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/ HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 3, 2009 By Rabbi chel Esserman The (Binghamton, N.Y.) Reporter When opening my copy of "New Jewish Feminism: Probing the Past, Forging the Future" edited by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein (Jewish Lights Publishing), I wondered how it ouldbe possible to find enough new and interesting material to fill its 400 pages. It was a very pleasant surprise, then, to find my initial impres- sion was so mistaken: "New Jewish Feminism" is filledwith exciting essays that not only challenged my thinking about Jewish issues, but gave me in- sights into how women across the Jewish spectrum combine feminism and Judaism, in ad- dition to learning the creative ways they are reshaping their religious practice. In her introduction, Gold= stein shows how feminism's initial accomplishments have become such a part of daily Jewish life that they are consid- ered normative; these include the advent of women rabbis and cantors, gender-neutral Hebrew prayers, midrashim about biblical women and participation in advanced Bible and Talmud study. Yet, the purpose of "New Jewish Feminism" is not just to celebrate the past, but to look at how much work is left to be done, the issues that still need to be addressed and the areas where opportunity is still lacking. Goldstein hopes her work will "spur discus- sion. It is intended to open up a dialogue between the early Jewish feminist pioneers and the young women shaping Judaism today." By combin- ing essays on the history of Jewish feminism and theology with articles about younger women's needs and desires, Goldstein does just that. "New Jewish Feminism" fo- cuses on seven areas: "Women and Theology," "Women, Ritual; and Torah," "Women Jewish fem00ism, past and future and the Synagoe," '6Wome n in Israel," "Genr, Sexuality, and Age," "Wen and the Denominationsnd "Leader- ship and Social stice." The writers lelong to all parts of the Jish world, from the unaffiated to the strictly observa. Some wear their feminism proudly, while others, from the left and the right, struggle with the label, Goldstein carefully tries to balance different sides of the issues. For example, essays written by women involved in the Reform, Reconstruction, Conservative and Orthodox movements show how each has adapted to, or struggled with, women's place in Jewish life. Seeing the difficulties and the accomplishments that have been made in all the move- ments gave me a much broader view of Jewish life. One eye-opening essay looked at Israeli life, showing the range of feminist practice in Israel. Although I am famil- iarwithwhat the liberal groups are accomplishing in the Jew- ish state, Margalit Shilo's "The First Decade of the Orthodox Women's Revolution in Israel: The Case of Kolech" was a fascinatingview ofthevery dif- ferent approach the Orthodox feminist movement is taking. In the section on synagogue life, the essay "Feminism and the Transformation of the Synagogue" by Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell is followed by Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler's "Where Are the Men: The Absence of Men from Liberal Synagogue Life," which, taken together, shows the challenges that face all genders when trying to create meaningful religious practices. Women's ritual observances are discussed in several arti- cles, each of which look at these practices through a different facet of the Jewish prism. For example, Lori Hope Lefkov- itz and Rabbi Rona Shapiro wonder in "The Politics and Aesthetics of Jewish Women's Spirituality" whether religious objects (tallit, teffilin, etc.) are specifically male or open to Jews of all genders, while in "The Pink Tallit," Goldstein ponders if women are limiting themselves by practicing men's rituals rather than conceiving new ones that speak more to women's experiences. Other women, for example, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg in "The Hermeneutics of Cu- riosity," seek to reconsider practices that many in the liberal feminist movements consider misogynistic, such as tzniut (modest behavior) and shmirat negiyah (not touch- ing members of the opposite sex), wondering if they can be transformed from methods of "policing women's behavior" to creating areas that speak to "interpersonal awareness" of appropriate boundaries for women and men. My favorite essays were those that challenged me-- that made me realize the limitations of my own think- ing. While I have no difficulty addressing God as mother or queen, Rabbi Jill Hammer's essay "To Her We Shall Return: Jews Turning to the Goddess, the Goddess Turning to Jews" onusing the name Goddess as part of an effort to engender God made me wonder about my own boundary lines. My initial discomfort about Hammer's terminology made me aware of the limitations I've accepted on the appropri- ate ways to speak about God. Since I often find myself asking the Divine or Eternal One to bless us, rather than using the Englishword God, perhaps my subconscious already felt the term God was gendered, even if I was never before able to articulate that thought. Gender issues are also dis- cussed in"If the Shoe Doesn't PAGE 19A Fit, Examine the Soul: Jewish Feminism and Gender Expres- sion" by Rabbi Jane Rachel Lit- tman, who writes about cre- ating a multi-gendered view of Judaism, one that moves beyond gay and straight to consider breaking through categories and allowing a more fluid view of sexuality. Littman does an excellent job demonstrating how this is not just a modern issue, that the ancient rabbis also struggled with defining those who didn't fit into a particular category. Yet, unlike in ancient times, the author is less interested in finding the appropriate box in which to place a person, than in asking the community to accept that the boxes might be irrelevant. "New Jewish Feminism" does a wonderful job show- ing just how far women have come and just how far they still have to go. For every essay that reviewed mate- rial that I was familiar with, there were numerous others that either gave me a new way of looking at an old issue or introduced me to a new one. Goldstein has written a book for women of all ages and for any men interested in transforming the future of Judaism. ....... ................. i nE nE WATiWUS By Rick Hellman Kansas City Jewish Chronicle KANSAS CITY, Mo.-- Leonard Zeskind's new book, "Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Main- stream," (2009, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is the culmination of a lifetime's work documenting and analyzing the American political fringe that extends rightward from culture warrior Pat Buchanan to actual gunfighters, such as the 1980s domestic terrorist gang known as The Order. The 644-page "Blood and Politics" is built on more than 20 years of origi- nal research by Zeskind, sometimes with the help of undercover associates and/ or defectors, who attended cow-pasture Klan rallies and pseudo-intellectual conferences at airport ho- tels, collecting an office full of files and records. Besides serving as a source for countless jour- nalists, Zeskind, 59, has written related articles over the years for Rolling Stone, The Forward and other lead- ing magazines and newspa- pers. In 1998, he received a $295,000 MacArthur Foun- Throwing the book at racists dation "genius grant" that allowed him to continue working on the book. Leading characters "Blood and Politics" high- lights two figures Zeskind holds most responsible for supplying the move- ment's intellectual and organizational heft: Willis Carto, founder of the Liberty Lobby think tank and its Spotlight newspaper, and William Pierce, author of "The Turner Diaries" (said to have inspired Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh) and founder of the neo-Nazi National Alliance. If Carto and Pierce were the behind-the-scenes pow- erhouses, the book also cov- ers the more public faces of the racist subculture, includ- ing one-time Klansmen like peripatetic publicity hound David Duke and Stormfront's Don Black. Black's name made headlines in May for being among 16 foreigners banned from Britain. Zeskind weaves a tapestry that includes everything from skinheads and Holo- caust deniers to the esoteric legal theorists of the Posse Comitatus and militia move- ments to fringe political parties like the Populists. He introduces the reader to colorful, if repellant, Midwestern characters such as Robert Millar, potentate of Oklahoma's Elohim City, and James Ellison, leader of the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord com- pound in southern Missouri. David Goldstein, the for- mer executive director of Kansas City's Jewish Com- munity Relations Bureau/ American Jewish Commit- tee, to which Zeskind has served as an adviser for years, was pleased to spot the book recently in a store. "It's exciting that his book is being published so people universally will know the extent to which he is the most knowledgeable person in this field," Goldstein said. New and old ground The book both breaks new ground and reminds readers of the litany of past crimes--actual and rhetori- cal-by white racists. For instance, Zeskind's book is the first to delineate the particularly peculiar "seedline" doctrine within the already peculiar Chris- tian Identity philosophy that undergirds much rac- ist mayhem. "One seeders" believe that today's Jews are descendants of the biblical Esau, and that Jacob-Israel became the genetic father of the white Anglo-Saxons. "Two seeders" believe that Adam and the serpent both impregnated Eve, and thus Jews are descendants of the devil himself through Cain. In addition, Zeskind re- minds us that, apart from McVeigh, domestic terror- ists like abortion-clinic bomber Eric Rudolph and the Order gang members who killed Denver radio talk-show host Alan Berg were influenced by this strain of thought. In ad- dition to famous, civil- rights-era Klan victims like Emmett Till and Goodman- Chaney-Schwerner, the book cites others who have died more recently at the hands of self-styled war- riors for a white, Christian America: abortion doctors David Gunn and Barnett Slepian and Missouri High- way Patrolman Jimmie Linegar, to name a few. The book came out days before a veteran of the so-called "freeman" movement was charged in the assassination of Wichita, Kan., abortion doctor George Tiller. Zeskind's book argues that "vanguardists" like Pierce and "mainstreamers" like Carto and Duke are part of a single continuum of thought that laps up against the farthest-right fringe of the Republican Party, even today, in the person of Buchanan. Zeskind writes that "dur- ing the first years of the 21st century, almost all the growth in the white national- ist world occurred inside the anti-immigrant movement." And while the Klan may be defunct and Duke a figure of ridicule, Zeskind noted in an interview in May that the authorities had recently charged members of a neo-Nazi cell who al- legedly plotted to harm the nation's first non-white president. In other words, the phenomenon remains dangerous and is unlikely to go away. The wheel of history Zeskind concludes the book with a prediction that "the next generation of ac- tivis*ts will seek to establish a white nation-state, with definable economic, politi- cal and racial borders, out of the wreckage they hope to create of the United States." Zeskind said he knows their ideas about race-based enclaves, for instance, sound far-fetched, but the radicals he has made a career of studying actually believe they can turn the wheel of history in their direction. "The thing that makes it believable for them is that they look back at American history and say 'This was true once, we can make it true again.' ... It's the same phenomenon that allowed Hitler to think of a Europe without Jewish citizenship," Zeskind said. "Prior to the Enlightenment, the church ran the society, and we (Jews) weren't a part of it. That's the basis on which they can draw. "And in the case of the United States, it becomes an imperative, rather than a look back. They are aiming at the future. They believe that a multi-racial society cannot hold together; that there will be race war; and they are positioning them- selves for the day that... white people become a minority in a nation of mi- norities. Then their day will be upon them, and they can carve up the place. "There was a civil war in this country once, and it was over white supremacy. It's just that the good guys won that one." Rick Hellman is editor of The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, which can be read at kcjc.com. 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