Goodbye, From the Rib

In case any of you haven’t noticed (and by the number of views I’ve been getting lately, I’m pretty sure all of you have), there have been WAY too few posts here in the past few months. This has mainly been caused by a combination of my Israel trip and the realization that there are just so many other things I want to do with my time, and so many things I want to learn before taking another stab at putting my ideas out to the world.

So, goodbye to “From the Rib.” The blog will still be up here with all of our posts from way back in 2009, and maybe someday I’ll feel the need to revive it. If there are any young Jewish feminists out there, preferably in high school or college, who want to take over the mantle, send me an email at fromtherib@gmail.com. It’s been a fantastic run–blogging here has made me read, think about, and analyze so many interesting and diverse issues–thanks for reading, commenting, and helping me to realize how many people out there care about the same issues I care about.

And on that note, I’ll leave you with a link round-up of some interesting and relevant pieces that I’ve been reading and thinking about lately:

Farewell, fair readers. It’s been real.

Happy Mother’s Day

This is a somewhat scattered Mother’s Day post. To start off, I’d like to say thank you, Kristof:

By United Nations estimates, 215 million women worldwide have an “unmet need” for family planning, meaning they don’t want to become pregnant but are not using effective contraception. The Guttmacher Institute, a widely respected research organization, estimates that if all the unmet need for contraception were met, the result would be 94,000 fewer women dying of pregnancy complications each year, and almost 25 million fewer abortions each year.

Read the rest of his column about how family planning could save lives across the globe and why we need to press our government for it here–it’s a lesson we should all be thinking about this Mother’s Day.

And, while you’re at it, instead of buying your mother, grandmother, step-mother, or any other kind of female maternal figure in your life flowers, chocolates, or a card, consider making a donation in her name instead. The Mother’s Day Movement was created last year after a group of women decided that the $14 billion that Americans spent on Mother’s Day flowers, cards, and meals could be better spent–they started a campaign to raise money for a charity that improves the lives of women and children. This year, they are raising money for Shining Hope for Communities, an organization that runs a community center, health clinic, and school for girls in Nairobi, Kenya. If this organization doesn’t strike your fancy, Kristof (in another column) gives some suggestions for many other organizations that help women, like The Fistula Foundation, an organization that helps women suffering from obstetric fistulas, a horrible condition that begins at birth that causes women to leak out waste, here. This year, my sister and I decided together to celebrate our mother (in addition to talking to her and expressing our love) by doing something to help women around the world–she’s always taught us to care about other people, especially women in suffering, and we knew she’d appreciate it a lot more than flowers.

And finally, Happy Mother’s Day! I hope that whether you live near, with, or halfway across the world from your mother/maternal figure (my current situation), you find a way to say thanks for all she does for you.

Who Has Abortions:

Thanks to Guttmacher for this brief, educational and important video

Awesome article on the Greek system and how it infantilizes women and creates an unhealthy attitude towards women on campuses:

As vice president of Theta, I was tasked with figuring out how to get members more involved. We began fall recruitment, only to be told that the fall was only for the boys—we had to wait until the second semester. We planned a social event, only to learn that we had to get permission from our national headquarters to do so—and that we didn’t have access to the funds created by our annual dues, despite our brother fraternities having the ability to plan (and pay) for events at their discretion. Later, when we planned a homecoming party, complete with Bloody Marys, we were told that sororities were bound by a “no-alcohol policy”—something that, again, didn’t apply to the boys. “Why don’t you have a tea party?” our adviser offered, as if we were living in the 1950s.

The upshot was this: For trying to play by the boys’ rules, our sorority chapter was put on probation. Meanwhile, some of our male counterparts were on probation for serious, even criminal offenses like date rape, drug abuse, and hazing, yet they proceeded to party. When I asked our national office why we’d been punished, they spoke in euphemisms, but I understood the message: “Sorry, but you must abide by a different set of rules. This is how it’s always been.”

I sent a letter of complaint, and tried to organize a protest. But while many of my sisters shook their heads at the injustice, few were angry enough to leave the system and go rogue. All of which has led me here—to speak out about a system that gives millions of men and women in this country a backward education. While only 8.5 percent of undergraduates in the U.S. are involved in fraternity and sorority life, fraternities have produced 120 current Forbes 500 CEOs, 48 percent of all presidents, and similar numbers of senators, congressmen, and Supreme Court justices. I wonder what the Greek system has taught some of the most influential people in our country about the differences between men and women? But then I realize I know: Despite all the strides young women have made, we’re not so equal after all.

If a university-approved system present on hundreds of campuses nationwide continues to treat women as second-class citizens, then we should not be surprised when men call women “f–king sluts.” I am not advocating the end of fraternities—Greek life is fun and valuable if done correctly. But if we’re going to change the testosterone-dominated college culture, the Greek system must empower women to take part in campus life with full and equal rights.

via The Daily Beast

What really got to me was the line about a tea party–as if women are expected to behave like children, and obey rules that boys cannot possibly be expected to be held to. I’ve actually had a conversation with a friend of mine at Penn, the school the author went to, about the fact that at least at Penn, it’s considered the norm that fraternities have crazy parties with drinking, and during sorority rush, girls aren’t supposed to even mention alcohol at all. If that’s not an absurd double standard, I don’t know what is.

I’ve been MIA here for a while because my group went on a trip down to the south of Israel for two weeks, leaving me computer-less and wifi-less (but it was a lot of fun, so that wasn’t really an issue). No worries, I’m back just in time for Passover!

This morning I happened upon an interesting and relevant piece in The New York Times by Andre Acimano, a Jew raised in Alexandria whose family was forced by Nasser to flee Egypt in 1965. On the eve of Passover, he reflects on the discomfort and strangeness he feels as a disbeliever at Seders today, and how every Seder he attends brings him back to his last Seder in Egypt on the night before his family left the country.

I found these passages to be particularly poignant:

After almost three centuries of religious tolerance, we found ourselves celebrating Passover the way our Marrano ancestors had done under the Spanish Inquisition: in secret, verging on shame, without conviction, in great haste and certainly without a clear notion of what we were celebrating. Was it the first exodus from Egypt? Or maybe the second from Spain? Or the third from Turkey? Or the fourth, when my family members fled Italy just before the Nazis took over?

Or were we celebrating the many exoduses that went unrecorded but that every Jew knows he can remember if he tries hard enough, for each one of us is a dislodged citizen of a country that was never really his but that he has learned to long for and cannot forget. The fault lines of exile and diaspora always run deep, and we are always from elsewhere, and from elsewhere before that….

Tomorrow night is the night for it. For on that night all Jews remember the night when Jewish memory began. That night each one of us thinks back to that private Egypt we each carry with us wherever we are. We may not always know what to remember, but we know we must remember.

I, too, often feel that I’m not sure what I’m celebrating or remembering; I know what story or event relates to every holiday, but I also know that any feelings that stir inside me could not possibly be related to those events because I feel so distant from them. And yet, just as he so poetically describes, I feel that I must remember, and so I try, and often do remember something.

Recently, I’ve realized how easy it is for my generation (myself included) to forget about modern exoduses. Being on my program here in Israel has led to a lot of conversations and arguments among my friends about Zionism, Judaism, the reasons for a Jewish state, and what a Jewish state actually entails–too many things to discuss here. And over the course of the conversations, people have often questioned the need for a Jewish state, arguing that Jews live peacefully and happily in the Diaspora. Personally, I think that Judaism can and does thrive in the Diaspora, and has done so for thousands of years; however, I often feel the need to remind myself that throughout history–and more importantly, within the last 50 years, even after the Holocaust–Jews have been exiled from their homes and left without a place to go. In the case of Andre Acimano, his family left for Italy; before and during the Holocaust, Jews scattered across the globe. Whether this is justification for a Jewish state is another issue entirely, and not one that I want to engage with here; the point I am trying to make is that because so many Jews live securely in the Diaspora, it is often easy for us to overlook Jews who recently did not, or do not now. We forget that exodus is not simply an ancient term.

Perhaps this year, as I struggle to figure out what exactly I’m remembering, that is what I’ll remember–as we recall the Jewish exile from Egypt thousands of years ago, I’ll remind myself of the many
modern exoduses of my people. And in doing so, perhaps the idea of exodus, both the dusty and foreign kind that I read about in the Haggadah and the raw and visualizable kind of the 20th and 21st centuries, will become real to me, distancing me from the comfortable and safe lifestyle that I lead and forcing me closer to what has made up much of the history of my people. (And, just to throw it out there, the history of many other peoples, as well–Jews are not the only ones with a history of exile. Can anyone say Armenians?)

On that somewhat depressing note (but at least maybe it’ll give you something to think about while the verses of Chad Gadya go on and on and on?) I’d like to wish you a Happy Passover. May you stay awake throughout the whole Seder, not get too drunk, and find, in whatever way you can, a way to feel that “you yourself were there”.

Like last year, I missed Back Up Your Birth Control Day. However, it’s never too late to share some facts about back-up birth control, otherwise known as emergency contraception, or the morning-after pill. So, here are some (they may or may not be the same ones I posted last year.)

The most common form of EC is emergency contraceptive pills, which contain concentrated dosages of the same hormones found in daily birth control pills, meaning either progestin alone or a combination of estrogen and progestin. However, EC is not as effective as regular birth control.

People 17 and older can purchase EC without a prescription, and people under 17 need a prescription, except in a few states.

EC will not work if a woman is already pregnant and EC will not cause
defects if a woman takes it when she is already pregnant.

EC will not affect a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant in the future.

EC is not RU-486, otherwise known as the “abortion pill.”

EC, when used correctly, can reduce the risk of pregnancy by 89% after a single act of unprotected sex. Effectiveness declines as the interval between
intercourse and the start of treatment increases.

In the first 24 hours after intercourse, EC can prevent 95% of expected pregnancies.

EC can be used up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but the sooner it is used, the better.

Each year, there are about 3 million unintended pregnancies in the United States, and more than half occur among women who are using a regular method of contraception.

Back Up Your Birth Control Day has an entire section of the website dedicated to facts and information, if you want more. Mess-ups happen, and it’s important to remember that there are ways to deal with them.

Shira Chadashah

Every post I write is about something that happened a week or two before. This one (it’ll be brief) is about attending Shabbat services at Shira Hadashah, a self-proclaimed “Orthodox, feminist congregation in Jerusalem.” I had a great experience there–out of all the Orthodox services I have attended, it was by far the one I found to be most meaningful.

What makes Shira Hadashah special (in addition to the fact that so many people there seemed to have amazing voices) is the way that they incorporate women into the service. Women and men pray on separate sides of a mechitza, with the bima in the center of two equally sized prayer spaces–allowing both men and women access to the bima. Women lead “optional” parts of the service, like Kabbalat and Pesukei Dezimra, which are parts that Orthodox Judaism halachically permits them to lead. In addition, women say Kaddish, are called to the Torah, read Torah, and say Kiddush.

Shira Hadashah is not a place I’d want to pray every day–I want to pray in a place where women can lead everything, and are seen as having equal obligations as men. However, my views will never line up with those of Orthodox Judaism, and I don’t think that they need to–there’s room for many different strains of Judaism out there. Because of this, I very much appreciate and admire the way that Shira Hadashah blends peoples’ desires both to observe Orthodox Halacha and create a community based on principles of gender equality and inclusion. Praying at Shira Hadashah, I felt like I was surrounded by a group of thinking and caring people who are trying to create a Judaism that blends tradition with their modern values.


A law signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Tuesday makes the state the first to require women who are seeking abortions to first attend a consultation at such “pregnancy help centers,” to learn what assistance is available “to help the mother keep and care for her child.”

The legislation, which passed easily in a state Legislature where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 3 to 1, also establishes the nation’s longest waiting period — three days — after an initial visit with an abortion provider before the procedure can be done. It makes exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest.

Many states require counseling from doctors or other clinic staff members before an abortion to cover topics like health risks. What makes the new South Dakota law different is that the mandated counseling will come from people whose central qualification is that they are opposed to abortions.

Short update from Israel.

Last Friday my group went to the Kotel to daven Friday evening services. Immediately upon arriving, our leaders told us that the boys would go to the male side, and that the girls would go to the female side. I was not surprised–I have prayed at the Kotel many times before, and have unhappily become used to being forced to pray separately from men there. However, being used to it did not make it any less frustrating.

A group of friends and mine decided to lead our own Kabbalat Shabbat services separate from the boys, and it ended up being really nice; we stood in a circle behind the lines of women praying silently to themselves and, amidst many slightly dismayed looks from onlookers, sung aloud together. The sense of community we created was great, but what made it even more beautiful was the fact that a couple strangers decided to join in and pray with us.

However, after finishing the first part of the Friday evening services, we arrived at Ma’ariv, something that according to Orthodox Judaism, women are not supposed to lead. (Women are allowed to lead the first part, excepting a few things.) Because the girl who led the first part of our services is Orthodox, she did not want to lead the second part, and so she, as well as a few other girls decided to pray on their own. Our group quickly dismantled, and I ended up praying Ma’ariv on my own. It was nice to pray at the Western Wall, but it was basically almost that; all of the spirituality that otherwise would have been inspired by the sense of human longing and desire and hope was diminished by the feeling that I was missing out on the amazing communal prayer that I was hearing from the male side.

Walking away from the Wall, all I could think about was how their should be three areas there: one for men, one for women, and one for men and women to pray together. Israel should not be a state only for Orthodox people–it should be a state where all Jews (and non-Jews, but that’s a different topic) feel comfortable, that accommodates all of our needs. Women of the Wall serve as an inspiration for all women who feel frustrated with the limitations imposed on them at the Wall, but the fact that women have been arrested for reading Torah at the Wall is simply depressing. Something needs to change.

First Update from Israel

My group arrived in Israel yesterday, and now that I’ve rested up I want to write a quick post about my experiences in Poland. Well, not all of them, or even most, because I’m still digesting most of it, but I wanted to write about one experience in particular my friends and I had while in Warsaw.

My group woke up on our first day there and went to pray at the Nozyk synagogue. It’s a beautiful synagogue–the only synagogue in Warsaw that survived world War II. It was used during the war as a stable, but has since been refurbished and is now back to its beautiful origins.
Even so, I wasn’t able to appreciate praying in such a historically significant and meaningful place because I was praying from a floor above the bimah with what a hotel would call an “obstructed view,” to say the least. I felt like all of the praying was going on below me instead of around me, and many of my friends felt the same.

After our experience, we discussed the setting and the isolation and distance it made us feel—we had all struggled with our desire to enjoy the synagogue and appreciate its history. A friend of mine brought up the idea that perhaps because women who lived at the time when the synagogue was constructed a few hundred years ago wanted to pray in such a setting, we should too. However, I struggled with that idea because society has changed significantly since then, and modern feminism has changed the way we look at women’s place in the world–and we can expect a lot more involvement and inclusion. Even so, when she said that I began to feel like I should make a more concerted effort to get past my modern qualms, at least for a short period of time, in order to allow myself to truly become immersed in the synagogue.

The next day, instead of complaining about my lack of view, I tried to picture the synagogue full of men, women, and children celebrating life moments; I still felt that I would not be comfortable praying at the synagogue permanently, but that it was a worthwile place to visit and pray inside.

So, that was one of a million experiences in Poland. More to come from Poland, maybe, or more from Israel.