Jewfem Blog

The present I got today.....

I discovered today by accident (in a long email thread forwarded to me that made an aside reference to this) that my cousin, Harry Maryles, wrote me an "open letter" on his blog two months ago condemning my decision to become a Reform rabbi because, well, it would be a terrible shame to do this despicable thing to my ancestors. "She is joining a movement that her parents, grandparents and great grandparents fought against," he claims. Maybe he is right. My grandfather, who he claims to represent, died in 1955, way before I was born, so who the heck knows. Anyway, he writes, "By joining the Reform Movement she is saying that their version of Judaism is as valid as that of Orthodoxy but better in the sense that it is more welcoming - and a far better place for feminists like her." That's right. That is exactly what I am saying. I'm wondering why he is not embarrassed by that, why all Orthodox rabbis are not completely ashamed that they represent such a culture that makes women feel that way. Anyway, he continues, "I would ask my cousin Elana, to re-consider her choices. Please please don’t do this. I ask you to reflect on your family and your heritage. The negative repercussions may be far greater than you anticipate. And doing this may end up being the biggest mistake of your life." Okay then. I posted this on my Facebook page. I explained as follows: I am putting this out there in case any of you are interested in getting an insider's glimpse into what some of us have to deal with in our lives. I'm not going to honor this essay with an actual response or defense or explanation of my life choices, in part because he didn't bother to actually write to me or tag me or speak to me directly, so I have nothing to reciprocate (I have written in the past about how much I hate being talked "about" instead of talked "to", and this whole thing about men talking to other men about me and what other men think about women like me just makes me bristle). But also, I am not responding in order to remind myself that just because a person happens to be a blood relative, it doesn't mean that they have any clue about you, your life, or the wisdom of your decisions. This is a good reminder of that. And also, it is a reminder that every time women seek to follow our own minds and our hearts, there is someone there to claim that we are actually owned by others, by our ancestors, by an abstract community, by some kind of other-worldly obligation. Wow, I am so done with that. That was last night. This morning I woke up to an incredible outpouring of love and support. Including from some incredible people whom I consider teachers and mentors. WOW!  What a gift. This is such an opportunity to be...

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How internet trolls are destroying women's creative work: Guest blog by Elke Weiss

Trolls no longer live under bridges. In today’s age of the Internet, anyone with a fake name, a keyboard and far too much time on their hands can spend their time posting insults and harassing writers.  According to an unscientific but still illuminating yougov.com poll, 30% of men have admitted to trolling online, as compared to 18% of women  And while all people suffer, women have an especially vicious gauntlet to navigate when creating an online presence.   I was trolled yesterday on the question and answer site, Quora. I’m a blogger, who writes about Israeli politics, agnosticism, Jewish feminism and Marvel Comics. (Guess which one doesn’t get me hatred?)  Around 20 questions were posted about me, and more than half were directly gendered. It fascinated me that the insults that came up over and over again was that I was “fat” and “ugly” and “no man would have me.” Comments about my sex life and my weight were posted over and over again, including questions about how I “gorged” myself on food.  I admit it, I briefly considered shutting down my account. I knew that as I got more followers and more attention, I would become even more targeted. The internet can magnify a small amount of people into an angry mob.  At first, I was reduced to tears, but the gendered insults instilled in me in a sense of rage.  Why was the worst thing to say about a woman was that she wasn’t pleasing to a man? If this piece of trash was going to insult me, why pick those?  It hit me hard that to a small but vocal minority, questioning my desirability is a way to put me in my place. I might be a well-known writer with over 17,200 followers, and two advanced degrees, working on my dream project, but anonymous trolls can still attempt to reduce me to “How much does this woman please men?” Is that the worse they can say about me? I must be doing something right.  As of now, Quora has done nothing to help. Because of the anonymity feature, there is no way to track my abuser and the form email I got advised me to block the person. Problem is? I can’t block anonymous people, since I have no idea who they are. Even if I could block them, another fake account can easily take its place.  I should be able to ignore trolls, but the constant abuse wears away at women. Friends of mine have been trolled and have reduced their public writing, because putting themselves into the fire is just too exhausting. Women are prevented from getting a platform, for fear of reaching a level of fame that will invite abuse and scorn from keyboard warriors. No single comment is significant, but it’s a death of a million paper cuts. Male friends on Quora are dumbfounded by the hate. Of all of the ones I asked, none has experienced the language I have endured.  And the trolls...

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The Trump Effect part 2: It's not politics -- It's verbal violence

“Build the wall! Fuck those dirty beaners!” screamed a man at a Trump rally in early 2016.[2]  “You can’t trust Latinos. Some maybe, but not most,” said protesters at another Trump rally. “Immigrants aren’t people, honey,” another responded. “You know them crazy black girls, how they are.”[4]  “Fuck Islam! God bless Donald Trump!” screamed a man at another Trump rally, who was also wearing a t-shirt with big, block letters that read “Fuck Islam”. Another man screamed, “Islam is not a religion, it’s an ideology [sic].” He moved closer to the man in front of him, raising his fists, and said, “You don’t come here and talk about America when you are supporting Muslims.” A sign nearby read “Sieg Heil”. [6]  A Georgia high-school teacher who wears a hijab received a threatening note on her desk that read, “Your head scarf isn’t allowed anymore. Why don’t you tie it around your neck and hang yourself,” signed “America!”[8]. The same day, "Make America White Again" was spray-painted on a softball dugout in upstate New York, along with a large swastika.[10] “We got a new president you fucking faggots,” strangers screamed at Chris Ball as he watched the election results at a bar in Santa Monica. When he left the bar, a group of men violent attacked him, smashing a bottle over his head until he fell to the pavement and lost consciousness.    This is The Trump Effect, the impact of hateful political speech on people’s everyday interactions with those who they see as different from themselves. It is what happens when people do not see the other as a whole person but rather insists on classifying the other based entirely on physical attributes – the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their gender, their sexual orientation, their clothing, their bodies. The Trump Effect is the legitimizing of hate-filled, bigoted abuse.  And it is real. According to a study of over 2000 teachers conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center about the ways in which the election brought hate into American schools, called "The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation’s Schools," there is “an increase in the bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates.”[12] Trump was not like any other candidate, and 2016 was unlike any other election. We are living in a time when toxic, vitriolic, hateful abuse has entered the public sphere and is now mistaken for legitimate, political discourse. But make no mistake: This is not politics. This is verbal violence. [2] Mayra Cuevas, 'Trump' as anti-Latino epithet: Ugly incidents at high school games. CNN, March 1, 2016 http://edition.cnn.com/2016/03/01/us/midwest-trump-school-chants/ [4] Joseph Serna, Principal on leave for alleged anti-Trump comments; student who voiced support for Trump attacked. LA Times, November 11, 2016 http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-trump-students-targeted-20161110-story.html [6] Joseph Serna, Principal on leave for alleged anti-Trump comments; student who voiced support for Trump attacked. LA Times, November 11, 2016 http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-trump-students-targeted-20161110-story.html [8] Cory Zurowski, Maple Grove students greeted with...

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The Trump Effect

The Trump Effect. So I recently gave a ride to a guy from my neighborhood. He is an older man who I know superficially, and he needed a lift in my direction, so I agreed to help him out. (I'm often without a car, so I appreciated his need.) When he got in the car, we started chatting – how long have you been living here, where are you from originally, like that. Turns out he is from Texas, and I excitedly told him that I was in Houston not long ago where I spent three weeks visiting a dear friend, thinking that would be a connecting tidbit. But then, when he asked me where I was from, and I said, “New York”, he responded with a kind of grimacing little grunt. “New Yorkers are okay – except for one thing,” he said sardonically, looking straight at me. “You are all liberals.” And there it was, I thought, another random guy willing to verbally attack me, in my space, even as I’m doing him a favor. Another mini-Donald Trump replacing common decency with obnoxiousness, a reminder that we are now in a post-Trump world where insulting the person next to you is fine and expected. Verbal aggression, thanks to Donald, is the new normal. Lots of people have been experiencing moments like these, interactions with trump-like folks who make our personal space unsafe. With this guy in the car, in an instant, my entire life and person was reduced to one generalized caricature: New York Liberal. My work, my family, my relationships, the complexities of my ideas or actions – none of this existed any more. All I became was this stereotype, and it was used as an insult. (Actually, I personally do not consider “liberal” an insult or even a significant identifier – I don’t introduce myself at cocktail parties saying, “Hey, I’m Elana, and I’m a Liberal”; and if I had to choose the One Thing You Should Know About Me, that wouldn’t be it. – but the word is used as a slur by those who do, and it is that intention that is hateful.) Even though the label he put on me is not who I really am, the L-word, like so many other pieces of language that are casually thrown about, was intended to flatten me and blur my entire person by ignoring all the other aspects of my being. I was no longer a friend, a mother, a writer, an activist, a professional, a neighbor, or even a driver willing to do an act of kindness. I was just a thing that some guy decided I was based solely on information about where I was born. Score one for meaningless stereotypes and zero for genuine human connection. The Trump Effect.

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Some favorite Jewish women writers, 2016

dead man web
marjorie ingall
nurture the wow
scribner armadillos rev lr
last song before night

It has been quite a while since I’ve published book reviews, but this is not for lack of enjoying Jewish women’s books. I read some great books this year by Jewish women, some of whom I really love and follow adoringly. I owe sincere apologies to all the writers here for not being more diligent and effective in getting full-length reviews out there. They all deserve better than what I offered them. In any case, here are some quick reviews of books by Jewish women who are definitely worth reading: Nora Gold, The Dead Man. Inanna Publications & Education, Incorporated, 288 pages   This is the story of a music therapist and composer who confronts her own past and a tumultuous affair with a giant in the Jewish music world who also happens to be an abusive narcissist. Gold’s writing is evocative as always, and she winds her way through the streets of Jerusalem with the same emotive flair with which she navigates the intricacies of the human psyche. I particularly loved the way music is woven throughout the story, and how she captures the internal meanderings of a musician listening to the world (a baby’s cry in A, a bird song in G). Gold, in addition to being an award-winning novelist, is also the founder and director of the pioneering Jewish Fiction.net, which is the kind of place that makes you wonder how we ever managed without it.  Marjorie Ingall, Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers do to raise successful, creative, empathetic, independent children.  Harmony Books, 240 pages  Marjorie Ingall, a witty, smart and thoughtful writer and parent, shares sound and insightful parenting advice. The book is about raising children with independence, geekiness, laughter, passion, acceptance, a healthy dose of chutzpah, and sincere but non-intrusive spirituality. She combines humor with wisdom, research with common sense, stories of the past with contemporary realities. She has a wonderful ability to sew ancient texts and modern life together with one beautifully integrative stitch, as well as to find lessons of joy and humor within the madness.  I was impressed with her breadth of knowledge on an array of important topics, as well as her willingness to talk back to some commonly held misconceptions. Her treatment of praise, for example, and her exploration of the work of Carol Dweck (whom I also hold in high esteem), was one of the best sections of the book. I also really loved that she honored her exceptional mother, Carol Ingall (although I have very different experiences with feminism and motherhood). I actually follow the work of both mother and daughter and found a deeply moving inspiration in reading the feminist daughter write about her mother/ing that way. Reading about those relationships amid the formation of a parenting vision provided me with a powerful and personal corrective experience about mothering adult daughters.    Danya Ruttenberg, Nurture the Wow: Finding spirituality in the frustration, boredom, tears, poop, desperation, wonder and radical amazement of parenting. Flatiron Books, 308 pages In...

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Toronto recap: Snow, community, and some gender Torah

limmud toronto 1

Had a wonderful time in Toronto. Spent Shabbat at the warm community of the Toronto Partnership Minyan, with Paul Adam, Rachel Cousineau, Joanna Sasson Morrison, Rebecca Ihilchik and many others. I gave a class in the morning on social dynamics of single-sex spaces versus coed spaces within the process of gender change in society. And then later gave a dvar torah with a gendered reading of the "Half Shekel". I will try to turn at least one of these into a blog post later this week. Dena Greenberg Bensalmon was an awesome hostess, as were her parents, so thanks so much for that! Then, I went to Limmud Toronto, invited by Limmud organizers Shimona Hirchberg and Shalom Steinberg, Had a wonderful time, gave a talk on gender and religion in Israel. Saw some people but missed some others.Sara Ivry Nora Gold Aurora Mendelsohn. Posting some photos here. Limmud was really great. 600 people, klezmer music and dancing in the lobby, Yid Life Crisis, and more. Good times... And of course, biggest thanks go to Chana Erin Erin for being my "melava", chaperone, therapist, tour guide, editor, hostess, confidante and overall amazing friend. I have never had a trip quite like this, constantly surrounded by all that love and support, everywhere I went. It was transformative, on the deepest level. AND of course, there was also Niagara Falls in the snow....

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My seventy faces

“There are seventy faces of Torah,” the midrash says. It’s a beautiful concept, a celebration of diversity and multiple perspectives, a reminder that every text is an open book, subject to multiple human interpretations. But people are Torahs too. We are tightly wrapped up scrolls of text, chock full of experiences, memories, scenes, narratives, ideas, beliefs, images and creations. In yoga they are called “samkaras”, thousands of imprints of experience and memory, all embedded in our consciousness, guiding us and serving as a lenses and triggers in our lives.  We walk through the world interpreting and reinterpreting, trying to make sense of our pasts, constructing our futures, and trying to stay balanced and awake in the present.  Each of us has seventy faces, at least. Maybe thousands, or millions, depending on how far down we are willing to dig. Many years ago, when I was participating in a new circle of colleagues and we were asked to introduce ourselves, I stood up and counted my seventy faces. It went something like this: I AM a woman, a Jew, a mother, a daughter-in-law, a wife, a cousin, a niece, a friend, an author, a blogger, a colleague, a researcher, a student, a teacher, a business owner, a client, a service provider, a professional, a mentor, a volunteer, a cook, a consumer, a shopper, a pedestrian, a driver, an Israeli, an American, a Barnard graduate, a PhD, a Yeshivah of Flatbush alumni, a traveler, a native English speaker, a Caucasian, an Ashkenazit, a native New Yorker, a brunette, a petite, a size 38 shoe, a pitta-vata, a Sagittarius, an otter, an extrovert, an introvert, a group facilitator, a Hebrew speaker, a home-owner, a voter, a liberal, a Zionist, a feminist, a Hebrew University graduate, a speaker, an activist, a Facebook user, a music-lover, a piano-player, a sometimes artist of sorts, a Modi’in resident, an immigrant, a free-range parent, a yogini, a meditator, an able-bodied, a swimmer, a bank-account owner, a bread addict, a tea drinker, a survivor, a former compulsive dieter, an advocate, an ally, an earner, a believer, a spiritual seeker, a night owl, a Hillary supporter, a bare-headed woman, a pants-wearing woman, a former head-covering and skirt-wearing Orthodox woman, a kosher eater, a dual citizen, an IDF parent, a peace activist, a Reiki practitioner, a book-lover, a book reviewer, a scrabble player, a puzzle enthusiast, a sleep-talker, a hoarder, a hugger,  a risk-taker, a warrior, a truth-teller, a free person….. What are your seventy faces? Feel free to share below. In peace and friendship, Elana

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Cheerio folks: I'm off to Limmud UK!

So excited to be going to LImmud UK as part of the UJIA delegation! I'll be speaking about a bunch of different topics, including: * "A revolution of dolphins": Orthodox women transforming Jewish life* Educating religious girls: A joint session with Dr Beverly Gribetz * Women and theocracy in Israel: How religion and state threaten women's lives in Israel * "Like a thousand paper cuts": Non-contact sexual abuse AND i'll be on a panel called "JNEB" fashioned by Keith Kahn-Harris​ where criticism is welcome and celebrated. My talk is called: The sh*t that Jewish women go through... or more mildly, "Why it's tough being a Jewish woman". I'm really looking forward to that one... If you're there, pls come and say hi :-) Cheerio......

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Birthday wishes......

Today is my birthday. I am turning 46 years old.  WHOO HOO   Here are some of my thoughts today. Birthday gratitude and blessings: Grateful for friends near and far, long-standing and new, those who i've met IRL and those who haven't, for every kind word or sharing of support and care......Grateful for every compassionate exchange, even amid the chaosGrateful for honesty and genuine sharing, for those willing to open up vulnerabilities and invite others inGrateful for those who respond to those vulnerable moments with gentle tendernessGrateful for those who have shared learning moments, even difficult and painful onesGrateful for those who wished me well, even if only in their hearts, and for those who gave me the opportunity to wish them well, tooGrateful to be surrounded by love in my homeGrateful for warm blankets, food in the refrigerator, and nice neighborsGrateful to be able to work, and to do work that fills me with purpose and strength.... and at times that swadharma thing....Grateful to teachers and guides, in all formsGrateful to be able to live in Israel and be part of this 2000 year-old missionGrateful to all those protecting the protectors, the ones looking after my children-soldiers as they protect the Jewish peopleGrateful for sane voices amid insanityGrateful for moments of hopeGrateful to God for giving me yet another year to try and get things right.... And what i wish for the world on this birthday (blessings): I wish for more things like this to be grateful for, more moments of hope, sanity, compassion and vulnerabilityI wish for surprising and exciting experiences of love, friendship and connectivityI wish for warring parties to be gripped with the realization that the people they are hurting are people just like themselvesI wish for an end to sexism and patriarchy, big and small, whispered and systemic, deliberate and incidentalI wish for the men (and others) who harm women (and others) -- whether they are aware or not whether with words, bodies or other weapons -- to find humility and self-silence I wish for women of the world to find their/our powersI wish for an end to conscious or unconscious racism, homophobia, and all other ideas that enable people to think of another person as an object to be hunted rather than as a human being with a spiritI wish for terrorists of all faiths, ideologies and personalities to have their weapons and ideas disabled once and for all These are the things that i wish for this year.... the things that keep me up at night that i pray for constantly. That... and a new laptop, a working dryer, and a car..... But mostly peace in the world......<3   Best,  Elana

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Which great Jewish writers would YOU invite to a dinner party?

That is the question posed by the National Jewish Book Council in honor of Jewish Book month. Thirty writers gave their answers, including me. Here is my answer. So honored to be included in this amazing group.    http://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/_blog/The_ProsenPeople/post/30-days-30-authors-elana-maryles-sztokman/

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