Jewfem Blog

Look out for these upcoming events.....

I'll be traveling to NYC next week for three great events: * Wed Feb 4, Museum of Jewish Heritage a discussion of the War on Women in Israel with the amazing Nancy K. Kaufman of NCJW * Thurs Feb 5, The Park Slope Jewish Center book event for The War on Women in * Sunday February 8, Bnai Jeshurun, Manhattan, "Meet Me at Sinai" day of learning Let me know if you're planning on being at any of these and want to stop by and say hello!https://www.facebook.com/events/1009348159081184/?notif_t=plan_user_invited

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Maybe Not Such a Good Girl: Book Review

 Courtesy of Blue Thread Communications  [crossposted from The Jewish Week]In the many communal conversations about shifting Jewish identities and trends -– swelling ultra-Orthodoxy, burgeoning indie-groups, religious escapees, religious returnees, denominational switching and more –- one of the missing narratives is of those who leave religion but then come back in another way. It’s a version of Jewish identity that requires years or decades to truly understand and appreciate, and may apply to thousands of Jews, though we wouldn’t know because such a trajectory does not (yet) have a name. It’s a story about those who leave their religious lives because of abuse or tyranny or a need for freedom and independence, yet still cling to aspects of the heritage that they never really intended to leave behind. It is a story of longing and pain that holds up a mirror to the complexity of Jewish life This is the story that Susan Reimer-Torn tells in her beautifully-written memoir,“Maybe Not Such a Good Girl: Reflections on Rupture and Return” (Blue Thread Communications). It is a story that spans forty years and an oceanic divide. It is an evocative and intricately-woven narrative about a free-spirited, dancing Orthodox teenage girl who escapes the confines of her strictly unbending father’s house and creates a new, completely secular Jewish life in France. Yet during that self-imposed exile, the author never escapes what she calls sehnsucht, a soul-yearning. Her Saturdays in France are filled and yet empty. She discovers that there was something in what she shed all those years ago that she wants back. When Reimer-Torn finally returns to New York after 22 years, she finds herself seeking out a Jewish experience that will fill those aching holes in her spirit. She begins attending services at Bnai Jeshurun (BJ) on the Upper West Side, as well as a lunchtime Talmud class in a skyscraper in midtown. She expertly weaves together the textual learnings, childhood memories, current experiences and deep reflections on meaning, identity and relationships. Her writing is artistically mastered and redolent, and the reader feels the sehnsucht along with her.  “I come to BJ services dragging my weighty baggage: In the beginning there was total childhood devotion, then reckless adolescent rebellion,” she writes. “After fierce loyalty and spiteful betrayal, can I possibly come to the center? After all that has come to pass in childhood and adolescence, might I now cobble together such a thing as a happy Jewish adulthood?.... What exactly are the risks? Some part of me is drawn to this midlife wager, while another is deeply suspicious. Then there’s another part of me — cautious, observant, curious and baffled — that has agreed to go along for the ride.“ The bible, the midrash and the Talmud all come alive around the pains of relationships and childhood hurts. During the journey, in which we meet a whole cast of colorful characters, some alive and many no longer, Reimer-Torn develops a relationship with biblical scholar Avivah Zornberg, and she describes her classes and their conversations over coffee....

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Thank you for a great 2014

I'm honored to be included on the Forward's list of top ten women worth reading (Thank you Batya Ungar-Sargon!)   It's been an amazing 2014, full of intense writing, debate and community building. Some of the highlights for me were:   * Creating the Facebook group for people who are FEDDD UPPPP with the status of women in Orthodoxy (FEDDD UPPPPP: Feminist Forum For Empowerment and Exchange to Discuss, Debate, Defuse and Unpack Unfair and Uncompassionate Patriarchal Practices and Paradigms in Positive and Proactive ways...) that now has nearly 1800 members and has become an amazing place of support and collegiality (a virtual conscious-raising group)   *Covering the awful Freundel scandal ("the pervert with the pulpit") and helping be a part of a community-wide conversation to change power structures and control of wommen's intimate lives in the religious Jewish world    * Launching my new book, The War on Women in Israel, and going on a great book tour (two actually) around the United States to talk to people about this important topic   * Doing an interview on the Brian Lehrer show on NPR :-)  (And thanks to all the other interviews as well -- NPR Chicago Jerome MacDonnell, Voice of Israel, TLV, The Jewish Channel, etc)   * Weighing in on the terrible war in Israel, and coming out with my own story of political evolution, from yeshivah girl to feminist peace activist at Lilith  (expect more on this in 2015)   * Winning the National Jewish Book Council for my previous book, Educating in the Divine Image, with my colleague and co-author Dr Chaya Gorsetman (my SECOND JBC award.... wow)   * My El Al experience with haredi men on Tablet that went viral (who would have thought.....)   * My commentary on Kallah Teachers that also went viral   * Joining the board of the amazing El Halev with Yudit Sidikman (more on this in 2015 too)   * Helping my husband, Jacob Sztokman, provide 275,000 hot nutritious meals to children in the slums of Mumbai, 1000 each day prepared by 140 women in a women's empowerment cooperative. Read more about Gabriel Project Mumbai here   Thanks everyone for the great conversation and for all the important work in trying to make the world a better place for women (and MEN!)   Have a great 2015!  

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My political evolution (Lilith Mag)

I remember when I fell in love with Zionism. It was 9th grade at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, the course on Zionism with the legendary Yotav Eliach. Yotav was a great teacher – clear, impassioned, relevant, and totally unconcerned with things like attendance and grades. He would just sit there, sometimes eating his pizza, and talk. He made everything seem so easy, neat and uncomplicated, and he gave us purpose and identity. He taught us that Zionism Is Jewish Nationalism, that Jordan is really Palestine, that there is no such thing as a Palestinian nation, that self-determination is a smokescreen, that anti-Zionism is just a reincarnation of anti-Semitism, that Jews have always lived in the land that we now call Israel, that there are Jewish responses to claims about Deir Yassin, and more. It was like preparing for an AIPAC convention, or for being Israel advocates on campus – in fact both AIPAC and Israel advocacy were important parts of my life so many years ago. For me, Yotav's class was a big part of the reason why I decided to live in Israel. By the time I was 16 I was telling people that I planned on making Aliyah, and in fact I was here by the time I was 23, married with a baby. Everything seemed right. So in some ways, I'm still that Zionist and part of me still loves what Yotav did for me. I'm still living in Israel where I pay mortgage and taxes, conduct my life in Hebrew, argue with taxi drivers, and watch my kids serve in the army. And parts of the narrative about why Jews need and deserve a state of our own in this space still stick with me. I get emotional at Zionist events, I feel a thrill seeing my children in uniform, and I get excited by things like Israeli doctors saving victims of a tsunami. Still, with all that Israel pride, many aspects of Yotav's Zionism have been replaced in my consciousness by a different kind of Zionism, as I started asking questions about truth and illusion, about polemics versus reality, and about the difference between having justice on your side versus having compassion on your side. Something was missing from the Brooklyn Zionism I was brought up on – even if that is, in some ways, the same Zionism that Prime Minister Netanyahu practices, along with a majority of Israelis today. I found cracks in the narrative that wore down the pretty montage. Perspectives seemed muted. The story was too effortful, as if we were taught to answer the questions before we had a chance to ask them. A turning point for me came a few years ago, when I got a job as a writer for an Israeli media- monitoring organization. My job was to write organizational copy that rebuts what was perceived as anti-Israel bias in all kinds of articles, op-eds and television stories. Whenever we came across statements by Palestinians that talk about "occupation",...

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My political evolution

I remember when I fell in love with Zionism. It was 9th grade at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, the course on Zionism with the legendary Yotav Eliach. Yotav was a great teacher – clear, impassioned, relevant, and totally unconcerned with things like attendance and grades. He would just sit there, sometimes eating his pizza, and talk. He made everything seem so easy, neat and uncomplicated, and he gave us purpose and identity. He taught us that Zionism Is Jewish Nationalism, that Jordan is really Palestine, that there is no such thing as a Palestinian nation, that self-determination is a smokescreen, that anti-Zionism is just a reincarnation of anti-Semitism, that Jews have always lived in the land that we now call Israel, that there are Jewish responses to claims about Deir Yassin, and more. It was like preparing for an AIPAC convention, or for being Israel advocates on campus – in fact both AIPAC and Israel advocacy were important parts of my life so many years ago. For me, Yotav’s class was a big part of the reason why I decided to live in Israel. By the time I was 16 I was telling people that I planned on making Aliyah, and in fact I was here by the time I was 23, married with a baby. Everything seemed right. So in some ways, I’m still that Zionist and part of me still loves what Yotav did for me. I’m still living in Israel where I pay mortgage and taxes, conduct my life in Hebrew, argue with taxi drivers, and watch my kids serve in the army. And parts of the narrative about why Jews need and deserve a state of our own in this space still stick with me. I get emotional at Zionist events, I feel a thrill seeing my children in uniform, and I get excited by things like Israeli doctors saving victims of a tsunami. Still, with all that Israel pride, many aspects of Yotav’s Zionism have been replaced in my consciousness by a different kind of Zionism, as I started asking questions about truth and illusion, about polemics versus reality, and about the difference between having justice on your side versus having compassion on your side. Something was missing from the Brooklyn Zionism I was brought up on – even if that is, in some ways, the same Zionism that Prime Minister Netanyahu practices, along with a majority of Israelis today. I found cracks in the narrative that wore down the pretty montage. Perspectives seemed muted. The story was too effortful, as if we were taught to answer the questions before we had a chance to ask them. A turning point for me came a few years ago, when I got a job as a writer for an Israeli media- monitoring organization. My job was to write organizational copy that rebuts what was perceived as anti-Israel bias in all kinds of articles, op-eds and television stories. Whenever we came across statements by Palestinians that talk about “occupation”,...

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Teens' Funeral Changed Israeli Youth Forever

  Funeral ceremony for the three Israeli teenagers / Getty Images When the city of Modi’in was built in 1993, I don’t think the planners envisioned the scene that took place here today. Tens of thousands of Israelis — nearly the equivalent of Modi’in’s entire population — descended on the modest cemetery at the outskirts of the city to bid a final farewell to the three boys murdered on their way home from school 19 days ago. The families of the three boys — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaer, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16 — were surrounded by masses of Israelis from all over the country, spilling out of the Ben Shemen forest where the cemetery sits, all having come to share their grief and provide mutual comfort. The crowd was overwhelmingly religious and very young. Teenage girls in skirts and boys wearing knitted yarmulkes dominated the scene. I felt almost old as I searched for other adults in the crowd, a feeling reinforced by the sight of teens wearing youth-movement shirts, a reminder that in Israel, teenagers pretty much run the country. Gilad Shaer’s sister eulogized him by describing how they would plan their youth group activities together. The boys were in some ways still children, and in other ways deeply formed and complex young people. There were some beautifully touching moments at the cemetery. Before the three processions arrived from their respective towns (Nof Ayalon, Elad and Talmon), the crowd kept breaking into spontaneous singing, like a massive standing kumsitz. As I walked along the forest road, one group of singers faded and another heightened. In between the singing, there were groups praying mincha, the sounds of “Amen” reverberating for a distance because the crowd was so quietly subdued. Young boys were walking through the crowds handing out free bottles of water, though I have no idea who paid for them, or in fact how all of the logistics of this massive event were organized so fast or by whom. And then there were people wearing t-shirts saying “Bring back our boys” and other related slogans, reminding me of how quickly everything moves, and even entire movements form, in this digital age. As the procession of the cars of the families passed by, my heart tore apart. Images of Eyal Yifrach singing a song he wrote while strumming on his guitar at a recent wedding of a relative, images widely circulated these past few weeks, stuck a chord with me. The boy is the exact same age as my son, Effie, who also plays guitar, and who is currently serving in the army. The similarities in their build, the purity of their smiles, the beauty of the spirit shining out of their eyes, made Eyal’s death particularly piercing for me. That’s the human condition, I suppose. The more connected we are to another’s circumstance, the more we feel their pain. My life as a mother has permanently altered the way I experience events such as these. My heart aches...

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A Kidnapping That Made Israel Into One Family

How Three Boys United a Country in Death Getty ImagesBefore Hope Was Lost: A rally in Tel Aviv for the kidnapped boys on June 29, a night before their bodies were discovered.  Modi’in — With news that the bodies of the three kidnapped boys — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16 — were found near Hebron, a collective sigh of grief has been released throughout Israel. It is one of these moments that brings both tragedy and closure — the former, which Israel already has in excess, and the latter which is far more elusive. It also brings a certain degree of vindication at the end of a 17-day period of aching unknown and seemingly endless scenarios, one worse than the other. But while these events have exacerbated tensions and added anxiety-filled narratives to a country overflowing with conflict, they also highlight some of the most important and inspiring aspects of life in Israel at a time when we can all use some sources for optimism, and reminds Israel of some important lessons as we go forward. These past two and a half weeks since the three boys disappeared on their way home, after one of them called police to say, “We have been kidnapped,” Israelis everywhere have been walking on eggshells. Even as Israelis continued life almost as normal, concern for the boys dominated the public consciousness everywhere. Prayer vigils united even those not prone to praying; bar mitzvahs and weddings included mentions of the boys; meetings and conversations on mundane and non-mundane agendas incorporated updates and exchanges about the search. This collective anguish in some ways epitomizes life in Israel. There is this constant sense of family connection, sometimes to the extreme, but always genuine in its care for victims whose crime is being a Jew. This kidnapping, coming so shortly after the release of Gilad Shalit, also brought out a particular kind of panic. The thought that we were going to be subjected to another indefinite period of waiting, in which the threat of long-term kidnappings hangs over the heads of Israelis, inducing unbearable guilt and tortuous uncertainty, was at times too much to bear. The sight of the mothers going to the United Nations to plead for their release — a scene that is especially sad in retrospect now that we know the boys were already gone — was both empowering and frightening. The mothers, especially Rachel Fraenkel, demonstrated remarkable poise and strength, but also revived images of Noam Shalit traveling the world to release his son, hinting that Israel may once again be in it for the long haul. I think it’s in some ways easier to deal with the certainty of death than with that kind of indefinite unknowing. Thoughts of Ron Arad, whose fate so many decades later is still unknown, hang over Israel’s head like a flock of vultures. The enormous emotional and spiritual toll that these stories take on Israel is in some ways what makes Israel who...

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THANK YOU Repair the World!!!

Repair the World selected this blog as one of the four Jewish Women's blogs that are changing the world..... That is SO COOL!! I love Repair the World, by the way. They do awesome things around the world and help advance social activism and social change. You should check them out

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Remembering my grandmother: What I'm grateful for this Thanksgivvukah

Often, when I take a moment to remind myself what I’m grateful for, I think about my grandmothers. My life is so much different than theirs were – although in some ways still very much the same. I cannot help but stop in awe at the opportunities that I have that they probably would have loved to have. I especially think about my paternal grandmother, Beatrice Maryles Fink, z”l, who was a woman ahead of her time. She was one of a handful of Orthodox Jewish women who, in the 1930s, studied at Hunter College on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and received bachelors’ degrees. A few years ago, a friend of mine told me that her mother was part of that group as well, the ones who used to walk over the bridge from Brooklyn to get to college. They were as religious as they were serious about their secular learning, and despite many contrary stereotypes, they had no problem attaining advanced degrees while remaining fervently Orthodox. My grandmother’s degree was in math, of all things. Like I said, a woman ahead of her time. Her problems came when she dated. She used to tell us stories about how she hid her achievements from her dates, so as not to intimidate men by appearing, heaven forbid, smarter than them. In the end, she married my grandfather, Cantor David Maryles, z”l, who apparently was proud of having a smart wife. She was “old” at the time of their wedding (26 years old, I believe), and also taller than him – a big taboo in those days as well – but he did not seem to have been bothered. In every photo I’ve seen of them together, he looks deliriously happy. The story unfortunately did not have such a happy ending. My grandfather died at the age of 39 of leukemia, leaving my grandmother to care for five boys under the age of 12. She lived with her father-in-law for many years, working part-time as a bookkeeper to try and make ends meet. My father, who at 12 was officially the “man of the house”, also helped support the family from the time he became bar mitzvah. Wealthy they were not. From what I understand, it was more like just scraping by. So much for the power-woman with a degree in math who could conquer the world. Still, my grandmother held on tenaciously to her own intellectual dignity. She found every opportunity to take classes, and had fascinating contributions to make to every conversation, always commenting on social trends and human behavior. I think that it’s her imprint that made me interested in sociology so many years later. Her idea of a great birthday present was always a book. I still have a shelf at home lined with books that she gave me, all of them inscribed to me in her impeccable handwriting. I did not read most of them at the time, just as I did not appreciate her while...

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On planes, trains and Swadharma, or answering the question, "How does she do it?"

 Since I began working at JOFA, first as Interim Director and then as Executive Director, the staff and I have been inundated with the question: “How does she do it?” I tend to wonder what “it” is – work in a high-pressure job, leave my kids once in a while, or take a job that I really love? But let’s assume that for the most part the question refers to the issue of my travel and living arrangements; after all, I live in Israel and work in New York, and I have four children ages 9-19, and that feels like an impossible combination. I can bore you with some of the logistical answers, details of plane rides, light-packing, Skyping, and tag-team parenting. And of course I must acknowledge the necessary support system which would be different for everyone. For me, it includes the husband-partner, the tech-savvy staff, the flexi-thinking Board of Directors, and the occasionally on-call friends and neighbors.  But I think that these things don’t really answer the underlying question. When we ask, “How does she do it?” I think we’re asking something about women’s lives in general and whether women have the ability, the right – I daresay, the societal permission – to live fully and to reach for our dreams. After all, let’s face it. Men do this kind of thing all the time. Many men travel the world, work endless hours, and commute by plane without ever being asked “How does he do it?” With men, it’s assumed that he will do whatever is necessary for his career and that the support system will adjust to his needs and ambitions. By “support system” we usually mean their wives. Women compromise on their careers all the time in order for the men in their lives to fully advance in their careers. I see this visually on the “commuter flights” that I take to and from Israel – the flights that arrive in New York early Monday morning and leave Thursday night in order to land in Israel in time for Shabbat. The flights are often dominated by professionals like me, who are noticeable by the fact that they travel alone, travel light, dress professionally, and are attached to their laptops and other electronics. And what I have discovered is that, for the most part, these professionals are almost all men. So the question that we should be asking ourselves is not how “I” do it, but why are we asking this question only of a woman? Why is it that only men are given the freedom to work as their hearts desire? When I hear a woman ask, “How does she do it?” I hear a wanting. I think it reflects a longing for whatever that “it” is that we see in the other person, something that we feel is missing in our own lives that the other person seems to have. In the many interviews I’ve done for research and writing over the years, I have spoken to countless women...

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