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May 15 2014

The Russian-American Opera Singer Who Balked At All Convention

By at 9:39 am


Meet Maria Winetzkaja, a renowned opera singer and a rebellious, independent woman.

Russian-born around 1888, her father was a cantor, but Maria wanted nothing to do with her family’s Judaism. She called it ridiculous and foolish, due to what she perceived to be a lack of respect for women, according to her grandson Steven Winnett. His biography of her relates what happened next:

Her family moved to the United States in 1904, following a series of pogroms. She studied opera in New York, eventually traveling the globe as a performer and learning to speak eight languages. She sang at New York’s Carnegie Hall but never at the Metropolitan Opera, the pinnacle of success for American singers: the reason, she said, was that she refused to sleep with one of the Met’s directors. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 6 2012

Interview with Interesting Jews: Jewish Women’s Collaborative International Fund

By at 3:35 pm
jwf staff

From left to right: Emily Muskovitz Sweet, ED Chicago; Sara Rose Gorfinkel, ED TOWF; Joy Sisisky, ED JWF NY

For the first time, Jewish women’s foundations–14 in the United States and three in Israel–are pooling resources to effect social change for women and girls in Israel. The Jewish Women’s Collaborative International Fund has awarded a two-year, $150,000 grant to Itach-Maaki, the lead organization of Bringing Women to the Fore: A Feminist Partnership. We talked with some of the leaders from these foundations to find out more about the discirmination of women in Israel, and what we can do to help.

What recent events was the Jewish Women’s Collaborative International Fund responding to with this project?

An 8-year old girl walking to school in Beit Shemesh was spit upon by a group of ultra-Orthodox men who also called her a prostitute for her “immodest” dress. Around the same time, a group of Orthodox IDF male soldiers walked out of a ceremony where women were singing. An Israeli woman who refused to move to the back of a public bus was accosted by a hostile crowd, women’s faces were blurred in billboard advertisements in certain Jerusalem neighborhoods, and a national conference on women’s fertility banned women experts and speakers. This sad confluence of events prompted the Jewish Women’s Collaborative International Fund to look at the exclusion of women from the public sphere in Israel. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 18 2012

Circumcision: When the Father Says Yes & the Mother Says No

By at 4:37 pm

crying newborn babyWhen I tell the story of how my husband and I became a couple, I often leave out one important detail: the long conversation we had about circumcision on our first date.

While we were not even at the place where holding hands would have felt right, we somehow stumbled into an intimate discussion of whether or not we would circumcise a very hypothetical son. Among the things that had brought us together, and have kept us together since, was a shared commitment to liberal Judaism, based in years of education and involvement in the Jewish community. But when it came to circumcision, we could not have been further apart. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 27 2011

French Feminist: Natural Mommies Have Gone too Far

By at 2:50 pm

Think the “mommy wars” are the exclusive domain of America’s over-educated, suburbanites? Think again.

This week’s New Yorker profiles Elisabeth Badinter, a Jewish feminist with strong opinions about epidural-rejecting, cloth-diaper-embracing lactivists — and she doesn’t hail from Berkeley or Montclair. Badinter is French, and resides in Paris.

Stateside, where the policies that could have the greatest impact on the lives of mothers and children — paid parental leave and affordable childcare, among them — seem too politically cumbersome to tackle, it’s easy to understand how pain meds and diapers and bottle-feeding would become maternal diversions. It’s harder to understand in France. There, many of the major feminist battles, as they pertain to motherhood (if not to government representation and skirt-chasing spouses) have been won: Eighty percent of Frenchwomen work fulltime, paid maternity leave is mandatory, and daycare is heavily subsidized.

Still, France is apparently not immune to the mundane skirmishes that pit mother against mother. And Badinter’s tough assessment of her country’s recent parental preoccupations has made her an alternately esteemed and reviled figure.

In her latest book, Le Conflit: La Femme et la Mère, slated to be released in the U.S. in January, the self-described “ideologue” takes aim at “motherhood fundamentalism” — a movement, she said, “dressed in the guise of a modern, moral cause that worships all things natural.” She sees it as regression cloaked in ecology or, worse, in biology. (Badinter, a mother of three grown children, made a name for herself three decades ago by rebutting the idea that women are born with maternal instincts.)

“These young women, they’re being told to use cloth diapers; paper diapers aren’t ‘natural,’” she told The New Yorker. “For me, the epidural was a victory over pain. But they say no, they want to feel what it is to be a woman. Their idea is that if you’re not suffering, you have failed the experience of maternity.”

The profile’s writer, Jane Kramer, rightfully points out Badinter’s economic interest in writing Le Conflit. Her father — a Russian Jewish immigrant to France, who flew reconnaissance missions on behalf of the French Resistance — went on to become the founder of the global advertising and communications firm Publicis. Badinter is now the controlling shareholder for Publicis; and the firm represents the manufacturers of Pampers diapers and Nestlé baby formula.

Whatever Badinter’s motivation, and she says it’s not Publicis’ bottom line, her thesis, on one hand, provides a welcome counterpoint to the messages that have bombarded this nine-months pregnant Park Slope resident. On the other hand, despite Badinter’s insistence that all she wants is for women to exercise their choice when it comes to giving birth or feeding their babies, she comes off sounding as doctrinaire as the Brooklyn stroller mommies who equate epidurals and bottle-feeding with parental failure.


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