One of my least favorite things about summer—after bugs, overcrowded parks, and face-sweat—is the serious dearth of decent TV. My TV schedule disappears, and is replaced with an array of below-average reality shows. The only thing I’ve been watching with any regularity is The Bachelorette, a show that alternately bores me, amuses me, and causes me to exclaim to no one in particular, “Oh, come ON!!!!” an average of sixteen times per episode.
After Bel Kaufman, writer and public school teacher, published Up the Down Staircase in 1965, one assistant principal at a school where she had taught began adding a warning to his memos: “DO NOT SHOW THIS TO BEL KAUFMAN.” The disclaimer is a testament to what a nerve Kaufman hit with her novel, which followed a young teacher through her first year in an urban public school and highlighted the insane bureaucracy that got in the way of actual teaching.
I have often marveled at words like culaccino, which in Italian means "The mark on a table left by a cold glass." Words like this simply can’t be replaced by the sum of their parts. The English language has a wealth of words to choose from—over a million by some estimates—to complete the perfect turn of phrase. But, alas, sometimes one million words are not enough to lovingly tell your boyfriend that he has cream cheese in the corner of his mouth.
I don’t do well in humidity. I don’t think rallies have been particularly effective since the 1970s. Still, I stood outside for two hours this Tuesday, gathered at City Hall with a couple hundred of my fellow concerned citizens. We were there to show solidarity against certain recent Supreme Court decisions.
Lupita Nyong’o is an Academy Award winning actress. She has a Master’s Degree from Yale. She speaks four languages. She is the writer, director, and producer of a documentary about Kenya’s albino population. She is also a stunning beauty, and a fashion plate. It’s that last point, that shallow observation, which I’ll write about today.
Since last year, YouTube sensation Postmodern Jukebox has been creating innovative covers of modern pop music by applying contrasting musical stylings to contemporary works—from a smooth jazz cover of the Game of Thrones theme to a 1940s swing adaptation of Madonna's “Like a Prayer.” In recent months, Postmodern Jukebox released a klezmer inspired cover of Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty" accompanied by segments of Yiddish translation. As I watched the video accumulate over a million views on YouTube, I became interested in exploring what went into the production of this inventive and unlikely pairing.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
—Adrienne Rich, from Diving into the Wreck
When I think of Adrienne Rich, I think about the differences between maps and routes, between shortcuts and whole geographies. I think about the difference between following directions that lead you straight from A to B and sitting down with your Atlas of the Difficult World with no destination yet in mind. I think about trying to take in all that maps have to tell you with your heart and eyes open, about looking to learn without knowing what you will find or where this new knowledge will lead you. When I think about Adrienne Rich, I think of the different ways we learn, the different ways we come to know the world, ourselves, and vice versa.
There are many reasons I think the Supreme Court is wrong as a legal matter in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. I think corporations are entitled to certain kinds of basic economic privileges, but I don’t think corporations are “people” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) or the First Amendment.
Have you ever explained the Holocaust to someone who's never heard of it before? I have.
I don't remember a time when the Holocaust wasn't a part of my consciousness. So imagine my surprise when, sitting with co-workers in a gazebo at our school, a girl of no more than 7 years old with a luminous smile ambled by, her shirt emblazoned with a massive swastika.
In Judaism, we take the seventh day of the week to slow down. To separate between the holy and the everyday. As legendary civil rights activist and Jewish thinker Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his book The Sabbath, “on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.” Shabbat in Jackson was indeed a time to germinate and cultivate the ideas that have been spinning around in my head.
You might be sorry to hear it, but I do not miss home yet. Southern hospitality is REAL and amazing. Just came back from an incredible evening of Southern food, music, visiting, and art at the Mississippi Museum of Art, which has an incredible installation of Civil Rights Photographs. I got to meet Doris Derby who you should definitely know about if you don't already.
I think today might best be a day told in quotes from a few key experiences. There is so much more happening than I can fit in these few words.
Back in 2011, as newly minted high schoolers at Gann Academy in Waltham, Kineret Grant-Sasson and Mitali Desai had an idea: during the second half of freshman year, they would start holding meetings for a feminist club, welcoming students with all levels of knowledge and interest. Today, Kineret and Mitali are incoming seniors, and their club, Feminijas, is going strong. Femininjas meets Mondays at lunch for discussions about gender, power, and feminism, topics many students don’t study in earnest until well into college. Recently, they embarked on a photo project, something they’d seen online and thought would be an empowering exercise for Femininjas. The concept was simple: pass around a white dry-erase board, ask participants to write a blurb about why they need feminism, and take a picture. The results are powerful, encouraging, and thought-provoking.
When I exited the airport in Jackson I couldn't help but feel as if I was walking on hallowed ground. The air was thick and the dense grass crunched under my feet—it really feels different here. The song "Strange Fruit" played softly through my mind as we drove through the flat, open land past trees that look different enough from home to make me feel a little out of place. As you well know, I have always been fascinated by the Civil Rights Movement. I feel like this part of our history sheds light on our proudest and darkest moments as a nation. Mississippi was (and continues to be) a battle ground for testing the ideals and laws that supposedly govern the United States, and I sort of feel like I am on a pilgrimage to witness this crucial part of our history.
I remember buying Salt-n- Pepa’s album Very Necessary in 1993. I must have been nine, and along with River of Dreams by Billy Joel, it was the soundtrack of my tween life (we can discuss my eclectic music taste in another blog post). I never could have imagined that eleven years later I would be in Boston’s City Hall Plaza listening to the epic Salt, Pepa, and Spinderella spout messages of female empowerment, the value of friendships, and staying true to you.
It was a magical evening at the Phantom Gourmet Beach BBQ Party, and thanks to one of my highly connected friends, I ended up with two tickets. I grabbed a friend who enjoys meat, beer, and 90’s hip-hop as much as I did, and we ventured to the plaza.
I love my job.
About half a year ago, I was hired as the new web content editor for the Jewish Women’s Archive, helping to rework our content for the new website. A huge part of that has been writing short biographies for the thousands of women featured on the site, from pioneers of the feminist movement to literal pioneers of the Wild West. The goal is to give you a small taste of what makes each of these women extraordinary and link to other places on jwa.org and the web where you can find out more; the difficulty is trying to tell the stories of these women’s rich and varied lives in fewer than 200 words.
I struggle with my Jewishness. I always have. The world is riddled with conflict, much of which is derived from the infuriating, irreconcilable differences in fundamental religious beliefs. I was brought up in a Jewish home and a Jewish community, read Jewish stories, and absorbed Jewish values. I never felt connected to the idea of God, but all that stuff about honoring thy mother and father and being kind to thy neighbor? I was down with that! Still, I reasoned that humanity would be far better off without such divisive religious constructs, and that our religions should be relegated to history books.
When I applied to the Peace Corps in the fall of 2011, I thought I knew myself pretty well. In fact, I thought I was the person I was going to be and I just couldn't wait to share that person with the world as an ambassador from our great nation.
As it turns out, I didn't know shit. I'm a 26 year old graduate of Barnard College with a degree in Economics. Sounds okay on paper, no? Well, eighteen months into my Peace Corps service in Thailand, the only thing I know for certain is how little I know. The sheer optimism and raw idealism I arrived with did not get me very far. They did, however, prove to be active catalysts for many experiences I've had, and I feel supremely lucky for the humbling opportunity to rethink everything I thought I knew.
My first daughter made me a father (with significant help from my wife). I felt unprepared then, and still do, on occasion, even though she is now 21. For example, I am still unprepared when she calls in a funk about tomorrow's final exam (in which she ended up doing more than fine, thank you).
Our son was born six and a half years after our first daughter, and our second daughter was born six and a half minutes after him. Ask me about twins another time, or boys; this time my assignment is daughters. My daughters have taught me about dance, and fashion, and the photosynthesis cycle, and scuba diving, and inductive geometry. They have taught me that observation is not judgment, that you don't have to be a feminist to support feminism, and, distressingly, that the world is cruel to women in ways that men only know when we worry about our daughters.
It’s a warm spring Saturday night, and I am standing in a tot lot, knee deep in toddlers. It’s past seven, and the late light is starting to smudge. As I gaze across the garish reds, blues, and yellows of the bulky play structures, across the immovable iron fence, I spot a 20-something couple walking by on the street. They are light on their feet, smiling, arm-in-arm, and I think: They’ve just had sex. A late afternoon session, bodies sweaty, faces flushed, their hair tousled by a post-storm breeze from the window. A prelude on their way to a chic bistro and a boisterous bar. The young man and I trade squinting looks, both trying to make sense of what we see. After a beat, he gives up and rejoins his partner’s earnest banter.
Thanks to another successful mixture of time, biology, and good fortune, we welcomed another baby girl into our family a few weeks ago. For those of you who are counting, that makes five kids- we led off with two boys, and since then have been on a girl binge.
Now listen, I’m not a sociologist, or an academician, or a statistician when I talk about kids, society, and gender. With that in mind, as I reflect on being a parent to three girls, these are not to be interpreted as blanket statements about boys/girls/gender, but they do reflect my experience.
Who still watches Miss USA? I remember tuning in when I was younger, eager to check out the contestants’ glam evening dresses. Now, if anything, I’ll glance through pictures online of the top five. Maybe. If it’s a slow internet day.
Well, the dated, sexist, eye-roller of a pageant became suddenly culturally relevant this Sunday, in more ways than one. The winner, Miss Nevada Nia Sanchez, is a fourth-degree black belt in taekwondo. Thanks to thorough research (Google search) I can tell you that black belt is the highest rank, and there are nine levels within the rank. So, Nia is about halfway through the most advanced level. She started training when she was eight, and became a certified taekwondo instructor at fifteen. This is something she’s been dedicated to for most of her life, not a hobby she picked up to stand out at pageants—which she didn’t even begin competing in until 2009. Impressive.
Some readers of Jewesses with Attitude might remember that almost a year ago, I wrote about the documentary film Girl Rising, which at the time was being shown here in Boston as Abby Mohr’s bat mitzvah project. I was frustrated that I couldn’t see the film at the time, so I was thrilled when Tara, JWA’s Director of Engagement and Social Media, posted on our Facebook that the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) would be screening a shortened version of the film. I made it a priority to go to this event—not only to make up for missing it last year, but also to finally see what I’ve been hearing so much about since the making of this film.
Girl Rising tells the stories of girls in developing countries fighting to earn the educations they need and deserve. What’s so powerful about the film is that it is truly a docu-drama. Each story focuses on a young woman who worked with a writer from her country to present her story the way she wanted it told.
Roz Chast is one of The New Yorker’s most enduringly popular cartoonists, beloved for her signature neurotic style and quick wit. In her first graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Chast dives into the always frustrating, often funny, sometimes surreal world of elder care. As an only child, Chast was wholly responsible for making sure her aging parents were safe and taken care of, despite their tendency to drive her completely nuts. We meet her mother Elizabeth, a domineering woman who always had the last word, and her father George, an anxious man who adored Elizabeth. Together, the three of them navigate the last years of her parents’ lives, the brutal realities of aging, and the bittersweet comedy of reaching the end of the road.
When I was in tenth grade, a male friend of mine told me he would kill himself after I said I wouldn’t go out with him. The next day, he confronted me in the hallway and told me I was, among other things, a terrible person, a tease, and a slut. Later that year, a senior who I was too shy to talk to approached me and told me he really liked me and wanted to go out. He tried to kiss me at my locker, in front of a teacher, and I pulled away. Later he told his friends that I wouldn’t have sex with him and that I was obsessed with playing hard to get; that I loved the attention. Of course, this was news to me—I’d had a crush on him and was baffled when he stopped talking to me after the attempted public kiss. Later I learned that the two of them—I’m-going-to-kill-myself guy and kamikaze-kiss-guy—circulated a list detailing which sexual positions would best take advantage of my body—which, as was noted in the list, “would be really great if she lost 5 pounds.” There were other incidents that year, and many more throughout high school.
As a feminist activist and Internet junkie, I get most of my news from online, feminist-leaning news sources. Consequently, I learned about the plight of the 300 kidnapped girls in Nigeria before the general public became aware of it. I was dismayed that it took so long for mainstream news sites to cover the incident, and I am equally saddened by its quick disappearance from people’s thoughts. Although major news sites are still reporting on the situation, such updates are largely absent from social media. A couple days ago, my Facebook newsfeed was exploding with event pages, shared articles, and updated statuses about the kidnapped girls. Now, I hear nothing.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Blog." (Viewed on December 7, 2016) <https://jwa.org/blog>.