Posted By Allison Pearl
Allison Pearl is a summer intern at the National Council of Jewish Women/LA, a native of Los Angeles, a Marlborough high school graduate, and a current student at Vassar College. At Vassar, she is studying psychology and drama, as well as pursuing her interests in gender studies, writing and literature.
I did not come easily to feminism. I resisted the title because I was afraid of making the word a part of myself: that blurry, future person I was simultaneously trying to find and create throughout adolescence. Growing up and becoming myself was, and continues to be, a slow, delicate process, and I used to fear that dropping ‘feminist’ into the image that I was so carefully attempting to craft would be a clumsy mistake. And personally, I didn’t feel differently about the title after reading statistics, or after encountering sexism, or even after reading Simone de Beauvoir. My transition into seeing myself as a feminist grew out of something I have known and owned about myself my whole life: I am a reader. Both in school and on my own, I am perpetually in the middle of a book, with an ever-growing, unread stack waiting on my nightstand. I always begin a book hoping to lose myself in the balm of another world, another life. Yet, more often than not, a book will turn out to be a drifting embarkation which ultimately transports me back to myself: a quiet, familiar shore. I didn’t know while I read some of these books, nor for some time afterward, what my destination was, but when I arrived and then turned to look behind me, they were, of course, all right where I had left them. They had borne me back to myself, and when I turned around, this is what I saw:
“She, for an instant, delayed deadly purpose in tears and reflection,
Fell, ghostlike, on the bed where she uttered a few final phrases:
‘Spoils that were so sweet once, while fate and its god gave permission,
Take to yourselves this soul. Cut me loose from all of this anguish.’ […]
This said, she pressed her face to the covers: […]
‘This is the fire that, far out to sea, the cruel Dardanian’s
Eyes must absorb. He must carry with him these omens of our death.’”
I chose to take Latin in high school because I liked the dreamy, dusty seclusion of a dead language, the riddled grammar and crude pronunciations that create pictures, not sentences: once-sweet spoils, vessels on the shore, the path to the dead world, eyes absorbing. These fragments of Book IV of The Aeneid rise slowly up to meet me as I translate. Doomed, sweet Dido meets her end on a school bus in afternoon traffic on Pico Boulevard. She is beautiful to behold, even out at sea. She flings herself on the smoking pyre, adding herself to the pile of Aeneas’ forgotten possessions, and the smoke billows into the sky. This is Dido’s final message to Aeneas, who watches from his receding ship, and to me, her reader, watching from my own drifting vessel. Anticipating a written assignment, I lift my eyes from the page and begin to formulate Dido’s defense, contemplating her actions, her victimization, and her place in a man’s story. Eventually, I will reread this with an analytic eye that will spread a frost over the page. But in this moment, when the language is not dead but dying, I witness her, I feel the burden of desolation she ignores in her unshared death. Fifteen, on a school bus, in my khaki uniform skirt, a highlighter in my teeth, I underline with pen beneath her message.
“I espied thee, fair indeed and tall,
Under a platan, yet methought less fair,
Less winning soft, less amiably mild,
Than that smooth wat’ry image; back I turned,
Thou following cried’st aloud, “Return fair Eve,
Whom fli’st thou? Whom thou fli’st, of him thou art,
His flesh, his bone; to give thee being I lent
Out of my side to thee, nearest my heart
Substantial life, to have thee by my side
Henceforth an individual solace dear;
Part of my soul I seek thee, and thee claim
My other half’: with that thy gentle hand
Seized mine, I yielded.”
Eve- on trial. I’m sixteen, hurriedly reading Paradise Lost for AP English Literature, and I underline her image with unease. Someone is here; someone is knocking at the door. It occurs to me that there is more here than what is written on the page, and there is more to her. Eve is in the garden, and it doesn’t feel quite right. Apprehension slowly rises in me as I ponder the possibilities of what would happen if I looked below, at my own image, and liked what I saw, unimaginable as that may be. I do not know why or how she wants to return to her own self, the image in the pond, but I begin to think that perhaps I do not empathize not because I don’t understand, but because she is designed to be misunderstood. I am still far at sea, and the gleaming signal of smoke is perfectly mistakable for so many different things. Perhaps it means pain, anger, desolation, danger, submission, or even something more sinister, and I can’t know for sure, but I underline nevertheless. I watch with fear and envy her attempt to follow instincts that I cannot discern. These are just details we will skim over in class, but even though she fails, even though it all goes perfectly wrong, I am a witness. Here is reasonable doubt, disguised by his flesh, his bone, an individual solace dear. I ask if Eve is possibly a victim more of Milton, rather than Satan, and a classmate quickly says no, of course not. I can see why you would think that, but definitely not. I hesitate, then yield.
“She became with all that power sweeping savagely in and inevitably withdrawing, hypnotized, and the two senses of that vastness and this tininess (the pool had diminished again) flowering within it made her feel that she was bound hand and foot and unable to move by the intensity of feelings which reduced her own body, her own life, and the lives of all the people in the world, for ever, to nothingness. So listening to the waves, crouched over the pool, she brooded.”
I am in bed, hypnotized and stricken. I am holding To the Lighthouse on my chest, pressing hard for air. Waves are crashing all around a woman alone on a shore, before an ocean. This feels both overwhelmingly old and new. I feel the words seeping into me as I take in this woman on the page now pressed to my chest. There are some words we read that are forever written on our faces. I am inside and outside, vast and tiny, bound hand and foot. I am all tied up. I cannot really fathom it all at once, but something is ebbing and flowing. I feel myself drifting ever closer to the distant shore, with each book transporting me closer and each tide tempting me back. Relief, sorrow, confusion and envy are all flowering within me, and I guess as to why. These women have a witness to their pain, thoughts, bravery, love, reasoning, sensations, brooding: simply, to their experiences of self. I feel rootless, vast and tiny. I am feeling and listening and underlining them, but I am incidental. I am unseen and I think, quietly and timidly, that there is still more to me, in here.
“What did she so desire to escape from? Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: that what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited on her from outside and for no reason at all. Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disc jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?”
‘What else?’ All the answers ebb away as the chapter ends. I am reading The Crying of Lot 49 for a reason I will not have again. All of the answers are unmistakably in the ‘what else’: whatever will be left unsaid, whatever I find alone, whatever I can never have explained. Oedipa Maas is going to open a door I cannot follow her through. I don’t think I know any better. The rest of the book feels nauseating and bitter cold, but this part feels like the tide pool remaining once the ocean harshly pours away. Drifting architecture, no within and no without. The tower is everywhere, albeit magically and dizzyingly incidental- but everywhere. I can press hard in every direction, measure its field strength, even towards myself, into myself, but I am inescapable. All the power sweeping savagely in and inevitably withdrawing. I think I knew the solution, even then. Retrace my steps. This is the fire that eyes, far out to sea, must absorb. Take root. Find a witness.
“But look, I am writing once again.
I write, I wrote, I took root.
I am again one- and I can pull
So much thought, pulled taut
But then I will be furniture again,
My split ends are decoration in one’s home
But look now I am not even one, but everyone’s.
I do not do what I will
I did not come to be a subject
When I was so good at playing the object
And now I am no one’s.
And now I cannot come, I am all tied up.
I am not what anyone wanted. So I won.
Amateur and immature
I take root so I can be my own,
Because when one is one’s own, one is
Never a little too anyone.
I wrote to prove you wrong, and I
Did by becoming some thoughts, pulled taut.
You taught me, and I have slackened
Now into just this one,
So no, my only one-
I will not come.”
Less winning soft, less amiably mild. This is the end of the poem I write as high school comes to a close. Several people who matter in my life ask me if it is about them. I can see the words on their faces. And when each of them asks me, my immediate thought is yes, of course, everything works out beautifully if it’s for someone else. But I always say no, of course not. I can see why you would think that, but definitely not. They are all individuals solaced, but I am hearing a knock at the door. Someone is in here. There is still more here. I want to apologize for it, avoid and deflect what I am reading and what I have now allowed everyone else to read. Maybe my poem is designed to be misunderstood. But somehow, quietly and timidly, I don’t apologize, I don’t let go, and I don’t let it be a misunderstanding. This is my wat’ry image: a picture, not a sentence, less soft, less mild. And no one will try to turn back to it, except me. I will try, and try, and try. I try for a reason that I will never have for anything else. I retrace my steps. This is the fire that, far out to sea, eyes must absorb. Even from a distance- even through the smoke, the sea, the waves, the frost, I have finally glimpsed what I had misunderstood about the word. The message found me. I am now perfectly unmistaken, perfectly unmistakable in myself. This was always the destination. When I reached myself, when I saw myself arrive from a history, from a sea of women, I became a feminist. I read these women, one by one, and I suspect that sooner than I realized, they were all written upon my face.
(Sources: The Aeneid by Virgil, Paradise Lost by John Milton, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon)
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July 10, 2013 | 5:56 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
“Mark my words, some future Governor of this state will come before the citizens to apologize…Jerry Brown can save that future governor the whole ritual by acting now.”
That is what Chris Hayes had to say on July 8th, when covering the report by Corey G. Johnson of the Center for Investigative Reporting released on July 7th: “Female Inmates Sterilized in California Prisons Without Approval.”
From 2006-2010, 148 women inmates were sterilized without the doctors obtaining approvals required by the state to do so. It’s likely that another 100 women were sterilized in the late 1990s as well.
The report states: “Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.”
The residents of California and the United States should be outraged; thank goodness for the few news agencies who have picked up this story!
In the report, former women inmates detail being pressured into tubal ligation during pregnancies. Sterilizations during labor or childbirth are not allowed in prisons if federal funds are used to perform them due to the very real and obvious “concerns that prisoners might feel pressured to comply.” Dr. Dorothy Roberts clearly explains: “soliciting approval for sterilization during labor is coercive because pain and discomfort can impair a woman’s ability to weigh the decision.”
California has a horrifying history with sterilization. From 1909-1964, 20,000 women and men in CA were sterilized. The report also notes that Nazis asked California eugenics leaders for advice on the matter in the 1930s. See the quote by Hitler, which Chris Hayes mentioned on his show, in the photograph.
Hayes connects the issue of sterilizations in prisons with problems in our prisons in general. He notes that prisoners in California are conducting their 3rd hunger strike to protest “subjection to decades of indefinite state-sanctioned torture, via long term solitary confinement.” In California inmates can be held in solitary confinement indefinitely and 70% of those who committed suicide in California prisons in 2005 were in solitary confinement at the time, according to Hayes’ report.
The CIR report states that:
“Under compulsory sterilization laws here and in 31 other states, minority groups, the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill and criminals were singled out as inferior to prevent them from spreading their genes.”
Justice Now, a non-profit organization based in Oakland, has been actively trying to get medical data and records from the prisons for several years. A response they got from the Receiver’s Office acknowledged that tubal ligations were taking place in 2 prisons in California back in 2008. But nothing was done about this until 2010, when Justice Now filed a public records request and complained to Senator Carol Liu, who was then the Chairwoman of the Select Committee of Women and Children in the Criminal Justice System. Dr. Ricki Barnett of the Health Care Review Committee explained in the report that no requests for tubal ligations had come to the Committee for review since she joined the Committee in 2008. Barnett told officials at both prisons and at nearby hospitals to stop the sterilizations, but said in the report that they seemed to not know about the existing restrictions on the procedure, “operating on the fact that this was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.”
Some of the doctors who performed the surgeries have claimed that they just wanted to provide options to the women inmates just as they would have options outside of prison and to ensure that their health is a priority. But inmates have claimed that they were pressured into getting tubal ligations without being given reasons or explanations as to why they should do so.
The doctors who performed these coercive procedures should be held accountable for their actions. Governor Brown must step up and, yes, apologize for the State’s lack of oversight and enforcement of the law and should ensure that those who work in the prison system are held accountable for wrongdoing. Future medical professionals in our prisons must be thoroughly trained to provide proper medical care to inmates, care that respects their human desires and needs, and does not use intimidation or coercion to perform eugenic procedures on disempowered populations. A process for review on the state level is necessary and the residents of California have a right to be informed and to review policies and procedures in our prisons.
Below is a statement made by Governor Davis back in 2003 to the 20,000 victims of sterilization mentioned earlier in the article. I believe it is time for another apology!
June 28, 2013 | 12:47 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
I’d been wondering for a while about the Shulamit Gallery. What was behind this place that focused on Israeli and Iranian art but had opened up its space to events that allowed for dialogue on political and social topics? Last Monday I attended an event in the beautiful gallery organized by New Israel Fund in which their Law Fellows, a Palestinian Israeli and a Jewish Israeli, both women, spoke about their work in Israeli human rights law.
Art, politics, presentation—all of this on Venice Blvd? What is the gallery’s role in the maze of the LA Jewish community?
On June 2, 2013 I met Shula at NCJW/LA’s Annual Meeting, which she attended as our Keynote Speaker, and I finally got some answers. Shulamit Nazarian, the Founder and Director of the gallery is behind the mystery that makes the Shulamit Gallery so intriguing and unique (not to mention her fabulous Co-Director Anne Hromadka who is a true expert on Jewish art and deserves a shout out). Born and raised in Iran, Shula and her family moved to Israel in 1978 when the revolution started. Because it was difficult for her father’s company to conduct business in Iran from Israel the family decided to leave Israel for the United States after 9 months there.
Arriving to Los Angeles in 1979 was no easy feat for the family as there was a lot of anti-Iranian sentiment among American Jews, who, as Shula explained to me, “misunderstood who we are as Iranian Jews and what was happening in Iranian politics at the time.” Despite the challenges they faced upon their move, Shula’s father always told her that the best thing that ever happened to them was the rise of Khomeini because they were able to come to the United States and have the kind of freedom they were never able to have in Iran.
During her keynote talk, Shula mentioned her indebtedness to her parents for raising her with the concept of Tikkun Olam and for teaching her of her responsibility to give back and help others. In every way they felt they could make a difference, Shula’s parents and family have supported art, music, educational, and other nonprofits in both the U.S. and in Israel through their family foundation. Shula’s pride in her family’s philanthropy is almost tangible when she speaks about her parents and about it, but her passion for her heritage stands out most when she speaks.
“Our history goes back to Queen Esther in Iran and Iranian Jews are the keepers of Iranian culture because even Islam and other religions came to the Persian Empire after we were already there,” Shula explained to me. This deep connection to the history of her community in Iran and their role as keepers of the culture played a role in leading Shula to be “a keeper of culture” herself.
Much of the art shown at the Shulamit Gallery makes a subtle political statement. “Artists have no boundaries so they can use the language of art in ways that are more ambiguous and open to interpretation,” says Shula. “I know for a fact that Iranian artists can get away with expressing themselves in ways that are important to them. It transcends beyond the boundaries of their country. So their art becomes their language for advocacy and expression and it becomes a lot less in your face. It allows the viewer to interpret it or understand it on their own. I think it’s important that they express those challenges that they experience as a community, as women, as people with political limitations.”
For Shula, showing coexistence and collaborations through art that already takes place in Israeli society is important: “people outside Israel don’t hear about it and are not aware of it and it’s so important that American Jews who have a huge fallacy about what’s going on in Israel see it because these are the strengths of Israel. “ Through exposing the art of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Israelis, Shula hopes to show the diversity within Israel and to help American Jews more deeply understand the Middle East.
Beyond art, politics, and the Middle East, starting the gallery was a significant milestone in Shula’s personal life as well. Around 7 years ago, Shula purchased a home designed by renowned mid-century architect A. Quincy Jones. Shula herself is an architect and, at the time, had recently divorced and found herself searching for meaning in her personal life. In expressing how she felt at the times, Shula said: “I felt that one of the ways was to support women and people in my community through something, but I wasn’t sure what that was.” As things happen when you least expect them, Shula fell into showing art in her new home. A few of her Vietnamese friends asked if they could show their art in her home and she agreed to do it, discovering a new passion for showing art. Shula was already involved with the USC Hillel Art Committee and soon ended up showing an exhibit of Iranian Jewish art at USC Hillel. She then transported the exhibit to her home to exhibit there. With her newfound passion for showing art, Shula felt that her home was not the ideal space for public art viewings. Thus, eight months ago, Shulamit Gallery was born.
For Shula, starting the gallery was part of her personal transition after her divorce. When I asked Shula what her advice would be to other women going through similar transitions in their lives, here’s what she said: “I think that transitional times are difficult and you feel like you’re in the air, you don’t feel the ground under your feet. But at the same time it’s the ambiguous times in your life that are a huge opportunity to start really going back inside and going back into your own essence. It’s actually a beautiful moment in your life. As difficult as it is, you have to trust yourself to know that we all have a role. Within time you will see the changes and you will see people coming into your life that allow you to push towards achieving your goals.”
Visit the Shulamit Gallery to see their current exhibit, Cessation, by artist Orit Hofshi until July 27, 2013. Information can be found on their website: www. shulamitgallery.com.
May 3, 2013 | 12:56 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
I have this calendar of Yiddish sayings on my desk. I never really think about the sayings on the calendar. I just tear off each day’s page so that I feel like I’m making good use of this gift I got from my grandparents’ friends. But today I arrived at the office and quickly noticed yesterday’s quote (May 2, 2013).
“Orem iz nischt kayn shandeh, abi nischt shmarkateh.”
“Poverty is not a disgrace, nor is it filthy.”
This may sound like an exaggeration to some, but this statement, in all its simplicity, forces me to think about how I perceive of others and of myself when it comes to poverty.
I received my Master’s Degree in International Affairs with a concentration on Economic and Political Development. My fellow students and I had arrived to Manhattan from around the world to learn how we can champion ending global poverty only to learn the depressing truth about our chosen field: most of the history of “economic development” has been nothing but a continuation of the patriarchal, colonial, condescending, and unsuccessful paradigm paralleling the rest of America’s international history (aside from a few unique exceptions).
I talk about poverty often. I like discussing the importance of fighting the inequalities and societal structures that impede people from moving out of poverty both here in the US and abroad with friends and colleagues. But I rarely think about how I and others around me look at those in poverty and whether or not the way I’m thinking about them is patriarchal, colonial, and condescending as well.
Honestly…it often is. I often feel pity for people living in poverty. I often assume they want my “help” and that “help” is something I can give them.
When I think about homelessness, I am angry with our government, our system, our population for not doing enough to help those in need of shelter. But when I walk by a homeless person on the street, the truth is that I usually either try to avoid eye contact or getting too close to them so they don’t have a chance to ask me for money or I give them a dollar as quickly as possible so that I can move on and not deal with the reality of who they are and how they got to this point. And truthfully I am afraid and sometimes embarrassed by the way they look after not having access to a shower for some time.
So I’m asking myself: do I consider poverty to be filthy or disgraceful? What are the prejudices I’m carrying with me that have been embedded into my subconscious through the history books I’ve read and the etiquette I’ve seen throughout my life. Is there a clear line between wanting to help because it’s the right thing to do and helping because you feel that you are better than others because you are not in their position?
The most recent statistics from 2011 refer to at least 51,340 homeless people In LA County. 12,560 are chronically homeless (for at least a year or more), over 9,000 are veterans, 33% suffer from mental illness, and 32% have a Bachelor’s degree or higher.
With our mayoral elections upon, the least we can do is ask the next mayor of Los Angeles do something about this issue. According to United Way, L.A. is the “homeless capital of the nation.” But beyond governmental assistance and philanthropic support, should we be asking ourselves this question: how are we looking at those in poverty? How are we judging them? Are we seeing them through lenses of prejudice and assumption and are we seeing poverty itself as a disgraceful and filthy?
Please share your thoughts on our perceptions of poverty or on issues of homelessness and poverty in Los Angeles.
April 18, 2013 | 2:24 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
“Our foremothers have established a tradition of supportive friendship and community that we would be wise to follow.”
The phone calls not yet returned. The unanswered emails. The looming deadlines at the office. The to-do list that never ends. The laundry is piling up, but the washing machine needs repair. “I’ll take stress for 100, Alex.”
Whether you are a mom juggling your kids’ schedules with your own, a college student trying to stay above water, a daughter trying desperately to stay positive while aging parents are declining, a professional achieving at the office - or whether you are all or any combination of these things – the demands on us can seem endless. Because they are endless.
I have too often fallen into the trap of trying to “be it all” – the producer at the workplace who delivers beyond expectations, the friend who can always be counted on, the wife who is still as completely mesmerizing as she was on the first date, the daughter-in-law who is truly “like a daughter.” My friends with kids teach them that it’s okay to make mistakes. Yet when they make mistakes in parenting, they are not as forgiving of themselves – the tiniest misstep can seem so monumental. And on top of the day to day items, there are the unexpected curve balls that life throws each of us from time to time.
In recent years I’ve met amazing women who strive to live their lives in their truth. To me, this means 1) pushing past society’s expectations to shine in all things 2) boldly pursuing the things that truly fill you up and 3) spurning perceived judgment from others. And they are committed to supporting and empowering other women. They share the wisdom they’ve gained, and the talents they’ve unleashed to help raise others up.
Unfortunately, too often women compete - for acknowledgement, for attention, for success, for love. Many of us spend time playing a comparison game and keeping scorecards. What a concept to realize that instead, we can support and cheerlead each other as we each pursue our unique and individual journeys. There is enough love, joy, attention and success to go around. We can use our own talents to help each other when our sister is overwhelmed. Why not ask for help when our own wherewithal has become more like “where-without?” We don’t have to DO it all. We don’t have to BE it all.
Last weekend, I hosted an event for 25 people in my home. But my plate was already full and my cup was already empty. Still, I wanted to be the consummate hostess. A close friend reminded me, “When I need help with a speech, I come to you.” She reassured me, “I got this for you. That’s what friends do.” She took me to the farmer’s market, she ordered food from various places on my behalf, and she brought over beautiful serving platters to make me look like a star. Above all, she reminded me that it is okay to lean on a friend.
I’m still learning the lesson that having a balanced life is an ongoing exercise. The good news is that every moment of every day of the rest of our lives provides an excellent opportunity to practice. You can’t give till your cup runs out, and then say, “Okay, I’m ready for some balance today.” These muscles need daily flexing.
Setting boundaries and letting go of the “shoulds” allows us time to get centered and to fill up. Carving out time to tune out the noise and tune in to what’s really important, allows us to see our true strengths and keep perspective on our shortcomings. Some of my personal go-to tools for getting centered are taking deep loving breaths, drawing with magic markers, singing in the car or shower, journaling, dancing, and spending quality time giggling with loved ones. For me, the more playful the outlet, the more effective I can be while in busy mode.
So how do you get centered and how do you fill up? And if you forget to fill up, who do you call upon for help?
Sisterhoods are not just about bake sales at synagogues and community centers. Our foremothers have established a tradition of supportive friendship and community that we would be wise to follow.
By nurturing ourselves and reaching out in sisterhood, we can recharge and fill our many roles with the joy we intend. We can be the teacher, the counselor, the provider, the nurturer, the advocate, the artist, the rock that others depend on, the leader. We can strive for the highest potential of our truest selves. How do we get there? The path is unique for each of us. It has twists and turns and is ever-evolving, but like most things, it begins with a single step. For starters, I’m going to get out the magic markers and phone a friend.
Bonnie Samotin Zev is a communications professional, project manager and segment producer, specializing in humanitarian issues, women’s issues, topics in entertainment, community, and human-interest stories. She is a cheerleader of collaborative leadership, and is passionate about creativity and self-expression without apology.
You can meet Bonnie and join a workshop she's facilitating at NCJW/LA's Sunday Salons: Conversations and Tools to Find Balance. The program runs from 10-2 pm, includes breakfast and lunch for $15, and aims to help women of many generations find balance, discuss real issues and challenges they face in their lives, and leave with practical tools for increasing happiness and self-fulfillment. Bonnie will be co-facilitating the Sandwich Generation workshop. Please visit www.jwcsc.org/lifetransitions to learn more about the program, including the Quarter Life Crisis and Third Chapter workshops.
March 28, 2013 | 4:11 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
Between Passover, attending NCJW’s Washington Institute, the mayoral elections in LA, Obama in Israel, ongoing fundraising and advocating for women’s and refugee rights, organizing advocacy training sessions, and the DOMA and Prop. 8 hearings in the US Supreme Court, I’m completely overwhelmed. I also turned 30 a few weeks ago, which added to the overthinking process. It kind of felt like a big deal even though logically I know it’s not. I came to a realization that I’m actually happy. It seems silly, but I feel like we’re always searching for “true happiness” and we rarely stop to consider if we’re happy in the moment. So I considered it, and I discovered I’m happy with where I am, where I’m going, and who I am. But happiness is different than contentment. I’ve also discovered that I will probably never be content because to be content is to accept everything as it is.
Last week, when lobbying my representatives and senators in DC with NCJW, I felt very positive about the democratic process. I was excited to be heard and to have the opportunity to tell officials who represent me that I want changes like gun violence prevention legislation, comprehensive immigration reform, and real reproductive rights for all women in the United States.
Yesterday, I watched my college student little brother post a photo on Facebook of himself kissing three male friends of his. He wrote that he posted the photo in solidarity with his gay friends during the DOMA and Proposition 8 Supreme Court decisions this week, ignoring the older generations in our community who worried that this public display might negatively affect his career or might make people think he’s gay. “Who cares?” he said. “I don’t care what people think of my sexuality or how shocking the photo is: that’s the point. We’ve created norms in mainstream America that won’t change until we provoke those who blindly follow them without even realizing it.”
I watched the positive responses to his public provocation by his peers and felt reassured that we are going through some truly remarkable and real changes in our society. I also felt lucky to be living in a place where we can speak and write about most topics without much worry (although that is not to say that there is no censorship in the US at all). I can only hope that the Court makes the right decision and ensures that equality and freedom from discrimination are guaranteed to all those living in this country.
But as Passover began and I read through the two Haggadot we used on different nights of the Seder and some of the supplements I received from various Jewish organizations this year, I could not help but think of those who do not have the basic rights and freedoms I have. One of the issues I most relate to is how we treat strangers, and I’m sure this was handed through the stories of my great grand-parents leaving Eastern Europe, my grand-parents leaving Iraq, and even my mom leaving Israel. Jews say over and over again that “we were once strangers in a strange land” and that it is our duty to treat strangers with respect and compassion. The Torah mentions 36 times how important it is to welcome the stranger.
So I encourage you, during this week, to consider those who are fleeing genocide, torture, and human trafficking at the exact moment that you read this. I encourage you to read about what is happening in Sinai today. Hundreds, if not thousands, of women, men, and children have been tortured and trafficked through Sinai. Some end up in Israel. Some never make it. Some chose to take the journey to Israel to find freedom and peace from the human rights abuses they face in their home countries of Sudan and Eritrea, others were kidnapped and forced to Sinai. Most of the women are raped on the way and most of the men are tortured, and the organized criminals do not care if they are old, young, men, or women. An eight year old girl was finally let go last week after the international Eritrean community raised $41,000 for her ransom. This was after she watched the murders of several others by the traffickers. I know this is depressing, but it is our duty to know and to act.
Here is what you can do to make a difference. Take a few minutes to sign this petition: www.tinyurl.com/sinaicampaign to urge the US, UK, EU, UN, and Egypt to put a stop to what’s happening to the African asylum seekers in Sinai. We can still be happy in our lives without being content about the atrocities taking place in this world. Not knowing will only hurt us in the long run. Let’s use our history and memory to inspire courage within us. Let us not be afraid to stand up to governments to make sure they know what is right and what is wrong, whether it be the security of vulnerable people worldwide, the rights of our fellow citizens to marry each other and live full and happy lives, or the rights of our children to be free of violence in our neighborhood schools.
What do you want to advocate for? Is there anything standing in your way? I would love to hear about it.
March 8, 2013 | 12:18 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
What is International Women's Day?
From 1909-1913, women of the Socialist Party of America began observing National Women’s Day at the end of February each year. In 1910, at the International Conference of Working Women, Clara Zetkin of Germany proposed the idea of an International Women’s Day (IWD) to be celebrated in all countries on the same day each year. Over 100 women from 17 countries, mostly those involved in the labor rights movement, unanimously approved the proposal launching the now 103 year old tradition.
The United Nations started observing IWD in 1975, going so far as to mark the day as a UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace in 1977.
How is IWD being commemorated this year?
This year, there are over 1000 events worldwide to honor International Women’s Day. The holiday is official in numerous countries, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Uganda, and Vietnam. In some countries the holiday is observed by only women getting the day off of work.
What follows is part of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s message commemorating International Women’s Day today:
As we commemorate International Women’s Day, we must look back on a year of shocking crimes of violence against women and girls and ask ourselves how to usher in a better future… Look around at the women you are with. Think of those you cherish in your families and your communities. And understand that there is a statistical likelihood that many of them have suffered violence in their lifetime. Even more have comforted a sister or friend, sharing their grief and anger following an attack. This year on International Women’s Day, we convert our outrage into action. We declare that we will prosecute crimes against women – and never allow women to be subjected to punishments for the abuses they have suffered. We renew our pledge to combat this global health menace wherever it may lurk – in homes and businesses, in war zones and placid countries, and in the minds of people who allow violence to continue.
Yesterday, on March 7, 2013, President Obama signed back into law the inclusive Violence Against Women Act, making it clear that the violence against all women, including women who are sexual minorities and Native American women in the United States, must be stopped and that all women have a right to be protected from sexual violence, intimate partner and domestic violence, and any other forms of violence against them.
Happy, Sad, Emotional…and Action-Oriented
I mark this day with both positive feelings and an ongoing sadness. I am genuinely happy to know that I live in a place where there are laws that are meant to protect me from harm, and where there are laws meant to guarantee that I earn what men earn and laws that are meant to prevent any discrimination against me due to my gender. However, I am saddened by the reality that many of the laws both in the United States and throughout the world, including international conventions and agreements meant to protect the rights of women and girls, are not in actuality enforced or respected. You only have to read my last blog post on the state of violence against women to understand what I mean by this. Today I think about our reality and I celebrate the achievements of women internationally while not losing sight of the fact that there are many challenges yet to be tackled, many struggles we have yet to overcome, and many women who continue to suffer atrocities committed against them simply because they are women.
I urge you to take action today and here are some ways:
• Write an op-ed or letter to the editor urging your newspaper to cover more stories about violence and discrimination against women and urging them to include more women’s voices in their news.
• Sign letters to your Senators or Representatives to urge the U.S. to ratify the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Click here to sign a letter from NCJW and send it directly to your Senators.
• Get involved with an organization that is advocating for the rights of women, whether it’s National Council of Jewish Women, National Organization for Women, Emily’s List, the League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood, Women’s Refugee Commission, or any of the countless others.
Like the women who convened 100 years ago from all over the world to discuss, engage, and work together to pressure their respective governments to do something about the inequalities they faced as women year after year, we too can create change. If you’re involved with advocacy for women of any nature, I would love to hear about it. Leave a comment and let us all know what you’re working on and how others can help out or get involved.
If you’re interested in gaining skills to be an effective advocate for women’s rights, join NCJW/LA, Planned Parenthood LA, the League of Women Voters, and the City of West Hollywood for 5 training workshops. Info on the Women’s Action Training Project can be found at www.jwcsc.org/events.
February 25, 2013 | 3:19 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
In the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, issued in 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly, “violence against women” is defined as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life." Until women are no longer threatened by physical, sexual, or mental harm, we better be learning this definition and reminding everyone we know of its existence.
What I loved about V-Day’s One Billion Rising campaign is that it used theater, dance, and music to raise awareness. Let’s face it: not many of us are going to sit down and Google the definition of “violence against women” on our Sunday afternoons. It’s a creative method of educating others on how critical this issue still is for women all over the world.
From February 14th through March 8th women’s equality and empowerment are celebrated by women’s rights activists worldwide. March 8th has been International Women’s Day (originally International Working Women’s Day) since the early 1900’s and February 14th is newly referred to as V-Day, in which the ‘V’ stands “Victory, Valentine, and Vagina.” The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1909. By 1911, over a million people demonstrated worldwide to promote equal rights for women. Nothing compared to that momentum of international scale until the One Billion Rising campaign organized by global movement V-Day on their 15th anniversary this year. V-Day is a global activist movement founded by playwright and activist Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues. The numbers aren’t out yet, but there were One Billion Rising events throughout the world on February 14, 2013, including several in Los Angeles. Women and men rose up to demand an end to violence against women through speaking, performing, dancing, and writing.
In marking the time between V-Day and International Women’s Day, I think it’s time to remind ourselves of the reasons why it’s still just as important as ever to demand an end to violence against women. According to UN Women:
• Up to 76% of women worldwide are targets of physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes.
• Most of the violence against women is perpetrated by intimate partners.
• Up to 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16.
• Around 30 percent of women were forced into their first sexual experience.
Here are some more statistics from the International Violence Against Women survey, a comparative survey of 30 countries from all continents whose findings were published in 2008.The survey clearly proves that violence against women occurs all over the world, against women of all ages and economic groups:
• Between 35-60% of women in the surveyed countries have experienced violence by a man during their lifetime.
• Between 22-40% have experienced intimate partner violence during their lifetime.
• Less than one third of women reported their experience of violence to the police, and women are more likely to report stranger violence than intimate partner violence.
• About one fourth of victimized women did not talk to anyone about their experiences.
The goals of commemorative days like International Women’s Day and V-Day are to remind us that women have yet to achieve full equality, respect, and freedom from violence and to promote the sharing of experiences between women and with men worldwide. I encourage you to use the time between now and March 8th to intentionally share these statistics and the definition of “violence against women” with people in your own community and to find your own creative ways to call for an end to violence against women.