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Archive for March, 2010

With awareness comes responsibility. Responsibility is hard work that not everyone likes. My family’s Seders this year allowed me to fully understand the meaning of “ignorance is bliss.” It is a whole lot easier to read without knowing what I am reading than to endure the painful understanding that there is a Jewish feminist duel between what is on the Haggadah page and what will come out of my mouth.

My Boca Raton hyper-stereotypical grandparents use the most generic of Haggadot: Maxwell House. They come free with a can of coffee grinds and they’re strictly to-the-point (i.e. they provide a pretty fast route to the food and random political banter). They’re also – shocker! – entirely male-centric and focusing exclusively on the patriarchs, calling God “He,” and the Four Children the “Four Sons.”

Let’s just say that for the past two nights, I got a little creative, much to the eye-rolling dismay of my younger sister who does not understand my personal investment in feminism and to the confusion of distant cousins who didn’t understand why what I said didn’t match up with the words I was supposed to be reading.

Judaism is based in texts that are rooted in a male lexicon. Is it my responsibility to change that? How do I explain to a Seder full of  confused faces why it matters so much to me that God is not called “He,” but rather “Hashem” (“The Name” does not have a gender) or why I believe that the Four Sons should actually be the Four Children, seeing as each child is a metaphor for emotions we all – regardless of gender – face daily: confusion, arrogance, intelligence, and shyness?

I do take it on as my responsibility. I have spent quite some time learning about the sexism society has thrust upon my generation to reverse and I need to remind myself that I learn for the sake of action and sometimes that means changing the language of a coffee can Haggadah so I can feel true to my feminism and true to my Judaism when I read it. That is how I internalize these texts my religion is based in; I can only internalize that which speaks to me. As a woman, I have the added responsibility of making texts like these – which linguistically speak solely to the men they address – represent my gender.

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I bet everyone is excited that Passover is tomorrow—who doesn’t love Matzah? But aside from that, Passover can actually be a really interesting experience, and one that a lot of the feminist Jewish world has taken in to make their own, being struck by the lack of female presence in the Seder: Miriam, Moses’ sister, the woman who led the Jews across the Red Sea, is not mentioned once.

One interesting ritual is the orange on the Seder plate, a ritual that developed not as a symbol originally having to do with Miriam, but as a symbol of inclusion for the gay and lesbian community. Susannah Heschel created the custom after reading an early feminist Haggadah that suggested putting a crust of bread on the Seder plateas a sign of solidarity with Jewish lesbians. She felt that the custom showed that there’s as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the Seder plate, and she did not want to accept that—she wanted to emphasize the need to include them into Jewish life.

The orange is growing in popularity among progressive Seders; some people have even adopted it to represent women in general and the role of women in the Passover story. However, while the orange is a relatively new custom, another interesting custom actually has its origins in the words of a 10th century Rabbi. Rav Sherira Gaon taught that:

They asked of the two foods placed on the Seder table, and he responded that they symbolize the two messengers, Moses and
Aaron, whom God sent to Egypt. There are those who place a third food on the Seder table in memory of Miriam, as it says, “And I will send before you Moses and Aaron and Miriam” (Micah 6:4). These three foods are fish, meat, and and egg, which correspond to the three types of foods Israel will eat in the world to come (Ma’aseh Roke’ach, 59).

Because in the Bible and Midrash, Miriam is associated with water, the fish is chosen to represent her.

Now, apparently this tradition didn’t catch on back in the 10th century (or else we’d probably be doing it now), but I think it’s really cool that the concept of including Miriam in the Seder has already existed for so many years. And it legitimizes today’s struggle to include women in the Seder, as the precedent has already been set: we’re not the only ones who see a gap in the story that we retell every year. Somehow over the years the idea of including Miriam has been lost, but working to include her is actually a way of infusing old traditions back into our Seders, rather than overwriting them.

So this year, try it—go out and get a fish, and tell everyone around your table about Miriam, the woman who took a timbrel in her hand and danced the people of Israel across the Red Sea.

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My Story

You may have noticed that from the rib? has been linking to JWA’s blog Jewesses with Attitude quite a bit lately as part of a Jewish feminist collaboration of goodness that we in the blog-o-sphere call cross-posting. Last week, I was encouraged to get in touch with my roots so I thought I’d share them here:

I’m a born-and-bred New Yorker and high school senior who actually takes advantage of all the feminist goodness my city has to offer. If not for living in Manhattan, I’m actually unsure of whether or not I would label myself as a feminist today, seeing as for me, the community is what strengthens all my ideologies. As for Judaism, I would have probably embraced it sooner had I lived somewhere where Judaism was not as strong or thriving; growing up, I did not choose my Judaism – I was thrust into it through sitting through high holy day services in a language I could not comprehend and forced to go to Hebrew School while many of my friends were having extended recess. But how my actual experience with Judaism and feminism turned out really isn’t so bad. Actually, it’s pretty amazing because through my struggles with both, I have formed intersections between the two that have made my interests more cohesive than I could have ever imagined.

My passion for feminism seemed to spike when my willingness to have a Jewish identity faltered. I was always searching for something to believe in and it was a whole lot easier to believe in the feminist literature of my cyber-centric generation than the monotonous mumblings in a foreign tongue where the only names referred to were those of patriarchs. That began four years of dropping out of Hebrew School, ending all ties with religion, and vigorously writing for and checking out the feminist blogosphere. I thought feminism and Judaism were mutually exclusive. I did not realize that I needed one to truly value the other until this past summer in Israel on a Bronfman Youth Fellowship.

Read the rest here.

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So…we missed Back Up Your Birth Control Day, which was yesterday. My bad. But, it’s never too late to do so!

So what is back-up birth control? It’s normally known as Emergency Contraception, or the morning-after pill. I spent last summer working on a study about EC, and it’s surprising how little people know about it. So educate yourself here with some basic facts, courtesy of the Back Up Your Birth Control Fact Sheet:

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. Yes, things happen—it’s a fact of life. But we’re lucky enough to live in a country where there is a safe, effective back-up method of protection to help people when they mess up.

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Today, Obama signed the health care bill. And I’m excited, because personally I think that health care should be a right, not a privilege, and it’s about time America made that a reality.

So how will the bill affect women?

Well, women are a part of the general population, and a bill that will provide coverage to 32 million uninsured people is sure to help a lot of women. But some people are saying that the bill will help women in particular, as it will require private insurance companies to pay for preventative care (which includes mammograms). In addition, the bill will help women, who are four times more likely than men to contract an autoimmune disease, by getting rid of lifetime coverage limits. So it seems to be pretty good, right?

But on the other hand, what about abortion? An interesting article by Jodi Jacobson explains that the Nelson Ammendment requires every person to write two healthcare checks if they choose a plan that covers abortions, one for their regular premium and one for the money that could potentially go for abortions. Today more than 85 percent of women with private insurance are enrolled in plans that cover abortions. However, if insurance companies must go through a complicated process to provide people with the option of abortion, they potential cost of doing so will act as a deterrent and probably decrease the number of insurance plans covering abortions. In addition, there is no requirement that in each insurance exchange there must be at least one plan covering abortion, which means that for some women, it may be impossible for them to find a plan with abortion coverage at all.

NARAL Pro-Choice America made the following statement yesterday:

The legislation includes an onerous provision that requires Americans to write two separate checks if the insurance plan they choose includes abortion coverage. This unacceptable bureaucratic stigmatization could cause insurance carriers to drop abortion coverage, even though more than 85 percent of private plans currently cover this care for women. Our message to our allies in Congress and in the White House is clear: We do not accept this bill as the final word on how abortion coverage will be defined in the new health-care system. We are committed to finding opportunities to repeal these unacceptable restrictions as the new system takes shape…At the same time, we recognize that the bill will bring more than 30 million Americans into a system that includes affordable family-planning services, better access to contraception, and maternity care. …We applaud this tremendous progress, but we will continue to work toward a day when these kinds of achievements can be made without undermining women’s access to abortion coverage.

And I think that basically sums up the big problem that pro-choice legislators had to deal with: which is more important, health care expansion or ensured abortion coverage? And I guess at this point in time, health care won out, especially in light of the need for anti-choice support for the bill. So I, at least, am excited to see how much this health care change will do for the US, but also know that looking forward there is still a need for changes to be enacted to ensure that women have the abortion coverage that they deserve.

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Last Thursday I was sitting in one of my favorite cafes with my friends and doing what seniors say they hate to do yet secretly love: talking about college acceptances. In lieu of discussing my college acceptance and the criteria I must have somehow arbitrarily met, I was told that I was a “cliche” in being a writer, feminist, white Jewish girl from New York City (i.e. all of the labels that explicitly define who I am…and who about a thousand other people are as well).

I admit that I was at first taken off guard by the cumulative label. I mean, who wants to be a cliche? Who wants to have all the attributes they thought made them unique make them so similar to others?

Actually, I do. A cliche is a series of interests that string together through the intersection of ideas. I am a cliche because the various movements I am passionate about are connected by media, geography, and ideals. Being a cliche allows me to tap into all these aspects of my life to benefit the whole. I write about Judaism and feminism. Living in New York City allows me to openly embrace both. Not to mention that I started this blog on the basis of that intersection so you can say this blog is an expression of a cliche.

So yeah – I am a total cliche. And I love it. And I will continue to embrace it with writing and with analyzing the various aspects of my life with a critical eye so that I do not compromise one interest in favor of another.

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Cross-posted at Jewesses with Attitude

Why have an American actor and Israeli model become hot topics for the Jewish press ? Lehava, a Jewish organization created to prevent assimilation, recently sent a letter to Bar Rafaeli, a prominent Israeli supermodel, not to marry DiCaprio because it would be bad for Judaism. Some excerpts from the letter:

It is not by chance that you were born Jewish….Your grandmother and her grandmother did not dream that one of their descendants would one day remove the family’s future generations from the Jewish people… Assimilation has forever been one of the enemies of the Jewish people.

Well, Lehava certainly has chutzpah, to say the least. I don’t think that it’s their place to be telling an independent woman (or man) who to marry, but it does bring up the interesting issue of what happens when a prominent Jewish figure marries out. While Bar Rafaeli may not be a political or religious figure, she is an Israeli supermodel famous around the globe, and that certainly counts for something in terms of influence. So what kind of example does it set if she chooses to intermarry? (Which she has denied, by the way).

Read the rest at Jewesses with Attitude

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