Thursday, July 28, 2011

Yitgadal V'Yitkadash Shemai Rabbah

I feel very depressed. First, it was because of Esther Broner (July 8, 1930 – June 21, 2011), zikhrona l’vrakha (may her memory be blessed), the Jewish feminist who held the first women-only Seder (attendees included Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Gloria Steinem, and Phyllis Chesler) and wrote The Women’s Haggadah. Then it was Leiby Kletzky (July 29, 2002 – July 12, 2011), zikhron l’vrakha (may his memory be blessed), an Orthodox eight-year-old boy in Brooklyn who was brutally murdered. A couple days later, I heard about Betty Ford (April 8, 1918 – July 8, 2011), the First Lady who campaigned for the ERA, supported abortion rights, encouraged the president to promote women into leadership positions, and established the Betty Ford Center for addiction rehab. And I just learned about Inez Casiano (1926 – June 28, 2011), a founding member of NOW.

Why is God doing this to the Jewish/feminist/Jewish feminist communities? What are we supposed to learn from all the people who have died so recently?

Broner died on 19 Sivan (the Jewish month in June-July). According to Sefer Yetzirah, a book on Jewish esotericism, the month of Sivan is represented by the left foot. The left is considered physical, while the right is considered spiritual. Because Nissan, the month with Passover in it, is represented by the right foot, the two are considered complementary. During Passover, Queen Esther of Persia, Broner’s namesake, called for the Jews to fast before she approached Ahasuerus, in what we commemorate today as Ta’anit Esther. Where the biblical Esther fasted to ensure Jewish survival, Esther Broner celebrated that ability by creating a women’s Seder, where eating is a commandment. Broner’s life teaches us Jewish feminists that we have to live out the legacy of our foreparents, since it will enhance and augment the Jewish feminist movement.

Leiby Kletzky was murdered 10 Tammuz (the Jewish month in July-August), barely two weeks before his ninth birthday. His story ripped out the hearts of Jews and Gentiles alike; my mother and I spent a night sobbing in each other’s arms for him and his family. When Leiby was first missing, thousands of volunteers searched for him, and once his murder became known, Jews ranging from ultra-Orthodox to atheist came together, ahdut, in memoriam. Sefer Yetzirah says that the letter corresponding to Tammuz is het, which makes the ch sound (as in challah) that isn’t pronounceable in English. A het is made up of two different letters, zayin (the z sound) and vav (the v, o, or oo sound), connected by a thin bridge of sorts (as demonstrated here). The word Tammuz is tam, which means to connect, followed by a vav and a zayin, which make up a het. Just as Tammuz is a month of connection, Leiby gave the Jewish community ahdut. The way he brought Jews together is extremely sad, and if given a choice, I’m sure everyone would choose his life over ahdut, but if it happened this way, it was meant to be like this; we can’t fathom God’s ways. We must learn from what our Creator does, and we must learn from Leiby’s death to love your fellow Jew.

Neither Betty Ford nor Inez Casiano was Jewish, so it would be difficult to tie their lives and deaths into the Jewish calendar. However, both of their lives contain important messages that the next generation of feminists must learn from. Betty Ford openly supported controversial issues like abortion, and discussed things like marijuana and sex openly - and her approval rating was 75%! She shows us that we can loudly champion whatever is close to our hearts (including feminism), and people will still approve. Inez Casiano was very active in both the feminist movement and Hispanic workers’ rights movement, showing that a person can have two values (like Judaism and feminism) that complement each other.

May the memories of Esther Broner, Leiby Kletzky, Betty Ford, and Inez Casiano inspire people of every age, race, religion, and creed.

(A note on the title of this post, for all you non-Hebrew speakers: yitgadal v'yitkadash shemai rabbah are the first four words of the Mourners' Kaddish that has to be said for eleven months after a person's passing. They are translated as "May God's great Name grow exalted and sanctified.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Black Holes of Davida: Allen West

There’s been some serious drama going on in the House over the Cut, Cap, and Balance plan. Congress puts a limit on how much money the government is allowed to spend, and that amount will be reached in about a week. (Obama and Speaker of the House Boehner delivered a special address last night about it.) To fix this, Congress must raise the nation’s legal borrowing limit. Republicans are supporting the Cut, Cap, and Balance plan, which bars any increase in the debt ceiling unless Congress first passes a balanced budget amendment. It wouldn’t actually balance the budget; it just demands that the budget be balanced before the debt ceiling is raised. It would also negatively impact the economy and put Social Security and Medicare in danger, according to the White House communications director.

Democrats are against the Cut, Cap, and Balance plan. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the pro-Israel, pro-choice Jewish woman who is the Democratic National Committee Chairperson, is no exception. A week ago, she said about Allen West, a Tea Partier, “The gentleman from Florida, who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries, unbelievable from a Member from South Florida.” She also said that the Cut, Cap, and Balance plan “slashes Medicaid and critical investments essential to winning the future in favor of protecting tax breaks for Big Oil, millionaires, and companies who ship American jobs overseas.”

West emailed Wasserman Schultz, CCing several other congresspeople, saying, “Look, Debbie, I understand that after I departed the House floor you directed your floor speech comments directly towards me. Let me make myself perfectly clear, you want a personal fight, I am happy to oblige. You are the most vile, unprofessional, and despicable member of the US House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up. Focus on your own congressional district! I am bringing your actions today to our Majority Leader and Majority Whip and from this time forward, understand that I shall defend myself forthright against your heinous characterless behavior…which dates back to the disgusting protest you ordered at my campaign hqs, October 2010 in Deerfield Beach. You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!”

I think everyone, even across party lines, would be just a little taken aback at West’s diatribe towards Wasserman Schultz. She did not say anything that deserved such a harsh response. Certainly West has a right to defend himself and his opinions and counter what she said, but he took it an eensy bit too far.

It’s clear that West’s invective is horrifying on any level, but I wouldn’t have written about it on a feminist blog if it hadn’t been for his last sentence: “You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!”

I’m assuming that West’s definition of being a lady is being polite and refined, a sweet little girl who blushes and giggles only speaks when spoken to. Well, guess what? Being a lady is totally overrated. It’s a heck of a lot more fun to say what you want to say when you want to say it, and the whole blushing and giggling thing gets really boring after a while. I just find it kinda sad that West will only respect women who act like that, and that he’ll call a woman who doesn’t “vile, unprofessional, and despicable,” accuse her of “heinous characterless behavior,” tell her to “shut the heck up.” If a male congressperson had said the same thing as Wasserman Schultz did, would West have responded the same way? I think we all know the answer to that one.

Feminists seriously need to work hard to end positive/negative perceptions of women. If women want to act polite and refined, they should be able to without criticism; if women want to say what they want to, they should be able to without criticism. They should be given respect from people of every gender, age, race, and creed for acting either way. We need to start calling people out when they say anything about how women should act, speak, dress, or anything else. It’s a woman’s choice, and she shouldn’t be judged because of it.

I dub Allen West an inductee into the Black Holes of Davida - people who let us feminists down by advocating misogyny, sexism, abuse, and other anti-woman thoughts and actions. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

No-Cost Birth Control Matters!

This post is part of the National Women's Law Center's Birth Control Blog Carnival.

Birth control has been important pretty much since the beginning of time. It’s discussed in the Torah, when Onan “spilled [his seed] on the ground” (Gen 38:9) in order to avoid impregnating his wife Tamar. Almost every ancient civilization used birth control in some form (including the Egyptians’ usage of crocodile dung as a diaphragm - I promise I’m not making that up). Most of the methods were forgotten by the Middle Ages, largely because of witch hunts and subsequent executions. People feared midwives’ knowledge of herbs and their uses (like as contraceptives), and often accused them of witchcraft. When women first began fighting for their rights in the 1800s, birth control became a feminist issue. Margaret Sanger established the first birth control clinic in 1921. The Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) decided that forbidding contraceptives to married couples is unconstitutional, and Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) determined that the same applies to unmarried people. (Both cases helped Roe v. Wade out.)

Ever since the heyday of the Second Wave, feminists’ fight for accessible birth control has been fierce. In a couple months, the Department of Health and Human Services is going to decide which preventive services will be covered without a co-pay in new health insurance plans, and I think everyone reading this post wants to make sure that prescription birth control is included.

In general, accessible birth control is a vital component of an effective society. It’s imperative for women to have the choice to use contraceptives (whether in the form of a pill, diaphragm, or anything else) because women need to be able to decide if/when they want to have children. If women are forced into motherhood at an inopportune time, not only does it make for poor parenting, but it can also be physically dangerous for the mother. According to Promoting Healthy Pregnancies: Counseling and Contraception as the First Step, conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, reflux esophagitis, arthritis, and coronary artery disease can worsen during an unintended pregnancy. If a woman is endangered during a pregnancy, then it certainly puts her unborn child in danger, too. Condoms accomplish the same means, but it’s men’s choice, not women’s. Men’s choice in birth control is also important, and they should have the ability to get condoms at little to no cost, just as women should have the ability to get birth control at little to no cost.

Economically speaking, no-cost birth control is so important because many women can’t afford birth control if it costs a lot - women get paid 79 cents to men’s dollar, and it’s even worse for women of color. The current unemployment rate is 9.2%, so even women that could usually afford birth control may not be able to now.

No-cost birth control is also the solution to a vicious circle. Women who can’t afford birth control and choose to have unprotected sex anyway can get pregnant. If they decide not to have an abortion or give their child up for adoption, they have an infant to take care of, on top of the other responsibilities they have in life (which can include a job, taking care of a parent or sibling, caring for other children, etc.). A woman who can’t afford birth control certainly can’t afford a child. (According to the Agriculture Department, raising a child costs $222,360. That’s definitely a lot more than birth control costs.) Such a family can end up relying on government-sponsored programs like WIC, welfare, Food Stamps, public housing, Medicaid, etc. Isn’t it a lot cheaper to give a woman free birth control than support a family?

It’s equally important for no-cost birth control to be accessible. The fact that it’s free is great, and necessary, but if women can’t get it, it means nothing. If insurance companies will only offer birth control at no cost after a woman has hit the doughnut hole, or some other random requirement, it just makes it impossible for women to obtain the no-cost birth control they need.

No-cost birth control clearly benefits not only women, but their families. As I stated previously, women on birth control can avoid pregnancies they aren’t ready for because of other children they have to take care of. (The National Abortion Federation backs up this point.) This not only helps an unexpected child, but existing children. It also has men’s best interests in mind, because an unplanned pregnancy and newborn can strain a relationship unnecessarily.

All in all, no-cost birth control has so many positives and very few negatives. It’s imperative that it becomes available to women across age, race, and geographical lines - it can benefit so many lives without much effort.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Star of Davida Essay Contest!

As a financially needy student who wants to go to a really great college, I’ve been obsessively looking for essay contests to win so I can build up my résumé and get some money for that hungry college fund. As a feminist, I’ve tried to find essays relating to feminism, but I haven’t been so lucky. I actually found an essay contest whose title was “Why is Abstinence Before Marriage the Best Choice for Teens Today?” Needless to say, it made me gag, but it didn’t stop me from writing the most pathetic essay I’ve ever written and submitting it. (I won honorable mention. Go figure.)

It really bothers me that I have never stumbled upon an essay contest even remotely related to feminism. Yeah, sure, there are a few competitions that are out there that reward girls who have made an impact in their communities, but none about topics pertaining to the actual women’s rights movement. When I Googled “pro-choice essay contest,” the only hits I got were a bunch of articles about pro-life essay contests. No joke.

So that’s where I come in. I’m sick and tired of the lack of feminist essay contests out there, so I’m making my own for all of you young feminists out there who want to write about their passion, and maybe get a reward while you’re at it! This essay contest is also to celebrate Star of Davida’s first birthday. It’s hard for me to believe, but I’ve been blogging for a whole year at this point.

Description: Answer the question “How has feminism changed your life?” Has feminism helped you get through a rough time, accept yourself for who you are, changed how you live your life, your aspirations, etc. etc. Go crazy. As long as it’s between 250 - 750 words.

How to Enter: Send your essay as a doc, docx, or PDF file to If there’s a technical issue with your entry, I’ll be in touch - don’t worry. In the subject line, please write “Essay Contest” or something to that effect. On the top of the first page, include your full name, age, and email address.

Deadline: October 10, 2011

Eligibility: If you’re a feminist, and you’re a student (ranging anywhere between preschool and a PhD program), then you can enter.

Awards: The top three winners will each win a copy of Care Bears on Fire’s newest album, Girls Like it Loud, as well as getting their essays published on Star of Davida!

Please direct any questions you have to Happy writing!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thoughts on the Recent NOW Webinar

I had the amazing opportunity to participate in a NOW webinar narrated by Terry O’Neill, the president of NOW, titled “The Budget Deal is a Feminist Issue.” The webinar discussed how Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) 2012 budget deal would cut several social services, which women depend disproportionately on.

O’Neill cited several statistics about women’s dependence compared to men’s on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Over half of Medicare beneficiaries are women, and women are more likely to report having three or more chronic conditions, which shows that they utilize Medicare more than men do. 70% of Medicaid dollars support nursing homes and families with disabled members; 80% of nursing home residents are women, and nursing home employees are also mostly women. Social Security provides more than 60% of the total income for women 65 and older, and 57% of beneficiaries are women.

Ryan’s budget also cuts family planning clinics, Pell grants, job training, Head Start, childcare programs, and WIC nutrition programs, which clearly serve women predominantly. Many more women work in the public sector, and they are disproportionately losing jobs because governments at all levels are cutting workers. This comes against the backdrop of women having fewer fallback resources in the first place because of the persistent gender-based wage gap, which costs women between $400,000 and $2,000,000 over a lifetime.

Women of color are especially vulnerable. Unmarried African-American women’s median wealth (defined as what a person owns minus what a person owes) is $100, Latinas’ $125, and white women’s $41,500. Statistics are similar disturbing for married women. These figures are particularly upsetting because women’s wages are essential to the entire family: most two-parent households are entirely or partly based on women’s wages, so families suffer from women’s unfortunate economic state.

In addition to explaining the negative impacts of the Ryan deal, O’Neill recommended several good budget principles that we should be fighting for. One suggestion is for the government to establish jobs programs in healthcare, education, childcare, and other similar fields, even if it means making the deficit worse in the short term, since it’ll put money in people’s pockets and boost the economy. The rich should also have to pay their fair share of taxes. Military spending should be cut, and that money should be used for social service programs instead. In addition, healthcare is a fundamental right, not a privilege, and should be made available for everyone. O’Neill also stressed the fact that programs like Medicare and Medicaid are not what put America into debt.

After the presentation portion, O’Neill opened the floor to questions. When asked how Medicare and Medicaid would work under the Ryan budget, Anita Lederer, the NOW field organizer, explained that Medicare will become a voucher system. People will be given a certain amount of vouchers (representing dollars) a year; if they runs out, they’re on their own regarding healthcare payment. Medicaid money will be block granted to each state to spend on their citizens.

When someone asked what the current wage gap is, O’Neill answered that it’s currently 79 cents to every man’s dollar (69 for black women and 59 for Latinas), which is an improvement to the previous 77 cent proportion.

While answering several other questions, O’Neill debunked the myth that Social Security is going broke. She explained that the system was reformed in the 1980s, at which time a $2.7 million surplus was set aside as retirement funds for the baby boom generation. In addition, she made it clear that Medicare is not the problem; the current healthcare system is what’s flawed. Economists even say that Medicare could even be part of the solution, if handled correctly. O’Neill also cited several statistics about how people across party, age, race, and gender lines oppose Ryan cuts, including 62% of Tea Partiers.

Someone asked how to sway congresspeople who are unfriendly to the feminist movement, and O’Neill urged everyone to call them anyway and make them aware of women’s rights issues, run for office and encourage other feminists to do so, and support feminist candidates (even if they’re not perfect). She stressed the importance of a pipeline of ardent feminists in the political world.

I asked O’Neill if these cuts impact girls and teens, and she explained that the Ryan deal would cut family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood, which also offer services like mammograms, STD and HIV screenings, Pap smears, and other tests that can help save women’s lives. “That’s appalling,” she said. After a few more questions, O’Neill wrapped up the hour-long session by emphasizing the importance of the social services the Ryan budget would cut.

All in all, I greatly enjoyed the webinar. (I told my friend about it and she told me, “You’re probably the only teenager on the planet who enjoyed hearing a presentation about the budget.” She’s probably got a point there.) In a personal correspondence, Ms. Lederer asked if everyone could speak to their representatives, host a letter-writing campaign, or demonstrate in a rally against cuts. You can contact your representative here, and tell him or her:

As one of your constituents, I oppose the Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other social service program cuts proposed by the Ryan budget. These are vital programs for every American citizen, but are especially important for women. Over half of Medicare beneficiaries are women, 70% of Medicaid recipients are in nursing homes (whose inhabitants and employees are a vast majority of women), and 57% of Social Security beneficiaries are women. Family planning clinics, Pell grants, job training, Head Start, childcare programs, and WIC nutrition programs clearly serve women predominantly. This is not even to mention the wage gap between men and women, especially those of color. Please ensure that the women of America will not be forced into poverty because of Ryan budget cuts.

While I loved the webinar, it bothered me a little bit that O’Neill didn’t address the impact of the Ryan budget cuts on younger women, which is why I made sure to ask about it. I know O’Neill is of the baby boom generation, and I would venture to say that so is the vast majority of NOW members, but isn’t it important to include people of all ages? Feminists go to extreme efforts to include homosexuals, people of color, the disabled, etc. etc. etc. Shouldn’t they consider it a primary goal to include younger feminists? We are the next generation, and if they don’t encourage us to join the movement, it will wither away and die.

But to end on a positive note, I really enjoyed the webinar, and I’m looking for to another one!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Shining Stars of Davida: Sandy Pasch

Wisconsin is in the process of convening a recall election, which is when citizens sign a petition to remove an elected official. This particular recall election was called to unseat state senators who supported the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill. This law was extremely unpopular with voters, inciting mass protests. Of the nine state senators who are at risk of losing their position, six are running against women. Only one of those women is Jewish: Sandy Pasch.

Sandy Pasch is from Milwaukee (like Golda Meir!). She greatly benefitted from Second Wave Feminism’s work towards equality in academics, since she received a BS in nursing in 1976 and an MS in psychiatric nursing in 1981. Pasch has worked as a nurse as well teaching nursing as an assistant professor. She is an active advocate for the mentally ill, serving as the president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Greater Milwaukee for four terms. She also coordinated the Crisis Intervention Team and created the Crisis Intervention Partner program as part of NAMI.

In 2008, Pasch was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly’s 22nd District, and was reelected in 2010. As an assemblyperson, she has served on the Committee on Health and Committee on Public Health and Public Safety, making use of her medical background. She is also a member of the Joint Legislative Council, whose purpose is to make citizen committees to research issues important to the state government.

Pasch has advocated for several important health-related issues during her tenure. She proclaimed the first week in May 2011 Children’s Mental Health Week, and May 2011 as Mental Health Awareness Month. She also co-introduced a resolution urging US Congress to pass the Oil Industry Tax Break Repeal Act, a bill introduced in 2009 which would end incentives for gas companies. She is very concerned about making sure everyone has quality healthcare, and champions SeniorCare, a Wisconsin program that helps seniors pay for their medication.

Pasch is certainly a feminist. NARAL Pro-Choice America lists Pasch as pro-choice, and endorsed her 2010 Assembly bid. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin endorses Pasch in the current recall election, as well as EMILY’s List. Pasch vehemently supports domestic violence victims: she supported bills forbidding someone arrested for domestic violence from going to the home of the victim, and prohibiting discrimination in housing because of domestic abuse victim status.

Pasch is also involved in the Jewish community. On her Facebook page, she lists “Jewish” as her religious view. She spoke at the Legislative Breakfast at the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, which was sponsored by the JCRC, JHCC, and the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Women’s Division. She also met with students from Milwaukee Jewish Day School at the Capitol building.

She is running against incumbent Alberta Darling. She has been a leader in passing bills protecting children against sex offenders, among many other noble causes. However, NARAL calls her “mixed choice.” She voted against women’s health, as she wanted to cut funding from Planned Parenthood and a family planning program for men (both of which offer cancer and STD screenings), and she opposed the Healthy Youth Act (which gives Wisconsin students comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education) and Expedited Partner Therapy (which gives a second dose of medication to the partner of someone with an STD). She voted against the Pay Equity Act, which allows employees who faced discrimination sue for damages, as well as many other bills that empowered women.

EDIT: Pasch won the primary, which means she's going up against Darling on August 12.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Star of Davida Interviews Jenni Alpert

Women have always been important in music. In biblical times, women like Deborah and Hannah composed songs of thanks for God. In more recent times, women have consistently been a hugely important presence in the music industry (for the good and bad). Jenni Alpert, a California native, is one example of female talent on the music scene. She has released six albums, had songs featured on television shows like CSI Miami and 16 and Pregnant, and toured the globe with singers like Sara Bareilles and Regina Spektor. Star of Davida had the absolute honor of interviewing Jenni Alpert.

What got you into music?
I was always a musician and I’ve always been playing music. I was introduced to the piano and I loved the idea of the mechanics behind it and the sound that it made, and that shaped me as a musician.

Did you ever anticipate that you would become a singer?
No, things really just fell into place. I didn’t plan it.

Has Judaism shaped your music at all?
Yes, in a lot of ways. I’m pretty spiritual when it comes to religion, so I think that a lot of Judaism is being part of a community, and music is a language that most people relate to. When I first learned guitar I was asked to learn a lot of the Jewish music, so that’s where the connection lies. I do song leading with Judaism as well. It’s all about bringing a community together through music, which is a universal language.

What was it like to tour across the world?
I love traveling, so in I feel really fortunate that I can do what I really love and also be traveling and see different countries and the way world works.

I know that you’ve traveled across the globe while touring. Was it any different in Israel?
All countries in general have a unique spirit to them, I guess a different ruah (spirit) you could say. It’s great to go to countries where they have a home language and people can relate to that by how your music sounds.

I think it’s great that you go by such a distinctly Jewish name, since singers often change their names to sound less Jewish. Is there a reason you do so?
I never thought about changing it. I don’t feel connected to any stigma related to Judaism or any other religion. We are who we are and people will think what they think and feel what they feel, but I’m just proud to be myself. My name is just a name. If someone has an issue with the fact that I’m Jewish, then don’t buy my album.

I noticed that you’re active in several women’s and children’s advocacy organizations. Why do these issues matter to you?
I was adopted and I was in foster homes until I was four, so I think that raised a compassion towards people, anyone really. Whoever has experiences like that may shape them. I think perhaps working in the foster care system to help children who have develop their identities is a strength of mine. I was adopted out of a Jewish family into a Jewish family, which was very fortunate, and ingrained a sense of identity in me.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I consider myself someone who believes in women’s rights and I believe in women taking care of themselves and being aware.

I also saw that you’re currently touring to benefit the Blood Driven Tour, which raises awareness of the need to donate blood. Why is this so important to you?
It was inspired by the fact that I have a biological family member who suffers from a blood disorder. I’m going from blood drive to blood drive and performing in order to raise awareness to increase the amount of donors at blood drives. It doesn’t really matter that it’s my relative, though, because whether you’re blood-related or adopted or it’s just a friend, there are people who shape your life and whoever they are doesn’t matter. It’s important to honor everyone that you meet.

What advice do you have for aspiring female singers?
Working on your craft is super important. It’s the same with relationship building and being aware of people around you, what other people are looking for. You have to have a really positive attitude and know you can’t always create your future, you have to be in the present as much as possible and make a difference that way. I’ve been all by myself, with no label or manager or agent, and what I’ve dreamt has unfolded.

Jenni has a new record out on iTunes called Underneath the Surface, produced by the bass player of Blind Melon, Brad Smith. Jenni described it as “an eclectic pop record that encompasses songs that tell stories about coming of age and developing an independent awareness and love for oneself and other people.” She is currently touring (as mentioned above), and ends of July 20. Make sure to check out her Web site and buy her album at iTunes!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Laugh Out Loud

A little while ago, I was at my friend’s house for Shabbat (Sabbath). Her younger sister, who was in second grade, had a friend over (let’s call her T) after Shabbat ended. According to today’s beauty standards, T was absolutely gorgeous, despite the fact that she was only eight years old. In addition to being physically appealing, her personality was totally adorable.

The thing I remember T most for, however, is the fact that she laughed. That is, that she laughed despite the big gap between her two front teeth.

It struck me that this little girl wasn’t afraid to laugh out loud, that she wasn’t afraid to smile. She wasn’t trying to hide her “imperfect” teeth. She didn’t feel self-conscious about it. She just didn’t care that her teeth are not what society tells us is beautiful.

And that just amazes me. I think it’s freaking incredible that T is too young to be hurt by what society tells us is the right way for teeth to look. She’s too young to care.

But at the same time, it hurts me that she’ll get older, and kids will make fun of her and her gap. She’ll get braces, no doubt. Even if she doesn’t end up self-conscious about it, her parents will be self-conscious for her. She’ll get braces, but she won’t forget about the teasing that kids threw at her. You won’t be able to tell that her teeth were ever anything other than straight and even. But she’ll be able to tell. She’ll look in the mirror and remember all the pain those kids, maybe not even purposely, caused her.

Why can’t it be like it was when we were eight? We didn’t care how our teeth looked. We didn’t care if our stomachs stuck out a little bit too much. We didn’t care whether boys liked us or not. Our biggest worries were that spelling test on Friday that we didn’t study for yet and if our big sister would notice we used up her favorite lipstick while playing dress up.

I wish we could all have T’s confidence in how we look. I wish we could all just smile at ourselves in the mirror and tell whitening toothpaste commercials to go screw themselves. I wish we could all laugh like that.