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Hayyei Sarah: A Midrash about Beauty

Tue, 11/06/2012 - 11:41am -- JOFA

By Hannah Hashkes

In loving memory of my aunt, Sarah Vakshtok, and my cousin, Rachel Toiber, beautiful women.

This week’s parashaHayyei Sarah, begins with the count of Sarah’s days, a rare occurrence where women are concerned in the Torah: וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי שָׂרָה. 

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years, the years of the life of Sarah.  

But stating the length of Sarah’s life is not the only unusual feature of the verse. A similar structure is used in the reports of Avraham’s and Yitzhak’s deaths as well; still, it is here that Rashi comments on the multiple uses of the word year in the account of Sarah’s death. He notices the separation of the digits making up the numbers of her years by the word year and cites Bereishit Rabba:  

Community on the Lower East Side in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Sun, 11/04/2012 - 11:37am -- JOFA

By Rachel Lieberman

As I traveled down to the Lower East Side on Friday morning, I saw a startling version of Manhattan. Buildings and traffic lights were dark. A few stores were open, and operating by candle light. Army trucks were positioned on the streets.  Shuttle buses were packed to the gills, unable to stop to pick up passengers waiting on the streets. Hydrants outside of buildings were open, with a trickle of water, so that residents without water could gather a pail of water. Lines snaked around multiple blocks as people stood in line for drinking water, ice, food and a chance to charge their cellphones. It was an incredibly grim, disorienting, and heartbreaking picture—a majestic city paralyzed.

But the heartbreak outside stood in stark contrast to the acts of kindness that took place inside many apartment buildings.

Meet the JOFA Leadership: Allie Alperovich

Wed, 10/17/2012 - 12:20pm -- JOFA

Allie Alperovich

JOFA Treasurer and Board Member Allie Alperovich received the honor of being “Kallat Bereishit” this year at her synagogue, Darkhei Noam,www.dnoam.org, on the holiday of Simchat Torah. Ms. Alperovich, 36, is an attorney at Ropes and Gray and mother of two who was named one of "36 under 36" Jewish leaders by the Jewish Week in 2011.  She is an integral part of the JOFA lay leadership, with a strong vision for women’s inclusion in Orthodox Jewish life.

JOFA Interim Director Elana Sztokman interviewed Ms. Alperovich following her Kallat Bereishit honor: Allie Alperovich

How did you get involved with JOFA?

I got involved with JOFA prior to the 2007 conference when JOFA put out a call for volunteers to work on programming. I volunteered for the conference and really enjoyed it, and got very involved first in the conference and then in other aspects of the organization. And then I eventually asked to be on the board, and I’ve been here ever since.

One Small Step for a Feminist, One Giant Leap for Womankind

Mon, 10/15/2012 - 11:53am -- JOFA

By Eden Farber

A crisp fall morning. A march of beautiful, resonating voices. Joyous celebratory dancing. Tears; tears of both simhah and longing for more. One Torah reading by women, for women. 

TorahFor the first time ever, this year my shul held a for-women-by-women Torah reading for Simhat Torah. Practicing with the Torah the day before yom tov, I was excited to have the opportunity to leyn again—this was something I’ve done before and feel is one of my most connected religious experiences. Yet what made me emotional was not when I stood at the Torah—but when my mother did. Hearing her read from the Torah for the first time in her entire life—her perfect cantilation, her poise—I just stood there, in front of the entire group, and cried. My Ima, reading the Torah—it was then that I realized how important this really was. This was about mothers showing daughters, daughters showing mothers that religion is for us, too. Three generations of women would read Torah the next day—bonding and uniting with each other through this incredible religious experience of reciting the words of our God.

Tales from the Field: Anecdotes and Reflections on Gender in Early Childhood Education

Sat, 10/13/2012 - 11:41am -- JOFA

By Chaya R. Gorsetman and Amy T. Ament

Reprinted from the Summer 2011 Jofa Journal 

“One of the long term goals of early education is to strengthen and support children’s inborn tendencies to be curious and deeply engaged in making the best sense they can of their experiences.”1 

Life in our modern Orthodox communities is changing. What might have been true about the role of women only a generation ago can no longer be taken for granted. Women are learning, consulting on halakha, taking active leadership roles sitting on shul boards, and taking on more mitzvot, such as insisting on hearing the shofar and sitting in a sukkah.

However, the social reality is not necessarily in concert with the messages being transmitted in day schools. This problem should be of utmost concern to educators, particularly in light of the abundant research demonstrating the ways in which children acquire knowledge by making connections between what they are learning and what they have already experienced.2 The central question, therefore, is: What happens when a child experiences something in school that contradicts his or her social context or personal experience? The reality for most boys and girls attending modern Orthodox day schools includes men and women who are educated professionals—successful doctors, lawyers, scientists and professors who take an active role in public life. Often, however, the subtle messages they receive in school, specifically in the context of Jewish life, conflict with the social context with which they are familiar. Children 
experience a disparity between the home and school, and schools have thus far been ill equipped to address the impact of this disparity on the development of young children.

The following stories from the field illustrate these ideas in very poignant ways. All interactions described occurred between teachers and students within modern Orthodox day school settings. each highlights important questions and challenges the reader to imagine how it might have gone differently.

Tzizit1. Some boys in a kindergarten class were not consistently wearing tzitzit to school. The teacher invited the school rabbi to help the boys understand why they should wear tzitzit. The rabbi, speaking to the entire coed class, was so 
effective in his speech that a young girl commented, “If this mitzvah comes from the Torah and it is so important, I want to wear 
tzitzit, too.”  The Rabbi then gave the explanation of kevod bat melekh penimah—because girls 
are innately more spiritual, they don’t need reminders such as 
kippah and tzitzit. As a result of this conversation, the director fielded several calls from parents the following day, reporting that their sons came home under the 
impression that girls are more special than boys.
 

Rabba Hurwitz Online

Fri, 10/12/2012 - 11:19am -- JOFA

By: Deborah Fineblum Raub  

Tell me that you’re surprised.

Since last February when the creators of MAKERS launched their website to spotlight the women who’ve changed the face of America and the world, quite of few of these trailblazers turn out to be Jewish.

Among the MAKERS are Ruth Bader Ginsburg of course and Barbara Walters. There’s Madeleine Albright(a latecomer to be sure but we’ll take her) and Nora Ephron, whose recent passing left the world with a serious irony deficiency.

Atlanta, Georgia: Where a teenage girl is leading change for Orthodox women

Wed, 10/10/2012 - 10:59am -- JOFA

by JOFA Staff 

Eden FarberThe women of the Orthodox community of Atlanta, Georgia, are going to be celebrating Simchat Torah like they have never celebrated before – and it’s all thanks to the hard work and vision of a young woman who led the way. Fifteen-year-old Eden Farber wanted more opportunities for women’s ritual inclusion, and spent the past six months working with her rabbi and community in a series of events that will be culminating with the first ever women’s Torah reading on Simchat Torah at the Young Israel of Toco Hills. 

Eden, who studies frequently at the Drisha Institute and learns daf yomi, has been frustrated with women’s limited roles in synagogue, which she wrote in an article published in Fresh Ink for Teens last year:  (http://www.freshinkforteens.com/articles/through-looking-glass-mechitza)

Ushpizot: Inviting Sacred Women into the Sukkah

Tue, 10/09/2012 - 7:41pm -- JOFA

by JOFA Staff

The “Ushpizin”, literally “guests”, is a Jewish custom to invite the spirits of our ancestors into the Sukkah during the seven nights of the traditional holiday (eight in the Diaspora). The Ushpizin represent the commandment to open one’s house to poor people, as well as the more kabbalistic idea that each guest has a unique character trait or energy that we would like to invite into our lives, families, communities and world. The seven traditional Ushpizin are all men. Over the past few years, women have created parallel rituals to invite “Ushpizot”, women spiritual guests, each night a different woman. Although some Ushpizot texts use the seven women who are traditionally believed to have been prophetesses, others vary the names invoked based on women whose lives had particular meaning. The ceremony suggested below uses seven Jewish ancestral women based on particular traits that they embodied, with a suggested variation at the end.

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