Some problems with naming

The term “Jewish feminism” specifically refers to feminism within Judaism – ie, making the religion and its practices more egalitarian. What about secular Jewish feminists? Jewish feminists who want their feminism to be within an ethnic Jewish framework, with a culturally Jewish support network? Jewish feminists whose hearts beat faster when the words women and radical and Judeo-Arabic/Ladino/Yiddish are all in the same sentence? What does such a feminism even look like in practice?

And if I light candles on Friday nights and, throughout the rest of the week, crave the calm that follows, am I still completely secular?


What’s the word for someone who believes that if the nation-state system is what we’re dealing with, then Jews have the right to an autonomous nation-state, and that it’s pretty noticeable when people seem the most eager to talk about questioning nation-states when the topic is the Jewish one – BUT that there’s no way to form an ethnicity/religion-based nation-state without displacing/oppressing another group of people, and doing so is contrary to doikayt anyway – BUT that since the Jewish state already exists, the question is moot, and now we should all just stop arguing and focus on equal rights for non-Jews in Israel and Palestine – BUT that it won’t be moot anymore if the non-Jewish population in Israel/Palestine continues to rise? As I’ve written before, I can put on Zionist, anti-Zionist, non-Zionist and post-Zionist caps within the course of a single thought, and remain solidly leftist all the while.


What do you call it when all your dreams center on women, but in waking life all you’re into is men? What do you call it when you perform pretty femme, and enjoy performing femme, but don’t often feel very femme? (“Poor body image,” maybe? How many of my issues are socially constructed, and how many just come from personal baggage? Almost every time I played pretend as a kid, I’d pretend to be a male character. In this video interview I chalked it up to a lack of good female characters in kids’ pop culture, and I think that’s true – but over the past couple of years, I’ve begun to suspect that there was more to it than that.)


Is the term “guerrilla gardener” offensive to actual guerrillas?


I personally identify as and feel white, but I hate it when people claim that Ashkenazi Jews are required to identify as and feel white, because many of us don’t. If the construction of whiteness – see Noel Ignatiev’s essay “Immigrants and Whites” for an explanation – is designed to be an absence of markers, are you still white if you’re visibly marked with sidelocks or a headscarf? I’ve heard Orthodox Jews report that no, they aren’t – or, well, they don’t feel like it, at least.


When I was growing up, Jewishness was defined solely in terms of religion, and more specifically, in negatives: Jews didn’t believe Jesus was the messiah, Jews didn’t celebrate Christmas. I never wondered how, if I did celebrate Christmas and belonged to an interfaith family that did believe, at least on the surface, that Jesus was the messiah, I could still be a Jew – I just knew that I was, or a half-Jew at least, and figured that it would make sense eventually. One of my first deep philosophical questions was whether I could believe Jesus was the messiah and not believe it at the same time.

Alain Badiou defines a Jew (although is it really his place to go around defining Jews? I know he made a controversial statement about the Holocaust, although I never read it firsthand) as anyone who can’t say they’re not a Jew. Again with the negatives – but given issues like intermarriage and conversion (either to or from Judaism), it does make a lot of sense.


“Calendula” is not just a fancier name for “marigold.” Different types of marigolds have different blooming seasons. The owners of the website that listed calendulas – a winter flower – as a good companion crop for basil need to be sacked.


If I’d known that Julie is, in the minds of 99% of the English-speaking population of the world, not a nickname for Julia but rather a completely different name, I would have never started going by it. Every time I meet someone! “Is your name Julie or Julia? Both? But… but… how? How!?” It’s too late to turn back now – I no longer see myself as a Julia, except on paper.


For a brief time in high school, my sister wore a cross necklace and attended Christian rock concerts at Angel Stadium. She would have been within her rights to call herself a Jewish Christian, even though it would have driven people up the wall. She’s never identified as Jewish, though. Instead of two half-Jews, my parents produced one Jew and one WASP. I’ve always thought it has something to do with the fact that I look Jewish and she doesn’t. We don’t look like sisters at all.

She’s having a chuppah and a glass at her wedding, though! I was thrilled when she asked my advice about it, even though that advice was whether our Jewish relatives would think it was weird. My response: “Of course they won’t think it’s weird! Why in the world would they think it was weird!? I was afraid they’d think my wedding was weird, too.”


The name of this site is Modern Mitzvot. Is what I’ve written mitzvot? No. Well, yes. Okay, sort of.

Jewish Mother

Translation below the fold. Do read the original, though, even if you don’t know Yiddish; the translation has a completely different rhythm. This poem plays on the iminutive form of the language, in which a noun is “reduced” twice to express intimacy and love. Kats (cat), for example, becomes ketsl (kitty or kitten), then ketsele (little kitten). The repetition of the sounds echoes the blur of “love-talk” that the author remembers from throughout her childhood. You can catch a hint of admonition in the line “not like a little animal,” and one could, if one were feeling anti-Semitic or misogynist, read the poem as an example of the type of smothering, obsessive Ashkenazi mother found in works like Portnoy’s Complaint, but the only reason it could be read as playing into the stereotype is because the stereotype already exists, waiting to distort it.

Mame Loshn (Mother Tongue)
by Sarah Traister Moskovitz

Sorele, zisele, mamele, sheyninke
Tayerinke, liubenyu, malakhl kleyninke
Zisinke Kroynenyu, bubelyu, liubelyu
Hertsele, pupele, zisele, gutele

Likhtiker peneml
Libinke eygelekh
Feyinke hentelekh
Zgrabninke fiselekh

Kluginke kepele
Glantsike herelekh
Roitinke bekelekh
Tseyndelekh perelekh
Es oif di lokshelekh
Pupikl, merelekh

Kum aher ketsele
Sphil zikh sheyn feygele
Nisht vild vi a khayele
Mayn meydele, freydele

Liu liu liu oytserl
Mayn kosher kind
Eyns in der velt mayns
Shlof ruik atsind

Continue reading

They’re More Jewish Than We Are, Mommy ~ by Jay

Just a few days before Julie wrote her elegy in search of community, Sam and I took Eve to Target to buy some jeans. You know that thing kids do when all of sudden everything they’re wearing is too small? Saturday afternoon, after dance class and lunch, we headed off to the shopping center. We drove up our street and passed a family walking home from the Orthodox shul.

Mommy, where are they going? They’re wearing kipot. Are they Jewish?

Yes, they are. They’re going home for lunch after services.

How come they’re walking? It’s cold out.

Some people don’t drive their cars on Shabbat.

We drive our car.

Yes, we do. Every family and every community makes their own decision about how to observe Shabbat.

So they’re more Jewish than we are.

No, they’re not. We’re all Jewish, and we’re just as Jewish as anybody else.

And I pray that she believes me. I don’t want her to feel what I felt. I don’t want her to stand on the fringes of Judaism, feeling inauthentic, fraudulent, uneducated. Between the English lit degree and the years of singing choral music, I found myself at 35 more comfortable in a church service – almost any Protestant service in the US – than in a synagogue that didn’t use the Union Prayer Book of my youth. I tell Eve that everyone who is Jewish counts the same, but I sure didn’t feel that way.

My parents never seemed to question their authenticity as Jews. My mother had to stop competing in figure skating because Jews weren’t allowed in the state finals. My father was admitted to an Ivy League school in the days of an overt Jewish quota, and his father went to medical school because Jews weren’t admitted to the PhD program in biology at Johns Hopkins. If that didn’t make you authentic, well, what did?

I needed more, and I found it. I learned to read Hebrew and lead services. I started using the lit crit skills I’d developed to swim in Torah. I replaced the Missa Solemnis in my head with four different tunes to Mah Tovu. I want to save my daughter from the sense of inauthenticity that set my feet on that path, but I know that it is the journey – for I am still traveling – that makes my life deeper and richer. I have claimed my own Judaism. If I had learned as a child everything I feel I missed, I would still have had to dive into something unknown to make it mine. That is who I am.

Eve will have to claim hers. I don’t know yet what it will look like; neither does she. She will have the education I lacked, but she doesn’t have a biological connection to Judaism. She tells us now that she will become Christian (it’s all one religion to her) when she’s a grownup, so she can have Christmas trees and Easter candy, and perhaps she will. All I can do is hold my belief that she is Jewish; she is authentically Jewish; we are all diferent, but we are all really Jews.

Easter in Orange County

Last Sunday, sitting on the steps next to my container garden outside my Long Beach apartment, I heard a group of people singing in the next building. I thought of the seder I’d had a couple of nights before; my friends and I had sung the Ma Nishtana, which I only learned a few years ago and forget every year. Only two of the guests remembered the melody at first, but it only took a line or two for it to come back to the rest of us. I wondered if the neighbors could hear us. I’ve never had an anti-Semitic incident in this neighborhood, so I thought it’d be kind of cool if on the other side of our open windows, people were listening to us sing.

I watched families walking in and out of apartments, carrying children, greeting relatives. I smiled as I listened to the singing. Then I realized it wasn’t a hymn or some other Easter song – they were all singing a pop song. Blink 182 or something.

Oh. Well, it was still nice to hear singing. Yellow jackets buzzed around my bacopas. My bean seedlings were just starting to twine around the railing, and my lavender was blooming like the world was going to end.


According to the Slingshot Collective, “the modern world is the ugliest, saddest, dirtiest, and most stressful and dangerous place humans have ever created.” I don’t know if it’s the ugliest, the saddest, or the est of any of those other things, but many parts of it certainly are ugly and sad. I was thinking about that quote, along with various discussions I’ve witnessed about the “lack” of white American culture – whiteness as negative space – and white Americans’ need to appropriate more exotic cultures, when I tested a theory out on my husband: that the United States has one of the shallowest national cultures on the planet. Continue reading

Nadya Suleman Receives Death Threats

From the AP wire:

LOS ANGELES – Police said Thursday they will investigate death threats against octuplet mom Nadya Suleman and advise her publicist on how to handle a torrent of other nasty messages that have flooded his office.

Word that the 33-year-old single, unemployed mother is receiving public assistance to care for the 14 children she conceived through in vitro fertilization has stoked furor among many people.

Police Lt. John Romero said officers were meeting with Suleman’s publicist Mike Furtney about the flood of angry phone calls and e-mail messages against Suleman, her children and Furtney.

“We are aware of the media accounts of the threats, and that they are being sent to the West Los Angeles detectives for appropriate action,” Romero said.

Furtney said 500 new e-mails were received early Thursday.

The logic here is impeccable. I don’t like the fact that I will have to indirectly help pay to take care of this woman’s children. Therefore, I will kill her, necessitating several foster parents, and thus HEIGHTEN the cost to the state, which I will still have to help pay.

Kugelmass has it right: this actually has very little to do with who has to pay what and how many kids an unemployed single mother should or shouldn’t have. You don’t get this type of widespread, hyper-violent reaction from a question of economics – not even, I would argue, from people disgusted with the Wall Street bailouts. No, this is about “the worship of motherhood and the hatred of mothers.” And I don’t think you can have one without the other.

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

Eldercare: Not Just For Chicks

When rigid gender roles are enforced, everyone loses. From the New York Times:

Mr. Nicholson, 53, is part of a growing number of men who are providing primary care for their aging parents, usually their mothers.

The Alzheimer’s Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving estimate that men make up nearly 40 percent of family care providers now, up from 19 percent in a 1996 study by the Alzheimer’s Association. About 17 million men are caring for an adult.

“It used to be that when men said, ‘I’ll always take care of my mother,’ it meant, ‘My wife will always take care of my mother,’ ” said Carol Levine, director of the families and health care project at the United Hospital Fund. “But now, more and more men are doing it.”

Often they are overshadowed by their female counterparts and faced with employers, friends, support organizations and sometimes even parents who view caregiving as an essentially female role. Male caregivers are more likely to say they feel unprepared for the role and become socially isolated, and less likely to ask for help.

Women still provide the bulk of family care, especially intimate tasks like bathing and dressing. At support groups, which are predominantly made up of women, many women complain that their brothers are treated like heroes just for showing up.

Whoo hoo!

From the AP wire:

Miami judge rules against Florida gay adoption ban

MIAMI – A judge on Tuesday ruled that a strict Florida law that blocks gay people from adopting children is unconstitutional, declaring there was no legal or scientific reason for sexual orientation alone to prohibit anyone from adopting.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman said the 31-year-old law violates equal protection rights for the children and their prospective gay parents, rejecting the state’s arguments that there is “a supposed dark cloud hovering over homes of homosexuals and their children.”

She noted that gay people are allowed to be foster parents in Florida. “There is no rational basis to prohibit gay parents from adopting,” she wrote in a 53-page ruling.

Florida is the only state with an outright ban on gay adoption. Arkansas voters last month approved a measure similar to a law in Utah that bans any unmarried straight or gay couples from adopting or fostering children. Mississippi bans gay couples, but not single gays, from adopting.

The ruling means that Martin Gill, 47, and his male partner can adopt two brothers, ages 4 and 8, whom he has cared for as foster children since December 2004.

“I’ve never seen myself as less than anybody else,” Gill said. “We’re very grateful. Today, I’ve cried the first tears of joy in my life.”

But won’t this give our precious children a case of THE GAYS!?

The state planned a swift appeal, likely setting up a battle that could reach the Florida Supreme Court. A judge in gay-friendly Key West also found the law unconstitutional in September, but that ruling has not been appealed and has limited legal reach.

The state presented experts who claimed there was a higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse among gay couples, that they were more unstable than heterosexual unions and that the children of gay couples suffer a societal stigma.

Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association all support permitting same-sex couples to adopt.

…oh. Forget The Gays – it is THE ALCOHOLS and THE SINGLES and THE STIGMASES that we must protect the precious children from! I once had a roommate who’d been raised by two mothers. She had MANY ALCOHOLS and THE STIGMA, and also I am sure her parents are now BROKEN-UPPED because of their being lesbians, who are unstable, as we know.

Ahem. Anyway, let me repeat: whoo hoo! I can only imagine how good it must feel to know that the children you love now have a permanent place in your home.