I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.- Audre Lorde
I applied to the University For Peace with the belief that I would be entering into an institution that had none the major issues affecting elite liberal arts universities in the United States. I believed that I would find no signs of discrimination, harassment, or violence; rather, I envisioned a community of yogis, nature lovers and progressive thinkers. I thought of a commune.
After writing my recommendation letter to UPEACE, my former college professor, Laurie Essig, wrote to me saying that she was curious to see how this school and the concepts of peace would mesh with my beliefs. I knew she had formulated some thoughts about it, but I had no idea what they were. I mean, “How could studying Peace not relate to my work as a feminist activist?” I thought.
I kept asking myself what she meant and now, after six courses and seven months of being within this community, I understand what Laurie was thinking. The road to peace is complex… it cannot always be peaceful, is often based in patriarchy and is certainly not filled with “hippies.”
Peace is understood as the absence of war and the presence of tranquility. But peace can also be dangerously embodied as compromise and remaining silent out of fear of creating a conflict.
Around the world, UN Peacekeepers are sent out on missions to give peace to war-torn countries, and yet they themselves are often the perpetrators of violence (most commonly on women and children). They remain silent on the violence their UN colleagues place on others and often lack the gender lens to understand the specific needs of the men, women and children within those areas. They put an end to the visible signs of war, but don’t cease violence from existing within the crevices of a community.
This is the peace that I am learning about and see happening before my eyes - the silence against harassment and discrimination by an administration and a fear that exists amongst students for speaking out.
I want to still believe in Peace - I know that I would have left months ago if I did not - but not this way.
The peace that I know includes mediation, and an understanding of the world through the eyes of others. Peace is about addressing issues (always using a gender lens) rather than allowing them to exist deep within us. Peace should not be something that we seek to bring only to others, but that we try to create within ourselves.
I flew home to New York City to bring in 2012 and indulge in the chaos of the city after an extended (3-year) absence. On one of my last days in the city, I had the unexpected but immense pleasure to catch up with an old friend, Leemore, from High School. We hadn’t seen each other in years but without hesitation, we managed to talk about all of our experiences starting from the day we had last seen each other.
Somewhere in the conversation, I told my dear friend that I had brought in the New Year sober, and in an Hasidic Jewish community… eventually my statement turned into an engaging conversation about the Hasidic community in Brooklyn, and Leemore’s modern Jewish family.
As this is a space that deeply relies on the belief that the personal is political, I asked Leemore if she would share her thoughts* with us. She said yes. Take a look!
COEXISTENCE & COMPROMISE: Thin lines between Hasidic Jews and the modern world
by Leemore Malka
In August of 2010, I found myself in a restaurant called Gottlieb’s in the Satmar Hasidic Jewish section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I am neither kosher nor religious, but my uncle Yoav and his daughter Tirza are and they were visiting us from Jerusalem. Tirza, my mother, my sister and I were the only women at Gottlieb’s… And aside from Tirza, we were certainly not dressed accordingly.
We’d ended up at Gottlieb’s Restaurant by accident after the kosher restaurant we’d researched in a secular neighborhood turned out to be closed. My sister and I were decked out in our best summer dresses, our long brown hair spilling down our backs, and our mother was wearing shorts and a tank top. The men cast their eyes towards us, not with any kind of ill will, but they were certainly piqued by our presence. A young redheaded man came to take our order and we couldn’t help but notice he was shaking and stuttering. When he left our table, our uncle Yoav smiled at us and said: “He isn’t used to seeing girls who look like you.”
I was deeply marked by this moment and it echoes back to me in the wake of two current disputes: The fight between the Satmar Hasidics and young cyclists (particularly women) of Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg; and the Haredis (a larger classification of Orthodox Judaism of which Hasidism is a subset) confronting the secular community (again, particularly its women), of Bet Shemesh, Israel, near Jerusalem.
The conflict happening in Williamsburg first came to my attention when I read Michael Idov’s excellent and memorable article in New York Magazine, and my father first told me about the one happening in Israel very recently. I instantly drew a parallel between the two and the more I contemplated them, the more I realized that the crux of these situations is a complicated tangle of coexistence and compromise.
In New York, the Satmar Hasidics are dismayed and disturbed by young female cyclists bicycling through their streets in summer clothes, baring their legs, arms and chests, as most of us want to do at that time of year. In Israel, the (or at least a number of) Haredis expect the secular women that have long inhabited Bet Shemesh to follow the rule they uphold in their own communities: Men and women must stay segregated.
The uproar continues on both sides in Israel after Tanya Rosenblit, a secular Israeli woman, refused to move to the back of a city bus last month when a male Haredi passenger instructed her to do so. In Idov’s article, Isaac Abraham, a Satmar spokesman, says of the cyclists: “How long have you lived in the community that you now want to make the rules and totally ignore my opinion, when I’ve lived here for 50 years?” The women of Bet Shemesh must be thinking the exact same thing.
The Satmar Hasidics may have closely recreated the shtetls of their old country on a couple of streets in Williamsburg, but they can’t ignore the existence of the rest of the neighborhood and its inhabitants’ right to move freely. But they live their lives by the rules of the Bible, and the Bible tells them they are forbidden to even glance at an “improperly dressed” member of the opposite sex.
I believe we have to respect each other’s beliefs, but what happens when the belief is not ours, and it is being enforced upon us?
Unfortunately, Idov’s article does not include any perspectives of sympathy towards the Satmars from the young cyclists… In fact, they are portrayed as disrespectful and even mocking of the Satmar way of life. Their insularity, insouciance and egotism frustrate me; it certainly won’t help matters and does nothing to bring the two groups any closer together. But the central issue at hand is that women are riding their bicycles, they are in movement, passing by for only a brief moment… And the Satmars can’t handle it. Averting their eyes is not enough. They are trying desperately to deny the undeniable: That women exist, and that she is inseparable, inextricable, one in the same, as her body, her sexuality, her skin, her breasts, her legs and thighs and hair. Is this such a sinful fact? How can one ignore the truths and traits that have marked us since the beginning of human life on earth?
The situation in Bet Shemesh is much simpler to me, particularly after I read an article from Ma’ariv, a leading Israeli paper, in which Haredi leader Mordechai Blau justifies and condones the incident: “Every Haredi woman simply enjoys to sit in the back in the company of women where she can speak about women oriented topics, and not to sit in the company of men, and not to open her mouth there. She is comfortable in the back. Women have certain topics of conversation: the kitchen, the household, and child rearing. This is natural”. (translated to English here)
OK. WHOA. “This is natural?” That’s all women talk about? GET A CLUE! It’s 2012. Hell, I don’t think that’s EVER all that women talked about! You can run your community by the Bible’s every word (or your interpretation of it?) but you can’t go out into the rest of the world and expect them to follow rules that are discriminatory. What’s “natural” here is incredibly skewed.
A day after beginning research for this article, I find out that Tanya Rosenblit, “the Rosa Parks of Israel” as she is being called, has received multiple death threats AND that Haredis are stoning “mixed” buses. (All this information comes from leading Israeli papers Ha’aretz & Yediot Ahronot and can be read in English at failedmessiah.typepad.com) The ignorance, denial and entitlement here is tuned to a fundamentalist pitch. How can the Haredis allow their religious beliefs to lead them so astray? Do they truly believe a secular way of life is completely invalid? And most interestingly, what do Haredi women make of all this?
I feel much less compassion for the Haredis than the Williamsburg Satmars, yet there remain several correlations between their two clashes. How much do we have to compromise in order to coexist, if anything? What do the Satmars and Haredis need to compromise in order to be at peace with reality outside their communities?
The first answer that comes to mind is their belief, but that won’t do, will it? For us women, are we going to take a different bike route in the summertime? Maybe, if women feel deep compassion for the Satmars perhaps. Is it our right to ride down Bedford Avenue in a short skirt? I believe it is. But are women going to sit at the back of the bus? You better not.
*All thoughts belong to the author. They have not been changed for this site.
I tend to not repost blogs simply because I fear it will remove the personal aspect of my writing, but this photo essay is certainly personal and powerful. I especially love the first photograph - For regular readers and friends, I am sure it is no surprise why. Enjoy!
Celebrity magazines are once again excited to profit off of the recent birth of yet another celebrity baby, Blue Ivy Carter, the daughter of Beyonce and Jay Z.
Unlike most tacky and mindless celebrity magazine articles that share the amount of money spent on new baby clothes, the focus this time is on the “special gift" the couple with everything has given to their new baby girl: lyrics or perhaps a poem on Jay Z’s abolishment of "the b-word" or Bitch.
Before I got in the game, made a change, and got rich, I didn’t think hard about using the word B—-. I rapped, I flipped it, I sold it, I lived it now with my daughter in this world I curse those that give it. I never realized while on the fast track that I’d give riddance to the word bitch, to leave her innocence in tact. No man will degrade her, or call her out her name the women won’t despise her and call her the same. I know it’s gonna miss me cuz we been together like Nike Airs and crisp tees when we all used to hang out front singing 99 problems but a lady ain’t one. Excuse me miss, can I be your mister cuz I can tell the difference from a little girl and a sister, She never grew up, her father left her alone I promise not to talk like we used to until Kingdom Come. I’m so focused on your future, The degradation has passed I wish you wealth, health, and insight forever young you may pass. Blue Ivy Carter, my angel.
I sincerely congratulate Jay Z for finally recognizing the negative connotations this profane word has towards women. Furthermore I support his (finally) desire to never call a woman a “Bitch” again and yet, I wonder how loving and subsequently marrying a woman didn’t stop him from using the term before.
Why is it that having a child suddenly teaches you how to treat a person with respect? Did he not have the deepest respect for the incredible women in his life prior to Blue’s birth?”
The sad reality is that most fans will only continue to view Jay Z as a tremendous activist and musician rather than understanding the serious implications his music has had on gender issues for women around the world.
Racism and stereotyping run rampant in societies around the world and while everyone holds some form of prejudice, most are afraid to voice them. Instead, we live in a society where prejudices remain hidden in our daily actions with those who appear outwardly different from ourselves. Rather than embracing our unique differences, people attempt to further essentialize marginalized communities. This is often done by the ever-famous statements, “I have black friends” or “My skin gets darker than yours when I am tanned” and “Usually I am lighter, but I have been out in the sun a lot these last few months.”
I am not a big proponent of jokes about any marginalized group and yet oddly enough, I was able to laugh at the recent viral sensation, “Shit White Girls Say… to Black Girls.” I cannot count the number of times that self-identified white friends and family members in my life have asked (or not) to play with my hair, mentioned that they loved black people but would never date a black guy, or told me that I looked like one of ten or so African American celebrity women that make it into mainstream media outlets (namely, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and Lauren Hill - It must be the natural hair).
Franchesca Ramsey's satire of “Shit People Say” is a hilarious and somewhat honest glimpse into the experience of a large majority of women of color living in the United States. It is certainly a video that should be critiqued and analyzed not for the content but rather, for the relationships that friends of different races, ethnicities, cultural values, etc, form. Rather than trying to find ways for women to assimilate, perhaps we should focus more on the process of cherishing our differences.
Someone Like You by Adele has followed me all week in conversations, elevator music and through speakers in stores. After claiming that I couldn’t relate to her lyrics, I finally understand. A mentor once told me that at the end of one’s life, one will be able to count close friends on one hand; I allow this belief to calm me in moments when friends slowly disappear from my life and new ones emerge.
Returning home to New York City this time was quite a different experience than in the past. The bonds that I once held onto so tightly, have shifted; My constant travels and changes in my own life have finally altered the strong holds I had in this great city full of childhood memories. New people appeared in my life as close friends, while others have somehow drifted away.
One of the most beautiful things about old friendships is there ability to surpass time and distance. Sometimes, the beauty is truly in the experiences that we shared in a moment and perhaps not the ongoing or continuous relationships we have with them. And so, I return to my home and family in a few days with a great sense of clarity about my present (all of which I assume will appear in future posts), and an appreciation for the memories that I created in this beautiful city.
I strongly debated sharing this on my blog as I try to focus primarily on topics related to women’s rights; However I realize that the personal is often the most important thing to explore in the process of creating change.
I am often disturbed in the ways in which a large part of America teaches children about their bodies. It’s a cliche, but over the past few years the idea of not having children has entered my mind. Of course, the upbringing of American children isn’t the only reason for this sudden transformation, but it is certainly a part of it.
And then I saw this video which has strongly challenged my misconceptions of children and their capacity for understanding the truth and the world at large. This kid certainly blows my mind and one day, I hope that all children will be exclaiming their extreme distaste for the organizations, industries and people who try to categorize them.
Thank you to the parents who did an oustanding job in educating this young girl.
As feminists, our goal is not only to assist in the liberation of women in our own countries but also to understand and provide support in the obtaining equalities formen and women around the world. Over time, I have found that many Western feminism (and feminists) lack a clear understanding of the limitations and needs of (self-identified) women and men internationally, leading to our own ignorance and suffering of communities in need.
My education at the University for Peace in Costa Rica has and continues to shed light on the voices that have remained invisible in societies in Myanmar, Mexico, Kenya, DRC (Congo), Zambia, Canada, Pakistan, and so forth. My colleagues have shared with me their horrors with sexual assault, FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), Drug Trafficking and its impact on women. They have demonstrated their undying strength and leadership both on campus and in their countries, working to give a voice to all those who have been silenced.
Recently, one of my colleagues shared with me a marriage contract/conditions that a young man has requested of his soon-to-be wife. It has left us all incredible frustrated, disturbed, saddened and enraged; While brainstorming has begun on ways to take serious action against this atrocity, I fully heartedly believe that the first step is sharing the realities women face in Kenya with my feminist community so that they may hopefully spread and take root in the minds of activists around the world.
It must be noted, that all of the women in my colleagues family have opposed this “contract,” but the men have eagerly supported in.
All his meals must be cooked by her (the wife). He will not eat any meal cooked by the maid Only she (the wife) shall handle his clothes including washing, ironing, folding etc She (the wife) shall be at his (the husbands) service at all times; the maid shall only attend to the children She (the wife) shall ensure his dinner is served by 6pm every day without fail and she will not serve the same dish twice in a week She (the wife) shall submit to his sexual needs with no excuses save for when she is menstruating She (the wife) will bear their children via c-section (to prevent her virgina from stretching) She (the wife) is required to regain her pre-pregnancy weight within 3 months of having a baby She (the wife) shall always look sexy, well dressed, hair well coiffured and nails and toes manicured and pedicured at all time. Any monies she (the wife) earns will be hers to keep and spend as she pleases, he will provide financially towards all other expenses under the agreement that she shall not question his finances, expenses or expenditures She (the wife) shall not watch soap operas or Niger movies (during his presence) they can be watched when he is not at home In the event of divorce, she (the wife) shall leave only with what she came into the marriage with or what she (the wife) acquires thru her own earnings. She (the wife’s) relatives shall visit by appointment only and visits shall not exceed 3 days stay She (the wife) shall not travel away from the home for more than 2 days unless in the event of a death of a close family or relative to which travel shall not exceed 3 days She (the wife) will be part of any women’s church groups or chamas that require her presence on weekends or evenings She (the wife) shall not ask, request, require him to attend church functions that require him to contribute money She (the wife) shall not discuss their marriage with her female friends, church mates, work mates or female relatives. She (the wife) is forbidden from having any male friends. She (the wife) shall not ask his whereabouts because he is out doing mens business She (the wife) must disclose her whereabouts at all times and always be reachable by phone He (the husband) reserves the right to add, amend, exclude this agreement without prior notice to her (the wife)
Yesterday afternoon, I met with a professor at the University of Peace where I learned that her colleague and friend Marc Ellis, was being forced out of his position under “abuse of authority” charges at Baylor University by Kenn Starr, the President of Baylor and former Clinton White House nemesis.
The exact chargers against Marc Ellis are unclear, however this situation must force us to look at the racism and discrimination that is allowed to exist at universities in the 21st Century. As my colleague stated, “The Baylor Charter does not allow the hiring of gays or lesbians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or anyone who is not a Christian or a Jew. It is not about preference, they cannot hire members of the groups aforementioned. At Baylor, one can be dismissed for homosexual acts, adultery, or “fornication”. Moreover, they cannot hire Mormons. Mitt Romney, for instance, could not teach on the Baylor faculty. Baylor simply does not consider Mormons to be Christians.”
In an increasingly globalized society, academic freedom is essential to the expulsion of discrimination, racism, ethnocentrism and violence against others. This is what Marc Ellie teaches, and this, in my opinion, is the underlying reason why Kenn Staff has decided to take action against such an outspoken professor.
I sincerely hope that feminist scholars will come together and fight against another act of silencing of our academic communities.
Please join co-chairs Cornel West and Rosemary Ruether signing this petition.
Kenn Starr former Clinton White House nemesis and President of Baylor University, to dismiss dissident Jewish voice Dr. Marc Ellis.
For more than three decades the prophetic voice of Marc Ellis has influenced generations of academics and activists. His dissident voice in the realm of contemporary Jewish identity and his theology of solidarity with Palestinians has been encouraged by numerous scholar-activists including Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Desmond Tutu and the two of us, Rosemary Ruether and Cornel West.
Unfortunately this voice is now being silenced at Baylor University where Marc has served with distinction for almost fifteen years as University Professor and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies. With the approval of Kenneth Starr, President of Baylor University, Marc Ellis is under internal investigation in what looks more and more like a persecution to silence a Jewish voice of dissent. In short, Baylor is re-writing its rules to dismiss Marc Ellis from the faculty.
We, the undersigned, request President Starr to honor Dr. Ellis’ academic freedom and stop all hostility toward him, including any attempt at dismissal. Join us signing this petition.
Cornel West and Rosemary Radford Ruether (co-chairs of the committee)
This tribe called “Women of Color” is not an ethnicity. It is one of the inventions of solidarity, an alliance, a political necessity that is not the given name of every female with dark skin and a colonized tongue, but rather a choice about how to resist and with whom.
Aurora Levins Morales, My Name is This Story from Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios. (via art-is-the-word)