In 1964, three civil rights activists disappeared at the start of Mississippi’s Freedom Summer. Assuming that James Chaney (who was black), Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner (who were both white) had almost certainly been killed for investigating a racist church bombing, the rivers in Mississippi were dredged to look for their bodies. What they found instead is described in the song “In the Mississippi River” written by Matthew Jones and sung here by the Freedom Singers: Dozens of black Americans who had been murdered, their hands and feet tied, and sunk in the river. It was understood that no one outside of their friends and family members would ever notice they were gone.
When I shop for clothes, I try to purchase tops that are not exceedingly cropped, low-cut, or sheer. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been excited about a cute dress or shirt, only to flip it over and find that the back is completely cut out. This is disappointing, but it also makes me question my own tendency to judge the Girl with the Crop Top. If the majority of clothes at the mall are cut out, cut-up pieces of fabric, it might not be fair to judge consumers for buying what is being sold.
The little girl races to unwrap it and gasps when she sees what the package contains. It’s Slumber Party Barbie™ and she couldn’t be more thrilled. All of the girls in her class have the doll, and now she can’t wait to bring her new Barbie in to school to show them! With the silky haired icon comes an accessory set including a pink satin robe, hair curlers and a pajama set. But what Barbie would be complete without a matching pink scale permanently set at 110 lbs. to keep her slim and fit? Oh and better yet, Slumber Party Barbie™ comes with her very own diet book, solely containing the advice “Don’t eat!”
Sitting in my grandparents' house in Northridge, CA, on stolen land that was originally Barbareño and Chumash territory, I'm thinking a lot about how to foster space for gratitude without erasing the pain and violence in the paths that brought us to this place. Because rolled up in my story, in the events that led to me being in this place with my cherished family of origin, is a lot of pain and violence.
One of the best ways to write poetry is to read poetry: this is common knowledge probably spoken at every writing class in the world. However, this advice is not specific enough. The leader of the class should instead announce to the group of rookie writers that one of the best ways to write poetry is to read the poetry of Adrienne Rich.
Thanksgiving was my grandmother’s favorite holiday, and there’s an almost mythical story about the first time she celebrated it. My grandmother was born in Lublin, Poland, survived the Holocaust, and lived in a displaced persons camp in Germany for six years after her liberation. In the DP camps she married my grandfather, who was said to be handsome and tall, though his visa says he was 5’7. While still living in the camp, they had their first child, my uncle, Yitzchak. And in 1951 they came to the United States. It was November when their boat set sail across the Atlantic. As my grandmother told it, the boat docked in New York on Thanksgiving Day. But before docking, they were served a Turkey dinner.
I am a junior in high school. I’m involved in the mock trial team, the drama department, the creative writing program, and a music club. I’m also on two sports teams: water polo and swimming. I could have also chosen to participate in basketball, or cross country, or tennis, or volleyball, or soccer, or a dozen other sports. I definitely take for granted my opportunities to participate in the athletics and activities of my choice.
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.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on November 25, 2015) <http://jwa.org/blog>.