Monday, October 31, 2011

Retouching Photographs: Ethical?

Retouching photographs of models in magazines and newspapers has been a point of controversy in the publishing industry ever since technology like Photoshop has become readily available. Most magazines, especially ones dedicated to fashion and/or celebrity stalking, have no qualms about retouching “imperfect” pictures. I think this practice is absolutely reprehensible.

There are instances when it’s appropriate to retouch photograph. For example, if a person in a photograph has red eye or some stray hairs, or the lighting isn’t good, or there’s some other imperfection that doesn’t change the concept of the picture to a ridiculous degree, I don’t see a problem with that. I do take issue with pictures retouched to the point that the original subject is unrecognizable or completely changed, especially in the mass media.

Dozens of studies have proven that young women are very much influenced by how the media portrays women, whether television or the Internet or magazines. (A specific study I have in mind was conducted in Tahiti, where girls were almost universally happy with their bodies until the Americans came in and inculcated them with the media.) As a result, when models are depicted as super-skinny with heads wider than their hips (as included in this post), that sends girls a message that they need to be as thin as possible in order to be accepted, “normal.” This sort of thing is why anorexia and other eating disorders are so common in our society. If models and celebrities were shown in magazines looking the way they do without make up and Photoshop enhancements, young women would be able to see what “normal” really is.

I think the purpose of photographs should be to represent reality. If a person wants it to represent art, he or she should draw or paint. Photographs shouldn’t lie. Photography shouldn’t be based on the concept of, “I took this picture and I know it’s not perfect, so instead of trying again and again until I get it right, I’ll just Photoshop it when I get home.” Yes, if at second glance there’s some minor imperfection with the photograph, I don’t think it’s a big deal to retouch it a little bit, but to completely change a picture is just wrong.

Religiously speaking, there’s the concept of genevat da’at, tricking a person to think one thing when that’s not the reality of the situation. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that majorly retouching a picture can fall under the prohibition of genevat da’at. (This isn’t my original idea - when a Hasidic newspaper infamously Photoshopped Hillary Clinton out of the historic picture in the Situation Room after Osama bin Laden’s death, Rabbi Jason Miller opposed this on the grounds of genevat da’at.) A retouched picture of a model depicts a person that doesn’t really exist, and displaying it to people is tricking them into thinking that such a person does.

So yeah, I think that retouching pictures isn’t the right thing to do, for numerous reasons. As much as I may say this to myself and others, I know that my inner moral compass screaming “ANOREXIA! LYING! GENEVAT DA’AT!” isn’t going to stop me from fixing every tiny imperfection in my yearbook photo, though. It’s easy to talk about not caring about how you look, but a lot harder to actually have to live that way.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Steve Jobs, Apple, and Rosie the Riveter

I thought I'd share the picture I made in school (awesome advanced computer classes, baby!) as a tribute to Steve Jobs. Apple ran the Think Different ad campaign from 1997-2002, showing commercials and print advertisements featuring "the crazy ones" who dared to change the world. The art directors behind it were all women (Jennifer Golub, Jessica Schulman, and Yvonne Smith). A number of awesome women are featured in the campaign, including Joan Baez, Rosa Parks, Jane Goodall, and Amelia Earhart.

When our teacher told us that our next assignment would be to design an ad that could be a part of the Think Different campaign, I immediately thought of Rosie the Riveter, the iconic World War II ad that encouraged women to enter the workforce. I added an Apple logo tattoo (and blended it into her skin) and "Think Different!" instead of "We Can Do It!" in her speech bubble.

Links to cool articles about Steve Jobs, Rosie the Riveter, and what they have to do with feminism:
A Tale of Two Siblings - Steve Jobs and Mona Simpson
Revolting Women: Joan of Arc, Rosie the Riveter, and the Feminist Protest Icon

Monday, October 24, 2011

What Does Jewish Look Like to You?

Procrastinating is always loads of fun, and thanks to the Internet, it’s really easy to do. There are very many wonderful things to do to waste time, one of my personal favorites being browsing the website (Other cool sites are,, and

While I was putting off doing something important, I noticed the picture above. Yeah, ha ha, very funny, reminds me of the “Death to All Juice” protest sign. However, it occurred to me: why are these Jews portrayed as male? (The big noses are a little offensive, too.)

When you Google Image “Jew” and skim the results, almost all of the pictures are of white Ashkenazi-looking Hasidic males. The few pictures that aren’t are mostly anti-Semitic or anti-Israel; women and non-Hasids make up a small minority. When you Google Image “Orthodox Jews,” it’s the same (except for the much-loved Tefillin Barbie). I also find it interesting that there are so many are anti-Israel pictures, a surprising fact considering that most Orthodox Jews are pro-Israel.

I suppose these results just mirror the reality of the world. When asked to picture a Jew, most people will immediately think of a bearded rabbi, possibly with a big nose and black hat, even if s/he doesn’t personally know one. Few will think of a woman, non-white, or non-Ashkenaz.

Well, at least it's an improvement from when people really thought that Jews had horns, right? That myth might've taken a few centuries to dispel, but I really do think that in a generation or two from now, the Google Image results for “Jew” and “Orthodox Jews” will be different. There are so many more women role models within the religious and secular Jewish communities nowadays, and that number will only increase. In synagogues, there are women like Rabba Sara Hurwitz, Rachel Kohl Finegold, Lynn Kaye, and Dina Najman; the children of their congregations won’t be strangers to women in leadership positions. There is a proliferation of mohelot, female circumcisers, among the non-Orthodox; it's only a matter of time until more observant circles get the hang of it, too. Female mashgihot (kosher certifiers) are also increasing in popularity. Yavilah McCoy, an African-American Jewish woman, is active in advocacy for Jews of color. Idit Klein, the executive director of Keshet, shows Jews that they can be included in the community, no matter what their sexual orientation. There are dozens of Jewish women in the music and film industry who let their Jewish identities be known.

I think that Vanessa Hidary really embodies the point of this post. Ms. Hidary is a Sephardic woman poet who’s trying to show the world that everyone can be a Jew, regardless of what s/he looks like. I had the honor of interviewing her a while ago, and I still keep up with her work (she released a book recently, The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega). I fell in love with her work when I first heard her poem “The Hebrew Mamita.”

“I'm thinking, I'm saying
What does Jewish look like to you?
Should I fiddle on a f**king roof for you?
Should I humor you with oy veys and refuse to pay?
Oh, 'cause you know how we like to Jew you down
Jew you down, I'd like to throw you down!...

I'm the Hebrew mamita
Long-lost daughter of Abraham and Sarah
The sexy oy-veying chutzpah-having non-cheaping non-conspiracizing always-questioning hip hop-listening Torah scroll-reading all people-loving
Jewish girl.

Bigging up all people who are a little miffed
'Cause someone tells you you don't look like
Or act like your people.
Impossible, because you are your people.
You just tell them they don't look,

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Love Your Body Day

As many of you probably know, today is NOW’s fourteenth annual Love Your Body Day. I think it’s great that NOW has been raising awareness of body image issues for so long, and I hope that this campaign touches girls and boys all over the world.

I think everyone can attest to the fact that it’s a lot easier to say “love your body” than to actually love your own body. We all have our insecurities, and it’s extremely difficult to just leave them at the door. I can get on a soapbox and say how beauty is just a perception that men have created to oppress women and blah blah blah, but that’s not gonna solve anything or make women feel any better about themselves. Honestly, it irritates me when people say that kinda thing. It’s a fact that we all want to conform to societal standards and not be the weirdo, and part of that is the desire to be pretty. We all want to be accepted. God bless the minority of women who have gotten to the point where they could care less how they look, but most of us haven’t gotten to that level yet.

At the end of the day, I just think that we should all feel comfortable in our bodies, and not judge others for how they look. If Sarah is a size 24 and wants to lose weight, then she has my blessing; if Rebecca is a size 24 who loves how she looks, good for her too. Sarah and Rebecca shouldn’t criticize each other’s choices regarding weight, and it’s nobody else’s business, either.

I have a younger friend whose build will never allow her to look like a runway model, but she’s far from fat. There have been a number of occasions where people have said to her (in my hearing, no less) “Oh, you have such a pretty face,” or even flat-out “You’d be so pretty if you were thin.” I have another younger friend who is also not thin, and she's told me about some of the things that girls and boys have said to her to mock her weight. She tries really hard not to let it bother her, and I think she does succeed. It still really drives me crazy that people feel that they can say whatever they want to impressionable little girls like my two friends, and I really want to give it to them. Like, it’s none of your business what she looks like! Do you want her to feel like garbage because of how she looks? If she’s okay with it, then let her live. If she’s not okay with it, then she’ll diet or exercise on her own - she doesn’t need motivation from you.
I know that these catty people say things like that to my friends to make themselves feel better about their own insecurities. “Well, my [insert body part here] might be horrendous, but at least I’m not fat like her.” Sometimes it’s honestly well-intentioned, albeit completely tactless. It’s these nasty comments are the kinds of things we never forget, that plague us for the rest of our lives. We need to be vigilant against saying mean things about others’ bodies, especially by accident.

My mother has influenced me a lot in this sense. She’s lost more than 100 pounds, and maintained it over a period of several years. Because of her, I know how icky someone can feel because of their body weight. I just wish everyone had that sort of influence in their life.

We’re in the middle of Sukkot now, when Jews leave their homes to live in small huts (sukkahs) to commemorate how the Jews lived when they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. The sukkah is supposed to be fragile to show that it’s not the sukkah protecting us from the elements, it’s God. Similarly, it’s not really our bodies that protect our nishamot (souls); it’s God. Our bodies are just vessels for our nishamot to live in this world, and will be discarded when we die and head to Olam HaBa, the world to come. May we all learn how to come to terms with how our vessels look in this world.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Footloose: A Feminist Review

I’m not much of a movies person, since I object to paying twelve bucks for an hour and a half of entertainment (I can donate that money to a cause that has a lasting effect on the world). However, I love free stuff, and managed to get two advanced preview tickets to Footloose. Having not seen the original movie or Broadway play, I was only vaguely familiar with the plot. It was pretty cute and I liked it, although I wouldn’t have been amazed if I had paid full price to see it.

[SPOILER ALERT] While watching Footloose, a few things struck me. The movie opens at a high school keg party in Bomont, Georgia, where five students are killed in an extremely graphic car accident. (There are a lot of burning cars and violent fights - definitely not for the squeamish.) The next scene shows the town’s reverend and city councilmember speaking on behalf of a new law prohibiting partying, drinking, and dancing. The first thing I noticed was that there was only one woman and one African-American on the eight-person city council. (The sad part is that the percentage isn’t unrealistic - Congress is only 17% female, 8% black, 5% Latino/a, and 2% Asian-American.) I would've really liked it if there were a couple more women on the council.

Despite the fact that people of color are underrepresented on Bomont’s city council, the rest of the movie makes a specific effort to promote diversity and interracial relationships. The Woody character was recast as African-American, and Ziah Colon, a black actor, plays Rusty (originally Sarah Jessica Parker), who becomes romantically linked with a white character. Throughout the movie, there are a number of extras who are African-American, which I think is pretty cool. While Ariel and Ren, the two main characters, remained white, I think Footloose is still headed in the right direction.

In addition to showcasing the talents of actors of color, the movie also tells watchers that gay bashing is unacceptable. After Chuck, Ariel’s older boyfriend, calls Ren a f*ggot, Ren responds, “I thought only a**holes used the word f*ggot.” I think that’s a really valuable message to send, especially since this is a hot-button issue today. (I’ve probably signed five petitions in the past week to help pro-LGBT students who have faced discrimination in the last week alone.)

Ariel, the minister’s daughter, is supposed to be a good-girl-gone-bad, rebelling against the anti-party laws by dating Chuck. At the beginning, he pressures her to give into his sexual advances, and is depicted as a generally icky dude throughout the movie (almost killing Ren in a bus race, getting one of his cronies to plant a joint on him, etc.). After Ariel finally realizes Chuck’s a piece of work who doesn’t deserve her, she breaks up with him. After he calls her a slut, she starts beating up his car with a crowbar. He brutally attacks her, giving her a black eye. His punishment? When he comes to break up the dance at the end of the movie, Ren and Willard beat him and his cronies up.

Yeah, that’s it. Ariel never tells her parents on-screen who beat her bloody; if she did off-screen, they didn’t make any intentions of legal justice clear. No one else in the movie does, either. This made me really, really, upset. Ariel was wrong to destroy Chuck’s car, and she should be liable to pay for the damages; however, Chuck was 100% wrong to retaliate physically, and should pay for what he did in jail. It is never, ever acceptable for a man to lay his hand on a woman (or the other way around), and I feel like the movie didn’t make that clear enough. Ren and Willard’s vigilante justice was a very lovely gesture, but Chuck only walked away bruised. Beating him up didn’t make him understand how to respect women. Only time behind bars and some serious therapy can do that. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Chucks out there who get away with beating up their girlfriends. Even more unfortunately, Footloose advocated an eye for an eye rather than justice via the legal system. While Chuck did at least face punishment for what he did, it would have really made me happy if Ariel said that she and her parents are pressing charges.

So, I think that Footloose had its ups and downs. I don’t know how it compared to the original, but I hope all of you who are Kevin Bacon fans appreciate it!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pro-Israel, Pro-Feminist

I’m on EMILY’s List’s emailing list, so I get all of their emails to support certain feminist candidates. (It does bother me that they’ll only look at Democrat women, though. Can’t you at least consider going past party lines?) A while ago, I received information about Kate Marshall (D-NV), who at the time was running for Congress in a special election. (She lost.)

Since the info was from EMILY’s List, I knew Marshall had to champion women’s causes, but I didn’t know about her position on Israel. I procrastinated looking it up until recently, when I found that she released a really beautiful statement supporting Israel with the following at the end:

Background: Israel has been in the news lately, and will be even more in the news with Beck’s “Rally to Restore Courage” in Jerusalem. In an R district, it will be useful to express support for Israel and demonstrate some foreign policy prowess while it is a timely topic - especially for people who are likely paying attention to Beck’s event.

Yeah. I think that speaks for itself. Don’t you love politicians that campaign as a certain platform just to garner votes, and then God knows what they’ll do once they’re in office?

I was prepared to write an article in total support of Marshall, but once I found out that she’s not a reliable friend of Israel, it complicates things. This is where the whole “are you a Jew or are you a feminist?” comes in.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again that I’m a Femidox Jew, an Orthodox feminist whose identity is made up of those two parts. (And for all you Frum Satire fans, yes, I did take the term Femidox (fifth to last) from him.) I’m Orthodox, I’m feminist. They’re equal parts of my identity.

So do I support Kate Marshall, the pro-woman anti-Israel candidate? No. Do I support Tammy Baldwin, who is endorsed by J Street (an anti-Israel group that claims to be otherwise) and has voted against Israel? No. I cannot stand behind any politician that is not completely, totally, and absolutely a friend of Israel. It’s my homeland, and I need to know that it will not be in danger. (As Aviva Cantor said at the Women’s Liberation and Jewish Identity Conference, if the authorities came for you because you’re a Jew, would your neighbors hide you? What do you do if they don’t and you don’t have Israel? Unfortunately, we already know the answer - six million died as a result.)

On the flip side, do I support Faceless Candidate X who supports Israel with his or her entire heart, but is pro-life? No. The “fem” in Femidox won’t let me do that.

In Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America, Letty Cottin Pogrebin (the Jewish feminist founder of Ms. Magazine) mentions that she went to an identity conference once, where there were signs like “woman” and “Jew” to stand beneath. At the time she chose to identify as a woman, but she says that “after 1975, I would not have been so sure.” I feel like I’m almost her opposite: a few years ago, I would have immediately gone to “Jew,” but now I’d have to stand under both. Because that’s who I am: a Femidox Jew.

It can get tiresome to juggle around two identities all the time, but hey, I never said my life was easy.

About the picture I included with this post: it was a flag flown by a Holocaust survivor when the UN announced the creation of the state of Israel.

Don't forget that today is the last day to submit for the Star of Davida Essay Contest! If you need a few more days, the deadline's not written in stone, but please email me at to inform me that your entry will be late.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Women of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur

 Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are probably the most well-known Jewish holidays. Separated by the Aseret Yimei Teshuva, ten days of repentance, they’re the two holiest days on the Jewish calendar. Rosh HaShanah, which commemorates the creation of the world, is when God judges everyone. The completely righteous are immediately written in the Book of Life; the completely evil are blotted out. In the interim Aseret Yimei Teshuva, those who fall somewhere in between are given the chance to do more good deeds and tip the scales in their favor. On Yom Kippur, we do teshuva (repentance) for all the bad things we did in the past year, and hope that the good deeds we did will redeem us and get our names into the Book of Life.

Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur occur in the month of Tishrei (September-October). Technically, this is the first month of the Jewish year; however, Nissan (April-May) is biblically considered the first month, as the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt during Nissan. Tishrei is the seventh month from Nissan. The number seven has a lot of significance in Judaism. One reason is because there are seven female prophets in the Bible: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther. Each of these prophets has a unique connection to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur that we must learn from.

Sarah, the first Matriarch, relates to the shofar, the ram’s horn that is blown on Rosh HaShanah. According to Leviticus Rabbah (a commentary), after the Binding of Isaac, Isaac returned home and told Sarah what had happened. Disturbed by the fact that her only child, who she gave birth to at age ninety, was almost killed by his own father; “Thereupon she uttered six cries, corresponding to the six blasts of the shofar.”

We read the story of the Binding of Isaac every Rosh HaShanah. The shofar is made of a ram’s horn, which is the animal that Abraham sacrificed in Isaac’s stead. Sarah’s cries determine the number of times we blow the shofar. This shows us that every family member should have the same opportunities to connect to God during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Mothers and girls over bat mitzvah age shouldn’t be expected to stay home with the children and cook; they should be able to go to synagogue and pray. Fathers and boys over bar mitzvah age should share the responsibility and take care of issues in the home too. That way, everyone gets a chance to connect to God on the holiest days of the year.

Miriam was Moses and Aaron’s older sister. She has a deep connection to water: her name means bitter water, it was in her merit that the Jews had a well of water while they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and she led the Jewish women through the Red Sea. She was not always as pure as water, though, since she sinned by speaking lashon hara (evil speech) about Zipporah, Moses’ wife. Just like water is clean and basic, we are all forgiven for our bitter sins and given a clean slate on Yom Kippur: back to the basics. We should learn from Miriam that no one is past teshuva, and we can all achieve a sinless state.

Deborah, the prophet and judge, connects to the mazal (fortune) of the month of Tishrei: scales. According to the Sefer Yetzirah, this is because we are all judged on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, our good and bad deeds compared in a scale. Deborah dispensed justice among the Jews of her generation, judging them from her date tree. We should learn from Deborah that if she was able to judge others, we should all be able to judge ourselves. Part of teshuva, especially around the Aseret Yimei Teshuva, is making a heshbon hanefesh, or thinking back on all of the things we’ve done in the past year. To make up for the bad things we must have done, we should continue to try to tip the scales in our favor and do as many good deeds as possible.

Hannah was the prophet Samuel’s mother. Samuel was the one of the greatest prophets that ever lived: he anointed Saul and David as kings over the Jews, and delivered countless prophesies. His greatness, however, was all due to his mother. Hannah was unable to have children, so she begged God for years, beseeching the Creator to bless her with a child. Her prayers were answered on Rosh HaShanah. (The same is true for Sarah with Isaac.) She composed the Song of Hannah in thanks. Her actions show us that nothing is beyond prayers; if we ask God with the right amount of sincerity, the Holy One, the God of Mercy, will answer all of our prayers.

Abigail was one of King David’s wives, known as an intelligent and beautiful woman. Her name in Hebrew has the letter lamed (which makes the l sound). This shows her connection to Tishrei, as the letter that represents Tishrei is a lamed. The reason for this is because the shape of the letter reaches up, towards the sky (not unlike an l), as if it were longing to return to the source of life above, our Creator. We try to ascend to the highest levels of spirituality and create the closest connection to God possible on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Abigail’s name ends with a lamed. This shows that she went through life constantly trying to improve herself, working hard to reach the highest levels of being one with God. If we just try to copy her diligence, we’ll be set for a happy, sweet new year.

Huldah is one of the more obscure biblical women. She was a prophet during Jeremiah’s time, and prophesied for King Josiah. In addition to having the letter lamed in her name, she was from the tribe of Ephraim, which corresponds to Tishrei. This is because the word ephraim comes from the root word pri, which literally means fruit; it’s used in the verse “to be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28), the first commandment given in the Torah. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are all about rebirth: wiping away the bad of last year, working on making the next year better. Huldah is also known for teaching young women, helping the generations be reborn with Torah knowledge. We should learn from Huldah that we have to take our lives into our own hands and rebirth ourselves, that we have to purposely reach out to God to get closer to the Holy One, especially at this time of year.

Esther is the famed protagonist of the Purim story, who saved the Jews from extinction at the hands of Haman. The holiday of Purim is considered to be even more important than Yom Kippur. The Zohar, the main Kabbalah book, points out similarities between Esther’s approach to Ahasuerus (in order to invite him to a party to expose Haman’s plot) and the Kohen Gadol (High Priest of the Temple) on Yom Kippur. Queen Esther dressed in her special royal garments, fasted, and entered King Ahasuerus’ inner chambers at risk to her life (because he had not called for her) in order to plead for the Jewish people; the Kohen Gadol dressed in special white garments, fasted, and entered the Kodesh Kodashim, the innermost sanctuary of the Temple (forbidden except on Yom Kippur) in order to plead for the Jewish people. If Esther was on the same level as the Kohen Gadol, the only person who was ever allowed into the home of God’s presence, it’s all we can do to try and emulate her.

This Rosh HaShanah, Aseret Yimei Teshuva, and Yom Kippur, it’s essential that we learn from the seven women prophets mentioned in Tanakh (Jewish Bible). They gave us their legacy in order for us to live the best lives we can.

Monday, October 3, 2011

At the Cemetery

We’re at the cemetery, a couple weeks before Rosh HaShanah, when it’s customary to visit your deceased loved ones. Ours are all in the same place. Most of them are buried within a few feet of each other.

My grandmother, who I call Baba, died the first day of Sukkot, 2007; her husband, my zaidy (grandfather), died the day after Yom Kippur, 1988. Within six days of each other, twenty years apart.

Stones are the theme of the day. First, we put small stones on their gravestones, as custom dictates. (I’m not quite sure why we do it. My mom always said that it’s to show people were there, but I feel like there has to be more of a spiritual explanation there.) Second, we look down at Baba and Zaidy’s graves, at the bed of stones covering their bodies. (Baba always wanted to have the bed of stones on Zaidy’s grave, but she never did it. When she died, my mom and aunt finally got them both the bed. I’m not crazy about the look, but Baba wanted it.) Third, I look at Baba’s matzevah (gravestone), whose unveiling wasn’t even a year ago. (It still ticks me off that my cousin, who put together the gravestone, spelled her name wrong. But whatever. The look of the gravestones is still nice, they match and everything.)

Jacob slept with stones around his head one night while traveling, and they morphed into one when he woke up in the morning. He also moved the stone off the well for Rachel. Striking the rock instead of talking to it was why Moses died before entering Israel. He also commanded that the Torah be written on stones, so that way the Jews couldn’t forget them. Both men were associated with a lot of strong women. Jacob has his mother Rebecca, his wives Bilhah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Leah, and his daughter Dina; Moses had his biological mother Jochebed, adoptive mother Batya, sister Miriam, and wife Zipporah. I guess stones are a women's thing.

As I put my little rock on Baba’s matzevah, my heart twists when I remember the unveiling. Perakim (chapters) of tehillim (psalms), said in her memory. Only one said by a blood relative. Only three said by relatives at all. The rest said by complete strangers to me, and probably to her too. Just because they were all men. I wasn’t allowed to say a perek (chapter). Neither was my mom or my aunt. Women who were complete strangers weren’t allowed either. Only men who are complete strangers are allowed to say a perek of tehillim to elevate her nishama (soul).

We visit the other few relatives and friends right by Baba and Zaidy, then get in the car to go see my mother’s grandmother, who I call Bobbe. I never knew her, but she was very close with my mother, so I feel a connection to her. She was the first known woman in what I call the Line, the Line of strong women in our family. I wear the earrings she bought for my mom, gold balls with little notches as a design.

This area of the cemetery is older; the death dates on the gravestones are from the 40s and 50s. Bobbe died in 1976, though. She’s next to a few other family members who died more recently, too.

I get a little upset in the car on the way to Bobbe, but I manage to control myself. I put the rock on her matzevah, and I’m still okay. But I break down when Ma and I walk behind Bobbe and see Beyla Giti. Bobbe’s granddaughter, my mother’s first cousin, who was six when she died. She left this earth several years before her grandmother did.

The grave is for a small body, a child’s. It rips my heart out to see it, and I start to cry. I don’t even know how she died; I never wanted to ask. It says “yaldah yekara,” precious girl, on the matzevah. She was a girl. A little one. It makes me hurt even more.

It also hurts to know that none of these women had proper sendoffs. Their bodies were guarded by men, prepared by men, buried by men, eulogized by men, memorialized every year by men.

Why couldn’t my mom say Kaddish, the mourners' prayer, for my bobbe? Yes, it’s a burden to have to be in synagogue three times a day every day to say it, but it’s a burden every child takes on for his or her parent. But that burden went to son-in-law and cousin by marriage rather than daughters.

No. Not for my mom. I won’t let it be. When God takes her, she’ll get a year’s worth of Kaddish from me. Not her brother-in-law, not a cousin, not her nephew. Me.

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