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October 2, 2014 / 8 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Women’

Second Orthodox NY High School Allowing Girls to Don Tefillin

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

A second Modern Orthodox high school in New York has announced it will permit girls to wear tefillin during prayer.

The Ramaz School in Manhattan said it will allow girls to wear tefillin during coed worship, going one step further than SAR High School, which drew a flurry of media coverage earlier this week for allowing girls to use the phylacteries during women’s prayer services.

Ramaz, one of the oldest and most prestigious Modern Orthodox day schools in the United States, sent its parents, students and board members an email Tuesday afternoon announcing that it “would be happy to allow any female student who wants to observe the mitzvah of tefillin to do so.”

The email, from head of school Paul Shaviv, noted, “Women should be taught that they do not need to wear tefillin in order to lead Jewishly-religiously meaningful lives, at least equal to men. But they have the right to make their own decisions.”

In an interview with JTA, Shaviv said “a small number of girls” have donned tefillin at the school’s prayer services in past years “without anyone making a fuss,” although none have asked to do so in the past three years.

Shaviv said the school decided for the first time on Tuesday to “formalize” its policy and “clarify our position” because journalists were calling to inquire about it.

“The parental response has been completely positive,” he said.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, longtime principal of the Upper East Side school and spiritual leader of Kehilath Jeshurun, told JTA that no female student has requested to wear tefillin recently, but that if one did “we would honor that request.”

“We’re not encouraging this; we’re accommodating this,” he added.

I’m a Feminist and the Women of the Wall Don’t Represent Me

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Ha’aretz reported that a group of activists from the Women of the Wall organization are opposed to an Israeli governmental proposal to permit Reform Jewish congregants to have their own area to pray, independent from where both Orthodox Jewish men and women pray. In other words, these activists rejected a compromise proposal that designates an area of the Kotel where they are permitted to pray as they desire, in order to insist that Orthodox Jewish men and women be forced to conduct their prayers surrounded by individuals who don’t respect their religious customs.

As a modern orthodox Jewish feminist, I am outraged by the behavior of these activists, who dirt the name of feminism by their actions. Just as Reform Jews feel that they should have the right to pray as they are used to at one of the holiest sites in the Jewish religion, Orthodox Jews feel the exact same way. Furthermore, while Reform Jews are religiously permitted to pray in accordance with the Orthodox tradition, Orthodox Jews aren’t permitted to pray in a Reform manner, since their prayer services must follow a certain format according to Jewish law.

Even though nothing bars a Reform Jew from praying at the Kotel in an Orthodox manner, the Israeli government was respectful enough to offer Reform Jews their own location at one of the holiest sites in Judaism in order to pray as they please, without disturbing others. But instead of jumping on the opportunity and saying thank you to the Israeli government, activists from the Women of the Wall organization aren’t content. Why? Because the compromise proposal permits Orthodox Jews to continue praying as they have for thousands of years and this bothers them. While they demand religious toleration from others, they refuse to give others the same favor in return.

While Women of the Wall claims that it is not egalitarian to pray in an Orthodox manner, I would like to remind them that Jews have been praying for thousands of years a certain way and changing the religion is not in the hands of men. We cannot decide in the place of G-d what is Jewish law, based upon modern trends. Even if we don’t understand everything in Judaism, G-d always makes things a certain way for a reason and humans should never question G-d.

Nevertheless, Judaism remains to be one of the most egalitarian religions today, as women are believed to be at a spiritually higher level than men and countless Jewish women have held prominent positions both in the Tanakh and throughout Jewish history. Moses granted Jewish women the right to inherit at a time when women having such rights were unheard of. Even if one doesn’t desire to obey Jewish law due to ones own Reform belief system, the bare minimum that one should be able to do is to respect others that wish to and to do as one likes in a location that won’t disturb others.

I also would like to point out to these individuals that there are many more pressing issues facing feminists today than whether or not Jewish women will be able to wear a Tallit like the men and host a so-called “egalitarian” prayer service at the Kotel. I call upon any one who believes that having “egalitarian” prayer services at the Kotel is the most pressing issue facing women today to take a look at the world that we live in.

Women are getting raped en masse in Syria, either by government forces or by Islamist rebels as part of their sexual jihad. Around 50 percent of Yemen’s brides are under the age of 18. The UN stated that over 5,000 women are murdered each year in honor crimes. 2,500 brides in India are burnt to death each year, primarily due to dissatisfaction over the dowry. One young Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, was almost murdered by the Pakistani Taliban for insisting on young girls in her country having the right to have an education. Around 125,000,000 girls in Africa and the Middle East are victims of female genital mutilation.

Closer to home, hundreds of young underage Jewish girls are seduced by Arab men each year. Many of these cases evolve into abduction, rape, and abusive marriages. This problem is especially acute in Southern Israel, where sexual harassment by Bedouin men is a major issue. Furthermore, according to the OECD statistics, the Israeli police recorded 17.5 cases of rape within the country per 100,000 people within the Israeli population in 2012. There were only 9 OECD members who had worst statistics than these in regards to rape, one of them naturally being the United States. Recently, Jerusalem Online News reported that only two female mayors were elected to serve in the 2013 municipal elections. This means that out of all of the Israeli municipalities, there are only 4 female mayors in the entire country.

Tossing a Jewish Lasso over Wyoming’s Wild West

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Originally published at Chabad.org.

By Carin M. Smilk

Summer is winding down in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It’s a short season, weather-wise, but it’s also a season that brings in tourists, lots of them, who come for the mountains and national parks, the outdoor sports and the wide open spaces. They come to make good on the state slogan: “Like No Place on Earth.”

Not long after they leave, winter beckons a slew of other travelers, those lured to the skiing and snow activities. It’s another bustling time; the two seasons bring in about 4 million visitors a year.

And about 1 percent of them—an estimated 40,000 people—are Jewish.

That helps make life busy for Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn, co-director of Chabad Jewish Center of Wyoming with his wife, Raizy. Not that it’s so quiet the rest of the year. The couple, based in the town of Jackson—in western Wyoming near the border of Idaho, almost completely surrounded by mountains and in the well-known valley of Jackson Hole—serves the roughly 500 permanent Jewish residents there, out of a general population of nearly 10,000. It’s an interesting mix, says the rabbi, of singles, couples, families, retirees, tourists and those with second homes in the area.

“We have a very small community,” acknowledges Mendelsohn, “but we offer quality services—substantive services. We’re reaching out to individual Jews in a very personal, warm, inviting way.”

Since their official 2008 move to Jackson, they have started all kinds of programs. There’s the annual Jackson Hole Jewish Music Festival, which brings in bands and performers from all over, coupled with Camp Gan Israel, a Jewish women’s circle, a “Mommy & Me” class, Torah study, lectures, “Coffee & Kabbalah,” and Shabbat and Jewish holiday dinners and services. Currently, they rent space for High Holiday services but are looking for a place to buy.

 

Also on tap are lecture series, including one to take place this weekend, Aug. 16-17. The Shabbaton will include services and a Friday-night dinner, then Saturday-morning services and a three-course lunch, with lectures both days by guest speaker David N. Weiss. A Hollywood film writer with several blockbusters to his credit, Weiss has traversed religiously from being a secular Jew to a Christian youth worker, and now follows a life of observant Judaism.

“His story is very compelling,” says Mendelsohn. “He never really had the opportunity to study Judaism in-depth. It shows that you can always start fresh and new, even if you’re very famous or a celebrity. You can always rediscover your roots.”

The series has attracted 50 to 60 people on average, and the rabbi expects a similar turnout for Weiss.

‘Very Much at Home’

 Ben from San Francisco put on tefillin for the first time in his life. Photo credit: Chabad.org

Ben from San Francisco put on tefillin for the first time in his life. Photo credit: Chabad.org

So how has life changed for a couple raised in completely different living environments? The rabbi, in his early 30s, hails from Miami, Fla., and Raizy, in her late 20s, grew up in Israel. What’s it like to live in the least populated state in the nation?

“We felt very much at home right away,” says the rabbi. “People are warm and welcoming; there’sthe renowned Western hospitality. It’s a cowboy town, it’s the Wild West, but people also have a more spiritual character here. And our goal is to introduce a Yiddishkeit element to it.”

That sense of spirituality could have something to do with the physical backdrop. Jackson is a stone’s throw from Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton Mountains. The rabbi talks of the everyday appearance of bison, moose, deer, wolves and bears. “There’s wildlife in the streets,” he says, pausing to add that he just saw a herd of elk run up the side of a nearby mountain.

He also notes the atmosphere—both scenically and spiritually—is good for the couple’s four young children. After all, for kids in such a place, aside from their home-schooling time, “life is surrounded by G-d’s great outdoors.”

Of course, it’s not all vales and wild flowers. There’s no kosher food, no Jewish schools, no other Orthodox presence and no mikvah. The closest mikvahs are in Bozeman, Mont., and Salt Lake City, Utah—both a five-hour drive or one-hour flight away.

“Still,” says Mendelsohn, “we have a wonderful community, and we are honored to also accommodate visitors who come through. I travel around the state quarterly visiting Jewish people. We’ve put up about 60 mezuzahs in the last three years all over the state. One by one, we’re connecting Jews with their heritage.”

“That’s the story of Wyoming. We may be one of the most remote Jewish communities in the country, but I want people to know that Yiddishkeit is alive and well and thriving in Jackson Hole.”

Laura Goldstein, 34, can attest to that. Originally from New Jersey, she now lives in Victor, Idaho, which borders Wyoming and is about a 45-minute drive from Jackson. She and her husband Howard, a wildlife biologist, came to live out West in 2009, and she says the rabbi was one of the first people they met.

“We were looking for a way to connect with other Jewish people, and we knew Chabad would be a good way to do that,” says Goldstein, an administrative assistant. “They invited us over for Shabbat dinner, and it was lovely. They were so gracious. They make you want to be part of the community.

“And every opportunity they have of doing a mitzvah, they do. It’s incredible.”

She’s also seen Chabad grow as an organization. At Rosh Hashanah, there used to be three men, not even a minyan; now there may be 14. And Shabbat dinners in the summer can draw 40 to 50 people. She even mentions that just this year, she met a Jewish woman from New York who runs a clothing store/jewelry shop in Victor.

Learning by Example

Most of all, Goldstein says she and her husband have modeled their Shabbat observance at home on the Mendelsohns’ example. “Knowing them has been a huge part in that direction. We feel that we’re better Jewish people out here. It probably wouldn’t have been as big a part of our identity” back East.

She adds that Raizy has shown her how to make challah, light Shabbat candles and recite the Havdalah prayers.

“It’s great to see how they bring in what they need,” says Goldstein. “These people are making it work; they’re doing it.” So she figures she can, too.

“Rabbi Zalman,” as Josh Beck and other local residents call him, “is involved in everything. He’s an amazing man.”

“And he’s one of my closest friends here.”

Beck, 41, an orthopedic surgeon from New Jersey, has been living in Wyoming for seven years. He says he considers himself a very big supporter and very active with Chabad there.

He attends Shabbat dinners (the true reason, he says, is because of “Raizy’s fantastic cooking”) and various programs, but admits to preferring “the off-season, when there’s a handful of locals.”

He says that he, his wife and 3-year-old daughter “love living out here.” Beck hunts and fishes and skis; in fact, he notes, he found his job there while on a ski vacation.

A Spiritual Change of Scenery

Cross-country skiing also appeals to Stephen and Linda Melcer from Boca Raton, Fla., who have rented a house in Jackson the last two winters and intend to come again this year.

“It’s a nice change of scenery, of climate,” says Stephen Melcer, a 61-year-old lawyer. “It’s also a nice change religiously and a change in diversity.”

The couple belongs to Boca Raton Synagogue, an Orthodox shul. “Whenever we travel, we look for a place to be for Shabbos, and a good place to start looking is Chabad. We’ve noticed here that a lot of people attending are travelers, and a larger percentage of people are not observant.”

Melcer says he appreciates “going into an environment where a rabbi is focused on the less observant.”

“They are very warm,” he says of the Mendelsohns. “I think they enjoy the challenge of it. And they certainly have a lot of challenges. The incredible thing is that challenges never cross their minds.”

Ken Begelman is glad that’s the case. He and his wife, Helen, helped the Mendelsohns come to town.

Twelve years ago, the Begelmans moved to Teton County, about 8 miles outside Jackson, from Palm Beach County, Fla. When they arrived, they wanted a shul—a congregation of some type. Begelman says he was familiar with Chabad rabbinical students coming to Wyoming temporarily (they have for decades, as part of the “Roving Rabbis” program), and got in touch with people in Brooklyn to work to make it happen permanently.

“He’s a very outgoing guy, very inclusive; he gets along with everybody,” says Begelman, a 66-year-old retired cardiac surgeon, of Mendelsohn.

He notes that there’s a large number of 20-year-olds who come to work during ski season or in the summer who have never had any religious affiliation or education, and “the rabbi has turned a lot of these kids around.”

As for Wyoming, the former Floridian insists that “it’s wonderful here. It’s what America should be. Everybody respects everybody else. You don’t have to lock your house or your car. There’s no crime.”

Sure, the winter temperatures can fall to 20 below and the snow can average 38 feet a year in the mountainous regions, but residents insist that it’s an invigorating experience.

In regards to future expansion, Begelman says that if “one new Jewish family a year comes permanently, that would be a lot.” Population growth is indeed slow; Begelman has seen signs in the state that note there are 10 horses for every one person residing there.

As far as the rabbi and his family go, “I’m very happy that they’ve fit in well in the community and that they like it here. It’s a wonderful place to live.”

Aren’t They Gorgeous?

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Sometimes, in this country, when things are going crazy all around us, and our worries are riddles with worries, and our anxieties threaten to overwhelm our sanity, we just need to look at our children.

What a fine bunch of children we’ve raised here. Sweet, and honest, and bursting with joy.

You’re worried about the future? Here, take a look – this is the future.

I Love Jewish Women!

Monday, January 7th, 2013

That’s right. I love Jewish women. Especially my wife. The last time she came back from a family wedding in chutz l’aretz, I met her at the airport with a bouquet of flowers and a balloon, “I Love You.”

Some readers in the Diaspora think I’m a monster, but I’m really a sweetheart. Ask my wife. I agree with her in everything. That way we never have fights. If she says I’m grouchy, I don’t argue. I know it’s really G-d telling me that I’m grouchy, speaking through my wife. So I try to be less grouchy and smile more around the house. And if she tells me I’m cheap, then I go out and buy her a dress. I’m happy with her every criticism, because I know it’s all coming from G-d to make me a better person.

I didn’t go with my wife to the wedding in New York, because I can’t breathe there. I feel like there’s no air. It’s not because of the pollution – I feel the same way in Colorado. It’s because there’s no holiness in the air in America. If I have to leave the Land of Israel, I’m like E.T. the Extra Terrestial, who couldn’t breathe in the Earth’s atmosphere. I feel like I’m suffocating. The only way I can survive there is by taking a tank of oxygen with me wherever I go, filled with air from the Land of Israel. So I just don’t bother to go.

Actually, Rabbi Kook teaches that it’s really a blessing if you can’t tolerate the air in the Diaspora, and if everything there seems foreign to you. It’s a sign that a person has made a living connection to the holiness of the Land of Israel, and that his soul can’t tolerate to be anywhere else. That’s the way all Jews should feel. But Diasporians who were born there and grew up without any holiness in the air, they don’t notice that it’s missing. They’re used to living in a place without holiness. Compared with Eretz Yisrael, the Diaspora is a different planet.

Remember the video of the guy who jumped out from some space capsule last year and plummeted miles and miles toward Earth before opening his parachute? For me the thought of leaving the Land of Israel is just as terrifying. I feel so lucky to be here in the Land of Israel, I never want to leave.

But getting back to Jewish women – you have to love them. After all, they saved us in Egypt. That what our Sages tell us – we were saved from extinction in Egypt because of the righteousness of our women. It was the fearless bravery on the part of Miriam and Yocheved in not following the orders of Pharaoh to kill the male babies that saved the Jewish Nation. Also, when the men were crushed under the burdens of slavery, and fell to the lowest levels, their wives strengthened them and kept bearing children, so that the more the Egyptians tortured us, the stronger we grew.

And when we left Egypt, it was only the men who listened to the Spies in the wilderness and refused to travel on to Eretz Yisrael. All of the women made aliyah, which shows that Jewish women are smarter than Jewish men, which is another reason why we should listen to them.

We owe our women so much, no matter whatever they might do to upset us, we can never pay them back for all the good they’ve done for us. I love my wife so much. You know what? I’m going out right now to buy her a new dress. She deserves it.

Your wife deserves it too.

The Adventures of the Jewish Nurse in the Land of Israel

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

There is one profession in Israel of manual labor and endless running around whose practitioners are required to undergo higher education. Nursing. They are of all different ages. Young women who just finished nursing school, full of energy and joie de vivre, work alongside older women who have been on the same demanding job in the same department for years. None will ever be promoted as a reward for dedicated work. The only thing they receive is a feeling of having served society and helped other people.

Schwarze schwester,” they used to be called in Jerusalemite Yiddish. Lowly functionaries working protracted, exhausting shifts, running silently throughout the long night through the patients’ rooms like angels in white, offering relief to aching body and soul. It is a noble profession, many of whose members leave their families and children to tend to others, only to return home to then tend to their families as well. Day and night cease to have meaning. Just running, endless running through the long halls of the different departments with their greyish fluorescent illumination, all day breathing in the bacteria of the hospital air.

I have such a nurse at home. I see her come home after a shift, wrung dry like a lemon, wanting nothing but an hour to recover from the day’s events. Sometimes she was yelled at by the agitated father of a boy she treated. Sometimes, because of limited manpower, she did the work of two nurses, because there simply was no additional nurse who could take the shift. Either that, or someone wanted to save money.

The savings don’t get passed on to her, although she and her family pay dearly for a nurse to come to their home, broken from exhaustion, but needing to get up again and start working as a mother. The monthly pay slip comes, and it is again obvious that the salary bears no relation to the effort. Without an accumulation of especially difficult shifts, it isn’t even enough to get by.

So what is it about this profession that attracts so many Jewish women?

Giving. Humility. Precisely the things that make it stand out against more glamorous career choices. It is a career without an ego. Just soulfulness, goodwill, and desire to help.

A nurse always receives her instructions from a doctor, sometimes one who just arrived at the department, a young person who still doesn’t know much. But even with all her accumulated experience, she has to do what he says.

Take the one in my family: a nurse who has been in the field for thirty years and has saved the lives of a good number of people. Just a month ago she rushed a patient to the ultrasound lab because, without any tests, with only her hard-earned expertise, she could tell that the patient was suffering from an abdominal hemorrhage. Even with her experience, she can’t administer certain medical treatments without a doctor, inexperienced though he may be, to say nothing of writing prescriptions or determining dosage.

She must always display the knowledge she has gained pleasantly and with humility. On many occasions she’s had to tell a young doctor—as gently as can be, so as not to insult—to change the treatment instructions already given.

The nurses are forever caught between a rock and a hard place, between the expert doctor, the intern on call, the national service girl, and the patients. Nursing is tough. But it is noble, pure, and all about helping others.

This is why the public has to take the side of the nurses who are on strike, more than it would have to side with striking doctors, for instance. Because of the dedication. Because of the humility. Because of the need to show some gratitude to those who chose a career that is so lackluster but so full of light, to which so many people owe their lives.

The Ministry of Health needs to enact the following measures:

Expand the pool of available nurses by increasing the basic salary. This will allow nurses to tend to their patients without arriving in the room out of breath, with another two or three patients already yelling “nurse!” in vain from the other end of the department.

Study Shows Haredi and Secular Women Face Equal Risk of Eating Disorders

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Ultra-Orthodox and secular women are more similar than they may think — at least when it comes to disordered eating.

Disordered eating is the catch-all term for binge eating, out-of-control eating and other related problematic behaviors. (Eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia are considered psychiatric disorders.) A landmark study completed in Israel discovered that across the religious spectrum disordered eating affects about 15 percent of Jewish women. The percentage is considered the norm for the general rate of disordered eating among adult women in the U.S.

Authored by Marjorie Feinson and Adi Meir, the study was published in The International Journal of Eating Disorders. The results surprised at least one of the researchers:

“I thought for sure there would be more eating problems in the [religious] Jewish community than in the general population,” said Feinson who is a  Senior Researcher at the Falk Institute for Behavioral Health Studies in Israel. “I was wrong about that. I also thought there would be substantially more problems in the Ultra-Orthodox community compared to the secular Jewish community, because of the number of ritual meals. In addition to Shabbat, there [are] holidays in which food is the central theme.”

The study followed 800 Jewish women between the ages of 21-80 recruited from health clinics across Israel. The women filled out a questionnaire and then participated in a lengthy phone interview.

The study reported that a high-number of Haredi women  responded to the survey, which is important because data on the Ultra-Orthodox is rare. Additionally, research and statistics about disordered eating among women above high school age is scarce — media attention is usually focused on eating disorders in adolescence.

“The eating problems you might have had transform [with age] and are no longer anorexia or bulimia,” she said. “It’s a combination of different types of eating symptoms. Anorexia and bulimia are what the media are interested in. We know nothing about serious eating problems over the age of 25.”

Haredi women suffering from eating issues also face a particular set of challenges.

“Women have more traditional roles in the Ultra-Orthodox communities,” Feinson said. “They’re primarily responsible for feeding the family and, in addition, there are exceptionally large families to feed on a regular basis. The average number of children in the Ultra-Orthodox community is 6-8, compared to 2-3 in the secular community.”

Feinson said that a preliminary analysis reveals a high percentage of women with disordered eating have a history of abuse in childhood.

Females have a higher risk of suffering from disordered eating behavior.

“The biggest risk factor for developing an eating disorder is being born female,” Said Adrienne Ressler, the National Training Director for The Renfrew Center, a 25-year-old institution that treats eating disorders. The institution opened a track for religious Jewish women in 2009. “Females are much more susceptible. Women are 90 percent more likely to develop an eating disorder than males within the Jewish community.”

The study also noted that belonging to the Ultra-Orthdox population doesn’t help prevent disorder eating either.

“Apparently, strict adherence to religious traditions and an insular existence do not protect Haredi women from serious eating problems,” the study concluded.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/study-shows-haredi-and-secular-women-face-equal-risk-of-eating-disorders/2012/07/09/

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