Tag Archives: Jewish women

It’s Been 100 Years Since the First Bat Mitzvah

Every culture and society has its own ceremony or experience to mark the point in life in which a young person starts on the road to adulthood.

In Judaism, this commemoration is called Bar Mitzvah (for a boy) or Bat Mizvah (for a girl). Usually held around the child’s 13th birthday, it is both a religious experience and a time for family and friends to celebrate the new phase in this person’s life. While Bar Mitzvahs have been held for centuries, a Bat Mitzvah is a relatively new addition to the Jewish life cycle.

Last Friday was the 100th birthday of the first Bat Mitzvah. On March 18th of 1922, Judith Kaplan (daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism) became the first girl to officially celebrate her entrance into the world as a Jewish adult.

Coming only two years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, it was just reading from the Torah. It was a revolutionary act, opening the door for future generations of Jewish women to move beyond the traditional spheres of marriage, housework, and motherhood. Since then, it has become standard practice within most streams of Judaism that both girls and boys will have their turn on the bimah.

In honor of this anniversary, an Instagram account has been created to tell Kaplan’s story in a way to speaks to this generation of kids. It’s cute, charming, and reminds me of my own excitement of becoming a Bat Mitzvah almost 30 years ago.

If I am reminded of one thing, is that feminism, like all social movements, cannot exist in a bubble. Without allies, it is nearly impossible to turn slogans and ideas into reality. Rabbi Kaplan, in our modern vernacular, was a feminist ally. It is through him and his daughter, we would still be stuck in the dark ages and the outdated idea of what women can and cannot do.

Season 6 Netflix GIF by Gilmore Girls  - Find & Share on GIPHY

1 Comment

Filed under Feminism, History, Judaism

The Sisters of Auschwitz: The True Story of Two Jewish Sisters’ Resistance in the Heart of Nazi Territory Book Review

When one nation or people invades another, the decision to join the resistance is not one to be taken lightly. Knowing that you are constantly at death’s door, it requires a certain kind of bravery that could also be deemed as foolishness.

The Sisters of Auschwitz: The True Story of Two Jewish Sisters’ Resistance in the Heart of Nazi Territory, by Rox­ane van Iperen, was published in August. The book tells the story of two Dutch Jewish sisters, Janny Brilleslijper and Lien Brilleslijper. Less than a year after the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the lives of the sisters, their family, and every other Jew in the country begins to change for the worst. They have two options. They can either stay where they are and wait for the other shoe to drop. The other choice is to go into hiding and hope that they will all be alive at the end of the war.

The solution is to go into hiding in the woods. Known as “The High Nest“, the property is a safe house for the family, artists, and other resistance fighters. Just as it seems that the Allies are on the verge of taking back Europe, they are betrayed and sent to Auschwitz. Forced onto the train with them is Anne Frank and her family. As the two sets of siblings try to survive, Janny and Lien connect with Anne and her older sister, Margot. Waiting for liberation will test the sisters in every way possible, forcing them to rely on each other and an inner strength that may be the only thing keeping them alive.

When we talk about resistance, the conversation frequently revolves around men. Women are not given their due or an opportunity to tell the story. Having never heard of Janny and Lien Brilleslijper, it was another reminder of how badass Jewish women are. My problem with the book is that I was not feeling the danger and the tension of the narrative. I should have felt the stress and anxiety of what the characters were going through. Ultimately, I didn’t, which is highly dissapointing.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

4 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, Judaism

The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City Book Review

Food is more than the nourishment our body needs to survive. It tells the story of the people who prepared it.

The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City by Scott Seligman was published last year. One of the major tenets of traditional Judaism is keeping kosher. That means that certain foods are off limits. Meat and dairy dishes cannot be combined in the same meal. There must be two sets of dishes and two sets of preparation tools. Most of all, the only acceptable meat is kosher. The problem with kosher meat is that it is more expensive than its non-kosher counterpart.

In May of 1902, many Jewish families who resided in New York City were poor immigrants, barely struggling to get by. But in spite of the hardships, they were determined to maintain their traditions. That included the food they purchased and consumed. When the price of the animal based proteins rose beyond what many could afford, women took to the streets, believing that price gouges were responsible for the increase. What started out as a non-violent movement turned into a battle for the hearts and minds of the community. Led by women who lacked the education and opportunities of their uptown peers, it is a story of not just economic survival, but the average person fighting against the powerful.

This book is obviously a niche subject and right up my alley. This is my history and the women I come from. Instead of keeping silent, they stood up for themselves and their community. In doing so, these women blazed a path and helped to created the blueprint for the modern non-violent protest that we see today.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

9 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, New York City, Politics

Stolen Beauty: A Novel Book Review

If you can, imagine the following: you have lived a relatively peaceful life. Your family is comfortably settled without major problems. There are haters, but they have little to no effect on your day to day schedule. Then you are othered and everything you know is about to go out the window.

Stolen Beauty: A Novel, by, Laurie Lico Albanese was published in 2017. In the early 20th century, Adele Bloch-Bauer is a young newlywed who is at the top Vienna‘s social circle. When she meets artist Gustav Klimt, the mutual inspiration transpires beyond the canvas and the bedroom. But not even his gift with the paint brush can keep the growing anti-Semitism from reaching Adele.

Nearly 40 years later, Adele’s niece, Maria Altmann, is herself a newlywed. But the city she has known her entire life has turned against her after the Nazi Invasion. Suddenly, her Jewish faith has made her, her family, and her co-religionists outsiders. Forced out of her home and praying that her husband is released from prison, she has two choices. She can stay and hope that this is the worst of it. Or try to get out and save her family’s legacy from abroad.

A literary companion to the 2015 film, Woman in Gold, this book is wonderful. The switch between Adele in 1903 and Maria in the late 1930’s is seamless. Though history tells us that Maria would get out of Europe and eventually reclaim her family’s property, the question of when and how holds the reader until the last page.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History

The Woman with the Blue Star: A Novel Book Review

It is easy to judge someone based on a stereotype or a first impression. But when we get to know them, we hopefully will get to see the real person and not who we think they are.

Pam Jenoff‘s new book, The Woman with the Blue Star: A Novel, was published in May. In Krakow, Poland in 1942, 18-year-old Sadie Gault’s life has been turned upside down. Because she is Jewish, she and her parents have been forced to move into the Krakow Ghetto. When the Nazis decide that it is time to liquidate the ghetto, they escape into the sewers beneath the city. Hiding with her pregnant mother and another family, she looks up one day and sees a young woman her age looking back to her.

On the outside, Ella Stepanek is living a comfortable life (relatively speaking). Her Catholic faith has so far kept her alive and safe. But once she gets home, it is another story. Ella is the only one of her siblings still living at home. Both of her parents are deceased. Her stepmother would love nothing more than to have an empty house. She has also opened her doors, literally and figuratively to the new regime.

As the two girls become friends, Ella starts to provide Sadie with as many provisions as possible. But with both the war and the hunt for hidden Jews ramping up, they realize that the decisions that must be made have life-changing consequences.

I have been a fan of Jenoff for the last few years. She perfectly balances the historical record with fictional characters, telling stories that transcend the time and place in which they are set. I also very much appreciate that most, if not all of her protaganists are female. We can talk all we want about representation. But until writers, readers, and publishers step up, male protaganists will still dominate the world of fiction.

Reading this book, I am reminded that the Holocaust is not ancient history. Many who survived are no longer with us. Without their testimony and the recording of their experiences, this dark day in history will be lost to memory. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the younger generations to listen while we can and make sure that what they lived through is preserved, re-told, and never forgotten.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History

Milk Fed: A Novel Book Review

Food is more than the physical nourishment our body needs to function. It can also be stand in for something else in our life that has not been entirely dealt with.

In the new Melissa Broder novel published earlier this year, Milk Fed: A Novel, Los Angeles transplant Rachel was raised Jewish, but those days are long gone. Outside of her job at a talent agency, the most important thing is her physical appearance. She counts calories like the world is ending and can be found after work at the gym, furiously working off whatever she eat earlier that day. Following up on her therapist’s recommendation, she cuts of all communication with her mother for 90 days. Since she was little, Rachel has been constantly reminded to watch what she eat.

Shortly after, she meets Miriam, the zaftig employee behind the counter of one of Rachel’s favorite frozen yogurt places. Miriam is more orthodox in her practice of their mutual faith and intent on making sure that her soon to be new friend is well fed. Taken by Miriam, Rachel goes on a journey of family, faith, sex, and learning to love yourself.

I loved this book. Instead of being one of those obnoxious skinny women who makes the rest of us feel unattractive, Rachel is human, complicated, and completely relatable. I loved her emotional trek as she opened herself up to eating, Miriam (and everything Miriam represented), and learning to let go of the parental criticism that makes itself too comfortable in our consciousness.

Do I recommend it?

Absolutely.

3 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Books, Mental Health

The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir Book Review

Our names are more than just a random scrambling of letters. They are our identity, both internally and externally. They also have a say in our fate and the way we live our lives.

Noted writer and technology psychoanalyst Sherry Turkle published her memoir earlier this year. It is entitled The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir. For a good part of her life, Turkle lived with a secret that only those within her immediate family knew. Born in the late 1940’s in Brooklyn to a Jewish family, the man the world knew as her father was not her father. The man who contributed to half of her DNA was out of his daughter’s life. Knowing that she could never speak the truth, she learned to be empathetic to others. As she grew up, attended college, and became a full fledged adult, she learned to deal with her past, the growing addition of computers to our lives, and find her own way in the world.

I am going to be blunt. I was not impressed with this book. While I was very much hooked into the drama regarding her family, I was bored by her career path and various steps she took to get to where she is today professionally. Normally, this would be an enticing topic, given that she came of age during 2nd feminist wave in the 1960’s and 1970’s. But not even that or recognizing certain locations in borough we both grew up in was enough to make me like this memoir.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, New York City

The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos Book Review

When we think of war, we generally think of men on the battlefield and women keeping the home front going. But the reality is that women have waged war, but not in in the way we perceive it to be.

The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos by Judy Batalion, was published earlier this year. The book tells the story of a group of young Jewish women who actively fought against the Nazis in the Polish ghettos during World War II. Told in vivid detail using interviews, archival information, and written accounts, the author brings to light an aspect of this era in history that has been overlooked.

This book adds a new layer to the information we have about the Holocaust. I loved that each woman is given her time to shine. We are told that women are weak and emotional. We are incapable of being bold, brave, and courageous. The subjects of this book are the opposite. They know that death is waiting for them at every turn. But they cannot sit back and do nothing. Instead these young women used every tool at their disposal to save as many lives as they can.

I appreciated the epilogue in which the author sketches the lives of the survivors after the war is over. While some settled down into of normal life, others are haunted by those years and what they experienced. They lived with what we now know to be PTSD, creating a shadow that stayed with them years after peace was declared.

Though it is not the heart pounding thriller I thought it would be, it is still a good and a very important read.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, Mental Health

Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth Book Review

The best way to learn about a new culture is to speak to a local. They have the insight and experience that an outsider would never have.

Earlier this month, Israeli actress/ producer Noa Tishby published her first book. The Tel Aviv native seeks to understand and explain Israel as it is, without relying on the flashy headlines or the half truths. Using her firsthand experience, she speaks of Israel, both past and present, as it is, and not how some see it or wish it could be.

What I love about this book is how down to earth and accessible it is. Tishby‘s voice is that of the average person, not the academic or historian who usually writes about this topic. That, I believe, provides an opportunity for a dialogue that should have happened long ago.

If you only read two chapters, I highly recommend chapters on BDS and the virulent anti-Israeli sentiment (which is really antisemitism). Even for those who are well versed on the topic, it was an eye opener.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

6 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Books, History, International News, Podcast, Television, World News

The Passover Story is Nothing Without the Women

It is not uncommon to open a history book and see a complete profile of a man. A woman, however is at best given a paragraph or a footnote and at worst, ignored completely.

The Jewish holiday of Passover starts this weekend. Though Moses is the protagonist of the story, his story would be nothing without the women around him. Given the many dangers around them, the easier thing would have been to say and do nothing. But instead, they stepped up, helping Moses to succeed and paving the way for Jewish women to do the same in their own eras.

  • Shifra and Puah: Shifra and Puah are the midwives who were responsible for bringing Hebrew children into the world. Brought before Pharaoh, they are told to kill every male newborn. They claim that they are unable to do this because by the time they get to the mother, the baby has already arrived.
  • Yocheved: Moses’s mother was facing a parent’s worst nightmare. Infant boys, when discovered by Pharaoh’s soldiers, were taken to the Nile and drowned. The only way she can save her son is to put him in a basket, send it floating down the Nile and pray that he would survive.
  • Bithia or Batya (sometimes referred to as the Egyptian Princess): Finding baby Moses in his basket as she washes up in the river, it is obvious that this child is of the Hebrew faith. Instead of reporting this discovery and sending him to his death, she adopts Moses and raises him as her own.
  • Miriam: Miriam is Yocheved’s only daughter. Not only does she watch over her baby brother, but she approaches the Princess, asking if she needs a wet nurse. That wet nurse is her mother. Years later, when Hebrews are wandering through the desert, it is Miriam who leads the former slaves via song to get to the promised land.
  • Tziporah: Tziporah is Moses’s wife. Though she is Midianite Princess and not of the Hebrew faith, she embraces his heritage as her own. Traveling with him back to Egypt, she encourages Moses to face his destiny and become the man who will lead his people to freedom.
To everyone who celebrates, have a Happy Passover.
Matzo Ball Wine GIF by Chabad.org - Find & Share on GIPHY

5 Comments

Filed under Feminism, History, Movies