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Leah Berkenwald

Leah Berkenwald
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Leah Berkenwald

Leah Berkenwald was born and raised in Northampton, MA, where "The coffee is strong, and so are the women."  As such, she was a feminist and equal rights activist straight out of the womb. She is particularly passionate about reproductive rights and sex education, despite her father's wish that she do something less controversial like "save the whales." Leah draws strength from the memories of her grandmothers - two incredible Jewesses with some serious attitude. After three years as JWA's Social Media Specialist, Leah moved on to Wentworth Institute, where she coordinates Wellness Education. You can read her blog at www.leahbee.net

Blog posts

Remembering Sylvia Schur, a pioneer who transcended the kitchen

Thanks to Julie & Julia, foodies are abuzz about Julia Child.  Icon though she is, the story of a different sort of chef caught my attention this week.  Sylvia Schur passed away at age 92 last week.  Her obituary in the New York Times captivated me as I realized that this woman was no ordinary chef. 

Sylvia Schur was not a stereotypical "Betty Crocker," though she did create recipes for the company.  She did not wear pearls and an apron and stand in a TV studio stirring cake batter. Instead, she pioneered the modern food industry - creating the now classic recipes you see on the back of the box, problem solving with the heads of Ocean Spray, editing magazines, running a successful consulting company, and developing convenience foods for women on the go.  Sylvia Schur was a creative champion of modern working women who refused to spend their days in the kitchen.

Ray Frank: "Lady Preacher" of the West

One-hundred and nineteen years ago today, Ray Frank became the first Jewish woman to speak from a synagogue pulpit in the United States. Ray Frank's story is particularly intriguing due to its complexity and the questions it raises. This was undoubtedly an important event in American Jewish women's history, but its impact is not straightforward, and thinking of Ray Frank as a heroine of the women's movement is somewhat problematic.

Topics: Rabbis

Gloria Steinem speaks at OMEGA and more - Link Roundup Sep. 14, 2009

Gloria Steinem, a "Jewess with attitude" if I ever saw one, spoke at the OMEGA Women & Power conference on Sep. 11th.  Feministing has a few posts about her talk to check out.  The theme of the conference was connecting across generations, and I absolutely love what Steinem had to say on that subject.  She rebukes the misconception that young women don't care about feminism, and of course, she doesn't hold back.

Finding a deeper connection to 9/11

I have always had trouble feeling connected to 9/11. Like every other American, I remember where I was and what I was doing when I found out about the attack (high school band class), but the wave of nationalism following 9/11 affected me more than the actual event, and my memories reflect that distinction. I did not know anyone that was killed, lost a loved one, or helped in the rescue or cleanup efforts, and every year I struggle to find a personal connection to that day.  This year Rabbi Irwin Kula's haunting recording of 9/11 voicemails set to Eicha trope gave me that connection, and left me holding back tears in my office.

Love Shouldn't Hurt

Today I discovered the National Council for Jewish Women of Columbus, Ohio's "Love Shouldn't Hurt" community service project, which educates high school students about dating abuse and healthy relationships.  The NCJW's Love Shouldn't Hurt committee, chaired by Nancy Eisenman, has reached over 1,800 students with their teen dating abuse lecture. The NCJW of Columbus, Ohio is working to pass a bill to require all schools to include educational programs about dating and relationship abuse in the high school curriculum. I applaud this initiative, and wish there were a similar bill on the floor of every state legislature.

Book reviews, burlesque, and feminist racehorses - Link Roundup Sep. 9, 2009

Everyday I encounter a number of interesting websites, articles, and blog posts that are definitely worth mentioning. I hope you find these as interesting as I do!

  • Mazel tov to Judith Seidman and Linda Frum-Sokolowski, two Jewish women appointed to the Canadian Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. [The Canadian Jewish News]
  • 'Nice Little Jewish Girls Gone Bad:' a new burlesque show challenges Jewish stereotypes. [South Bend Tribune]
  • The Forward reviews Carol Leifer's When You Lie About Your Age, The Terrorists Win: Reflections on Looking in the Mirror [The Forward]
  • Meet Donna Party and Tina Flay: two Jewish women rockin' the roller derby scene. [Oy!Chicago]

Inglourious Jewess

Inglourious Basterds has been called the "ultimate Jewish revenge fantasy," in every review and blog post I have seen.  I am not interested in adding my two cents to the debate about whether revenge fantasies are "good for the Jews" or "bad for the Jews."  Instead, I would like to offer a different angle on the film. 

Last week I wrote about the deficit of "kick-ass Jewish women" in film, and Sylvia suggested that Shoshana of Inglourious Basterds fit the bill.  Now that I've seen the movie, I completely agree.  The true hero of Inglourious Basterds is the heroine: Shoshana Dreyfus, a kick-ass Jewish feminist.

Topics: Feminism, Film

"Still Lives" and the women of the 23 Souls

In early September of 1654, 355 years ago today, a group of Brazilian Jews described in the public records as "23 souls, big as well as little," arrived on the docks of the new world Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now known as New York.  These were not the first Jews to reach North America, but the group is significant because it was mostly women and children, signaling the beginning of the first Jewish community in the New World.

'Berlin 36' and Gretel Bergmann's story

Next week is the release of Berlin 36 in German cinemas.  Berlin 36 is a film about Gretel Bergmann, the talented German high jumper denied a spot on the 1936 Olympic team because she was Jewish.  Rather than face the embarassment of a Jew winning a gold medal for Germany, the Third Reich selected gentile Dora Ratjen to compete in Bergmann's place. Two years later, a doctor revealed that "Dora" was actually a man.

The "mother-in-lawsuit," God as a woman, and everything you wanted to know about bagels - Link Roundup Sep. 2, 2009

Yesterday I participated in that wonderful September 1st Boston tradition called "Moving Day," where everybody across the city plays a traffic-ridden game of musical apartments.  To make up for my absence, here is a mega link roundup.  Enjoy!

  • Mother in law-suit? A Jewish woman is suing her daughter-in-law, a standup comedian, over her “malicious” mother-in-law routine. No joke!  [Heeb]
  • After a Muslim woman recently made waves in a “burquini,” Elle magazine takes a look at swimsuit scandals throughout history.  [Elle]
  • David K. Israel of Mentalfloss lists the “Top 20 Jewish Comedians of All Time.” Guess how many women he left out?  Tsk, tsk, Mr. Israel.  I’ll meet your Howard Stern and raise you Sophie Tucker or Joan Rivers or any of the rest of the Jewish women from Making Trouble. [Mentalfloss]
  • Amid celebrations of Women’s Equality Day, Nancy Ratzan reminds us that women are still paid less than men. [The Forward]

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Jewish Women's Archive. " Leah Berkenwald ." (Viewed on July 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/author/leah-berkenwald>.

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