Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

This is cross-posted at Jewesses with Attitude.

I’ve been thinking a lot about literacy lately. Maybe it’s because I’m working for a children’s book company this summer or maybe it’s because I am now open to seeing the holes in my own literacy. Of course, when I think of literacy, I tend to associate it with Judaism because that is where many of my holes originate. I was given opportunities for Jewish literacy through Hebrew School, synagogue, and family gatherings all throughout my elementary school years, but I was not ready to take it in, to absorb it, to fuse that into my New York City culture. So instead I decided to become feminist literate, reading The Feminine Mystique, bell hooks, and Gloria Steinem. I abandoned anything that showed a hint of sexism (with the exception of the guilty pleasure teen literature that shall not be named) because I immediately assumed there would be nothing I could learn from it.

I was wrong. It took a trip to Israel and interviewing my grandmother to learn that Jewish literacy in all forms and capacities is a path to empowerment for Jewish women. When I interviewed my grandmother for my senior project, she said of Jewish literacy in her synagogue, “The women come up for Haftorah. Women if they’re knowledgeable. They come up and read English prayers. We’re getting a more egalitarian siddur. They want to replace the one we have so that it incorporates women.” I realized that there can be multiple definitions of “egalitarian” and those multiple definitions can be different manifestations of a feminist philosophy. To include women “if they’re knowledgeable” goes by the feminist principle of gender being secondary to knowledge, forming a meritocratic rather than sexist society.

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This entry is cross-posted at JWA.

The work of the historian is to not only tell a story, but to tell it in a way that makes it real, vivid, alive, and human for the receiver. I learned this on Monday when I had the privilege of attending the Matrix Awards and hearing Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s acceptance speech. This wisdom instantly struck a chord because it describes exactly why I write and what I want to do with my writing. I want to tell a story that makes someone want to act because when statistics or historical jargon is turned into characters, the process of humanization begins and we start to act.

Here is my revelation from Monday: It is the work of the Jewish feminist to tell a real, vivid, alive, and human story. Why? The lives of Jewish women, while documented in Talmudic footnotes and filed away birth certificates, are not recorded in a way that allows them to be remembered. Judaism is all about storytelling. The Torah – the oldest foundation of Judaism off of which everything else is based – is a book of stories that are beautifully written, intricately woven together, and undoubtedly sexist in a way relevant to the times. We tell stories to remember. What is so enlightened about religion is that it does not matter if what we remember actually happened. What matters is how we remember it and how we share it and let it spread in the creation of tradition, ritual, and community.

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Today is Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day). It is a day to honor the lives of those who both survived and were murdered during this tragic genocide. Dina and I believe that it is vital to provide a space where the experiences of women in the Holocaust can be honored because, as in all cases of intersectional discrimination, women were put into a position that was different and, some might say, even more grotesque and terrifying than that of male victims.

In my Gender Studies class, we examined Harriet Jacobs’ quote, “Slavery is terrible for men, but it is far more terrible for women.” This seemingly innocent saying can truly bring about a heated discussion because slavery is one of the worst acts of cruelty and many believe that what is slavery is slavery; what is genocide is genocide and to break it apart will take away the unity of the victims and present a hierarchy of struggle. This is valid, but there is something to say for the varied experiences of women and how they innately, structurally, and socially differ from those of men. I remember being in middle school and utterly obsessed with reading YA Holocaust novels about young women (The Devil’s Arithmetic, Number the Stars, The Upstairs Room, you name it), experiences that could just not be translated into a male lexicon. Once sexism is compounded with a genocide on the basis of anti-Semitism and general xenophobia, the oppressors are able to use women as tools of war in ways that a patriarchy does not deem possible for men.

The only attribute of Jews in the Holocaust that could keep them alive was their potential for physical labor. Seen as mules, if they could not work, they were murdered on the spot. This made women incredibly vulnerable because if they were pregnant or recently had children (keep in mind, birth control wasn’t readily available in Nazi Germany so this was a large population of the women brought to the camps), they were deemed incapable of work and sent off to be killed. Not to mention that many of the women “capable of work” were sent to a separate women’s camp at Bergen-Belsen, where they suffered extreme brutalities.

What distinguished women from men most in the Holocaust was their role of motherhood. “Women and children first” does not apply in the case of genocide in case you add “to kill.” At Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, I was moved most by the children’s memorial, which was also a de facto memorial of the mothers who lost those they birthed and the mothers who died simply for parenting. In my thoroughly-filled stream-of-consciousness Israel journal, I wrote of the memorial,

The most moving moment of the place (Yad Vashem is not just a museum; it is a complex series of multimedia memorials) was the children’s memorial. Hundreds of candles were lit in one room, each commemorating a child murdered as the names of these children, along with their ages (many five years old) rang out. Who were these beings, unfinished souls without bodies, a half-painted canvas a divine artist left unfinished? Did they play hand games in multicolored playgrounds until the giant jungle gym was replaced with walls that little hands clutched in a useless, innocent effort to escape the fatal gas? Did they hang on to their mother’s every word, to the nutrients in her breast until euphemisms were muted by terror and the 200 calories she consumed a day prevented the milk from giving her child any more than parched skin and small, brittle bones?

Some might say it is impossible to separate discrimination, but to reveal the lives of women in the Holocaust does not separate discrimination; it brings to light stories that would otherwise not be told. Read more about women in the Holocaust so that you remember lives that are ignored every day. Remembrance does not only lead to action. It is action.

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Why I Blog

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot about blogging. It’s the hot topic du jour. There was an article in the Styles section featuring the editor of Jewcy this morning about it and I’m also reading The Happiness Project, which is giving me some new incentives as to why I blog.

from the rib? is not a gossip blog. It is not a journal (though I occasionally write posts detailing everyday experiences). It is, rather, a vehicle through which I intend to learn more about the intersection of Judaism and feminism and to share that knowledge with those who share my interests.

Here are a few reasons why I blog:

  • To learn how to research. I need to develop my research skills and not for any type of collegiate level either. I need to learn how to research what I am passionate about so I can argue my point better at the Seder table.
  • To learn how to persuade. I’m not talking propaganda. I’m talking writing in a coherent way that makes my point in favor of Jewish feminism sound not only sensible, but like the proper thing to think.
  • To share my thoughts. A huge part of feminism is giving women a voice, giving us the space we were so long deprived of. Blogging is not only an easy, but also an accessible way to do that. It’s an instant voice, read automatically, providing spontaneous understanding.

Why do you blog? Why do you comment? What do you think from the rib? can do to build a cyber-community?

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This is my first cross-post at the Jewish Women’s Archive’s blog “Jewesses with Attitude.” Once a week, either Dina or I will feature a post there and then link to it here.

I consider myself fortunate to take Gender Studies as my English literature class during my final semester of high school. Our first reading was a thesis Night to his Day: The Social Construction of Gender by Judith Lorber. As can probably be inferred by the clever title, the piece is about the feminine being defined in terms of the masculine rather than in its own separate language and the subsequent skewing of the gender binary.

Seeing as I am constantly looking for new assaults to/praises for Jewish feminism to blog about, I was thrilled when Lorber referenced circumcision in the context of Judaism. She wrote, Many cultures go beyond clothing, gestures, and demeanor in gendering children. They inscribe gender directly into bodies.Jewish fathers circumcise their infant sons to show their covenant with God. Needless to say, I eagerly annotated these sentences with post on circumcision!!!

A brit milah (bris) is exactly what Lorber defines it as: covenant of circumcision. It is a supposed covenant with God, marking the baby boy as not only holy, but as a possible messiah. The baby boy is blessed through sacred ritual (that may or may not be medically important), but what about a baby girl?

Read more!

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And I’m not just talking about the biblical Eve that inspired this blog.

I have just returned from seeing Eve Ensler speak and perform at the 92nd St Y on behalf of her latest project, V-Girls – I am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Lives of Girls Around the World. The project is comprised of monologues about young girls from Jerusalem to Westchester, discussing what is real for them, and unabashedly giving their emotions, their instincts, their voices, the credit they deserve.

In theory, this shouldn’t be such a radical movement. In theory, we see teenage girls walking down the street all the time. We think we know what’s in their heads. We, as a society, assume that they walk around from mall to mall giving into the apathetic stereotype we label them with. We assume, but we do not ask. We do not give girls permission to cry, to laugh, to scream, to orgasm, to be.

Eve Ensler asked hundreds of girls to do the unthinkable: to shed tears, to bowl over laughing, to shriek with all that pent up energy and not muffle it with a pillow, to discover their clitorises, to embrace who they are. These are girls who feel the suffering of refusing to stand behind a checkpoint, girls who feel jealous of their brothers’ tzitzit, wondering why they are not given the same rituals to practice, girls who sing their emotions for those who can’t at Shira Hadasha services, girls who lead revolutions in their homes, their synagogues, their schools, their communities.

How are you an emotional creature?

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Take the terms

  • Jewish
  • girl
  • liberal
  • white
  • college-educated
  • privileged
  • New York City

and I bet you’re subconsciously (or perhaps consciously if you’re sociologically savvy) associating them together. That very association is one of the internal struggles I face when perpetuating the creation of this blog – who is it for? Who’s reading it? Who’s really getting something out of it? And then there’s the other problem – I don’t want these words to be associated with each other because I want the definition of Judaism to expand to the masses who identify as Jewish and these labels just don’t allow for that. Also, how can I speak for those these words do not account for when these words account for me?

My brain started whirring with these terms as I researched one of my fave feminist books, Girldrive. As soon as I finish this post, I’m heading over to Bluestockings to listen to some serious feminist voices like those of Jennifer Baumgardner, Nona Willis Aronowitz, and Susan Bee. These women have so much in common and one of these traits is that they are all Jewish.

When asked if she and co-author Emma Bee Bernstein gave any thought to their privilege when writing Girldrive, Aronowitz wrote, “We realized that we were two white, Jewish, college-educated New Yorkers, but we also knew that we were lucky enough to have the intellectual and cultural capital to propel a movement we believe in.

I am still struggling to discover why exactly Judaism and privilege are so closely connected in American society, but I can totally get behind the work Emma and Nona have done with Girldrive and with using their learned privilege for good. This blog is a work of the intellectual and cultural capital I have experienced and I wish to propel this movement I believe in…for everyone who wants to embrace it.

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