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Tillie Olsen: Voicing What Was Silenced

Last week, after Jewish writer Tillie Olsen died at the age of 94, I picked up a copy of Tell Me A Riddle, her first collection of short stories published in 1961. Last night I re-read “I Stand Here Ironing,” a story that recounts a poor working woman’s ambivalence about her parenting skills and about her eldest daughter’s future during the Great Depression.

Topics: Feminism, Fiction

A Pluralistic Moment on a Bus in Israel

Having just returned from Israel, I was reminded of how differently some women’s roles are perceived outside of the pluralistic framework that defines my pocket of the American Jewish community. Since I spend my usual 9-5 day surrounded by opinionated power-house feminists, I sometimes forget that most of the world does not know this as their reality, or acknowledge that a diversity of women's roles in religious life or otherwise even exists at all.

Too Much Christmas?

by KG

Rather than stay fixated on last year’s “war against Christmas,” dust-up, the New York Times this holiday season has been running a veritable flood of articles suggesting that, when it comes to Christmas: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. No less than seven articles have put forward the argument that even those who might have good reason to distance themselves from Christmas tend to be happier (and less curmudgeonly) when they simply embrace the holiday that everyone loves.

Gender Wars and the (Woman) C.E.O.

When my mom started college in the 1960s to pursue a B.A. in Math, she was told by her advisor that “Women don’t major in Math at this university. Choose something else.” And so, she did.

Yes, we’ve come a long way since “math is just for men.” It’s doubtful that many Americans in the 21st century still consider female doctors and female lawyers as something particularly “radical.” ndeed, professional opportunities have grown exponentially and women have seized them furiously. But we’re fooling ourselves to believe that women and men are now occupationally on par, particularly in the corporate world in which the gender gap remains glaringly static.

Chrismukkah

As politicians continue to battle it out over whether Keith Ellison should or should not take his oath of office on the Koran (see the previous blog entry), the U.S. is engulfed in other “religious” matters -- the Christmas craze… or, as some like to call it, “Chrismukkah.”

Religious Freedom and Taking An Oath

Last month, Democrat Keith Ellison became the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress and recently announced that he would take his oath of office using the Koran (the holy book of Islam). One of the strongest expressions of opposition to Ellison’s choice came from Dennis Prager, a prominent Jewish commentator, who said “America is interested in only one book, the Bible.

A Thorny Future for Gay and Lesbian Conservative Rabbis

Gay and lesbian rabbis. Same-sex unions. These issues have been hotly debated in Jewish life for decades and perhaps more divisively within the Conservative movement. But yesterday marked a historical shift in the Conservative movement's position. Leaders of the movement's Committee on Law and Standards approved a rabbinic opinion permitting the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis and sanctioning same-sex unions.

Anna Sokolow: Using Art as Activism

Most of the time, harsh world realities leave us feeling powerless. Violence, illness, prejudice, and war cause us to ask: does our work really matter? Artists might be confronted with this question more often than others. When families can’t put food on the table, Art may seem irrelevant. But modern dance pioneer, Anna Sokolow, reminds us that nothing could be further from the truth.

Topics: Activism, Dance

Problems with the Jewish Establishment

Earlier this month the United Jewish Communities General Assembly (G.A.) met in Los Angeles. The G.A. offers an opportunity for Jewish professionals and lay-leaders to gather en masse to discuss a variety of important issues facing the Jewish community. This year (as in years past), the G.A. had a problem: young Jews were not given the floor. In fact, their voices were virtually absent from discussions altogether. In fact, the number of sessions in which young Jewish activists under the age of 35 appeared on panels could be counted on one hand.

Jewitches and Jew-U's

From bagels and lox to black-hats, Judaism comes in all different brands, styles, and colors. In the U.S., where we are fortunate to have religious choice, there is a rich diversity of Jewish life and Jewish practice; something to please almost everyone.

Evangelicals, Jews, and Coalition Politics

Lately, Evangelicals love Israel. And lately, Madonna digs Kabbalah and writes songs about Hasidic rebbes in Tzfat. And in the midst of this non-Jewish ‘Jew-centricity,’ there are Jewish parents out there nominally waspifying their children by giving them names like Mackenzie and Madison.

Feminist Responsibility and GLBT Rights

Last week, hundreds of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews rioted against the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender community to protest a planned Pride March in Jerusalem. Many of the Haredi rioters set fires and threw stones at GLBT community members and their supporters. The rioters also called for the deaths of the leaders of the Jerusalem Open House, a GLBT advocacy center. The prospective marchers had indicated their willingness to modify their route and to contain any explicit behavior in deference to community sensibilities.

Barbie Wears a Tallit?!

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.

Jewish Women Politicians: Progressively Passionate?

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.

Ending Abuse Through Activism and Ritual

Few people use their employment bonuses to start an organization of their own. But at 23, Holly Shulman -- listed in “Real Hot 100” -- is setting a new standard. Instead of enhancing her wardrobe or beefing up her music collection, Shulman used her bonus to found “Vote Against Violence,” a political action committee to combat domestic violence and sexual assault.

From Wonder Woman to Wonderbras

Though some Jews reject Halloween because of its Christian origins, others fully participate in what they consider to be a neutral, mainstream celebration. Either way, it’s difficult to escape the flood of candy, jack-o-lanterns, and synthetic spider webs as well as the latest Halloween “fashion.” Anyone who has watched the evolution of women’s Halloween costumes over the last several years may have noticed that Cinderella and the Hershey’s Kiss have long gone out of style in the wake of more risqué get-ups.

Topics: Feminism, Purim

Miriam Engelberg (1958-2006)

Cartoonist Miriam Engelberg, whose best-known work found humor in her fight against breast cancer, died last Tuesday in her San Francisco home at the age of 48.

Engelberg’s book, Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person, was published earlier this year. The book details the painful experience of going through cancer treatment but in the end, Engelberg has her readers laughing.

Hot Jewish Moms?

Today’s Forward reports on auditions for a new reality tv show called “Hottest mom in America” – ostensibly newsworthy because a special audition was held in Miami for Jewish mothers and was scheduled to avoid conflicting with Rosh Hashanah. Jeff Greenfield, the marketing exec in charge of the auditions, asserts that it’s possible a Jewish woman could win this contest.

Single-Sex Ed.: Outstanding or Outdated?

Last month, Randolph-Macon College, a small liberal arts school in Lynchburg, Virginia, opened its doors to men, ending the college’s 115-year-old legacy as a women’s institution. Students at Randolph-Macon bitterly opposed the changes with petitions, protests, and lawsuits. Yet sadly, due to the financial pressures to win applicants, little could be done to reverse the decision.

Simchat Torah with a Soferet's Torah

by JL

With Simchat Torah this weekend, I am reminded of endings and beginnings. During this holiday, we will finish reading the final portion of the Torah and start reading the Torah once again from the beginning.

Parenting Like the Talmud Told You?

Last week’s New York Times article “So the Torah Is a Parenting Guide?” discusses the prolific use of the book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children written by a Los Angeles clinical psychologist named Wendy Mogel.

Rose Kushner: breast cancer activism pioneer

If you’ve noticed that we seem to be awash in a sea of pink ribbons and ads for pink products these days, you probably realize that it’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Not surprisingly, given our prominence as feminist leaders (and the higher incidence of breast cancer among women of Ashkenazi descent), Jewish women have played leading roles in breast cancer activism. The public attention to breast cancer today is largely due to the pioneering activism of journalist Rose Kushner (1929-1990).

Is Hiring a Domestic Worker Dirty Business?

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?

Topics: Labor, Mothers

Mikveh and workers' rights

Reading last Friday’s Forward, I was struck by the juxtaposition of two articles about the Conservative movement Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Law and Standards.

Fashion and feminism

Kate Goldwater, a former JWA intern, has a new venue to express her feminism: her own clothing store, AuH2O. Kate makes her own line of clothes from recycled garments, which she restyles. Many of her pieces have a political message, such as her “Reproductive Freedom Fighter” dress and the “I am a Feminist” tank top – both of which convey the message that being sexy and political are not mutually exclusive.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on October 25, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog>.

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