a thought

Just finished reading Rodger Kamenetz’s The Jew in the Lotus, which made me think seriously about my love/hate relationship with spirituality. Here’s the part that stood out for me the most:

…to my surprise, I saw a thangka [a Tibetan devotional painting] depicting a dakini, or goddess, dancing next to a large Jewish star. In tantric Buddhism, the six-pointed star is a symbol of the cervix. This is a coincidence worth meditating on. In Judaism, the star is proudly displayed on the flag of Israel. It represents the magen david, the shield of King David. A shield is the outermost layer of protection, what one thrusts out to the world as a mark of identity and a sign of God’s protection. A cervix is in a sense an esoteric part of the body, hidden within, a mystery, the neck of the womb, the channel through which all life emerges. It is purely and uniquely feminine.

In part, this coincidence shows once again how Jewish and Tibetan culture have common historical influences. The six-pointed star originated in ancient Mesopotamia as a symbol of fertility. It did not become a specifically Jewish symbol until the late Middle Ages. The same symbol came into India with the Aryans, where it represented Shakti, the Mother. It entered Tibet along with the teachings of the Hindu tantric tradition.

Think about that next time you put on your necklace. It’s common for women to wear shields. What if it were as common for men to wear doors?

On Women, Friendship, and Abuse

Before dating the guy I’d eventually marry, I was involved in two long-term abusive heterosexual relationships. The first one was mildly abusive, the second one more explicit. The first one didn’t like women very much, and the second one liked them but saw them as interchangeable. Both of them profoundly influenced the way I view myself and interact with other people, especially men.

But my first and most enduring abusive relationships were with girls and young women. I don’t have a single close friend from K-12 left in my life because almost all of them were abusers. Those who weren’t abusers I broke off contact with anyway, because I never felt comfortable around them. There was one childhood friendship in particular in which, when she failed to abuse me, I abused her instead. (I’m so sorry, A. I still think about you.)

Because of that string of abusive relationships – and the very specific, almost eerie pattern of the abuse – I remain unable to really let my guard down around any woman. It’s taken me years to realize how deeply those childhood and adolescent relationships affected my sense of self. When the attendants at my wedding gave their speeches, every single one focused on my husband – not because few people like me, but because few people really know me (which isn’t to say that it didn’t hurt pretty badly. They could have made an effort, you know?). I literally do not know how to form strong bonds with other women. This is a skill I was never taught.

Divide and conquer.

How has abuse shaped your life and your sense of self? In what ways do you find yourself reenacting, or waiting to reenact, destructive behaviors you learned when you were young? (I’m sure I don’t need to say this, but anonymous comments are welcome.)

Two examples of horizontal hostility

1) A feminist deciding that the main focus of her activism will be attacking women who she thinks are doing feminism wrong.

2) A Jew deciding that because anti-Semitism wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Israel, he or she will end anti-Semitism by attacking other Jews.

There’s a reason some targets are so easy.

These are the kinds of posts I write when lots of little things add up.

Why I Want a Wife

The picture won’t fit here, but Sociological Images has a post up about The Occasional Wife – a business that sends out (I’m assuming) women to clean homes, organize offices, and do any other miscellaneous chores “you” might need. The tagline is “The Modern Solution to Your Busy Life.”

On a totally coincidental note, I’m feeling this urge to post this excerpt from Judy Brady’s “Why I Want a Wife,” which appeared in Ms. Magazine in the 70s:

I would like to go back to school so that I can become economically independent, support myself, and, if need be, support those dependent upon me. I want a wife who will work and send me to school. And while I am going to school, I want a wife to take care of my children. I want a wife to keep track of the children’s doctor and dentist appointments. And to keep track of mine, too…. I want a wife who will not bother me with rambling complaints about a wife’s duties. But I want a wife who will listen to me when I feel the need to explain a rather difficult point I have come across in my course studies. And I want a wife who will type my papers for me when I have written them…. If, by chance, I find another person more suitable as a wife than the wife I already have, I want the liberty to replace my present wife with another one. Naturally, I will expect a fresh, new life; my wife will take the children and be solely responsible for them so that I am left free.

My God, who wouldn’t want a wife?

Erasing Jewish Women

Bea Arthur was born Bernice Frankel. I didn’t find that out until the day she died.

Kirsten Fermaglich writes, “Had Maude been labeled ‘a Jewish mother,’ her courage and fiery independence probably would have been caricatured as insignificant nagging. The decision to make Maude a WASP allowed her to be a “prototypical woman” and thus an icon of the women’s movement.” Cole at JVoices responds: “Fermaglich outlining that to be an ‘icon’ meant erasing race and ethnicity, requires that we ask the question, if the character ‘had to be a WASP,’ whose women’s movement then were they really talking about and portraying?!”

The eternal question.

Lately I’ve been researching female Ashkenazi writers. Anna Margolin, Fradel Stock, Elza Frydrych Shatzkin. Margolin died a recluse who requested that her tombstone say that she’d “wasted her life/On trash, on nothing;”* Stock was institutionalized and died in a sanatorium; Shatzkin killed herself at age 25. Meanwhile, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Sholem Aleichem (and then Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran Foer…) enjoyed immense and lasting acclaim. I read Stock’s “The Shorn Head” and found it exquisitely sad – it’s about a young Jewish widow trying, unsuccessfully, to grow against rigid gender roles. The character isn’t plucky or resilient; the psychic toll of oppression is evident throughout the story. Margolin, whose work explored the silencing of women, wrote about “pressure in her throat, obstruction; imagining growths, tumors.”* I’ve felt that – tightness in my solar plexus and my chest. Actual pain in my throat. Stress and emotions are physical. The body responds to the mind responds to the body.

Anyone with an MFA knows about the attrition rate after grad school – writers who go back out into the real world and fail to get published (enough), or gradually give up on “becoming” writers, or both. They get other jobs. They stop writing. They make themselves stop caring.

Any woman with an MFA knows that those who stop writing are disproportionately female. And here I am with one unpublished novel (which I still think is good, although I’m embarrassed to admit it to those who ask), plans to change careers, and a knot under my ribs. No 500 pounds a month, no room of my own. But this isn’t about me – it’s about all of us. It scares me that if I want to be a Jewish artist, Margolin and Stock and Shatzkin are my role models.


You won’t find a Wikipedia entry for Bertha Pappenheim, German Jewish feminist and activist. A search will, however, redirect you to the entry for Anna O., Freud’s famous patient. Anna O. did stuff besides suffer from hysteria! Who knew? But the work of Jewish German feminists isn’t noteworthy – at least, not as noteworthy as their use to the work of men.


Gertrude Berg was once as well known as Eleanor Roosevelt. The show that she wrote and starred in paved the way for The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, and all the sitcoms that came after. How many people today have heard of Gertrude Berg?


From Lital Levy’s “How the Camel Found Its Wings” (in The Flying Camel, a collection of essays by Mizrahi women):

When I told the professor of Hebrew literature in my department that I wanted to write my undergraduate honors thesis on the poetry of Anton Shammas and Na’im ‘Araide (two Palestinian-Israeli writers of both Hebrew and Arabic), she refused to work with me, offering flimsy excuses.

After a few weeks of trying to meet with her and getting nowhere, I asked her bluntly: “I know there’s another reason behind this. Would you tell me what the real problem is?” She paused, made a face, and then answered me in Hebrew. “I feel you’re neglecting your Hebrew because of this Arabic business. But I understand your attraction to Arabic – it seems more exotic to you.”

…Did this young, female, ostensibly progressive professor know that my father and his entire family were born in Iraq, that Arabic was their mother tongue, that Arabic was the language in which my grandmother expressed her love for me and my sister on our all-too-brief visits to Israel? She did.

Jewish women erasing other Jewish women – deliberately, forcefully, frantically.


Jewish women are stereotyped as loud and pushy. Many of us want to reclaim this; we want to celebrate our strength! But I want there to be room for quiet, sensitive Jewish women, too. I want my identity to have room for me.


If I were to go to the Western Wall to pray, I would have to do it silently. I could be arrested for singing.


And do I even need to mention the lack of women in visual representations of Jewishness? When you see typical pictures of Jews praying, which Jews are they?


I know this is all complicated. I know that Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath and countless writers I haven’t heard of met bad ends, too. I know that Jonathan Lebowitz would never enjoy the same popularity as Jon Stewart, even though he’s openly Jewish. I know about Ayelet Waldman, Adrienne Rich, Cynthia Ozick. I know the term “erasure” makes it sound like I’m putting a name change or an unkind remark on the same level as murder, colonization, genocide – but I don’t know what else to call it. I know women have been talking about erasure for a long time.

And I know there’s hope.

I’m just saying that I can’t separate my erasure as a Jew and my erasure as a woman. I’m just saying we have losses to mourn.

* From The Tribe of Dina, edited by Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz and Irene Klepfisz.

From Jewish Voice for Peace

Let me cut down to the chase. We have just learned that a number of Israeli peace activists have had their computers confiscated, have been called for interrogations, and have only been released upon signing agreements not to contact their political friends for 30 days. We are asking you to contact the Israeli Attorney General to demand an immediate stop to this harassment.

The activists targeted are members of New Profile, a group of feminist women and men daring to suggest that Israel need not be a militarized society. They are being wrongfully accused of inciting young people–like the shministim–not to enlist in the army. The charge is not true. While New Profile does not tell youngsters not to enlist, they certainly support those who do not: pacifists, those who oppose the occupation, and others. New Profile informs them of their rights and gives them legal support when necessary. But Israel is a country that does not acknowledge the basic human right to conscientious objection.

The government’s accusation against New Profile is not new. It has been out there for some time, as a source of harassment. Today’s police actions tighten the screws considerably. We’ve seen how international pressure has helped get many shministim out of jail. Now it’s time to put as much pressure so that Israeli peace activists can do their work free of intimidation.

I leave you with a note from New Profile: “These recent acts confirm what we have been contending for many years: the militarism of society in Israel harms the sacred principles of democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of political association. One who believed that until now criminal files were conjured up “only” for Arab citizens of Israel saw this morning that none of us can be certain that s/he can freely express an opinion concerning the failures of society and rule in Israel.”

Here’s New Profile’s website.

Birkat Hachamah on Colbert!

Funny Colbert clip (via The Black Jewish Experience):

(Seems like I’m never able to embed Comedy Central videos…) http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/224061/april-08-2009/birkat-hachama—stephen-frees-his-jews

So, uh, quick poll – how many of you knew that, when the Jews came out, they’d be 100% white (looking) men?

Because either I should start telling fortunes for a living, or the kyriarchy is pretty predictable.