Monthly Archives: June 2011

Rape and the Holocaust

This entry was posted in History on by .

Recently on Jewniverse we featured information about Dr. Gisella Perl, a gynecologist who provided abortions to women in Auschwitz who would otherwise have been killed. One of the rather obvious implications here is that women were being raped in the camps. Some undoubtedly arrived pregnant, but others did not. Amazingly, there have never been any English studies or academic discussions of rape in the Holocaust until last year.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C has featured testimonials of rape survivors from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other conflict zones, but until recently they couldn’t feature the same kinds of testimonials from Holocaust survivors—those testimonials just didn’t exist. But a new book takes a look at some of the untold stories of sexual abuse in the Holocaust.

Jewish women were raped and sexually abused by Nazi guards, but also by liberators, people who hid them, aid givers, partisans and even fellow prisoners. Judy Weiszenberg Cohen, an Auschwitz survivor living in Canada, told the editors that the “fear of rape” was omnipresent in the concentration camp.

“The exact number of women who experienced sexual molestation during the Holocaust cannot be determined … and the rapists by and large did not leave documents testifying to their actions,” writes Nomi Levenkron, a human rights attorney in Israel, in an essay in the book. Most women who survived preferred silence, she said, fearing that they would be stigmatized in their communities.

“This is about all of our humanity. After I read the manuscript, I became kind of obsessed with it,” said Gloria Steinem, the renowned feminist writer and advocate, who sponsored two events in New York this year to draw attention to the publication. “I thought, ‘It’s 70 years later. Why didn’t we know this?’ For all of the people to whom it happened, to be victimized is one thing–to be shamed, as if it was your fault, is another profound and deep oppression.”

Read more and womensnews.org.

Posted on June 6, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Welcome to our Venus-Mars Home!

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Levana Kirschenbaum is the author of the forthcoming book The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen: Glorious Meals Pure and Simple (June 22nd). She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

I came home late one recent evening, and found my husband uncharacteristically agitated. “I just put out a fire!” he said, panting. “I have no idea how it started, I just wanted to microwave some dinner and put it in a foil container to warm, and flames started leaping out!”

Now please don’t find me too biased: I ask you, how are un-domesticated husbands, who almost never prepare or even warm up their food, who almost always wait for their wives to tell them what dinner consists of, supposed to know that foil is the microwave’s nemesis? I looked all over the lethal appliance to see if the manufacturer had included some warning, but no, not a word about the hazards of using foil. Shame on you, I thought indignantly, you should learn from a sign I recently saw on an ad for bulletproof jackets: “Guaranteed or your money back,” or the warning sign on coffee cups that became ubiquitous after an infamous lawsuit: “Caution: Hot beverages are hot!”

On another occasion when my husband received a friend after I had gone to bed, he asked at the top of his voice, from one end of the house to the other: “Levana, do we have any glasses?” To be sure, I did think of a few answers to this, this… how should I put it politely, obtuse question. Examples:

a) “Of course we do, just look in the kitchen;”
b) “We don’t, but you promised we would go and buy ourselves a dozen when our twentieth anniversary rolls around;” or c) “We used to, but we smashed all of them during our arguments and we have none left.”

But of course I thought none of the above answers would reflect well on my husband, who was trying after all to be a good late-night host, and all of them would make me sound like a shrill and sarcastic matron. So instead I jumped out of bed and got into some decent clothing. I walked drowsily past the bewildered guest toward a kitchen cupboard and took out the glasses. In the interest of thoroughness, I should add I had also thought – very briefly – of saying, “of course we have glasses: Open the cabinet in the back of the kitchen, look on the second shelf, etc…” but I dismissed that option almost as soon as it crossed my mind, the reason being, I can hardly remember a time I sent my husband to the kitchen to fetch something with any luck. He would always say, “I looked high and low and didn’t find it,” and if I would find it and wave it a few inches from his face, he would say with amazement, “wow! So where was it?” But he would almost always quickly add, “well, what do you expect, you didn’t tell me to look on that shelf!”

Other times, when he is more inclined to be conscientious, he would just repeat every line after me, as if by rote, with the expressionless tone of someone memorizing some essential lines he would need on an impending trip to a foreign country. “Open the door of the cabinet on top of the refrigerator….. Open the door of the cabinet on top of…” Oh, never mind… never mind, I’m coming.

I can’t remember how the lines got so rigidly drawn between my share of the household tasks and his. I remember a lovely handmade gift a good friend brought us, which we still enjoy: two coffee mugs aptly marked “You the man!” and “You go girl!” For the most part we both got used to our respective roles and even acquit ourselves of our tasks quite honorably, but sometimes it gets a little frustrating, like in this scenario which has a way of recurring occasionally: One Shabbos day when we walked the few short blocks from synagogue towards home, a shy elderly man I had invited to join us for lunch walked with my husband, while I chatted away with some friends a few paces behind them. When we got to the lobby of our building, I asked my husband where the old man was, and he answered “Oh! So that’s it! No wonder I kept telling him ‘Good Shabbos’ and he just stood there! Then he just went away! I didn’t know you had invited him!”

When I reached forty, I thought I should celebrate this major milestone by conquering my fear of driving. Perennial city mouse that I am, I proved a mediocre student, and passed by a hair on my third try. Then I had the uninspired idea of asking my husband, a wonderful driver, to help me boost my nonexistent skills. And here I should warn you: Even if the dynamics of your marriage are made in heaven, please go to any length not to make a co-pilot out of your husband. Those rare times I diffidently clambered behind the wheel were the first times he started putting on a safety belt and urged me to put on mine, sitting the way we sit in a rollercoaster, muttering between his teeth “oy-oy-oy!” My daughter, who was in the car on one of those nerve-racking trips when my husband was screaming “You are breaking the transmission!” told me she prayed it wouldn’t be cause for divorce. My driving career was blighted after a dozen spins at the most. You might say mass transportation got me back in marital business.

So all this begs the question: What would my husband say about my Venus habits? Until he does, let me give you some clues and leave it at that: When my PC breaks down or even stalls, I just sit and cry, and I don’t think there is a technical support operator from Los Angeles or China or Bengladesh who doesn’t try to duck when he gets my desperate call. I do speak several languages but can never make out any technical instructions. I cook, sew, bead, knit, write, conduct classes, run the house, give lectures and go places, but can never orient myself: a street or a building approached from a new angle becomes totally unfamiliar. I have never ever mailed a bill to any service, balanced a checkbook or packed for a trip. I leave it all to my husband, a model of timeliness, industriousness, thoughtfulness and fitness. And he confidently – I almost said conveniently – leaves everything else to me: our meals, our social agenda, our trips’ itinerary, the management of our house.

Luckily we love a lot of the same things: food (and you know I feed him well), movies, music, books, friends, and places. We share a blind devotion to our children and a fanatical excitement for everything they and their own children do. So yes, it’s a real and working partnership. So what if after all these years, he still does the Jackie Mason thing each time we go to a restaurant, points randomly to an item on the menu and asks: “Levana, do I like this?”? Don’t I still ask him which way to turn each time we visit one of our children in mazelike Washington Heights where they have been living for years? See? We are a team!

I almost forgot something that could have made me feel bitter about having cooked up a storm all these years, resorting to the whole gamut of bribes and incentives to feed everyone healthy meals, while my husband’s best and only culinary performance is make coffee. One morning ages ago, dropping off my children at the school bus stop, I slipped on some chicken fat a nearby greasy spoon joint had disposed of carelessly. I cursed at the slobs, then made all pressing arrangements. I asked my husband to be home early and feed them a decent dinner, while I went with a good friend to the emergency room. It was almost midnight when I got back home, groggy from pain killers, with a bloated foot tightly wrapped in a voluminous bandage, and on crutches. The children waited up for me, I thought lovingly, they want to know how I am doing.

But somehow that question didn’t come up, or at least not right away. They were giggling delightedly, and my oldest son said: “Wow, Mommy, you’ll never believe this: Tati makes the most awesome hot dogs!”

Check back all week for Lévana Kirschenbaum‘s posts on the JBC/MJL Author Blog.

Posted on June 6, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Wise Fridays: We’re All in the Same Boat

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

wise fridays: sharpen the     reception on  your WiFri

A man in a boat began to bore a hole under his seat. His fellow passengers protested. ‘What concern is it of yours?’ he responded, ‘I am making a hole under my seat, not yours.’ They replied, ‘That is so, but when the water enters and the boat sinks, we too will drown.’

–Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Leviticus Rabbah 4:6

Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.

Posted on June 3, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

My Last Post

This entry was posted in General on by .

Here is some sad news to start your weekend. Today, after two years and nine months, is my last day at MyJewishLearning.com. I came here as the Editorial Fellow. I leave today…as the Editorial Fellow.

I’ve grown a lot since I got here, but I’m happy to report that I still have trouble figuring out the difference between “its” and “it’s.” However, I’m starting to get a handle on the spelling of “embarrassing.”

It is really tough to say goodbye to a place like MJL, but offers to be the next General Manager of the Portland Trail Blazers don’t come every day. Plus, I hear that Portland has wonderful coffee.

I’d like to thank Daniel Septimus, Editor-in-Chief of MyJewishLearning.com, as well as all the other people who work here whom I’ve neglected to learn their names. Though they do seem like overall good people. Sorry for all the tantrums and cursing. It was all in the heat of the moment.

That’s it from me but don’t worry. You can still find me on the internet.

Go Blazers.

Posted on June 3, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Best of the Week

This entry was posted in General on by .

Oh yes, yes, yes. It’s June. Did you know that June is Spanish for “happiness”? Don’t look that up.

Shavuot is less than a week away. Make sure you clean up your kitchen and throw away all of your matzah.

Why do I love Shavuot so much? Because it involved cheesecake. Like, as much as you want.

Yeah, sure, blintzes are cool and everything. No doubt. But when you throw strawberries and rhubarb into the mix? Well, I can’t be held responsible for what happens next…

On Shavuot we read and study the Book of Ruth. Don’t ask me why. Click the link and you’ll know.

The mikveh is like skinny dipping except you aren’t drunk. Go and visit one sometime.

Finally, Kveller came out with some pretty hilarious videos about putting your kids to bed and getting them to eat. I was always taught not to eat right before you go to bed, so wait a couple hours between watching both videos.

Posted on June 3, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Turning Our Attention Outward

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

This commentary is provided by special arrangement with American Jewish World Service. To learn more, visit www.ajws.org.

At one level, the three Jewish pilgrimage festivals—Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot—celebrate our most intimate communal moments. Beginning with their agricultural origins, the festivals summon up images of tribal relatives working the land together and Israelites traveling to the Jerusalem Temple in family units, arriving en masse at appointed times so as to connect to one another as members of the same covenantal community. On the festivals, echoes of one people sharing a common experience of planting, harvesting and giving thanks to God reverberate in our memories.

The second set of ties that bind us together are the historical narratives of the festivals. Each has its own strong story. Pesach recounts the miracle of liberation of our slave ancestors, a story we not only tell at the seder, but also carry with us every day in our prayers and every week in our Shabbat rituals. Sukkot represents our people’s journey towards freedom in the Promised Land—a vulnerable minority huddling together in booths and placing our faith in God. Shavuot, too, is understood by the Rabbis of the Talmud to commemorate Revelation at Sinai, that singular event that shaped the lives of our people forever.

All of these themes represent Jewish particularity through its peak experiences. Yet, at another level, the holidays also represent the ways in which Judaism looks outward to the rest of the world. The Talmud records the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer that the 70 sacrifices brought on Sukkot were brought on behalf of the 70 nations of the world (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 55b). Similarly, the experience and memory of slavery that we recall on Pesach serves as the basis for the many commandments that require us to care for the stranger.

Shavuot, too, exemplifies this external focus, both in its agricultural and historical narratives. The Torah links Shavuot to the laws of leket, shich’chah and peah—laws of controlled and compassionate harvesting. Immediately following the laws of Shavuot (related to the harvest, sacrifices, first fruits and the waving of the loaves), the Torah issues this commandment: “When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the strangers living among you. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:22). Although these laws of leket are given elsewhere in the Torah, here they are joined to the very sanctity of the Shavuot festival.

Through this juxtaposition—of laws on holiday observance with laws on how to care for those at the margins—the Torah teaches us that even as we are heady with the harvest, we must focus our attention outward, remembering to take care of those who do not enjoy such gifts. And we must do it not as a handout, but as standard operating procedure, in a manner that maximizes the dignity of the other who relies on our leavings for survival. These are powerful laws that form the basis of Judaism’s prescription for social justice.

Their significance is emphasized by a unique universality that transcends time and place. Most of the agricultural laws of the Torah are tied to existence in the Land of Israel. Thus, when the Jewish Temple was ruined, the Commonwealth destroyed and the people driven from the land, these agricultural laws became non-operational. But not so the laws of leket, of compassionate harvesting. The Rabbis determined that the laws requiring agricultural gifts to the poor (matanot laevyonim) should remain effective wherever Jews live. These are clearly considered universal principles that must be upheld regardless of whether or not we function as an agricultural society in our own homeland. To emphasize this, the Rabbis also expanded the concept of agricultural gifts to the poor to include monetary ones, with holiday celebration requiring matanot laevyonim in any form.

Perhaps the expanded laws of leket speak more to our generation than to any other, as the sense of global interdependence, along with the advent of the rapid-information highway, make us aware of the poor and the stranger far beyond our own “fields.” Jews now have the means to be responsible for those less fortunate, even if they do not seek us out for gleanings directly, or don’t ever cross our line of vision.

Shavuot’s historical connection to Matan Torah, the giving of the whole Torah, also affirms that responsibility for others is at the core of Jewish faith. With its central reading of the Ten Commandments, half of which are laws of morality, Shavuot confirms our primary obligations to social justice. Indeed, Shavuot reminds us that the Torah teaches us not only the laws of compassionate harvesting but so many other ethical principles: do not be a bystander, do not ignore the cries of the oppressed, do not hold back the day-worker’s pay beyond evening, do not engage in slander, pay heed to those who have no one to speak for them. These and many other laws, along with the laws of tzedakah and chessed, serve as our ethical standard, reinforcing the need for constant sensitivity to the other in need.

Thus, even as we celebrate our most intimate communal bonds, Shavuot teaches us how to act responsibly in the wider world—to follow the Torah’s instructions to lead ethical lives by extending our definition of community to include the poor, the stranger and all others in need.

Blu Greenberg has long been active in Jewish feminism and is the founder of JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance).

Posted on June 3, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Win a Copy of Kosher Elegance!

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Kosher Elegance: The Art of Cooking With Style is a new kosher cookbook by Efrat Libfroind, and it lives up to its name. This book is beautiful. Every recipe has an accompanying full-page full color photo that looks so delectable you just might elicit you to lick your book. The presentation is classy and sophisticated, and the recipes look intense and amazing. The chapters aren’t your usual Jewish holidays and Shabbat—instead they’re Sophisitication, Occasions, Brunch, Hors D’oeurves, Layers, Simplicity, “Sushi”, Temptation, and Chocolate. Wondering why sushi is in quotations? It’s because it includes things like Eggplant roll-ups with a cheese filling, and pastrami roll-ups with couscous salad filling. Also a couple of more tradition sushi rolls.

These recipes aren’t for kugels and cholents and briskets. What’s here is a bit more labor intensive, but the results are truly beautiful.

To win a copy of this cookbook, leave a comment telling us the most elegant dish in your repertoire. We’ll randomly choose someone to win a cookbook on Friday June 10th.

Or, you can buy your own copy.

Posted on June 2, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

New Kveller Videos

This entry was posted in Life, Parenting on by .

It’s gotta be tough to be a struggling actor. You gotta go from audition to audition, trying to act professional while the casting director throw tasks at you that sometimes look like they are just messing with you–seeing if you will crack under the pressure.

So what would you do if you were an actor auditioning for a role as a parent, and you were asked to act more Jewish? Would you even know what to do? In fact, what does that even mean–act more Jewish? What if you weren’t even Jewish? Would you have the slightest idea of what to do?

Our friends at Kveller.com took these theoreticals and brought it to life, staging a casting call, bringing in real actors…and putting them in uncomfortable situations.

Check out the hilarious results:

Posted on June 2, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Black Widow in Israel

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

If you’re subscribed to Jewniverse (and why wouldn’t you be? Go do it now) you’ll get a different wacky Jewish thingy every day. Today’s was a history of Magneto, the villain of the feature film X-Men: First Class, which opens tomorrow.*

And, sure, it would be cool if one of the main characters of this summer’s biggest blockbuster was Jewish! (Even if he is a megalomaniacal psychopath!) But that’s not all. In last month’s issue of Black Widow, writer Paul Tobin placed Natasha Romanova’s team-up with Marvel Girl in the heart of a deadly bomb attack — in Ashkelon, Israel. And not only does he write Black Widow with a perfect Russian accent (a rarity in comics), but he also gets the Israeli mentality down pat:

And, as if to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that he knows Israeli culture better than your momma, he sets the next scene on a beach. The floppy hats! The skimpy bathing suits! The annoying kids! Man, they did their homework. I’m getting homesick even as I write this. Here, go check out our Israel Today section and commiserate with me.

Thanks for the scans, and the hat-tip, to the good folks at Scans Daily (and follow that link to find out who’s behind the nefarious bombing)!

_________
* — and which, if you couldn’t already tell, I am wildly excited about.

Posted on June 2, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Rosh Hashanah in the Woods

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Haley Tanner is the author of Vaclav and Lena. She will be blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and Jewish Book Council‘s Author Blog.

Years ago my family decided to take our celebration of Rosh Hashanah out of our Conservative synagogue. We were feeling stifled by the long hours sitting in uncomfortable clothes — we were distracted by the outfits, the gossip, the perfume and the fur coats. Rosh Hashanah had lost its meaning for us, and we wanted it back.

My mother is fond of saying that of all the animals on earth, human beings are unique in our ability to step back, to reflect, to separate certain times and days as sacred or special. We knew that we had to maintain the sacredness of the holiday, to separate it from the sameness of other days. For years we had relied on the institution of synagogue to do it for us — now we were on our own. So we took to the woods. We went camping. And we are not avid campers. We are not campers by any stretch of the imagination.

We packed three cars with tents, air mattresses, down blankets, brisket, matzoh ball soup, gefilte fish, challahs, honey cake, apples and honey, white linen table cloth (for the picnic table) and my great-grandmother’s silver candlesticks.

Once we got there, we talked about our year, and the year ahead of us. My parents talked to me and my brother and sister about what they wanted for us as people — about they way they wanted us to be in the world. We succeeded completely in separating ourselves — in creating a sacred space, a bubble around us, where the world did not exist — a place of reflection and escape.

I’ve been asked over and over again about the role of magic in my first novel, Vaclav and Lena. I’ve always imagined that the performance of magic is just like storytelling — we all know that the woman is not sawed in half, that the quarter did not disappear. We all know that the characters are fictional, the events a fabrication, but still, we laugh and cry and worry along with them. We suspend our disbelief for a time, and allow ourselves to be carried away to another place, another time — where we escape our everyday lives and are able to explore our minds, hopes and dreams, unhindered by the things we’re distracted by in our everyday lives.

When my family camps out in the woods to celebrate a new year, we light candles, and a sacred time begins. We sit by a fire together, and we can escape the everyday, and think about what we truly want for ourselves, for the year, for each other.

Haley Tanner’s first novel, Vaclav and Lena, is now available. Come back all week to read her posts.

Posted on June 2, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy