continue to gaslight opponents, just as they did during the campaign.
This includes claims that protesters are “exaggerating” in their fears, as Rudy Guiliani said, or that the protesters are the bad guys here, as Trump himself suggested when he said that protesters are “unfair.”
In another illustration of gaslighting, Trump supporters are trying to rewrite history by claiming that Republicans accepted President Obama’s victory and embraced him as president. This completely ignores the relentless attacks on Obama’s personal credibility throughout his campaign, the Trump-led “birther” movement undermining his very identity, the constant lie about Obama being a secret Muslim (as if Muslims aren’t allowed to be president anyway),...
"Radicalization is getting worse, for sure. At the same time, the vision of equal rights, equal participation and women's power — all of that is getting stronger around the world," says gender sociologist Elana Sztokman, author of a book called The War on Women in Israel.
Read the rest here. Or, listen to this NPR podcast about ultra-Orthodox battles against women in Israel.