I was seated at one of those grand, heavy, deep brown mahogany tables in a beautiful room with two walls of windows. To my left, sat my mother, visiting for a few days from Los Angeles. Then to my right, and all the way around the table sat 10 classmates and my professor. We were talking about my favorite topic: How do you do good?
A life-long discomfort with institutionalized Judaism is hard to shed once you reach the mid-life years. Sure, it’s great to keep an open mind, but there’s also the sense of not wanting to waste time on pursuits unlikely to enrich one’s life. Some of us narrow our options as we get older in a bargain to reduce the odds of having regrets.
“Being a diplomat is no career for a woman who wants to have a family,” said the consul.
“By the time you’re ready to get married he’ll be married,” said my mother.
“Don’t put off having children,” said the prominent professor.
On February 1, 1960, four black students in Greensboro, North Carolina, sat down at a race-segregated lunch counter in Woolworth’s and asked for service. When the waitress refused to serve them, they remained seated. This act of passive resistance launched a mass Civil Rights Movement involving tens of thousands of black southerners demanding equality and an end to the hideous system of racial segregation. I was a vocal music teacher in junior high school in the Lower East Side of Manhattan then, and not that much older than these students. Their courage and dignity in the face of constant violence fired my heart and mind.
Last semester, I was one of four boys in a course at The Weber School dedicated to Jewish women in modern America—a group of people who have had great impact on our lives. However, this group has received little of the public recognition it deserves and is vastly underrepresented in traditional history classes. Like most other American high school students, I have spent the bulk of my academic career studying Christian men from Europe. No wonder that I knew little or nothing about these remarkable women. Yet learning about them is only one reason why this course was so enlightening.
I had never taken the time to learn much about my grandmother, Esther Rebeca Leibowich de Bortz’s past. While I knew that something in her history must have gone right—she became a renowned gynecologist in Argentina—large gaps existed between each of the detailed but disconnected anecdotes that she recounted to me over the years.
My grandmother—or Bobe as I call her—and I have never lived in the same country. She was born in Argentina and has lived there for her entire life, while I was born in Chile and have lived in Atlanta for most of mine. With each of her visits, I learn more about this woman I have always been taught to revere, but in truth never knew much about. Consequently, I welcomed the opportunity to take the course, “Jewish Women in Modern America,” at The Weber School in Atlanta, where I am a junior.
Prolific is the word that comes to mind when I think about cookbooks these days. There are hundreds lining the shelves of bookstores or on your computer screen--depending on how you choose to do your shopping. Either way there are a lot of cookbooks to be had, and with new ones published on a regular basis, it can be hard to know which are actually worth purchasing.
There have been many excellent cookbooks published this past year, and Jerusalem is without a doubt at the top of that list. I remember my excitement when I read the news about its publication, and when I finally received my copy, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s one of those cookbooks that elicits exclamations of “I have to make this!” with almost every turn of the page.
The Guilt Trip begins by introducing Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen), a thirty— something inventor about to embark on a road trip to sell his innovative organic cleaning product. Andy makes a quick stop at his mom’s (Barbara Streisand) house, and spontaneously invites her to come along for the ride. Their journey cross-country turns into an exploration of the ties that bind (Jewish) mother and son.
Gerda Lerner, pioneer in women’s history, remarkable public intellectual, and life-long activist, died this week in Wisconsin at the age of 92. A member of JWA’s Academic Advisory Council, she was enthusiastic about our mission of chronicling and transmitting the history of Jewish women. No historian was more identified with the field of women’s history. Receiving her Ph.D. at the age of 46, she wrote a series of groundbreaking books in which she almost singlehandedly created a conceptual framework for the field.
In 1944, at the height of the worst carnage the world has known, a mother in Budapest, Hungary, put her only son, then seven years old, out on the street with a pillow, a last morsel of bread, and the boy’s baptismal certificate. The mother was Jewish, the son Catholic.
Fifty years later the son, Cesare Frustaci—by that time an American citizen with a family of his own—contributed a video-taped oral history to Yale University and then sent the tape to author Germaine Shames. It told the story of his mother, ballerina Margit Wolf, who was banished from the stage by Mussolini only to inspire a timeless love song and then fade from history without a trace.
Hazel Karr first contacted JWA because she wanted to add some biographical details to the article in the online Encyclopedia about her grandmother, Esther Kreitman. We struck up a correspondence with her and suggested she write a blog post about the differences between between her mother's artwork and her own.
Hazel Karr comes from a family steeped in art and literature. Her grandmother Esther wrote journal articles, translations, and novels, including the autobiographical Der Sheydim Tants (Deborah) in 1946. Esther’s brothers were Issac Bashevis Singer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978, and Israel Joshua Singer, who wrote extensively in Yiddish. Esther’s son Maurice Carr had a long career in journalism in Paris and Israel; his wife was Hazel’s mother Lola; the daughter of another Yiddish writer (A.M. Fuchs), she painted throughout her life.
In this post, Hazel Karr searches for the meaning in her mother's paintings and in her own.
As I prepare to leave my position as JWA’s Director of Public History after more than 12 years here, my mind keeps returning me back to the summer day in 2000 when I first stepped into the offices of the Jewish Women’s Archive. At the time, I was a disgruntled graduate student, disillusioned with life in the Ivory Tower and the academic study of women’s history. (Was a library really the best place to learn about women’s activism, I wondered?).
In the recent Disney/Pixar film, Brave, a young princess defies an age-old custom and fights to make her mother understand that she is not ready for marriage. I know you’d rather not think of the Disney princesses at all, but we live and breathe, and shop at Target, so I contend---if forced to choose among that whole pastel-clad, sugary lot, you’d want your daughter to be more independent, courageous Merida, less Cinderella waiting for her prince to come, right?
Today is Christmas, perhaps the ultimate holiday for giving, and I am reflecting on the act, ritualization, and commercialization of "giving."
In the past few weeks the media has been abuzz with commentary on the virtue or the silliness of Giving Tuesday. Social media and a consortium of charities pumped up the idea of naming the Tuesday after Black Friday and Cyber Monday “Giving Tuesday,” declaring it the beginning of “The Giving Season.”
Singer-songwriter-humorist Lauren Mayer reflects on Hanukkah, Christmas, family, growing up a Jew in Orange County and how all this informs her own, artistic process. May you enjoy this in depth interview conducted by… herself.
What inspired you to write “Latkes, Shmatkes”?
Two years ago NPR did a program on Christmas music, and their expert was talking about how secular songs, like “Frosty The Snowman,” became classics, and then he said, “Some songs should never become classics, like this one”— and used an old recording of mine as an example. It was a novelty song I’d written and recorded years ago, “The Fruitcake That Ate New Jersey,” and when I wrote in to ask how they found it, they ended up interviewing me. I joked that now I was part of the great tradition of Jewish songwriters who create Christmas music, and I really should do a Chanukah album. Once I said it, I realized it could be a fun idea.
Last week, Rabbi Scott Perlo wrote a provocative article in the Washington Post in which he addressed the continuing discomfort that many Jews—even liberal, gender-equity-supporting ones—feel about female rabbis. He suggests that this puzzling phenomenon may be due to the central place nostalgia holds in many people’s feelings about Judaism. It comes as no surprise that this nostalgic vision does not include female rabbis.
On the front page of this morning’s Denver Post a picture of Veronique Pozner, mother of Sandy Hook Elementary School victim Noah Pozner, at Noah’s gravesite at B’nai Israel Cemetery in Monroe, Connecticut, assaults me as I sit down to drink my morning coffee. Veronique stands next to her rabbi, and my eyes are drawn to his kippah. And I’d thought, that perhaps, I was going to be able to start this day without crying.
Although Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights, I think a more fitting name would be the festival of fried foods. It’s the time of year during which people expect and want to find deep fried food on their plates and I’m more than happy to oblige. Although, as much as I love eating latkes and sufganiyot, there are moments where I need a break from all the fried foods. Yet in the spirit of the holiday I still want to eat a dish in which oil is a central component.
How does the American Jewish woman navigate our male-dominated society in the twenty-first century? Jewish women have thousands of years of history to draw from to help make sense of and find our place. According to our ancestral Jewish tradition, women’s empowerment is central to bringing redemption for all humanity -- so let’s get to it!
I love guerilla feminism. And I love that this group of feminists from Baltimore used online guerilla feminism to critique Victoria's Secret and promote consent. And I’m not the only one who loves this stuff! I love the celebration of consent. I love the celebration of bodies. I love the way in which the campaign directly connects the concept of consent to our bodies—by putting it on underwear—showing that to touch my body, you need my consent.
Ever wanted to learn more about an amazing, captivating, female pioneer only to find the story undocumented, or worse, simply buried? That's what happened to me when I discovered the work of Jewish American photographer Helen Levitt. I am making a film to fill that gaping hole. 95 Lives uncovers Helen Levitt's legendary career documenting NYC streets for 70 years and transforming American street photography forever. Born in 1913 in Brooklyn to Jewish Russian parents, Levitt died at aged 95 with an outpouring of obituaries celebrating her art while noting her disdain for fame.
On the Thursday night before Hanukkah began, I attended an event called A Sip of Eser, an introductory session to the ten-part young adult learning program Eser (meaning 10) run by Hebrew College in nearby Newton, MA. Amidst the tumult of a Boston bar, and alongside several dozen people I had never met, I heard rabbinical student, Seth Wax, tell a Hanukkah story none of us had ever heard.
Tell someone a story, and you don’t know what will happen next.
Last summer I was lucky to study at the Jewish Women’s Archive’s Institute for Educators. We spent five intense days learning the Living the Legacy curriculum with top scholars in social activism, Jewish feminism and history. In the coming months, I will be using Living the Legacy to teach a series of social justice workshops to teens in western Massachusetts.
But something else happened because of what I learned at the Jewish Women’s Archive.
Thanksgiving is over, meaning the few remaining stores with some discretion have put up their decorations (joining the vast majority who started in early November), and the holiday muzak is blaring everywhere – so it’s hard for Jews not to feel overwhelmed and outnumbered. Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday, so we aren’t really going to compete with giant electric menorahs on our front yards, and it’s highly unlikely that Lifetime will air a new series of “Heartfelt Hanukkah” made-for-TV movies. And it’s particularly hard for parents – our kids are singing carols in school, making ornaments out of popsicle sticks, and hearing about their friends who anticipate scoring major gift hauls. How do we help our kids, and ourselves, feel better about this imbalance?
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on December 18, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog>.