Monday, September 26, 2011

Faces of Feminsim

Today I'm featuring this really awesome campaign that Danielle at Experimentations of Teenage Feminist is running. Contribute your face for feminism!

My name is Danielle and I write for a blog called Experimentations of Teenage Feminist. Well, now I have a new mission.

Society is fixated on a very narrow-minded image of what a feminist is “supposed” to look like, and I have a problem with that. On November 24th I’ll be publishing a special blog post titled “The Faces of Feminism” to show just how diverse the feminist community really is.

Please help this little experiment by sending in a picture of yourself for me to post!


• Photos can be sent to (Deadline: November 17th)
• Please title your email “This is what a feminist looks like!”
• If you’d like me to link your picture to anything when I post it (i.e. a blog or website), make sure to include the link in your message!

My goal is to collect at least 100 photographs by mid-November, so please tell all of your feminist friends about this project! (For pre-written messages that can be posted on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Tumblr, check out this page.)

Thank you!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

SlutWalk NYC is Being Hijacked by Terrorists

Well, if that title didn’t get your interest, I don’t know what will.

The reason I say that SlutWalk NYC is being hijacked by terrorists is because, frankly, it is. I know that this post is gonna get a lot of negative feedback, and everyone’s gonna think I’m some elitist uber-conservative heartless Jew, but to be honest, I’m really sick and tired of having to be politically correct all the time.

I am pro-Israel. If you don’t like it, then don’t read my blog. No one’s forcing you. To take a leaf out of Aliza Hausman’s book, if you have any hate mail for me, direct it to your local therapist; if you don’t have one, get one.

Anyone reading this blog can tell that I’m also an Orthodox Jew and a feminist. (As I like to say, a Femidox Jew.) It can be difficult to juggle the two, but I will never, ever separate the two parts of my identity. It would be like trying to cut my body in half and trying to figure out which side is more important.

Because I’m a feminist, I was really happy when I heard that SlutWalk was coming to New York, where I live. I signed up for the listserve and everything, since I like being involved in feminist events, especially ones as big as this. You can imagine how disappointed I was when I found out that SlutWalk would be taking place on a Saturday, since that’s Shabbat (Sabbath), making it near impossible for me to attend. Despite this, I still remained on the listserve (which is through Google Groups) and got a daily digest of conversations that had occurred between members of the group, sometimes volunteering my own opinions.

Because I love SlutWalk, it really, really, bothered me when I saw the title “Students for Justice in Palestine” on one topic in the Google Group.

I know it’s not politically correct to say that I support Israel, but as I said before, I'm tired of walking on eggshells. Most Palestinians and Arabs want me and my people to be dead, so I’m not gonna try to defend them. Mahmoud Abbas, chairperson of the PLO, has said that he wants to push Israel into the Mediterranean Sea. This is far from an unpopular concept among Arab leaders. They have killed countless of innocent Israelis; a recent, prominent example of this is the murders of the Fogel family zikhronam l’vrakha (may their memories be blessed), five of whom, including both parents and a three-month-old baby, were slaughtered in their beds by two Palestinian men.

So here I am. Call me what you want, but I just want my sisters and brothers in my homeland, Israel, to be safe. Palestinians are people too, and they deserve to be treated as such, but I'm a Jew, and my heart belongs in Israel.

In short, the thread about the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was really vomit-inducing. One member said that she joined the SJP, an anti-Israel hate group, and wanted to know if they could endorse SlutWalk. There were varying opinions for varying reasons on the topic, but most of the people felt that it’s totally cool to accept an endorsement from the SJP; few stood up for Israel. Heck, the woman who first mentioned the possibility later identified as a Jew.

I don’t know if SJP will end up walking at SlutWalk with a banner; I won’t be there, so I won’t be an eyewitness. But the fact that it was ever mentioned, and that very few people felt it was inappropriate that a group that has nothing to do with sexual harassment should march, just made me feel ill. Would so many people have been for it if the group was pro-Israel?

I get really irritated with the feminist community sometimes. Oy vey.

God Who blessed our foreparents Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel, and Leah, may God bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Forces, who stand guard over our land and the cities of our God, from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Arabia, on the land, in the air, and on the sea.

May the Almighty cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Blessed Holy One preserve and rescue our fighters from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may God send blessing and success in their every endeavor.

May God lead our enemies under our soldiers’ sway and may God grant them salvation and crown them with victory. And may there be fulfilled for them the verse: For it is the Lord your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you.

Now let us respond: Amen.

Am Yisrael Hai (the nation of Israel lives).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Star of Davida Interviews Mohelet Stacy Rubtchinsky

There has been debate in the Jewish community since the time of the Egyptian enslavement as to whether or not a woman can perform a brit milah (ritual circumcision). Most opinions believe that they can. In recent years, women have embraced the ability to perform the brit milah ceremony and become mohelot (female circumcisers). One such woman is Stacy Rubtchinsky, a Massachusetts mohelet who I had the honor of interviewing

Did you aspire to be a doctor when you were a child, or did you fall into it? 
I have wanted to be a doctor since I was a young child. Then, I went to college and did not like chemistry and did not like the competition in the pre-med classes, so I stopped being pre-med and instead studied linguistics and cognitive sciences. I learned a lot of different languages and loved my studies. When I graduated, I taught elementary school for two years and during that time, I remembered my passion for medicine and so, I went back to school to finish those dreaded pre-med courses and went to medical school. 

Why did you become a mohelet
Being a mohelet is a perfect fit for me. I love being a doctor and have the skills to perform safe, quick circumcisions. I also love being Jewish and practicing the rituals and traditions associated with our religion. On top of that, I love being an educator. When I go into families homes, I am a Jewish ambassador who has the opportunity to teach them about the beauty of this ritual into their lives

Does your family - parents, husband, children - support you? 
My parents and husband and four children all love that I am a mohelet!

Do you find that being female adds or detracts from your role as mohelet?
I find that the families who call me are not looking for the stereotypical Orthodox mohel. They are looking for a modern, traditional, spiritual, painless ceremony and circumcision and that is what I can bring them.  I think that being a female adds to the spirituality and warmth of the ceremony. I think that being a mother also adds to my credibility (I hear “If you could circumcise your own twin boys, then I trust you to circumcise my son” all the time). 

Do you have an opinion on how girls should be welcomed in the Jewish community in a celebration parallel to a brit milah?
Absolutely!  I have two daughters and had beautiful ceremonies for each of them. I chose to have their ceremonies at Havdalah (the ceremonial separation between Sabbath and weekday), since it is a time of transition and rebirth of the week, just as a new soul in our world is a time of rebirth. The ceremonies are a time for a community to come together and welcome a child and express it’s hopes and dreams for the baby's future. It is a wonderful time of celebration!

What advice would you give to other women who want to follow your lead and pursue a position as mohelet?
My advice to anyone who wants to be a mohelet is to go to a lot of britot and learn what you would want if the ceremony were your own. Then study with your rabbi/cantor/educator and learn the halakha (Jewish law) behind brit milah. Most importantly, though, during the process of training and thereafter remember why you pursued this wondrous journey. If you do that, you will always hold on to the passion that brought you to your dream!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Woma/i/o/u/yn Power?

As a rule, I like to be controversial and cause a stir, especially when it involves feminism. After all, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich had it right when she said well-behaved women seldom make history. About a year ago, I even went through a phase when I called God She instead of He. (At this point, I realize that God has no gender, and avoid using pronouns when referring to the Holy One.) Despite this, I never got into the whole womyn thing.

In the 1970s, a number of feminists felt that because the word woman contains man, it defines femininity as a diminutive of masculinity. As a result, they began to spell woman and women differently. (The most popular variant spellings are woman as womyn and women as wimmin, or woman as womon and women as womyn.) In theory, I absolutely love this, and would totally begin using the alternate spellings, especially on tests and papers to freak my teachers out.

However, I’m just not buying it. In Old English, the word man was gender-neutral, like person today. A woman was a wifman, a female person, and a man was a werman, a male person. Throughout time, werman was shortened to man and wifman was changed to woman. So in reality, the word woman is not in any way a diminutive of the word man; they both mean person, just specifying the gender. So I’ll be using woman for the foreseeable future.

The word person, while sounding like it comes from a masculine root (per son), also has an innocuous origin; it comes from the Latin word persona, meaning mask. So I’m also not into spelling it persyn. (For the record, I’ve never actually seen persyn - I’m just nipping the issue in the bud.)

Human, however, is problematic for a feminist. It comes from Latin for Homo sapiens, which means wise man. No, not wise person - wise MAN. So essentially, when you say “I’m a human,” you’re saying “I’m a dude.” I think I’ll be spelling it humyn from now. (Look for an update on how freaked out my teachers are when I write it on tests!)

When I first discovered Women of the Wall, an organization of women that want to be able to pray at the Kotel HaMa’aravi (Western Wall), I saw that they call themselves Nashot HaKotel in Hebrew. It never occurred to me that the correct plural for women in Hebrew is nashim, not nashot. Usually, -im is the masculine plural of a masculine word, and -ot is the feminine plural of a feminine word. Nashim, which is a plural of a feminine word (the one for woman) is an exception to the rule. (There are many.) “It is a pro-female assertion that seeks to remove the linguistic dependency of the word woman or women on the word man or men,” the WOW website says.

I totally understand that motivation, and I completely stand by it. I’ve started to use the word nashot in my own personal notes in Judaic classes, and I plan on continuing to do that. (Just not in Hebrew language classes. The teacher would probably think I’m an absolute idiot for pluralizing a word as simple as woman wrong, and take off points.)

So, fellow women, people, humyns, and nashot - let's band together and fight for feminism!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Star of Davida Interviews Care Bears on Fire

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). Star of Davida had the honor of interviewing Sophie, the lead singer of Care Bears on Fire, a girl group that won't turn their music down. 

What first got you into music?
My mom was a musician when she was young. She’s not anymore, but that made it an option for me, being a musician just seemed really natural. I was always passionate about music.

How did you and bandmates Izzy and Jena first meet?
Izzy and I have known each other since kindergarten, and we made the band when we were nine. We met Jena two years ago, when we were in ninth grade.

Why did you decide to become a band, especially at such a young age?
We had similar taste in music that was unusual for nine-year-olds, so we sort of latched onto each other. Izzy went to Rock and Roll Camp for Girls in Portland and learned how to play the drums, and I was learning how to play the guitar, so we decided to make a band.

What inspired the name Care Bears on Fire?
We were nine when we decided on the name, and we were going for something different. As I get older and think about it, the names starts off sort of sweet and innocent and then defies the expectation of what’ll follow, just like young girls aren’t expected to make music.

Did you ever anticipate that you would sing professionally?
Not when we first started. It’s really exciting.

I understand that the three of you decided not to drop out of school, and instead balanced your careers with school. Why didn’t you just give up on education?
Education is important to us. I love to learn and enjoy school, as weird as that sounds. We’ve been lucky that we’ve had success, and I hope it carries me, but I have non-music aspirations too.

Like what?
Writing and journalism, and feminism.

So you consider yourself a feminist?
Totally. I always liked riot grrrl music, Bikini Kill and bands like that. My aha moment came when I was performing at a tribute show for Kathleen Hanna, the lead singer of Bikini Kill, which was an amazing experience. I felt like I had finally found a community of people who were interested in riot grrrl and feminism, and who were supportive of me and of other female musicians. I had been interested in feminism and riot grrrl before, but finding out that I was far from the only person interested in these “dead” topics made me so much more confident in my opinions and in my ability to act on them. 

Do you find that a lot of people in the music industry have feminist leanings?
We’ve mostly been in the riot grrrl scene with people who were equally influenced by the movement, so we’ve been lucky. There are definitely a lot of feminists in music, but there have been musicians we’ve shared the stage with that aren’t.

Your music clearly contains strong girl-power themes. Do you view your music as part of the feminist movement?
I hope so! The riot grrrl movement was in the 90s, but if I can have a role in continuing the movement and being part of the legacy, that’s my dream come true. It’s not a dead movement, not gone, musicians and activists are still inspired by it.

You recently created Grrrl Beat, an online zine. What inspired it?
I had my feminism aha moment over the past year, and I wanted a place to find other people who are similar to me and share my opinions. I didn’t realize how many girls do similar things and create their own feminist blogs. I hadn’t found the community of people with similar interests until now, and it was cool for me to bump into that.

Are your friends feminists also?
I’m starting a feminist group at my school now, but people are mostly afraid of the f word. Some other students actually threatened to make a patriarchy club in response, which I thought was pretty funny.

Do your parents support all of your endeavors?
Definitely. As far as music, they’ve been driving me to shows for six years, they help so much. They’re really supportive of Grrrl Beat too, they’re really great people to talk to to form ideas.

Who are some of your musical influences?
Riot grrrl, definitely. Alex Turner’s lyrics are really beautiful. Conor Oberst and Patti Smith have really influenced me, too.

Do you have any idea what your next album will sound like?
I think it’s too early to say definitively, but I do think it will be different. I hope to experiment with new instrumentation, and see where that takes me. We write all of our own material, and I think I am more open to writing different types of songs than I was on previous albums, and being more direct about feminism and equality in my lyrics.

What inspires your style and fashion?
Vintage is cool, punk fashion has really inspired me. I go shopping in vintage stores like Beacon’s Closet and Buffalo Exchange. I like going shopping when we travel too, when we were in LA and shopping on Melrose like every other store is vintage. Looking over my clothes is like a chronicle of our journeys.

What advice do you have for aspiring female singers?
It’s important to get yourself heard. Don’t let people stand in the way of making whatever music inspires you, especially for girls.

Don't forget that the Star of Davida essay contest is offering copies of Care Bears on Fire's CD Get Over It! as the prize for the three winning essays! 

Monday, September 5, 2011

What JWA Means to Me

The Jewesses with Attitude blog recently had a makeover! I’m not used to the new format yet (it takes me a while to get used to change - when they remodeled my local Walgreens, I was confused for weeks), but I like what I see so far. The blog is much sleeker, and I love the addition of the photos of Jewesses with attitude at the top of the page. As part of the new makeover, JWA asked bloggers to write about what the blog means to them.

I first became involved in feminism the year before I went into high school, when I was working on a paper about the Second Wave. Dorky as it sounds, reading books like The Feminine Mystique lit a fire in me that I couldn’t extinguish. As a result, I began to identify as a feminist. I didn’t think it was compatible with Judaism, though, especially not Orthodoxy. It made me feel uncomfortable to think of one when I thought of the other. I completely compartmentalized myself: one box was for my devotion to women’s rights, and the second box was where I kept Judaism. The two were equal parts of my identity, but separate, never overlapping.

As I did more research on the Second Wave, the fact that so many feminists were Jews really interested me. As I did research on women like Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Alix Kates Shulman, and Shulamith Firestone, I stumbled upon the Jewish Women’s Archive. It greatly helped my research on many of these prominent women, and I still use it as a source when I’m writing historical papers. I’ll also log on every once in a while just to read up on assorted Jewish women from the past.

While I loved the Archive at first sight, it was the Jewesses with Attitude blog that fascinated me. I had never seen any sort of blog or website dedicated to celebrating Jewish women from a feminist perspective, and the idea drew me in. I began borderline-obsessively reading past posts, drinking in the Jewish feminism that I had been isolated from for so long. Since it was the first Jewish feminism I was exposed to, and the first feminist blog I officially followed, it greatly shaped my attitudes and opinions. Because feminism is something I want to dedicate my entire life to, I don’t think it’s melodramatic when I say that JWA truly changed my life. (Okay, maybe it’s a little melodramatic. But it’s still true.)

I eventually found other Jewish feminist outlets, and even went on to create my own, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for JWA. I’m glad that I can call myself a feisty Jewess with attitude because of it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Theater Review: Baby It's You!

I’ve been absolutely dying to see the musical Baby It’s You! for a while now, and was thrilled when I finally got tickets to see the show. It tells the story of Florence Greenberg, a Jewish New Jersey housewife-turned-music industry mogul. After discovering an African-American four-member girl group at her daughter’s school, she names them the Shirelles and produces their first record. This becomes the initial step of Florence Greenberg’s successful career as a music executive and record label owner, and the beginning of a long road of choices she must make.

The musical explores many feminist themes; Beth Leavel, who plays Florence, even said that “it’s a great woman’s story…Florence…followed her passion. And I’m so inspired by that.” Crystal Starr Knighton, who plays a Shirelle, said, “Florence was amazing. I mean, to have a woman back then, when men ruled everything, just take center stage and say ‘look, this is what I’m gonna do,’ and bringing us four ladies and making us into the first girl group, she has an amazing story.”

When the audience is first introduced to Florence, she’s in the kitchen with her husband Bernie, who can’t understand his wife’s desire to do anything more than drive him to the train and take care of their daughter and blind son. Despite Bernie’s disapproval, Florence creates her first record company, sells it, and establishes a new one. Florence’s fate was that of most career women in the 1960s (and unfortunately, the 2000s also), as she was forced to choose between attending recording sessions and being with her family. Her son spent time with her by writing songs for the Shirelles, but her daughter was often neglected. Bernie also resented Florence’s newfound passion and the attention it took away from him.

Racial tensions were also apparent throughout the show, often intertwined with women’s issues. Early in the Shirelles’ career, Florence partnered with Luther Dixon, a successful African-American songwriter, and became romantically involved with him. When he first approached her about writing for the Shirelles, he explained that no one would take Florence seriously because she was a woman, just like his talents were dismissed because of his race; between the two of them, they could make up for the discrimination. When Bernie found out that the two were more than just business partners, he called Florence and said, “With all the yiddels in the business, you had to pick a shvartza?”

When the Shirelles were on tour and performing in pre-civil rights south, they were forced to stay in a hotel on the seedy side of town rather than the fancy hotel across the street from the theater. When Florence heard, she moved to their hotel, despite Luther’s hesitation. “If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me,” she explained.

When I found out that Baby It’s You! got poor reviews, I was shocked. I absolutely loved it, and the audience seemed to feel the same way as I did - at the end of the show, the cast sang a few oldies, and everyone was dancing in their seats. New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood dismisses the musical’s premise as yet another Broadway show for baby boomers, comparing it to a “PBS pledge-night special…devoted to oldies but goodies,” among sarcastic quips and rare compliments. I checked out Isherwood’s remarks on Million Dollar Quartet, another Mutrux/Escott jukebox musical about 1960s singers, and his comment was “It…recalls PBS documentaries…but the sometimes canned storytelling gets the job done.” Why is it that a play about four male singers can be PBSesque, but a play about four female singers and their female agent not? I doubt that Isherwood was purposely being sexist - he does say that the musical “at least offers a distaff twist” and calls Florence a “proto-feminist heroine.” However, it still bothers me that Caucasian men can be celebrated on Broadway, but African-American and Jewish women are shunted to the side.

Again, I thoroughly enjoyed Baby It’s You!, and wish it was staying on Broadway longer - it’s only playing until September 4. Get your tickets before it’s too late!