Jewesses With Attitude: Jackie Hoffman Doesn’t Care If You Find The Feminist Message

Originally posted on Jewesses With Attitude.

HoffmanThroughout March, Baruch College Performing Arts Center has been presenting a series of Jewish comediennes in partnership with the Jewish Women’s Archive and Baruch’s Jewish Studies Center called “Solo in the City: Jewish Women, Jewish Stars”. With a mix of well-known names and up-and-comers in the lineup, the series defies the temptation to draw generalizations about funny Jewesses.

Jackie Hoffman, beloved in theatrical circles for her take-no-prisoners approach to musical comedy (sample lyric: “fuck you for asking me to do a show for free! / fuck you and your benefit for charity”), is at once an ideal and a challenging performer for such a series. Undeniably funny and with a deep understanding of Judaism (she’s the black sheep of an Orthodox family), she knows she can draw a typical Jewish audience in with songs criticizing Jewish Buddhists (“Inner peace and joy are overrated / come back to the fold of the most-hated”) and pushy mothers on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. But when her paean to Shavuot includes lines like “Ten Commandments God gave to us so that we won’t sin again / Ten Commandments I break every day by eating pork and Christian men,” you know this isn’t your typical JCC fare.  Continue reading

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It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy! Vagina by Naomi Wolf

Originally published on It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy!

 

I’ve started reading Vagina by Naomi Wolf.

Toward the end of her introduction, she offers something of an apology for her handling of the book’s subject matter entirely from a heterosexual point of view. She suggests that it was not a matter of heterosexism (although she doesn’t use that term) as much as it was an acknowledgement that lesbian and bisexual women’s experience of their vaginas (in general) and sex (in particular) merit their own handling rather than being lumped together under one rubric.

I understand what she’s saying here, but I’m not sure if the argument that by lumping them together, lesbian and bisexual women’s experiences would necessarily become the afterthought is accurate. They become the afterthought because the author privileges the heterosexual experience. Is lesbian and bisexual experience of body and sex and sexuality so different that the book would balloon beyond a reasonable scope should they be included? I’m certainly not the one to say.

But even if you accept her argument, I’m not sure that it should give her the free pass to write the rest of the book as though lesbian and bisexual women certainly don’t exist. I am fairly certain that a responsible author can cordon off a section of the topic as out of scope without pretending it doesn’t exist. The heterosexism of the language is incredibly off-putting for me, and the apology in the introduction intensifies my feelings rather than mollifying them.

Wolf’s complete erasure of transgender people (who, surely, have a lot to add to a conversation about vaginas) is further troubling, since she doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. I can absolutely understand why the myriad was vaginas and embodiment in general for transgender people—those of various genders who have vaginas as well as transgender women who don’t have vaginas—interrogate, challenge, and threaten Wolf’s hypotheses. But simply writing them out of existence without so much as a half-assed apology makes me angry, and it makes it difficult for me to read the rest of the book without their absence informing my reading.

I am not the target audience of this book by any measure. I’m only a few chapters in, and it’s already clear that this book is written for the same audience that made Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues a hit. Things that I take for granted as obvious parts of the human experience (e.g. “Women’s bodies are different from each other, so one woman’s experience of her own vagina might not match another woman’s experience of her own vagina.”) are presented as great revelations. Maybe there are a great deal of women in America who just assume that their own experience of, well, anything, can automatically be generalized to all women everywhere ever. But I thought by 2012 we had all moved past that.

There a lot of book left to devour, so stay tuned for further updates. After the first page or two I tweeted that it’s hard to read this book without live-tweeting the experience, and I wasn’t kidding. Whether I’m frustrated or intrigued, this is the kind of book that calls out for the reader to say to anyone who will listen, “would you believe this?!” And isn’t that what Tumblr’s best at anyway?

JewishBoston.com: The Orange on the Seder Plate and Miriam’s Cup: Foregrounding Women at Your Seder

Originally posted on JewishBoston.com.

Just before we drink the second cup of wine in the Passover seder, we speak of three symbols considered indispensible to the holiday’s meaning: the shank bone, the matzah, and the bitter herbs. However, in many homes, other symbols are added to this section, from the egg (which sits on the seder place but has no formal mention in traditional Haggadahs) to olives (signs of peace) to oranges and cups of water.

Last year, we collaborated with Jewish Women’s Archive on a special edition of our Haggadah called “Including Women’s Voices.” Here’s the section I wrote for that Haggadah on the customs and significance of the orange and Miriam’s Cup.  Continue reading

JewishBoston.com: Four Questions with Elyse Rast, One of CJP’s 2011 PresenTense Boston Fellows

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

created at: 2011-05-16Elyse Rast is the founder and CEO of G.I.R.L.S., a Jewish education program for young women. She has Master’s Degrees from BU and Wheelock College, and has 15 years of teaching experience in the Boston area. She taught at six local synagogues and created four youth groups and ten Jewish girls’ groups. Currently, Elyse is the Holocaust Educator for JCRC and the NE Holocaust Memorial. She also teaches Holocaust history and runs girls’ groups at Prozdor Hebrew High School. Elyse plans to begin a PhD program at Lesley University next fall.

One glimpse at your biography makes it clear that you are a seasoned professional with deep connections in the Jewish community of Boston. What’s the appeal of CJP’s PresenTense Boston Fellowship for you?

Several years ago, I started my own company… and failed miserably. Sure, starting a venture has something to do with connections, but you also need to know how to run a business. I’ve been telling people that the PresenTense Fellowship is like getting a business degree in five months. We’ve learned how to create budgerts, how to make pitches, how to compile our ideas into something that’s going to work and be relevant to our audience… how to create change and make our dreams a reality.  Continue reading