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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.

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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.

Changes

You’re probably going to start noticing some differences in the content of my posts here pretty soon (and perhaps the frequency with which they’re written).

Tomorrow, I’m going to be leaving for Poland with my grade, where I will spend approximately 10 days visiting concentration camps and the remains of what used to be a thriving Jewish community there. I’m expecting an emotional but very interesting trip.

Then, we’ll leave Poland and spend three months in Israel, touring and volunteering. I’m super excited–I’ve been to Israel many times before, but never for so long, and never with my friends. It’s going to be a great experience, full of learning, beautiful weather, and lots of hummus.

That being said, I’ll be sure to share whatever relevant experiences and thoughts I have while there (when I get computer/internet access). A Jewish teenage girl spending three months in Israel–who knows what Jewish feminist issues I’ll encounter? (Well, I have an idea–probably less American pop culture issues and more Israeli ones, for certain. And the sometimes absurd laws passed in Israel that majorly infringe on women.)

So, rather than saying goodbye, I’d prefer to say “see you from the other side of the world.”

GAGA

Last night I was lucky enough to see Lady Gaga in concert–it was fantastic. She was fantastic (her voice is really good), the show was fantastic, and the world that she created onstage was fantastic. If you’ve ever seen her live or in a video, you know what I mean. If you ever, ever get a chance to see her in concert, go–it was that good.

One thing that stood out about her show was the way the she constantly reminded the audience of the fact that she–or at the least the version of herself that she is onstage–is fake. She is a reflection of what her listeners and audience expect and what from her; she is there to be whatever we want and need her to be. Towards the beginning of the show, she spoke this, what she calls “The Manifesto of Little Monster,” aloud to us:

There is something heroic about the way my fans operate their cameras. So precisely, so intricately and so proudly. Like Kings writing the history of their people, is their prolific nature that both creates and procures what will later be perceived as the kingdom. So the real truth about Lady Gaga fans, my little monsters, lies in this sentiment: They are the Kings. They are the Queens. They write the history of the kingdom and I am something of a devoted Jester. It is in the theory of perception that we have established our bond, or the lie I should say, for which we kill. We are nothing without our image. Without our projection. Without the spiritual hologram of who we perceive ourselves to be or rather to become, in the future. When you are lonely, I will be lonely too. And this is the fame.”

What’s interesting about Lady Gaga, and what makes me love her, is that she is not just a pop-star with an image. She is an image–she epitomizes the postmodern idea that simulation and visual media can substitute for the real. There is no “real” Lady Gaga–she loudly proclaimed last night that the one thing she hates more than money is truth.

And yet, somehow, she constantly reminded us last night of the true and harsh realities of the world we live in. She talked about homeless LGBTQ youth, about societal pressures to be thin, and about people who feel they have no place in society–and proclaimed her show as a place where all the problems in society could come to die, proudly telling us that her Monster Ball is a safe-haven for all the freaks in the world. She blended her fake world with reality in order to subvert that reality.

If it were anyone else, I would have found a lot of the things Lady Gaga said last night to be cliche, and expected a lot of people in the audience to grimace. But when she said things like “I want you to walk out of her tonight not loving me more, but loving yourselves more,” the only response she got was resounding cheers. I was amazed at just how many people really do look to Gaga as affirmation of the fact that it’s okay to be weird and out of place–she’s really struck a chord.

A lot of pop stars are about image. But in embracing that fact and making it clear to her audience that she is simply creating an image for them, she has somehow been able to create the ultimate escape for her audience. It’s as if the very fact that she has been able to win us over with her fake world of acceptance and equality makes that world seem possible in real life.

PS: Gaga is also awesome and does a ton of charity work. She really does try to change the world we live in–she’s not all talk.

Protect Planned Parenthood!

Nothing makes me sadder than the idea that Planned Parenthood would lose its government funding–something that, if some people in Congress get there way, could become a reality. Representative Mike Pence is currently sponsoring a bill that would deny government funding to any organization that provides abortions, regardless if they use government funds to pay for them. Planned Parenthood is one of those organizations; it currently receives over $300 million in government funding and contracts.

Planned Parenthood has recently been under attack by anti-choice organizations. Live Action, an anti-choice group whose website features the headline “Exposing Planned Parenthood’s Cover-up of Child Sex Trafficking” hired actors to conduct sting operations in twelve clinics in six states to expose the alleged horrors occurring in the hands of Planned Parenthood. As Gail Collins summarizes,:

Live Action hired an actor who posed as a pimp and told Planned Parenthood counselors that he might have contracted a sexually transmitted disease from “one of the girls I manage.” He followed up with questions about how to obtain contraceptives and abortions, while indicating that some of his “girls” were under age and illegally in the country.

One counselor, shockingly, gave the “pimp” advice on how to game the system and was summarily fired when the video came out. But the others seem to have answered his questions accurately and flatly. Planned Parenthood says that after the man left, all the counselors — including the one who was fired — reported the conversation to their supervisors, who called the authorities. (One Arizona police department, the organization said, refused to file a report.)

No one looks good giving information to pimps. But even pimps and prostitutes need information about sexual health–the counselors were simply doing their job. And, contrary to what Live Action wants people to think, Planned Parenthood has “a zero tolerance of nonreporting anything that would endanger a minor” just like public clinics or hospitals, according to president Cecile Richards.

What makes these attacks so sad is that Planned Parenthood provides 1.85 million low-income women with family-planning and medical assistance every year. Planned Parenthood is not an abortion clinic; it provides women with pap smears, STD tests, and screening for breast and cervical cancer, and helps newly pregnant women weigh abortion, adoption, and having a baby in a nonjudgmental and informative way.

In addition to being an important and necessary resource for women who do not feel comfortable going anywhere else for reproductive health care, Planned Parenthood also saves the government a lot of money. For every dollar spent on publicly funded family planning services, Medicaid saves $4.02 the next year. Getting rid of Planned Parenthood could effectively cost taxpayers 1.2 billion dollars.

So please, please, sign this, a petition to save Planned Parenthood and keep its government funding.

A few months ago, I realized that I wanted to start wearing Tallit and Tefillin. Not because I had some grand change in ideology, but because I realized that doing so actually goes along with the ideology I’ve professed to have for quite some time.

I’ve always believed in egalitarianism, the idea that men and women should have the same obligations in regards to Judaism. However, until reading On the Ordination of Women as Rabbis by Rabbi Joel Roth, I hadn’t quite thought about the extent to which that belief should apply to everyday practice, including Mitzvot that are traditionally associated with only men. In his responsum, Rabbi Roth creates a justification for ordaining women as rabbis. In doing so, he discusses the fact that women are traditionally exempt from positive time-bound commandments, such as wearing Tallit (performed in the morning) because performing the Mitzvot would inhibit them from performing their duties at home. Roth brings up the idea that, for a woman who wishes for more to be expected of her than mothering, there could and should be another option: accepting full obligation of all Mitzvot upon herself, including positive time-bound ones. (His discussion of what this would entail and how it would affect people is quite long and nuanced, and worth a read.)

After reading his responsum, I realized that, in truth, I feel obligated to perform all Mitzvot–I see no reason why a male friend of mine should be obligated to perform Mitzvot that I am not. But with this realization came another one–that for years, I’ve been justifying my decision to not wear a Kippah, Tallit, or Tefillin with the word “comfort,” but that doing so is actually quite hypocritical of me. To put it simply: if I were a boy, I’d be wearing them, so why aren’t I?

And so, with that idea in mind, a few weeks ago I decided to try out a Tallit. At my school (or ex-school, as I’m about to graduate), we pray every morning, and so I asked one of our rabbis to teach me the blessing and how to put it on, and I wore it. I was immediately surprised at how comfortable it felt–wrapping myself up in the fabric made me feel warm and homey. It also just felt right–like I was differentiating between my day-to-day clothes and my prayer clothes and setting myself up to focus. That night my father took me to the local Judaica store in order to buy one of my own. We argued for a while about the color scheme, as I wanted to buy the plain blue, white, and silver Tallit that many boys wear at school, and he wanted me to buy a more feminine one. However, after both explaining my belief that if everyone’s obligated we can all wear the same type of Tallit and feeling the silky texture of a slightly more feminine but still simple white and blue Tallit, we settled on a beautiful Tallit that I have worn since that day.

I hadn’t had an opportunity to try Tefillin until yesterday thanks to many snow days and the end of school, but yesterday I woke up early, drove to school, came to Minyan, and was lucky enough to be taught by a peer how to put Tefillin on both my head and my arm. As a teacher had previously explained to me, they were very uncomfortable–they just felt weird. However, as he also explained, I found that weirdness to be very appealing–in his words, it had a kind of “shock effect.” Wearing the Tefillin on my head and my arm made me look and feel like I was not only praying, but like I was doing something overtly different from my normal life. Putting on and taking off Tefillin is somewhat laborious and time consuming–you can’t just immediately walk out into your normal life and move on like you can with a Tallit. I found that differentiation, that conscious effort, to be very powerful, and if I end up praying again on a daily basis (I’m graduating now), I’ll want to buy some and wear them (they’re pretty expensive.)

One of the best things about these two recent experiences was looking around the room and seeing both boys and girls wearing Tallit and Tefillin, comfortably (or uncomfortably, as the case may be) praying as a group. Instead of feeling different, I was one of them–obligated and fulfilling my obligation.