JOFA's blog

Learning Daf Yomi

Sat, 01/19/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

By Mona Berdugo

After almost half a year of learning the daf yomi I finally posted something about it on my Facebook status. Lately, Facebook has been extremely interested in knowing what's on my mind – so I told it that the discussion about Hebrew letters on that day's daf (Shabbat 104) reminded me of a children's song and now I can't get that song out of my head. The next thing I know, my good friend (in real life and on Facebook) Elana Sztokman, aka Executive Director of JOFA is asking me if I want to write a blog about my daf yomi experience! Wow. I haven't been hiding the fact that I'm doing thedaf from anyone, but I haven't exactly been advertising it either. It took me six months to even mention it on Facebook. A blog seems so public, and I'm not really much of a writer - more of a math/science person. On the other hand, there are often a whole bunch of thoughts that pop into my head while learning and I have no one to share them with since I learn by myself as opposed to going to a proper shiur with other people I can discuss things with.

HBI Conference Explores Gender, Love, Family

Tue, 01/15/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

Elana Sztokman

Dr. Sylvia Barack Fishman

There is more than one way to form a Jewish marriage. This was a central message emerging from a recent conference in Jerusalem called “New Understandings of Gender, Love and the Jewish Family,” co-sponsored by the VanLeer Jerusalem Institute, the Hadassah Brandeis Institute and the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University entitled. The conference offered a broad range of creative approaches to burning issues regarding familial relationships, and presented a flexible approach to persistent and arguably growing problems in contemporary Jewish life, including agunot, abuse and sexual violence.

Beit Shemesh Women Sue the Municipality over Segregation of Women

Wed, 01/09/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

By Nili Philipp 

Since our family moved from Shoham thirteen years ago, we've seen Beit Shemesh transform from a quiet, pastoral and diverse city, to a city associated with volatile extremism. Within the first few months of our move, I had a hint of what was ahead. I had swung through Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet (RBS-B), a brand new haredineighborhood, to run some quick errands. RBS-B is conveniently located close to home and boasts a vibrant commercial district with adjacent parking and the area's only cash machine. After my errands, I offered two haredi women a ride to Jerusalem and the conversation was pleasant and friendly, until they commented in a quiet, evasive tone “we like our apartments, but the neighborhood's a bit too religious for us.” 

These women were unequivocally ultra-orthodox, wearing thick opaque stockings, foam head coverings, and modest robes. They had moved from Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, and yet Beit Shemesh was too restrictive for them. That's when I understood the fallacy behind comments such as “they like it that way.” In subsequent conversations with other haredi women, that quiet, understated tone has repeated itself with the consistent message --the emphasis on modesty is oppressive and the women are afraid to speak out. At first I thought the fear was exaggerated. I soon learned better. 

Interview with Elanit Z Rothschild Jakabovics

Mon, 01/07/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

Elanit Z Rothschild Jakabovics was recently elected as the first woman president of Kesher Israel Synagogue in Washington, DC. Elanit, a 33-year old management consultant with Grant Thornton and a mother of two originally from Staten Island, is not only the first woman but also the youngest president in the shul, whose rabbi is Rabbi Barry Freundel. JOFA Executive Director Elana Sztokman sat down with Elanit to hear about her new position, and to hear about ways that other women can be inspired to follow suit in their own shuls:



The technical answer to this question is that a slate was proposed to the shulmembership in early June 2012 and was voted on at the annual membership meeting at the end of June. My term began on July 1, 2012. Coincidentally enough, I was placed on modified bed rest the last week in June and didn’t make it back to shul for Shabbat until my son’s brit on August 11. I was able to attend some meetings between July 1 and August 4 (when my son was born) during the week, since I drove and stayed off my feet for the most part, but I didn’t really go out on Shabbat, nervous my water would break during my walk. to/from.

JOFA on a panel following Washington DC production of ''Apples in the Desert''

Sat, 01/05/2013 - 12:00am -- JOFA

"Women in Judaism" was the subject of a panel discussion at Theater J of the Washington JCC where JOFA Executive Director spoke earlier this month. The panel, moderated by The Forward editor in chief  Jane Eisner, also with the participation of Lilith Editor Susan Weidman Schneider, followed the Theater J production of Apples in the Desert, an Israeli play about a haredi sephardic girl who runs away from her troubled home to move in with a secular Ashkenazi kibbutznik.

JOFA Changing of the Guard: My conversation with Robin Bodner

Thu, 01/03/2013 - 3:04pm -- JOFA

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

When I decided to take this job as Executive Director of JOFA, one of the most thrilling incentives for me was that I would have the opportunity to work with women whose work I have admired for so long. The image of standing on the shoulders of giants keeps returning to me, as I learn more about the organization and its powerful history of making change. To honor this truth, and to give the well-deserved respect to women whose dedication to gender advancement in Orthodox life built this organization, the staff and I have decided that we are going to use the space of the Spotlight Blog to profile the JOFA leadership. We started with JOFA treasurer Allie Alperovich, and we will continue to do so throughout the year.  

Now, as I enter this privileged role leading the organization, I sat down with my predecessor, Robin Bodner, who served as Executive Director for ten years and steered JOFA through most of its journey until now. I wanted to gain wisdom from her experiences, her about her dreams and vision, and of course honor her vital contribution to the cause. The interview was moving, engaging, and enlightening, and gave me some great motivation in moving forward:  

Robin BodnerHow did you come to work for JOFA?

In 1997, I went to the first international conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy. It was exciting to see so many people who were thinking and talking about issues that were on my mind.  I remember feeling back then that I wanted  to be part of this movement. 

Inclusive Language: One Reason Why We Still Need Jewish Orthodox Feminism

Mon, 12/31/2012 - 12:00am -- JOFA

By Ilanna Newman 

 Ilanna NewmanEarlier this month, a friend sent me a video by The Factuary called “What Do Feminists Have Left?”  It argued that though we have come incredibly far in the last century, there are five things feminists in America have left to fight for: equal pay, access to reproductive care, greater media representation, an end to rape culture, and an end to microaggression.  I hadn’t encountered the term microaggression before, so I delved into its history and broadened meaning. The term was coined in 2007 by the psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce and originally was used to describe the use of racial slurs in both intentional and unintentional insults. Microaggression also refers to the derogatory use of a term for any marginalized group, even if the speaker does not intend for the use to be offensive toward that group.  The LGBT rights movement has done a spectacular job campaigning against one of the most common offenders – “That’s so gay.” 

Women's Organizations to Party Leaders

Wed, 12/26/2012 - 12:00am -- JOFA

This is a statement sent out by Kolech and Mavoi Satum in Israel about a mutual respect campaign.  

Women's organizations to party leaders: "Do not support extortion during divorce proceedings"

30 organizations have sent a letter to political party leaders demanding legislation to prevent get refusal and extortion during divorce proceedings.  

Yesterday thirty women's organizations led by "Mavoi Satum" and Kolech " asked all political party leaders to support a solution to get refusal during divorce proceedings in Israel. In a letter to party leaders  the organizations suggested a way to avoid the phenomenon of extortion and get refusal by encouraging couples to sign a prenuptial agreement known as the “mutual respect agreement”. 

Women in Israel Fight for Their Voice

Thu, 12/20/2012 - 5:55pm -- JOFA

By Elana Sztokman

When asked at a JOFA panel about the status of women in Israel and what can be done to protect women’s basic rights, I replied that I would first make it illegal for a political party that has no women on its list to run for the Knesset. Thankfully, I’m not alone in this sentiment. In fact, a new movement is beginning to form of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox women fighting against the exclusion of women from religious political parties.

Esti Shoshan, a haredi journalist, recently started a Facebook page called Lo nivharot, lo boharot, which means “If we can’t be elected, we are not voting.” As of this writing, the group has over 800 likes — perhaps not the stuff of a Steve Jobs fan page, but signs of movement nonetheless. And it comes at a particularly significant time in the development of religious politics. The legality of religious parties of Shas and United Torah Judaism is currently being debated by the Elections Council, under the leadership of Supreme Court justice Elyakim Rubinstein, based on a petition filed by a coalition of seven organizations led by Jerusalem city council member Laura Wharton contesting the systemic exclusion of women from party lists.

My Daughter at the Pulpit

Thu, 12/20/2012 - 1:06pm -- JOFA

Chaye KohlBy Chaye Kohl 


March 14, 2008

Author's note: The Purim story highlights the leadership of Queen Esther. Today, in the modern Orthodox community, more young women have become leaders within Jewish communal life, providing services that until now were the purview of assistant rabbis. This column highlights Rachel Kohl Finegold, a former resident of Highland Park, now Education and Ritual Director at Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation in Lakeview, Chicago. The writer is her proud Mom. 


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