Finding My Place

What I didn’t learn as a kid:


Jewish history before 1900 or outside the US

The difference between the Torah and the Talmud

Adon olam

Any prayer other than the sh’ma

What I did learn as a kid:

Other people hate Jews and often try to kill them.

Country clubs and neighborhoods used to be officially restricted, and they say they’re not any more but they still are, really.

Jewish tradition requires us to behave ethically, and our history of persecution makes us allies to those who are persecuted today.

How to make gefilte fish.

The hora.

What happened since:

I found a home in Reconstructionist Judaism, in a congregation that welcomed me even though at first I had no idea what was going on during the service.

I learned to read Hebrew (phonetically and slowly, but hey).

I learned to leyn Torah.

I started wearing a kipah and tallit to services.

I stopped saying I was going to temple and started telling people I was going to shul.

I argued with my husband about kashrut while he was studying for his conversion (he was in favor of it. I was not).

I became president of our congregation. Twice.

I chanted Kol Nidre.

Judaism became part of my daily life.

I’ve written about my personal experience of Judaism on my own blog. If you check out Two Women Blogging, you’ll learn that I’m Jay, a primary care doc, adoptive mother of an eight-year-old daughter, married to a guy who goes by Sam in the blogosphere, and oh, yeah, I’m Jewish, and feminist, and leaning toward Socialist in my politics. I’m honored to be here with Brown Shoes and The Girl Detective (who has teh most awesome blogging name evah) and to have the opportunity to write about Judaism and social justice and whatever else comes to mind.

Ehud Olmert to resign

Good. Riddance.

Hechsher Tzedek and why the wrangling matters

Failed Messiah writes of the feud between the Orthodox (or in this case, Chabad Lubavitch) and Conservative movements over the Hechsher Tzedek in light of the Agriprocessor abuses, and also about the attempts to smear the name of Rabbi Allen.

Why does this matter? If the accounts are to be believed, Agriprocessors operated in a manner that put them among the worst of the slaughterhouse industry, an industry not at all noted for ethical or decent treatment of floor workers. Their behavior has been inexcusably corrupt, and a black mark on Jews because of the way society works – when a Jew does something bad and this act gets publicity, it serves as a told-you-so to everyone who believed these to be true of all Jews in the first place.

And so, the question becomes – why would I highlight, specifically, conflicts between the Orthodox and Conservative movements? To me, the Orthodox objection is very telling – specifically, it’s seen as an attempt to gain control of kashrut certification, specifically, away from the Orthodox. Given the abuses that have become undeniable under the umbrella of these kashrut certification, this speaks to the likelihood that these Orthodox organizations care more about their own power to label meat as slaughter a certain, specific way, than they do about, say, not holding their workers to modern-day indentured servitude and ensnaring them to be tried as criminals on charges they don’t understand.

In short, what the objection amounts to is an idea that having power to define what is and isn’t Jewish, and being able to singly monopolize that power, is more important to these people than any semblance of humanity or concern for the ethical treatment of plant workers. That is what is particularly heinous about the conflict here; it’s about power, pure and simple, and a complete abdication of the human element of Judaism, which advocates paying your workers fairly, not abusing them, and all the other things that should constitute basic decency and respect for humanity.

Italy and the Roma

From Devious Diva, more updates on the situation of the Roma in Italy.

Many people are openly hostile to the Roma, accusing them – especially the newer arrivals – of avoiding work in favour of theft and other crime and shutting themselves off from mainstream Italian society in squalid, illegal camps. Rights groups working with Roma people say they face severe discrimination, some of it tied to more general anti-Romanian and anti-immigrant feeling.

Italy’s legal system has already indicated there is nothing to stop discrimination against Roma. In a ruling handed down earlier this year, but only recently reported, the country’s highest appeal court ruled in the case of six people accused of anti-Gypsy racial propaganda that it was acceptable to single out Roma on the basis that they are thieves.

Now, while it begins to sink in why Jews ought to vehemently oppose this from wherever possible, some attention ought to be paid to pictures that surfaced, pictures of sunbathers just metres away from the bodies of two drowned Roma girls.

Metres away. From bodies of dead girls. Dead human beings. And the beach carried on like nothing had ever happened.
From CNN. (Warning: photos might be disturbing)

The Italian organization EveryOneGroup. (Warning: photos might be disturbing)

This attitude, sadly, is becoming the norm in countries all across the West. At what point is enough enough, and we agree to start treating human beings like human beings?

Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church

Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba
b’al’ma di v’ra khir’utei
v’yam’likh mal’khutei b’chayeikhon uv’yomeikhon
uv’chayei d’khol beit yis’ra’eil
ba’agala uviz’man kariv v’im’ru

It saddens me endlessly to see violence brought to a sanctuary, a building of peace and community – and it should sadden and anger all of us when radio personalities are allowed to spew venom and then hide behind a “joke” as though suggesting someone die merely for disagreeing politically is the height of humor, and then get to deny any culpability for creating a toxic atmosphere.

Or, as Brad Hicks says,

No, what we’re calling for is for Americans to wake up, and change their attitudes. We want to live in an America where when a prominent spokesperson for a political party “jokes” about sending their audience out to mass-murder their political opponents, it should and must shock our consciences. That person must become the kind of instant social pariah that people quite justly become when they make openly racist remarks. What you talk about in private, with people who know you’re not serious, is one thing; what they broadcast or publish to an eager audience gets innocent people killed by the dozens, and if that doesn’t bother them enough to stop them from continuing to do it, then there is just plain something that malevolently wrong with them, something just that deeply disgusting about them. And no matter what your politics are, if you aren’t just plainly that disgusted about their ongoing eliminationist rhetoric, there’s something wrong with you, too.

Leviticus 19:16

The blogosphere brings us news of an Iranian woman sentenced to death because her husband forced her into prostitution to support his heroin habit. Not much to say here – just a short list of links covering the story which have information on how to help.

The Curvature
Renee at Womanist Musings

Equality Now has more information, it would seem.

More links as they’re found.

Mr. America, to the rescue!

(via La Chola):

I am purposefully not going into any detail about the work she does, because I don’t want anybody to think that this clip is vile and disgusting because the woman does amazing work. I want people to see this for what it is–a white man feeling like he can control, humiliate, and imply sexual violence against a brown woman–all while be recorded for public broadcast.

In other words, these men are demonstrating the intersection of sexism and racism. In keeping with the tone of BFP’s post, I’m not mentioning the work she does either, but for what can be done, for anyone that can do something, go here.

Kyle Payne update

Eleanor’s Trousers, the original breaker of this story to the blogging world at large, has an update on what is meant by an open sentencing in the state of Iowa from the woman who reported this story:

Some individuals who have commented to the various postings on Payne have stated that he is scheduled to have an “open sentencing” on Aug. 11 at the Buena Vista County Courthouse, and that anyone who attends will have an opportunity to speak. This is not totally correct.

An “open sentencing” in the state of Iowa means that the public can attend, but not that the public can speak. While it always looks good to have people show up in support of the prosecution — and I’d personally really like to see some strong support in the courtroom — the fact is that not everyone is going to be able to speak.

For those who have a unique interest in the case… for instance, have served as advocates or can somehow speak with authority as to how horrible Payne’s actions were… get in touch with me.

If you want to share your (civil) thoughts about this incident prior to sentencing, your best bet is to write to the judge that will preside over the sentencing:
District Court Judge Don E. Courtney
Buena Vista County Courthouse
215 E Fifth St.
Storm Lake, IA 50588

I’d encourage those with an interest to write a letter to the judge – civil and polite, as Ms. Waddington suggests.

(Thanks to Eleanor for the update.)

If Dignity Doesn’t Start With the Body, Then Where?

The Angry Black Woman wrote about a story where a surgeon is getting sued for putting a rub-on tattoo on the victim’s stomach (below the panty line, no less) while the victim was anesthetized. As the articlepoints out, for an operation on herniated discs, she would’ve been lying on her stomach, which meant that the surgeon had to flip her over to do it.

Back to karnythia at The Angry Black Woman, who makes many excellent points overall which definitely apply to the commentors of the original article who are shocked, shocked, that this woman would want to send a message to people who think this is OK, since the law leaves her little other recourse:

Somehow we’ve gotten stuck in this idea that a woman’s valuing of her body as a part of her self comes second because her first role is to belong to the world at large. Women who refuse to accept that paradigm and insist on being recognized as people first whether it be by yelling back at catcallers, refusing to let strangers touch them, or filing suit when they feel they’ve been violated are then castigated for having the temerity to think that they can dictate what happens to their bodies.

It boggles my mind that this has to be spelled out for people, but spelled out it is, and I’d like to add my agreement here – allowing for the inviolable right to self-determination, which we all are supposed to have here on this planet – starts with bodily autonomy. If we don’t have that, then we have nothing. This woman’s body, all people’s bodies, are theirs and theirs alone.

Of course, none of this is to say this surgeon is merely a sexist as many of the commenters seem to be: the fact that he’s done this before and remains fairly unapologetic points to some sociopathy as well – when your work involves essentially repairing a human body as a techonologist might re-solder some surface-mount ICs onto a damaged circuit board, dehumanization is pretty inevitable. The person’s unconscious, and in some surgeries, the heart is supposed to stop; the body becomes a task to complete, a damaged machine, not a real person. Perhaps the change needs to be made in medical ethics programs – not being a med student, I have no real knowledge of what many of these might entail, so it’s hard to say – or maybe we need to also stop enabling these kinds of behaviors because doctors are, after all, gods among men!

In summary, this is a problem of two parts – sexism in our society, specifically a lack of respect for bodily autonomy, coupled with enabling the behavior of those potential sociopaths with god complexes will allow these sorts of things to continue. While this person wasn’t physically harmed, that doesn’t make this behavior acceptable – such a person might, potentially, be motivated to take the behavior further when they stop seeing any ramifications as a consequence for their actions.

Why Heeb Sucks: The Swimsuit Edition

Okay, okay, maybe the title’s a bit harsh – I’ve only ever read one issue of Heeb. But their new marketing ploy – a pull-out calendar featuring “the six most beautiful Jewish women in the world” – does indeed suck.

My problem with a Jewish swimsuit calendar is the same as my problem with any swimsuit calendar: it presumes an entirely male audience (you could argue that it’s geared toward lesbians, too, but I don’t think the editors really thought about that) and reduces its female readers’ identities to objects to be enjoyed by that male audience. (I believe we feminists even have a word for that.) I don’t mind the enjoyment of others’ bodies in general – it’s just when a swimsuit calendar for a mixed-gender audience is completely female that we have a problem. Can you imagine the outcry if Heeb released a male swimsuit calendar? Or even a calendar with both men and women? “NO!” horrified heterosexual male readers would shriek. “GET IT AWAY! OBSCENE! UNCLEAN! I’M NOT GAY! WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS!? I’LL SUE! OH, LORD, HELP ME, I’M NOT GAAAAY!” Yet women are expected to accept it without question.

Has Heeb forgotten that it has female readers? Well, probably not. Did they decide that their female readers didn’t matter? Somehow, I doubt that, too. In a remarkable coincidence, KaeLyn has a new post up on Feministe about porn and feminism which touches on many of the same issues. In the thread, commenter shy points out that

So far, “feminist porn” seems to be about women reveling in the glory of their own bodies and sexuality. That’s great, and I’m glad they get off on it, and perhaps it’s inspiring to me in a “gee, I wish I was that comfortable with my own body” kind of way, but it’s not the same thing as being turned on. It’s more like “porn for feminist men” – along with “by women for women”, which still leaves me out.

As a mostly heterosexual woman, I feel that I have internalized the male gaze to the extent that now I am supposed to be (and sometimes am) turned on by naked women and expressions of female sexuality.

(Emphasis mine.)

That’s it. That’s exactly it. (I’m really glad I didn’t get around to blogging this until today.) Even heterosexual women are expected to be titillated solely by the male gaze. The concept of men as sexual objects – owners of bodies that can and should arouse – barely exists in popular consciousness. If heterosexual women want to experience sexuality, we’re forced to look at our own images and imagine what will happen to them as a consequence of our objectification.

On the Heeb thread, meanwhile, notoriousJ.A.P. (gotta love these hipsters) points out that, for a calendar supposedly dedicated to showcasing beautiful Jewish girls, the woman displayed on the page looks suspiciously Aryan. It’s true: perfect blonde hair, button nose, bronzed-yet-white skin. “If Heeb has selected six women who look like shiksas but happen to be Jewish,” she says, “it’s really not sending such a positive message.”

I’ll admit that I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, it is dismaying that Jewish looks still seem to fall outside of what’s acceptable; I’d be very surprised if any of the models had, say, a hooked nose or frizzy hair. Even the fact that those two adjectives have such negative connotations tells you a lot about how we view those body types.

On the other hand, I’m extremely wary of arguments over what constitutes being “Jewish enough.” Am I more Jewish than that model because I look a little more Jewish? Am I – and my looks – more authentic? Why? What does it even mean to look Jewish, when Jewishness crosses practically every racial and ethnic line imaginable? (Here’s a relevant anecdote: a couple of weeks ago a friend of mine said she’s always considered my hair blonde. It’s mostly brown, but it does lighten near the ends. I was surprised by how much her comment dismayed me. I don’t want blonde hair. I want to look Jewish, and blonde hair isn’t Jewish enough. Reader, I actually considered dying it before I came to my senses.)

Anyway, maybe someone who has seen the calendar can enlighten us on the looks of the other five models. (If I come across the magazine at a newsstand, I’ll look through it, but I don’t want to spend money on it.) Jill alerted me to this post by Sascha Elise Cohen, who makes another salient point about the calendar:

Ever notice that the porn industry loves the Catholic Schoolgirl but ignores her Hebrew Schoolgirl counterpart? And did you know that only one Miss America has ever been a Jewess? Never fear. The time has finally come for Jewish women to be objectified and fetishized just like spicy Latinas, ebony beauties, and exotic, fine-boned China dolls.

For decades the Jewish woman has found herself woefully deprived of being reduced to her sex appeal. Apparently, she was too busy complaining, spending other people’s money, and going to law school. For Jewish men–at least the ones on tv–cultural assimilation meant settling down with a bland-tempered, fair-haired shiksa (see Mad About You, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and The War at Home). For women, it meant nose jobs and arm waxes. To add insult to injury, Barbie dolls come in nearly every shade of the ethnic rainbow, except Sephardic.

Hurray. Looks like we’ve arrived, eh, girls? We’re finally liberated enough to share everyone else’s oppression.


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