In the third week since the Israeli military began attacking Gaza in “Operation Cast Lead,” the women of Neve Shalom / Wāħat as-Salām–a cooperative town in the “no man’s land” along the Israel-Palestine border–are making an impassioned and, we’ll admit, sexist cry for peace. In this intentional community of Jews and Arabs, whose name translates to “Oasis of Peace,” the anguish of beginning the new year surrounded by war is being expressed by one writer in 1970s-style feminist discourse.

“As always in wartime, we tend to regress to an inability to crack open
that male hegemony,” writes resident and blogger Maram Masarwi. “So what is too big for [Foreign Affiars minister] Tzipi Livni, if not
the fact that she as a woman is unable to resolve the “tough men’s
problems” by speaking out in a saner and less impassioned voice?”

Once again the men are marching out in front, both on
the battlefield and in the parade of commentators across our television
screens. And once again the women – mothers and wives – are
conspicuously absent from the decision-making process and banished from
any chance of influencing the intolerable reality unfolding before us.
We women are not bombing anyone from the skies above Gaza and we are
certainly not launching missiles toward Sderot. Once again the furious
male discourse from both sides is turning this conflict into a struggle
between two groups of men, and succeeding in obscuring the cruel
reality of conquest and the built-in division of labor between men and
women in the Israeli and Palestinian national discourse.

Once again we are exposed to an approach whereby men
are identified with the roles at the front line – requiring courage,
rationality, and bold decision-making – while the women are identified
with the roles at the rear, the home front roles, which disempower them
politically and keep them firmly lodged in the private sphere.

This year in Jerusalem: Miles to the southeast of Neve Shalom, in Jerusalem, university professor Tova Hartman helps to lead services at Shira Hadasha (“New Song”), a feminist Orthodox synagogue she helped to found. Yes, feminist Orthodox Judaism. To Hartman and others, that is not an oxymoron.

Women play a major role at Shira Hadasha. Services can’t begin until
there’s a minyan, a quorum, which in Shira Hadasha means 10 men and 10
women. Women can take the Torah in and out of the ark—and even dance
with it—long the exclusive province of men in the Orthodox world.
Hartman remembers a woman in her 80s who showed up for the first time
one Simchat Torah. The visitor had grown up in Mea She’arim,
Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, and had come to mark the
Jewish holiday that celebrates, often with unfettered dancing, the end
and beginning of the annual cycle of public Torah reading. Dance this
haredi woman did. Her sheitel, or wig, thrashed about wildly
as she sobbed, whirled around the hall and refused to let anyone else
near the scroll she clung to her chest. “She started telling me her
story,” Hartman says. “As a little girl, she had always wanted to dance
with the Torah, lead services and do things that weren’t available to
her. She cried, ‘When did we stop wanting what we wanted? When did we
give up?’”

Though considered the norm in the Conservative and Reform Jewish
worlds for nearly four decades, the pièce de résistance at Shira
Hadasha is that women here read Torah in front of the entire community
and are honored with aliyot, invitations to stand before the
entire congregation and say prayers before and after the Torah is read,
bucking a 2,000-year-old tradition. Emotion commonly washes over older
women like the Simchat Torah visitor when they step up to the bima.
As they dissolve into tears, doing something they never dreamed was
possible, other women exchange knowing glances, nods and whispers:
“First time, huh?”

Welcome to Grandma’s House:
Monday morning in Ghana, Parliament was called into session for the first time by a woman: Speaker Joyce Bamford-Addo. Bamford-Addo, a Supreme Court judge from 1991-2004, was elected unanimously by Parliament on January 7. She had taken early retirement (at age 68) after being passed up for the Chief Justice post by the previous administration. Now, she is being praised in Ghanaian and international press as West Africa’s Nancy Pelosi.

However, the Women’s Media Center caught the Ghanaian Chronicle describing Justice Bamford-Addo like a suburban housewife circa the Eisenhower administration, calling the new speaker “a generally fair minded person, a lady who takes time to dust her nose
and apply mascara delicately, before she goes to court. Apart from
playing grandma, she now reads and occasional [sic] writes, until this
unexpected job as the third most powerful person in the land.”

Older women missing from kidney lists: A new study by surgeons at Johns Hopkins University reveals that women are increasingly unlikely to be put on kidney transplant lists after they turn 55. Until the double-nickel age, women are just as likely as men to have access to the transplant lists, but after 55 there is a rapidly-growing disparity.

ages 56 to 65 had 15% less access to transplantation, those ages 66 to
75 had 29% less access, and those older than 75 had 59% less access
than men of similar age,” reports MedPage Today, a project of the University of Pennsylvania. Anecdotally, the study authors suspect that doctors and patients believe older women to be frailer than men of similar age, but data revealed that the “survival benefit… was either equivalent in both sexes or higher among women for each age group.”

Moral of the story: Whether needing an organ transplant or leading a national legislature, grannies are tougher than they look.
(Rachel R.)

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  • [email protected] February 7, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Regarding the Kidney transplant item, the study authors belief that doctors consider women frailer than their male counterparts doesn’t make sense. We’re all aware that women live longer than men. I wonder if there isn’t another reason, that women, especially older women, just aren’t valued in our culture. The cultural perception seems to be that women over 55 wouldn’t have much to live for anyway. Am I paranoid?