Originally published in In Jerusalem, March 10, 2017

 

Noam and Noa wanted to marry according to Jewish law and tradition, but wanted nothing to do with the Chief Rabbinate. Both felt that, with its stranglehold on marriage and more importantly, divorce, where the rabbinate must approve a couple’s desire to divorce before it can be implemented, the institution does more harm than good.

They searched high and low for a way that would enable them to marry according to Halacha, without having to encounter the rabbinate at all.

Why would a young couple on the verge of starting a new life together be thinking of the end of their marriage?

Jewish law mandates that when a couple seeks divorce, it is the husband who must give the bill of divorce (get) to his wife, and she must accept it. Aguna is the term used to describe a woman trapped in marriage, while she awaits the delivery of a get from her husband. According to traditional Jewish sources, the classic case of an aguna was a woman whose husband
could not be found. One whose husband was lost at sea, did not return from a journey, or was missing in action; those are the traditional agunot. Continue reading

Originally published in the In Jerusalem, January 13, 2017

I would not have admitted to ANYONE what I was going through. I wore my “great mother” face publicly. I admitted to being tired, a bit overwhelmed, but nothing I did not perceive as “normal with a small baby.” The only times I used the phrase postpartum depression was to my therapists and to Google….if you admit to wanting to harm your baby or yourself, people judge you. When you say you’re overwhelmed, people understand that… They don’t get that you feel like you are drowning and can’t see the way out. They don’t get that you literally feel suffocated and are grasping to hang on.

–Naomi 40, on her experience with PPD

It often takes a tragedy to raise public awareness of many people suffering in silence. The shocking murder suicide of a mother and her children in Jerusalem brought the words postpartum psychosis and postpartum depression to the headlines across the country.

Approximately one in eight women experience PPD, but the public knows little about it. Like other mental illnesses, few want to discuss it.

To break the taboos and open the conversation, I turned to some experts to understand what to look out for and what to do if someone seems to need help.

Ahava Winston, the  director of NITZA, dedicated solely to helping women suffering prenatal and postpartum reactions, explains, “Postpartum psychosis and postpartum depression are only two of the numerous potential reactions related to pregnancy and birth. The most common is Postpartum Blues, which affects 80-90% of women… and usually resolves on its own within the first two weeks….it can however, become PP Adjustment Disorder, which affects one in five women, where a woman functions outwardly, but feels anxiety and self-doubt. With support, PPAD can resolve without professional intervention. However, without emotional and instrumental support, it may deteriorate into the more serious clinical reaction, Postpartum Depression. Continue reading

Originally published in the In Jerusalem, December 9, 2016

When I was 17, my mother sent me to Auschwitz. Now that my son is 17, my husband and I sent him too.
I was a teenager living in the US. He is a teenager living in Israel. I went with the March of the Living because my mother (God bless her) insisted upon it. He went through school with nearly all of his classmates as many Israelis do in the 12th grade.

I went knowing that my grandparents had watched their children murdered before their eyes. I had sat with them as they cried, lost in memories I never heard from their own lips.My son was shipped off with a binder full of his family history. His paternal great-grandfather never stopped bearing witness in video, written, and photographic testimony.

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Testimony and history of Mordechai Topel zt’l in the Holocaust.

My grandparents hid. In barns, woods, wherever they could, trying to keep their remaining relatives alive. My grandmother became a partisan when all her siblings, children, nieces and nephews had been lost to her.
My husband’s grandparents survived multiple camps and death marches and became nearly the sole survivors of their previously large families.

 

As I walked through the silent forest, with Polish police surrounding us, I imaged my grandparents hiding from the Nazis under fallen trees and in ditches. My son stood in a gas chamber similar to the one his zaide (Yiddish for grandfather) stood in as he waited to die like his parents and siblings before him, but was saved when water rained down instead of gas.

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In a gas chamber next to the destroyed one that held his great grandfather

The school asked all of the parents to write letters which would be given to the boys after they visited Yaar Hayeladim, a forest site where hundreds of Jewish children, as well as hundred of others, lay in several mass graves. We did not know what he would be thinking, or what he would want to hear, so we said the things we most wanted him to gain from his experience.

This is the letter we wrote:
“As parents, all we want to do is protect our children. We sooth your scrapes and work hard to put you in places where you will grow and learn and be safe and protected. We fight bullies and we kiss away your tears. But, at some point, we must stop shielding you and let you learn about the evils of the world and all that man is capable of. It is a lesson you must learn so that you can do your part to make sure that it never happens again, not on a large scale and not on a small scale.

Continue reading

Unless we are personally exposed to something or hear about it first hand, it is entirely possible that we never know of its existence or prevalence. This is true for sexual assault, unusual illnesses, and even things that happen in our neighbors’ homes.

Most people forget this, however.

Every time I write about breast cancer in the Haredi sector, I get two kinds of responses. One is thanking me for getting the word out to a population that needs to hear it. I get this from survivors of breast cancer – or the families of those who did not survive, from doctors who see women unaware they are ill, healthcare professionals who ask me for advice on reaching their local Haredi communities in order to increase women’s  screening compliance, and people asking if they can translate my words into other languages for their home communities.

The other set of responses I get are from people accusing me of inaccuracy, of tarnishing an entire sector, of making things sound worse than they really are. I am told that I exaggerate, that I say things that aren’t true, and that I clearly have an agenda.

Well, I do.

My agenda is fighting a phenomenon where women’s health is endangered because of a culture of silence. A culture where women are absent from health pamphlets or billboards. A culture where women’s names aren’t written and breast cancer is called “the women’s disease.”

I have been told that this culture does not exist, that what I am saying is simply not true. Some People pass my articles around for the sake of tearing them apart, indignant that I have said things that are so patently false.

But my friends, you are wrong.  The society of which I speak is not Anglo Haredim in Har Nof, or Ramat Bet Shemesh. It is not one of English-speaking Haredim from Western societies at all. That population values – or at least tolerates – openness and secular education — certainly when it comes to health. It is also not the community of Israeli Haredim who are worldly and aware of, if not involved in, current events.  I am not speaking of the homes where Haredi magazines such as Mishpacha and Bina can be found.

I am speaking of a community where the only publication allowed for consumption is  Yated Neeman, in which no woman’s image, or even first name is printed.

I am speaking of communities where girls do not know the names for their body parts. Where 12-year-old girls are not told about menstruation until they find blood on themselves, and then only in hushed tones, as though it is something to be ashamed of.

I am speaking of communities where sex is learned of for the first time right before one’s wedding, after a life of not being allowed to even speak with someone of the opposite sex.

I am speaking of communities where women’s bodies are necessarily hidden, lest men sin.

I am speaking of communities where women live in poverty, and caring for themselves and their health — beyond whatever caring is done for their families — is a luxury, or at least, at the bottom of their list.

That YOU aren’t familiar with  this community, that you have never experienced life there, or met its members, does not mean it that it is not real. Whether you believe it or not, the phenomenon exists and persists.

If you don’t want me writing about it, if you think I’m airing dirty laundry, or sharing a concern that doesn’t belong in the greater public sphere, or you don’t want the details in the pixels of The Times of Israel, then think what you yourself can do to help eliminate the problem.

Can you help by putting pamphlets in your mikveh? Can you talk about how important this is? Can you help combat the rabbis who prevented self-screening pamphlets from being placed in the mikveh in order to ensure that nobody’s ‘mikveh night’ was “ruined” in the event that a woman found a lump? Can you help change the culture of erasing women in your local circulars and magazines? Can you protest the notion that women and girls cannot be seen in print?

Perhaps you think this is not related. But it is. All of it.

Making the names of body parts taboo and not printing a woman’s name  is part and parcel of a culture that erases women and tells them the exact parameters of their place.

These are the women I write about. These are the girls without a champion. They are the reason I write this story.

The next time someone tells you that what I write about the Beit Din isn’t true…

or that women aren’t really being erased…

or that the death rate from breast cancer isn’t really higher in the Haredi community (for a number of factors)…

do me a favor?

Don’t tell me.

I’ve got too much work to do.

 

To help us raise awareness in these communities, click here.