Jewfem Blog

Counting women in prayer

Amanda Borschel-Dan writes a comprehensive and honest report on the issue of counting women in Jewish prayer.Here is how she quoted me:“Not counting as a person standing before God is the deepest offense you can lodge at a person. You know, when some guy starts counting heads and you are standing right there, you literally do not exist. Your body. Your soul. Invisible,” said Jewish feminist writer and researcher Dr. Elana Sztokman, author of “The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World.”What do you think about that?

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 [4] Joseph Serna, Principal on leave for alleged anti-Trump comments; student who voiced support for Trump attacked. LA Times, November 11, 2016 [6] Joseph Serna, Principal on leave for alleged anti-Trump comments; student who voiced support for Trump attacked. LA Times, November 11, 2016 [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.

Like a phoenix rising back to life: A special event to help us come to terms with our new world

Like a Phoenix, coming back to life from the ashes: Tomorrow I am hosting my first event since the elections, called "Finding Light Amid Darkness". This will be an online discussion with the wonderful Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman, founder of the Jewish Mindfulness Network and a leading voice calling for compassion, equality, justice, healing and action in this post-election world. READ MORE: It has been quite a difficult time for those of us concerned with issues like social justice, equality, compassion, and the progress of our society and humanity. The American elections, followed by some other terrible events -- from the Dakota Pipeline to the tragedy in Aleppo and the entire wave of hate and prejudice that has been unleashed and empowered in our world -- the enormity of all this has left so many of us stunned, paralyzed and fearful.At The Center for Jewish Feminism, we, too, have been struck by the challenging energies around us and by the realization of how many dangers lurk in our everyday lives. It has taken us some time to recover and regroup. And now, we have decided, it is time for us to begin the hard process of moving forward, reconnecting, and taking action.The first step in this plan is to come together, connect with like-minded people, and talk through the impact of recent events as well as potential next steps as a Jewish feminist community. Towards that aim, we are hosting our first on-line event since the American elections. This Sunday, December 18, 9AM PST in an online panel discussion titled, "Finding Light Amid Darkness", I will be hosting a conversation with one of my favorite people, Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman, founder of the Jewish Mindfulness Network, and a leading voice in the Jewish world for integrating social justice and spirituality.You can read more about the event here, or read more about Rav Jill here. The event will take place online on Sunday, Dec 18, 9AM PST, 12 noon EST, 7PM Israel time, 5PM UK time (and apoligies once again to the Aussies and kiwis in the group who will either wake in the middle of the night or wait for the recording...)You can purchase tickets to the event here .Please note that we are asking for donations of $5-$18, at your own discretion, to help us build the framework for an ongoing conversation. Our plan is to use this time slot to host conversations with other leading Jewish feminists and to create a global Jewish feminist community of spiritual and social-activist warriors who are dedicated to keeping the light of justice and compassion shining. But to do that, we need your help.Thank you for your support and understanding.A few other items to note:* This event, like all our events, are conducted in the spirit of Jewish feminism, and are open to everyone. You don't have to be a woman or Jewish to join. All who want to be part of the community are welcome.* You don't need any special technological abilities to participate. You will receive a simple link for logging on. But if that is too...

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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, 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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El Halev leads the way in women's empowerment self-defense

debbie amichai at kenes

Women have never needed tools for empowerment more than we do now. As America puts an admitted sexual predator into the White House, when the hatefulness of sexism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia have been unleashed and legitimized in one of the most powerful offices in the world, as stories of violence and intimidation are starting to flood in, we need tools to help us maintain our own safety and the safety and that of our communities. In supermarkets, malls, subways and public spaces all around the world, new faces of fear are being unleashed. Just today, a friend posted a story about being attacked at her gym in New York for wearing a Hillary Clinton t-shirt. Now, more than ever, women need tools for dealing with everyday sexism and abuse, to help us ensure safe spaces for ourselves and the people we love. Enter El Halev. This phenomen organization directed by Sensei Yudit Sidikman,  is leading the way in women's empowerment self-defense and safety. El Halev ran an outstanding conference this week for educators and therapists to mark the International Day against Violence Against Women, which falls tomorrow. The conference explored approaches to providing safe spaces and dealing with trauma. People from all around Israel participated in a range of lectures and workshops providing insights and tools for dealing with physical, emotional, and sexual trauma. Sessions included samples of El Halev programs such as Freedom to Choose, Impact, the Young Lionesses, as well as crafts, bibliotherapy, and brick-breaking. Speakers also explored the role of self-defense and "Personal Safety Literacy" as key components of the broader feminist vision of gender equality and creating a world in which women and men can both thrive.  Admittedly, as the Board Chair of the organization I am possibly biased about how amazing the conference was and about the organization generally. But my feeling at the conference was really one of privilege. I felt truly honored to be part of all this. I was so excited to speak to so many people there, all of whom share this vision. The atmosphere was electric. And it is so gratifying to watch the organization -- with its incredible staff and throngs of magnetic students, instructors and parents -- to emerge as a leader in thought and in practice about women's power in the world. The truth is, I became Chair in 2014 because of my experience with the organization, not the other way around. I decided to join the board because I had taken the self-defense course, Impact, which teaches you to stave off attacks -- physical, emotional, and sexual. The course changed my life in many ways. Before I took it, I thought, I'm a pretty tough and experienced woman. I thought I knew how to say "no". I thought I knew how to set my own boundaries. But I didn't. It was only through the course that I realized how vulnerable I really felt and acted, how I participated in my own disempowerment. I am still learning...

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Everyday Feminism: 7 Tactics of Emotional Abuse Used By Trump Supporters Post-Election

The US Presidential election results have left many people shocked, depressed, and afraid. The victor, Donald Trump, spent his campaign threatening entire populations within American society – Mexicans, Muslims, LGBTQIA+ folks, and women – and with his win, many are shell-shocked and panicking about their futures. And with good reason: Already there are reports of spikes in hate-crimes and violence against Black, queer, and Jewish people. Trump has announced plans for immediate deportations of millions of people, and he has hired white supremacist Steve Bannon as one of his top aides. This video of a woman yelling at a Muslim woman on the train gives a pretty clear example of how this election has emboldened bigotry and hatred.   As Rebecca Traister wrote, “The heartbreak of this election…[is] the loss of the idea that this country was so very close to being better, more inclusive, more just, and more representative.” It can be very hard to stay balanced and process your own emotions when fear and viciousness surround you. What’s more, as many people are working to figure out how to handle their new reality – whether in mourning or in protest, in public or in private – the emotional abuse carried out by Trump supporters has continued and even escalated. Perhaps this isn’t surprising. After all, Trump utilized tactics of emotional abuse throughout the campaign, and his tactics paid off nicely for him, empowering his followers and sending the message that emotional abuse is a legitimate (and even successful!) form or discourse. In fact, since Election Day, some new tactics have emerged, along with some revised old one. This makes the healing process even harder. Here are some of the new tactics of emotional abuse to be wary of as you work through the impact of these elections. 1. Mocking The first trend I noticed in Facebook feeds right after the election was the new language of “sore loser.” Many of those who were expressing deep sadness, mourning, or disappointment were attacked Trump supporters coming onto their feeds with mocking comments, like “Haha, you’re just upset that you lost,” “Grow up and stop being a sore loser,” or “Stop crying.” This tactic is the kind of behavior that we’re taught in preschool not to engage in. But the Trump campaign has brought back many of those toxic behaviors that we thought society unlearned long ago. 2. Gaslighting Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic aimed at twisting reality and making you seem and feel confused and disoriented. And some Trumpists continue to gaslight opponents, just as they did during the campaign. This includes claims that protesters are “exaggerating” in their fears, as Rudy Guiliani said, or that the protesters are the bad guys here, as Trump himself suggested when he said that protesters are “unfair.” In another illustration of gaslighting, Trump supporters are trying to rewrite history by claiming that Republicans accepted President Obama’s victory and embraced him as president. This completely ignores the relentless attacks on Obama’s personal credibility throughout his campaign, the Trump-led “birther” movement undermining his very identity, the constant lie about Obama being a secret Muslim (as if Muslims aren’t allowed to be president anyway),...

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When ultra-Orthodoxy targets women in Israel: NPR podcast

"Radicalization is getting worse, for sure. At the same time, the vision of equal rights, equal participation and women's power — all of that is getting stronger around the world," says gender sociologist Elana Sztokman, author of a book called The War on Women in Israel.   Read the rest here. Or, listen to this NPR podcast about ultra-Orthodox battles against women in Israel.

Pantsuits, Petitions, and Politics: Why I am still fighting the fight.....

The depths of anguish, depression and despair over the past two weeks (has it only been two weeks?) are unlike anything I have ever experienced. I think that a lot of people who were rooting for Hillary Clinton are in a similar state. Some have joined or created Facebook groups for support and actions. Others have gone off social media altogether. And many are wandering around in a half-daze, getting through their lives in the way one does after having been unexpectedly punched in the gut.  It is hard to know what to do next. The realization that so many seemingly normal people have put this person in office, a person who is an admitted cheater, racist, and sexual predator, a guy who is a textbook narcissist and demagogue, the one who surrounds himself with the worst of humanity -- white supremacists who believe that white men are literally genetically superior to everyone else -- is really too much to wrap your head around.  How do you walk through your life knowing that these are the beliefs of so many people you have connections with?  And it's not abstract. There is a very real trickle-down trump effect. My feeds are filled with stories of everyday aggression and violence. People are sharing stories of racism and homophobia at check-out counters, in malls, in parking lots, at the gym, and at home. I have read about several divorces that resulted from the election -- that is, from the outing of trumpism in real life. People who like trump because he gives them permission to air their dark sides, their abusiveness, and their hatred, are now let loose on society. Anyone who complains about "pc police" -- basically saying that they are tired of having to consider other people's feelings and experiences -- have been given the legitimacy to now speak without restraint. It is as if all those great lessons from kindergarten -- be nice, be kind, be considerate, don't bully, don't name-call, don't mock others, treat everyone as equals -- are all thrown out the window.  it is a truly frightening time.  And it has been, in many ways, paralyzing.  But I have made a conscious decision to keep on fighting. My words are my tool of choice. I will keep on writing and sharing words. You can read more about this here.    If you want to be part of the discussion, if you want to work together to figure out how to stop the spread of hate in our world,     

9 sexist memories triggered by Trump stalking Hillary Clinton at the debate

Trump stands above Clinton during the second presidential debate. One of the creepiest aspects of the second presidential debate was the way Trump seemed, from his body language, almost to be stalking Hillary Clinton. When she moved to one side, he followed. He stood behind her, often with very little distance between them, silent, frowning, looking like he was growling. Body language expert Janine Driver called his movements a pre-assault indicator and said that she was getting “really nervous” for Hillary because he was “like a dog starting to get anxious.” Screenwriter Adrienne Parks wrote in Huffington Post that this was a kind of “upstaging,” where he was trying to seize power and divert attention away from her and back to him. “This was infuriating to all of us who have ever been forced to stand our ground on the rigged white male playing field”, she wrote. “I felt the unfairness of it to the bone. This was live televised assault and battery with intent to maim, politically rape, and kill.” I was also extremely uneasy watching Hillary speak while this large, menacing creature was behind her, a person who had just promised to dedicate himself to sending her to prison. As a short person – I’m five feet tall – I have spent most of my life dealing with situations in which the men in the room loom over me. Of course most are not dangerous. But in that kind of physical imbalance, even a little ill-will can feel threatening. And in situations where men actually do have more power than women – such as Orthodox synagogues, rabbinic courts, school playgrounds, and many workplaces – the feeling of powerlessness that you get from being surrounded by men hovering over you can be very real. I asked my Facebook friends if any of them felt triggered by Trump’s body language. The resulting extensive thread offered a resounding “yes”. Here are nine situations that other women and I have been reliving as we watched Trump stand near Clinton in the menacing way he did: (1) Abusive ex-husbands. Many women I have spoken to have been reliving nightmarish situations of abuse from ex-husbands. One women told me the way her husband used to stand behind her when she stood in front of the mirror, telling her how many of her body parts are “fat”, “ugly” and “disgusting.” She has been happily remarried for many years, but Trump has been dredging up many old, painful memories and fears. “It is the accumulation of my lived abusive assaults, dismissiveness, egotistical mansplaining, sexist, misogynist, ‘women don’t know anything’ experiences as a woman all wrapped into one person,” she said about watching Trump. (2) Bulldozing coworkers. There is countless research about men bulldozing women in work situations – talking over women, dismissing women, infantilizing women, mansplaining,manterrupting, gaslighting women, and harassing women. Trump triggers many of these situations every time he talks to or about women. During the debate, he looked like every fiber in his being wanted to crush his rival. It was...

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