Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca was not a women’s rights activist. She was a people’s rights activist.
She understood the problems of the working class—people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds—and sought to improve conditions for workers.
It just so happened that along the way, she became a leader in a way that was unprecedented for women of her era.
“I believe in tit for tat, and if that’s the case someone owes me a lot of tat.” That quote begins this fast-paced, extremely well-researched documentary about Sophie Tucker, the bawdy singer/comedian known for being “the last of the red-hot mamas.” And thanks to the producing-writing team of Lloyd and Sue Ecker, a new generation of fans will be giving Sophie lots of “tat,” just as their parents and grandparents did during her career which lasted seven decades from the 1890s thru the 1960s.
Our world is a broken place.
It’s important to acknowledge this, to be aware of what is going on around us, because only then can we begin to pick up the pieces and try to make repairs. One of the points of brokenness in the world right now is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an ongoing struggle between two groups of people fighting over the same land.
It is no mistake that when people think of the 1950s, a very specific image comes to mind. A slim white woman wears her kitten heels as she holds a baby on her hip with one hand and pushes a vacuum with the other. That same slim white woman flashes a smile while placing a cooked meal in front of her husband and children, family programming playing on the television. This ideal housewife was present everywhere, dominating women’s magazines, advertisements, TV shows, movies, and literature. Women were supposed to be simple, kind, doting, dutiful, and, of course, selfless.
First of all, let me make clear that I sincerely hope this isn’t “The Year of the Jewish Woman,” as the headline of the Jewish Daily Forward’s “Forward 50” list proclaims. One year isn’t enough for me; I’m aiming for a world in which Jewish women—and all people—get the opportunities and recognition they deserve every year. But I’m pleased that the Forward managed to reach parity + 1 this year, after more than 20 years of lists in which women were not represented in proportion to their percentage in the population.
As a student applying to college, my peers and teachers regularly ask me what I am interested in studying. However, when I excitedly answer “business and political economics and foreign affairs,” people often raise their eyebrows or look at me as though I have something in my teeth. One recent encounter stands out as particularly shocking.
Sophie Tucker was a heavyweight performer—in every sense of the word. Right up to her death in 1966 at age 82, Tucker, the so-called “Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” took her act worldwide, combining her singing talents and bawdy humor into a legendary act that would manage to survive the demise of vaudeville and the dawn of the television age—all while remaining determinedly and definitively plus-sized.
Long before Emma Lazarus’ words were immortalized on that great copper statue, she was a young Jewish American girl growing up in New York. Throughout her life she produced numerous poems, essays, letters, translations, and even a novel.
I knew I was getting older when my mom stopped letting me bring Archie comics and Crayola crayons with me to services. These kept me entertained, even if it meant hiding my comics behind the prayer books, peeking over them periodically to see if anyone had noticed the offending material.
"OMG. I LOVED those books." I practically shrieked when I heard that that they were re-issuing the All of a Kind Family books. As a bookish 8 year old, I remember sitting on my bed binge-reading (the then-equivalent of binge watching) them—I could hardly wait to finish one to start the next.
In March 2014, I went to Israel for two weeks with my entire grade. On our first Shabbat there, we were given the choice to attend three different services: Sephardic Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform. As a member of the “only goes to services on High Holidays and doesn’t keep Shabbat” school of observance, I would usually go directly to the Reform service but I thought to myself, “I’m in Israel, I should live a little!” I had heard Sephardic services were full of music and dancing, so that’s where I decided to go.
My mother is Jewish and my father is not. As a very active member of the Jewish community who just begun her twelfth year of formal Jewish education, I do not consider myself interfaith. I am Jewish through and through. As confident as I am about my identity as a Jew and my place in the Jewish community, I am insecure about my role in the feminist community.
So how in the world was the rigid, traditional, millenniums-old practice of Judaism in any way connected to feminism, a movement that aims to restructure societies’ ideals and question tradition? How could I identify as both a believing Jew and as a feminist, not to mention lumping them together into one phrase? The more I repeated them to myself, the more the words ‘Jewish’ and ‘feminist’ sounded incorrect side by side, like “candied broccoli” or “kind bigot.”
Although I wish they were, feminism and Judaism are not congruous in my life. I am a feminist. I am a Jew. But when I put them together, they clash. In my life, being Jewish means that I am a part of my Modern Orthodox community, it means that I go to shul every week and sit in my designated place on the left side of the mechitza, the low wall that separates men and women during prayer.
Why am I both burdened and liberated by the rich history that precedes me, and how do I identify myself with it accordingly? I remember sitting in a car outside of a Dunkin Donuts when I first pondered this question. Watching the cars drive along the highway, I tried to discern the faces of the drivers—discover their races, religions and genders in order to associate their appearances with stereotypical status and privilege. I wondered about myself—how I could fit in among the mosaic of peoples when my own identity seemed so misshapen.
A few Saturday mornings a month, my Dad and I go to synagogue to read Torah. We drive there, even though my synagogue is within walking distance; my Dad often has errands to run, or I have a dance class I need to make, two activities that cannot be accomplished efficiently through walking. We pull into the parking lot, pry open the synagogue’s heavy wooden doors, and take our seats at the very back of the sanctuary. Within thirty minutes, as the Torah is being lifted in the air for the ritual of hagbah, we are out of there.
Many things about my lifestyle confuse my grandmother.
She does not understand why I wear white after Labor Day, how I can text so quickly, or why I’m vegetarian.
And four years ago, she could not understand how my name would be read as I was called to the Torah to become a Bat Mitzvah.
Traditionally, I would be Ilana bat (my mother's Hebrew name, which happens to be Rachel) and (my father's Hebrew name.) The issue with that formula was, I only had one parent. I have only ever had one parent.
Is abortion really always tragic? How much has pro-life rhetoric influenced women's attitudes toward abortion? Forty years after the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, “abortion” is still a word that is said with outright hostility by many, despite the fact that one in three American women will have terminated at least one pregnancy in their lifetime. In her new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, feminist writer and poet Katha Pollitt reframes abortion as a common part of a woman’s reproductive life, one that should be accepted as a moral right with positive social implications.
On his hugely popular fashion blog Advanced Style, photographer Ari Seth Cohen has introduced readers to some of the world’s most fashionable, fabulous, inspiring women, including Iris Apfel and Linda Rodin. The blog, which features stylish women over 50, has been so successful since it’s founding in 2008 that it has since produced a book and now a documentary film of the same name. Fans come to Advanced Style for the fashion and the flamboyance, but the blog’s commentary on society’s fixation on youth and beauty has been just as influential: even Vogue Italia called Advanced Style less a street-style blog than "a sociological treatise" on ageing and identity. For those readers of Advanced Style who long to know more about the subjects of Mr. Cohen’s photos, the new film is an absolute joy. It delves into the lives and backstories of seven of the blog’s most beloved subjects, including Joyce Carpati, who at 82 must be the world’s most elegant woman.
I have spent too many nights—nay, entire weekends—doing my nails, eating lunch, drinking gin and tonics—in front of TLC’s masterpiece to see it desecrated by old white men trying to appeal to women voters. I’ve grown up with this show: I remember when Kleinfeld’s consultant Sarah got engaged, when consultant Keisha announced she had breast cancer. I watched in horror as bride Amanda’s dad bought her a $30,000 gown to wear under her $25,000 chuppah, and cried every time a bride got emotional about buying a dress without their mother there. Say Yes To The Dress is my rock: it brings me joy, it’s always there when I want it with countless episodes to rewatch, and it prompts important rants (let’s call them conversations) about feminism and gender in my apartment. The women on Say Yes To The Dress may not all be the most liberated, but they’re MY marriage-obsessed 20-somethings, and I love them.
This October marks the 70th anniversary of the death of Regina Jonas, the first woman ever ordained as a rabbi. Born in Berlin in 1902, Jonas began talking to friends about her desire to become a rabbi when she was still a teen, and later studied under Eduard Banath, who oversaw ordination for the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, a liberal, nondenominational seminary in Berlin. But when Banath died in 1930, Jonas struggled to find another rabbi willing to ordain her. She argued brilliantly for the possibility of women becoming rabbis and eventually won over Rabbi Max Dienemann, executive director of the Conference of Liberal Rabbis, in 1935.
I did not choose to be sweet. Sweet was assigned to me at birth: my name, Mitali, literally translates from Hindi to “sweetness.” For most of my life, I was called “sweet” almost incessantly; praised for being generous, nurturing and selfless. I would blush, stare at the floor demurely, and giggle a “thank you” in return. In reality though, this made me feel more like a well-behaved puppy than it felt like a testament to my character.
“Kineret, do not feel like you have to be nice to everyone all the time. It will get you into trouble,” my mother told me in my early adolescence. It was her version of “the talk”: the imparting of wisdom from mother to daughter, wisdom that is only achieved over time and through many challenging experiences.
Summer 2014 shook us out of our slumber. The immigration rhetoric of empty promises and Congressional inaction had become numbing until we saw the desperation in the women’s eyes and fear in the faces of the children at the U.S. Mexico border. The image of 8-year-old Alejandro, alone, gripping a water bottle and facing the border patrol officer with a clip board stopped many of us on our tracks. How could this be happening in the U.S.? Why now?
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on March 5, 2015) <http://jwa.org/blog>.