The few times I’ve visited Teaneck, New Jersey (usually to dine at a Kosher restaurant since my nearby hometown is devoid of one), the sidewalks have a dizzying glare of bobbing black hats. There are about 15 synagogues within a five-mile radius, each with women’s balconies that I suspect are scant on leg room and a view of the bimah.
I once had the privilege of hearing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speak in person. She’s a tiny person with huge, almost caricature-scale glasses, but she conveys an unmistakable weightiness in her speech – well-articulated, certain, and slow (surely she is the slowest speaking Jew ever!).
The American Jewish community never fails to worry. We worry about anti-Semitism. We worry about intermarriage. We worry about assimilation. And lately, we’ve been worrying about boys. In response to the steady retreat of boys and young men from Jewish communal life, many of us have declared our community plagued by a “boy crisis.”
A recent article in Lilith Magazine entitled “How Do Women Define the Sacred?” speaks to the ways in which handmade tallitot (prayer shawls) have become central aspects of Jewish women’s spirituality. Though women have become increasingly enfranchised over the past several decades in many areas of Jewish life, the bulk of religious liturgy is reflective of Judaism’s patriarchal origins. And so, handmade women’s tallitot challenge a prayer legacy primarily composed and transmitted by and for men.
Self-confident. Loud. Hard-working. Feisty. These are the words that come to mind when describing Jewish women. So perhaps it’s no wonder that we’ve taken great strides in shaping and transforming politics. In the 1920s, Rose Schneiderman was a key organizer for the National American Women Suffrage Association. And in 1976, Bella Abzug became the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress on an explicitly feminist platform, a demonstration of her unshakable convictions as an anti-war activist and as a fighter for social and economic justice for all Americans.
Twice a month, I have a “domestic worker” (no one says “cleaning lady” any more) come help at my house. By that I mean, she does all the tasks I stink at: removing the excess cat hair of three cats; de-griming the tub; and sweeping Cheerios from the bizarre places my two-year old drops them. Each time this woman comes, we sit for a little while, and share parenting stories and laugh. And even though I pay her well, I still feel guilty when she comes. Is there some reason I can’t manage to clean my own home? Am I spoiled?
It’s been a couple of weeks since the feminist biblical scholar Tikva Frymer-Kensky passed away, and I find myself returning to her work as a way of honoring her memory. I didn’t know her well, but I have learned a great deal from her writing (particularly Reading the Women of the Bible and Motherprayer) and have used her scholarship in my own teaching.
This week, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences honored the first Iranian Jew with an Emmy. She also happens to a woman—Lila Yomtoob. The Forward profiles Lila today, noting that her award is for working as a sound editor on the HBO documentary "Baghdad ER." The film follows the daily lives of doctors, nurses, soldiers, medics, and chaplains working in the U.S. Army's Baghdad medical facility in Iraq's Green Zone.