Jewfem Blog

A fantastic HBI breakfast

Susan Weiss and Ronit Irshai, with Haim Sperber

HBI and Dr. Laura S. Schor, board member and former chair, hosted a reception in Israel on June 9 that brought together scholars, artists, authors and activists, all who have been connected to HBI over the years. Elana Sztokman, HBI author and former scholar-in-residence, wrote about her reflections after attending. HBI changed my life. That’s not drama; it’s fact. I thought about it last week when Prof. Shulamit Reinharz, Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (HBI) co-director, asked the guests at the 3rd Israeli Gathering of Friends of the HBI to share one thing to which they are thankful to HBI. As I thought about it, I realized – and then shared publicly – that the list of things I have to thank HBI for grows each year.  In fact, I said, HBI support completely altered the trajectory of my life. Susan Weiss and Ronit Irshai, with Haim Sperber As I waited to share my story, I soon learned that many people in that room had similar and inspiring stories. Each of the presenters offered a creative and vital contribution to our understanding of women’s lives and histories, and each one had benefited from HBI support with research, dissertation support, scholar-in-residence opportunities, artist-in-residence opportunities, translation funding, and of course the publication of books. My relationship with HBI began in 2006 when I received the Junior Research Award for a study of the identities of Orthodox men. This work grew into my first book, which HBI generously published under the title, The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World, a title that I love, that Prof. Sylvia Barack Fishman, HBI co-director, helped me formulate. HBI launched the book in 2011 and sent me on a whirlwind book tour in early 2012, thanks to the incredible generosity of former HBI board chair Dr. Laura Schor. This book won the 2012 National Jewish Book Council award in the category, Women’s Studies. Then, HBI published my second book, co-written with my colleague Dr. Chaya Rosenfeld Gorsetman, titled, Educating in the Divine Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools, which went on to win the 2013 JBC award in the category, Education and Identity. This has all been an incredible experience, propelling me into a whole new level of academic and communal engagement via research and writing. I am enormously grateful to HBI and indebted to the organization for sending me on this incredible journey, and for turning me into a writer.   CONTINUE READING HERE

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HBI Conference on Gender in Jewish Love and Family

Sylvia Barack FishmanDr. Sylvia Barack Fishman, chair of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University There is more than one way to form a Jewish marriage. This was a central message emerging from a recent conference in Jerusalem called “New Understandings of Gender, Love and the Jewish Family,” co-sponsored by the VanLeer Jerusalem Institute, the Hadassah Brandeis Institute and the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University entitled. The conference offered a broad range of creative approaches to burning issues regarding familial relationships, and presented a flexible approach to persistent and arguably growing problems in contemporary Jewish life, including agunot, abuse and sexual violence. “Gender, love and family are basic to our human and Jewish lives, and we are now living through a time of extraordinary — and confusing — changes,” said Dr. Sylvia Barack Fishman, chair of Brandeis University’s Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department and JOFA board member. “This conference provides the first forum for discussing these changes in an open, systematic venue, and for bringing sociological, legal and religious thinking together with artistic representations of these powerful subjects.” The conference, which took place last month at Van Leer, brought together Jewish thinkers on the forefront of examining these important issues. “There is a big problem with kiddushin,” argued Dr. Gail Labovitz. “It does not create a marriage of equals.” Co-panelist Dr. Ayelet Blecher-Prigat concurred: “There is no way to ignore the fundamental gender problem in the Jewish ceremony of kiddushin.” Dr. Irit Koren spoke about some of the ways in which religious couples are creating “lovers’ ceremonies” without “kinyan,” the concept of “ownership” of the woman. Malka Melanie Landau, author of the book, “Tradition and Equality in Jewish Marriage: Beyond the Sanctification of Subordination,” supported Koren’s initiative. Read more:

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Some reflections on my book launch

I had my first book event on Friday, and it left me uplifted, inspired and humbled. I just can't believe how many people are so deeply engaged in the ideas that I wrote about. It's more than I could have ever hoped for. Some 80 people came to my home in Modi'in, Israel, for a champagne-bagel brunch and a short reading to launch my book, "The Men's Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World" (HBI 2011). Congratulations were flying, as were excited reactions from people who have already started reading. My dear friend Dr. Ariella Zeller who did all the organizing, gave a lovely toast and made me feel like a queen. It is  an indescribable feeling of empowerment to have friends who truly believe in you. I prepared a short talk that related my research to recent events in Israel around the exclusion of women in public spaces. I talked about sociological theory of identity, which posits that all of us are searching for social acceptance in some form or another, everyone wants to be labeled as "normal" and "healthy", and the young boys and men who are fighting violently to keep women excluded from society are no different. But they are clearly having a hard time - a harder time than most, I would argue - resisting their troubling socialization. We all have choices, and we all need to practice talking back to our culture. But in Orthodoxy, that can be particularly daunting. And that's what my book explores. It's about identity and agency among Orthodox Jewish men, and the complex and multifaceted processes of finding the "I" within a culture that values male dominating conformity. I prepared three passages to read, each one reflecting different components of my research. I wanted to give expression to the men's voices, but also wanted to describe the larger theory. I also wanted to explain why I was interested in this particular demographic. I prepared the three sections around those issues, noting to myself that I would have to read the audience first. Were they bored, irritated and restless? Then I would only read one. I put them in order in my mind first, and said I would go with the flow and count the yawns if I have to. To my astonishment, they urged me to keep going, and would have stayed for longer had I prepared more. Truthfully, while I was reading you could hear a pin drop. At the end of the second passage, I actually heard a gasp from the audience. Wow, I thought. This is all an author can ask for. People stayed longer than they had intended. And at the end of the reading, after a few questions and overflowing champagne, lots of people came over and told me that they can't wait to read the book! In fact all but three copies were sold! I'm just so excited about that. I really want to engage in conversation. I want the Jewish community to be...

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