Blog Archive: 2016
December 22, 2016
It is now 6 p.m. and the sunbeams are waving on the deep white stone of Jerusalem's buildings. I am meeting Zeruya Shalev at Mishkenot Sha'ananim, the beautiful cultural center where the Jerusalem Writers Festival takes place every two years. The inspiring building overlooks the impressive walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.
December 16, 2016
On the canvases of Gustav Klimt, the society painter to Vienna's powerful Jewish elite at the turn of the last century, the women's eyes burn with intensity, their dresses change from Victorian to flapper-length and from virginal white to energetic color. Their poses range from confident and challenging to seductive, playful and inviting.
I would like to open with a surprising statement that some will call "false" and others will call "provocative." I think that there are significant developments within Israeli rabbinical courts towards solving the problems of agunot (women chained to broken marriages). It is not complete.
November 22, 2016
Last week, I sat in stunned silence with my roommates, as a truly terrifying man was elected to be the next President of the United States. Along with the presidency, the House and the Senate were given Republican majorities. Since then, I have read countless messages and social media posts from friends who are worried for their very lives.
November 9, 2016
This summer, more than thirty French towns issued bans prohibiting Muslim women from wearing a "burkini" — the Muslim full-body swimwear — at the beach. In the eyes of politicians who passed or defended these bans, this garment of Muslim modesty posed a threat to "French public order" on many levels.
October 21, 2016
I had been preparing for my first immersion for eight years. I didn't know exactly when it would be, but I could guess why it would be. The first eight times I had visited Mayyim Hayyim, I went in my capacity as academic adviser for the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute summer internship. I brought undergraduate and graduate students to Mayyim Hayyim each summer for an educational program.
October 14, 2016
Does history repeat itself? Does the struggle for suffrage, the right to vote, still matter? Look no further than the hashtag #repealthe19th trending right now to answer this question. "There is no doubt that understanding our history helps us make sense of the struggles about voting rights and the role of women in the public sphere that arise today," said Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, associate director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.
October 7, 2016
In spring 2015, a new political party emerged in Israel. Ubezchutan (in her merit) was an all-female party of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) women. Their leader, Ruth Colian, argued that the interests of these women, whose situation was "akin to slavery," were not represented by any existing political party.
September 29, 2016
To prepare for the High Holy Days, Fresh Ideas reprints three prayers, unique to the Rosh Hashanah service, from Marcia Falk's book, "The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season," published in the HBI Series on Jewish Women. In her book, Falk recreates the holiday's key prayers from an inclusive perspective.
September 21, 2016
The first "Tefillin Barbie" debuted 10 years ago, the work of Jen Taylor Friedman, one of the first soferot (female ritual scribes). Recently, Friedman brought us an updated version for our times: The Intersectional Barbie Dream Minyan.
August 26, 2016
Before she had language to understand herself as a transgender person, Joy Ladin did not feel represented or at ease in the physical world she inhabited. While reading the Torah as a child, Ladin found solace in God, who also did not fit the gender binary.
August 19, 2016
Earlier this summer, I returned home to Brookline after visiting family in Jerusalem and sightseeing in Vienna. Before the trip, I treated myself to a slick, compact carry-on, which made the walk through the airports easier and lighter. Not true for my poor husband who shlepped his old-fashioned, plus-size carry-on, big enough for the regular sundries — and, of course, big enough for his tallis and tefillin.
August 9, 2016
What does it mean to "pinkwash," to be an "intellectual bully," to be a "feminist," or a "womanist," an "anti-Semite" or an "Islamaphobe?" These are some of the words I recently spent two hours discussing with a wonderful group of eight HBI Gilda Slifka summer interns.
July 29, 2016
A few weeks ago, the Gilda Slifka HBI interns and I drove down to Newport, Rhode Island, to visit the Touro Synagogue, considered the oldest synagogue still standing and in use in the United States. We toured the synagogue and wandered around downtown Newport, a quaint shopping and dining destination along the harbor.
July 14, 2016
In December 1988, Rivka Haut leaned over and suggested to me that we go, as a group of women, to the Kotel to daven — with Torah and tallit! Shockingly, we did it and thus began the struggle for a women’s prayer place at the Kotel initially known as Women of the Wall (WOW).
July 8, 2016
I am scared to look at social media. I am afraid of reading the news. I want to close my eyes and shut out the world. But closing my eyes will not bring back the lives that were taken. Closing my eyes will not make the killing stop. I have to keep my eyes wide open, I have to see, because if I do not, then I am a part of the problem; it is everyone's responsibility to fight injustice, racism, and white supremacy.
June 30, 2016
Every summer, HBI welcomes interns from across the country and world who complete original research related to the HBI mission of fresh thinking about Jews and gender worldwide and support the work of scholars affiliated with HBI and Brandeis. During the eight-week program, the interns also attend educational lunch sessions with scholars, visit Jewish sites of interest in the Greater Boston area including Mayyim Hayyim, and a walking tour of Jewish Boston. The Gilda Slifka HBI Summer Internship is supported by a generous gift from Gilda Slifka.
June 23, 2016
The day Israeli police arrested Lesley Sachs, executive director of Women of the Wall, for bringing a Torah to the Western Wall to celebrate the new month of Sivan, her colleague, Anat Hoffman, chair of WOW an executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) stopped at HBI for a wide-ranging conversation.
June 10, 2016
This is the story of two converts to Judaism. Their stories take place several millennia apart. One story is told in the Book of Ruth, which Jewish congregations read during the coming festival of Shavuot. The other is from the present day. The contrast between them illustrates the ambivalent welcome converts to Judaism may receive in Israel today.
June 6, 2016
What about hypothermia in this chilly weather? What if the current in the river is strong? What about privacy? We've not had a chance to see the canvas structure on the riverbank. How flimsy is it? And how long will it take for so many people to submerge separately?
May 17, 2016
Declaring that the need for abortion demonstrated the failure of French society to provide for adequate contraception and for supports that would allow women to carry unplanned pregnancies to term, Simone Veil, the French Minister of Health, rose in the National Assembly on Nov. 26, 1974, to introduce a bill that would liberalize France's abortion laws.
May 6, 2016
Like many Jewish kids, I grew up with food-centric visits to my grandparents, which generally revolved around meals that were both copious and delicious. At some point it dawned on me that the foods of my two sets of grandparents differed from each other.
May 2, 2016
Why do some writers become part of the canon while others do not? In HBI's spring seminar, "Fresh Voices: Jewish Women Writers From North America," some of the important Jewish women studied by our scholars, for various reasons, have not remained in the canon. However, fresh interest in their work may restore them to their rightful place among other giants in Jewish and Yiddish literature.
April 14, 2016
"The pearl that slipped its shell" is a line from the Persian poet Hafez, and the title of Wendy Wolfe Fine’s art installation at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (HBI). Fine is the current artist-in-residence at HBI, and she pays brief homage to Hafez through the Mizrahis, a Jewish-Iranian family who is the subject of and inspiration for Fine's installation.
April 7, 2016
In 1893, San Francisco socialite Bettie Lowenberg traveled to Chicago to visit the Columbian Exposition. There she attended the Jewish Women's Congress at the World's Parliament on Religions, where she heard activists such as Hannah Greenebaum Solomon and Sadie American speak about the need to create a national organization.
March 23, 2016
David was long divorced from his first wife and the mother of his 10-year-old daughter. Neither were Orthodox and they never received a get, or Jewish divorce, after the marriage ended. But years later, David needed a get, as his new girlfriend would not consider marriage without it. His ex-wife, still angry about their custody arrangement, refused his request to appear before the Boston Rabbinical Court.
March 23, 2016
Ta’anit Esther, the Fast of Esther, marks International Agunah Day, with the purpose of publicizing the plight of agunot, women who are not able to obtain a get, a religious divorce, from their husbands. The name Esther is related to the Hebrew word "hester," meaning hidden.
March 10, 2016
It is difficult today to describe a Jewish family as traditional. The stereotypical picture of a stay-at-home mom, breadwinner dad and three children no longer applies. Today, Jewish families defy neat categories as they reflect and draw influence from the shifting norms of society. Some families still resemble what we once considered "typical," but we also see families with one parent, with LGBTQ parents, older parents and unmarried parents.
March 3, 2016
In the wake of terrorist attacks from San Bernadino to Paris to Tel Aviv, people on all sides of the political spectrum react to violence perpetrated by Muslim fundamentalists. But, does anyone get it right? Karima Bennoune, author of "Your Fatwah Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism," finds fault with the views coming from both the left and the right.
February 25, 2016
I was in my first year at Goucher College in Baltimore in 1974, a world away from my home in New Orleans, when Miss Bessie Margolin graciously invited me to her Arlington, Virginia, apartment for a visit.
February 18, 2016
The bus sped away down the dusty two-lane road leaving my twin sister and me standing next to our giant duffel bags staring at a large painted sign of a sloth pointing us inside the gates of the sanctuary in the middle of nowhere. We had traveled over 2,000 miles to see some sloths in celebration of our impending 30th birthday, and come hell or high water, we would see them.
February 12, 2016
I am writing to give you an idea, Hillary, for salvaging your connection with young women so that you can win the primaries in the many states ahead of you. But first, an anecdote that foreshadowed this controversy between the feminist generations.
February 4, 2016
One night last winter, my husband and I attended a party at a small modern Orthodox synagogue in Boston. We were there to celebrate halachic post nuptial agreements.
January 28, 2016
"So, are you going to stay Jewish?" the woman in Starbucks asks. "Holy crap, is it possible she thinks I divorced my identity?" A wave of indignation mixed with frustration flushes through me. I am in my late 40s, and I have been Jewish since, at the age of 23, I immersed in a mikvah to complete my Orthodox conversion a few weeks before I married my Jewish boyfriend.
January 21, 2016
One of the interesting concerns shared by the fields of Jewish studies and gender studies is about how private life (whether personal or collective) becomes vulnerable to the social and political forces of history and the larger public. This reality has often caused the disempowered and the marginal (including people of color; disabled, GLBTQA, and uneducated people; women, and children) to suffer, sometimes without even having access to the tools needed to understand their own suffering.
January 15, 2016
Benjamin Steiner spent a summer as a 2013 graduate intern at the HBI, researching the Lieberman clause in the ketubot of the Conservative movement. He nurtured his interest in this topic as he completed his master’s degree at the Jewish Theological Seminary.