Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Pope and Phillip Roth

The Pope is retiring. And so is Phillip Roth. I'm not mourning either one.

But in retirement, they will have a lot to talk about.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Taking A Wild Walk On The Men's Side

This week, once again, Women of the Wall are making headlines after their most recent Western Wall prayer service. For the uninitiated--women are not allowed to pray aloud even on the women's side of the partition nor are they permitted to wear prayer shawls or the tallit. These are prohibitions that are not expressly forbidden by Jewish law but are restricted because of the Orthodox tradition of rigidly defining gender roles.

There are all kinds of reasons that are forwarded for the continued marginalization of women during public ritual, most of which fall into the "separate but equal" camp. But there's no getting away from the fact that at its root, the continued segregation of women in all camps of Orthodoxy--not just the ultra or haredi sects--will remain a source of tension for these communities. To be Orthodox and want to live as a feminist is to live in a constant state of cognitive dissonance. Even if she can pursue anything you want professionally, every time a woman steps behind a partition, she helps perpetuate an unequal system. There really is no way to argue around that point. To remain within that system is to accept a basic inequality.

But it's not just the inequality that I find so troubling--it's that in doing so, women are reduced to objects. Over at The Anti-Girlfriend, I have put up a comic that more than lightly mocks this tendency to view women as sexual objects. Their roles and responsibilities are assigned based on anatomy, not desire or capabilities.

Some more observant might find this offensive, but what is truly offensive is the underlying notion regarding separation within traditional Judaism that regards women only in their capacity to sexually excite (or not) men. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Because Women Shouldn't Travel to the Past

For my latest Ballabuster column over at Jewcy, I talk about time travel. Namely, the type where you go back to a halcyon past where everything was better. People had manners, white picket fences, and everyone was happier. Yeah, that time never actually existed.

But the past, for certain demographics, was a better time (even if the present isn't too shabby for them either). Which is why it wasn't entirely surprising that newly released data suggests that while young men and women both strive for an egalitarian ideal in relationships, if this proves impossible, the men indicated that they would tried to persuade their female partners to stay at home while they acted as breadwinners. In essence, they want to take a trip in a time machine to the past when this arrangement was the norm. The women, on the other hand, presented with the same scenario preferred divorce and self-reliance. For females, traveling to the past isn't a palatable option.

This brought to two things--Louis CK's very well known bit about why it's better to be a white male (you can travel to any time in the past and things will be great for you) and Orthodox Judaism, which also allows you to go back to a time with rigidly defined gender roles.

In this column for Jewcy, I examine the frustrations of having grown up as an Orthodox woman and encountering those who can move back in time with ease--Orthodox men or aspiring ones.

How, I asked, after being raised secularly, could he choose to enter a world where he, as a man, possessed certain privileges that were the result of biology, not merit?

I know this seems harsh and unfair and that I was thinking along "single issue" lines. I wasn't considering all the other reasons that someone might choose to become Orthodox, most of which have nothing to do with "privilege." And I certainly wasn't calling anyone a misogynist. Taking all of the advantages that come your way, whether earned or otherwise, is something we are all guilty of. Yet it does rankle me at times that, by virtue of one's biology, they receive honors and status, no questions asked. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Pastrami of Boyle Heights

I just came back from spending nearly three months on the West Coast and though I had vowed that I wouldn't do any journalism (my goals for the trip had little to do with narrative nonfiction), I stumbled into a story that was too interesting to pass up. My friend Saul had told me about something I thought of as odd; little diners sprinkled all over the Mexican-American neighborhood of Boyle Heights that sold expected fare such as tacos and burritos, but also pastrami sandwiches.

A taco, pastrami sandwich, and pastrami burger at Jim's
(Photo by Saul Herckis)

I decided to look a bit further into it and learned a lot about Jewish history in LA in the early 20th Century for Tablet:

Back in the 1920s and ’30s, Boyle Heights was a diverse, working-class enclave. There were Mexicans and Japanese Americans, Molokan Russians, Jews, and to a lesser extent Italians and African-Americans. At no point were Jews a majority of the population; they constituted about 40 percent of the residents, largely concentrated around Brooklyn Avenue near Soto, at their absolute peak. Nonetheless, this area was Jewish enough to be referred to as “Los Angeles’ Lower East Side.”

A bus stop on Cesar Chavez Avenue, formerly Brooklyn Avenue. 
(Photo by Saul Herckis)

The original location of Canter's Deli on Cesar Chavez Avenue
(Photo by Saul Herckis)

The interior of the Breed Street Shul's large sanctuary. 
(Photo by Saul Herckis)

You can read the rest of the account over at Tablet's site

Friday, February 1, 2013

Hipster Bread Lines

This morning I walked around the corner (so exciting after nearly three months driving to get anywhere in LA) to get a cup of coffee and a croissant when I encountered a line out the door of the popular French bakery on Fulton.

This is a sight that's not at all uncommon in Brooklyn or gentrified neighborhoods anywhere in New York. When I told a friend about this--as a way of explaining why I was a few minutes late--she laughed. "I call that the 'hipster bread line,'" she said laughing. In her Bed-Stuy neighborhood, there is a sandwich shop that always has a line that extends halfway down the block. She has never tried it and does not know what all the fuss is all about.

Real bread lines are certainly no laughing matter, especially in this woeful economy where so many have been forced to turn to soup kitchens and food banks to supplement their diets. The hipster bread line, however, is not the result of dire need but of affluence and selectiveness. It is the most privileged of bread lines. And also the most tattooed.

Yet in mocking this queu, I also mock myself. I stood in that line instead of getting on the bus and buying my coffee at the Starbucks near my destination. I chose being late over drinking highly acidic over-brewed coffee. (It really is a bit sad that opting not to buy a 2+ dollar cup of coffee is the pretentious choice in this scenario.) My hope is that in the coming year, the only people I see standing in line for food are those like me--picky and snobbish--not needy and underserved.