September 15, 2019

The Israel Museum Acquires “The Israel Trail Procession”

By Amy Powell

The Israel Trail Procession, a video work by Ayelet Carmi and Meirav Heiman, most recently shown at HBI’s Kniznick Gallery, was just acquired by The Israel Museum, a top tourist site in Jerusalem, attracting over 900,000 visitors per year. 

The work depicts more than 50 people in a procession over parts of the Israel Trail, but with one important caveat: no one is touching the ground. 

Aya Miron, curator of the The David Orgler Israeli Art Department of the Israel Museum, described the work as “a monumental video installation” that shows mostly women and children “connected to tools and apparatuses designed especially for this work, rendering the act of walking particularly challenging” and resembling a “peculiar carnival or ritual procession.”

The museum, one of encyclopedic content, acquired the work because they consider it important, especially to the sorts of issues and questions Israelis face today, Miron said.

It addresses questions of place, belonging, tribalism, and the refugee experience. These issues are central in today’s social, geo-political, and cultural discourse both in Israel and around the world,” Miron said. 

Carmi and Heiman’s exhibition One Foot Planted, featured video works The Israel Trail Procession, Sphere, and other work at HBI’s Kniznick Gallery between February and June. In their first American exhibition, the Brandeis community and public heard from the artists about the origins of their work as independent artists and then as collaborators. Carmi also spoke about her childhood on a kibbutz and some of the parades and festivals there as an influence on the work. 

Each year, HBI brings one show, through an open call, that highlights the mission of promoting fresh ideas about Jews and gender. For the last two exhibitions, HBI selected Israeli artists whose work was acquired by major art museums after the HBI exhibitions. Three pieces from last year’s exhibit, A Fringe of Her Own: A Collection of Ritual Objects for Women by artist Tamar Paley, were acquired by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for their Judaica collection.

Susan Metrican, Rosalie and Jim Shane Curator of the Kniznick Gallery, said, “It is a tremendous honor and accomplishment for an artist to have work acquired by a major museum. We are beyond thrilled to have exhibited work by emerging artists that has gotten the attention of both the MFA and the Israel Museum. We’re also proud to have brought such incredible work to Brandeis and to the Boston community. These acquisitions certainly bolster the mission of HBI and the HBI Artist Program, and hopefully will bring more attention to the work taking place here.” 

Carmi and Heiman are thrilled to see their work get such a wide audience. 

“This work deals with a lot of Israeli politics. It’s not easy work and the Israel Museum and their curator felt that it was important work to put into the collection. It’s a privilege to us,”  Carmi said. 

“Sometimes movement becomes so difficult. We are talking about the problematic aspects of living in Israel and dealing with Israel. Walking the land is supposed to be the easiest thing to do — you put one foot in front of another. We chose something so symbolic, the Israel Trail, from one side of Israel to another — something that is so epic — and we show how difficult it is to walk.”

Miron said The Israel Trail Procession “creates a thought-provoking connection between the Israel Trail and the Israel Museum. They both blend history and culture in both general and contemporary contexts. The Israel Trail is connected to many other hiking routes, just as the Israel Museum offers endless and varied paths of exploration throughout its encyclopedic campus.”

Carmi noted that the artwork gives a struggle to each person depicted and asks the important questions, “What will we do for this land? What is worth doing for this land? ”

Amy Powell is assistant director of HBI.


Ending Gendered Hebrew, Expanding Jewish Identity

By Rachel Levy

In the Fall of 2017, Eyal Rivlin—an Israeli born Hebrew professor at Colorado University at Boulder—received an email from a student asking to matriculate into a Hebrew class. At the bottom of the student’s email, in the signature line, Rivlin noticed “they/them” pronouns, indicating that Lior Gross, his new student, did not identify within the gender binary. In Hebrew, nearly all words are conjugated in a feminine or masculine form, depending on the gender of the speaker. Unlike in English, where “they/them” is gender neutral, Hebrew has a masculine “they”—אתםֹ—and a feminine “they”—אתן, leaving no pronoun option for Hebrew speakers who identify outside of the gender binary. 

“There’s a need that hasn’t been met because of the belief that it cannot be done,” said Rivlin, who consulted with colleagues in Israel on the best way to include Gross in Hebrew class. Some colleagues suggested that Rivlin’s student could switch off from male conjugations to female conjugations every other sentence, while another recommended that the student speak with the gender they were assigned at birth. The responses from his colleagues reiterated the problem; everyone was seeing the need, but no one had a solution that truly honored individuals who identified outside of the gender binary. “I figured either we do what’s done in Israel or create a new way to evolve the language,” said Rivlin. Ultimately he responded to Lior’s email saying, “‘How do you want to do this in Hebrew?’”

“I loved how excited he was to be an ally to non binary people,” said Gross. “When we began working together, I naively thought this was a little thing that we were doing so I could participate in Hebrew class. It wasn’t our intention to lead a large revolution.” 

But, it became clear that the Hebrew language was in dire need of exactly that. After a year of using Rivlin’s Hebrew classroom to experiment with different conjugations and grammatical structures, Rivlin and Gross officially launched the Nonbinary Hebrew Project in October 2018. Throughout the process, they received overwhelming support from the CU Boulder faculty and Program in Jewish Studies. It was quickly shared by Svara—a traditionally radical Yeshiva that organizes Queer Talmud Camp that Gross has attended for multiple summers—and it went viral.

“We were going for a structure that holds both masculine and feminine,” said Rivlin about the new structure, “something that would feel organic to Hebrew so it wouldn’t create a sense of alienation or foreignness.” The current grammar and systematics of Nonbinary Hebrew can be found on their website which labels this linguistic addition “a tool for that liberation.” 

In addition to the liberation that it offers Hebrew speaking members of the gender-queer community, nonbinary Hebrew has promising implications for everyone. Currently, there is a rule in Hebrew stating that groups should be addressed in the masculine plural if at least one male is present. Many feminists have pointed to the default masculine “as problematic,” said Rivlin, noting that nonbinary Hebrew could instead be used “to address large groups,” and even change “the way that Knesset meetings are held.” 

Habonim Dror North American (HDNA), a Labor Zionist youth movement is another community that is tackling the issue of binary pronouns in Hebrew. In 2015, they passed a proposal called “Revolutionizing the Hebrew Language” at their biennial Veida. Gross was a camper for seven summers at Habonim Dror’s Camp Moshava, and was a mentor to the camper who spearheaded this change.

HDNA’s version of nonbinary Hebrew differs from Rivlin and Gross’ in the way that they conjugate singular pronouns, but “works really well in HDNA settings” according to Gross, who “used the work that they had done as precedent.” 

During the summer of 2019, Gross attended a workshop on nonbinary Hebrew hosted by This is Not an Ulpan, a Hebrew and Arabic learning educational project in Israel. “It’s really important to have an Israel based team and a diaspora based team to address the different needs for Hebrew use,” said Gross. While the Nonbinary Hebrew Project has gained some traction in the United States, movement has been slower in Israel. 

The Academy of Hebrew, the authority on how Hebrew is used in Israeli governmental agencies, plays a major role in creating precedent for changes made to the language. Rivlin said that when the Academy heard of his and Gross’ efforts, the response was that it was “too complicated” and “could not be done.”

Others share these concerns as well. Dr. Joanna Caravita, a professor, researcher, and scholar of Hebrew at the Five College Consortium (Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges and the University of Massachusetts Amherst) sympathizes with the Academy’s resistance to Nonbinary Hebrew, saying “Pronouns are so basic and essential that they are so hard to change.” Caravita wrote her M.A. thesis on the modernization of Hebrew and Arabic, and specifically on the priorities of the people who were doing it. She noted in an interview, “Language is social and that’s one of the concerns that I have with the Nonbinary Hebrew Project, that it has to be more widely accepted and used by a social group before it can be really enacted.”

When asked about those who might be wary of nonbinary Hebrew, Gross said that they understand where it comes from, “As a people who carry a lot of fear around change because of our trauma, it makes a lot of sense why there is a lot of skepticism,” but they also see the advantage of acting. “This is a big chance to take a leap of faith and say that this is something that needs to change.”

Rivlin added, “This is about adding another option for those who need it. It’s not for tables and chairs (which also take on gendered adjectives in Hebrew), it’s for people — to give them more of a place in the community and to expand the tent to say ‘you’re welcome here’ by using language that honors that.”

Gross graduated from CU Boulder in December of 2018 with a masters in ecology. Since graduating, they have spent time in both Israel and the United States, “following up on all my passions at the same time.” These passions range from Svara’s Queer Talmud Camp to researching soil and farming in Israel to maintaining the Nonbinary Hebrew Project’s website and continuing to improve upon it with their mentor and life long friend, Professor Rivlin.

The work that Rivlin and Gross have done with the Nonbinary Hebrew Project has been expansive for nonbinary folk in finding their voice in Hebrew and in the Jewish community. While both commented on the project’s incompleteness, it is obvious that their “chutzpah” has opened a long overdue dialogue on the topic of gender inclusivity in Judaism. Rivlin reminded us that Hebrew, like all languages, constantly evolves. He and Lior see the Nonbinary Hebrew Project as the next step in the Hebrew Language’s evolutionary journey. 

Rachel Levy is a rising senior at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor and a HBI Gilda Slifka summer intern


Never Again Para Nadie

By Rachel Levy

Growing up, I remember waiting on two important talks from my parents: the sex talk and the Holocaust talk.

I had heard vaguely of both, but only understood them as topics that I would learn more about when I was mature enough to understand their magnitude. When the sex talk finally did happen it was short, uninspiring, and I quickly repressed it. However, when I got the Holocaust talk—or talks, as they more realistically were—I felt as if I was being handed down a powerful legacy that came with the responsibility to always remember and never forget.

The Holocaust talks began with stories and trinkets from my grandmother who was fortunate enough to immigrate to the United States from France in the 1940s. We would sit on the couch of her home in Long Island and leaf through a scrapbook full of photographs, papers, and notes that represented the childhood she never got to have and the family members that I would never have the chance to meet.  My formal Holocaust education began in the 7th grade when my Jewish day school and Temple Sunday school individually determined that 12 years old was mature enough to understand its magnitude.

My peers and I collectively shuddered at The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, held our breath for Anne Frank and her family as we read excerpts from her diary and applauded each and every Holocaust survivor that visited us during that year. The following year, my 8th grade class and I visited Yad Vashem in Israel, and as I matured, my understanding of the Holocaust expanded and deepened.

I believe that the goal of all of these Holocaust talks was to foster Jewish trauma so that we could harness it for the power of good. I thought that when we were learning about the Nazi Regime and the rise of a ruthless dictator, that our lesson was to be wary of certain strains of charisma in leadership; when we learned about the yellow stars that Jews were made to wear, I thought that our lesson was that differences between humans can be wielded to create fear and separation and when I learned about the concentration camps, I thought that the lesson was that all humans deserve to be treated with dignity.

My Holocaust education was important because it gave me a litmus test by which to recognize injustice: Are my leaders concealing evil behind charisma? Is difference being constructed in a way that disenfranchises people and creates inequality? Are humans being treated with dignity? 

On July 2, I marched in protest with 1,000 other Jewish activists to let ICE know that it does not pass my litmus test. We marched together to clarify for members of the Jewish community and all people who are following this discourse that “concentration camp” and “never again” need to be recognizable beyond the context of the Holocaust. We marched together to honor the memory of the Holocaust by calling out injustice and taking action to prevent a similar atrocity from occurring again.

Frankly, what I view as significant and scary is that the people who helped design my Holocaust and Jewish education curriculums are too preoccupied with prioritizing and sanctifying their own trauma to recognize it when it happens to other groups. The divisiveness in the Jewish community over the comparison of the U.S. detention centers to the concentration camps of the Holocaust has become a distraction from acknowledging the blatant disregard for human dignity. 

One of the most poignant and effective quotes from the Holocaust is this, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” (Martin Niemöller)

Never Again means Never Again for anyone.

Rachel Levy is a rising senior at University of Michigan Ann Arbor and a HBI Gilda Slifka summer intern


Meet the 2019 HBI Gilda Slifka Interns

By Rachel Levy

Karolina Kusto (she/hers) is a graduate student at the University of Warsaw, where she is pursuing a Masters in American Studies. For her undergraduate thesis, Kusto wrote about Assimilation in America in the 1960s, and since then, her interest in American Jewishness has grown. This summer, Kusto will be working with Laura Jockusch, Albert Abramson Assistant Professor of Holocaust Studies at Brandeis, who is doing research on the Trials of Stella Goldschlag, a Jewish informant for the Gestapo during the Holocaust. In addition to her work with Professor Jockusch, Kusto will be pursuing her own research on the re-appropriation of Jewish gender stereotypes—particularly JAPs and Jewish mothers—through the popular television shows, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. While Kusto is neither American nor Jewish, she is looking forward to learning more about American Jewish culture from her fellow interns and is excited to explore Massachusetts. 

Rachel Levy (she/hers) is a rising senior at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor where she is majoring in Sociology, with a concentration in Health and Medicine, and minoring in Judaic Studies. She will be working with Amy Powell, HBI’s Assistant Director and blogging on HBI’s Fresh Ideas Blog about contemporary issues involving Jewishness and gender. Levy is interested in learning more about how to make Jewish spaces more accessible and inclusive for people of all genders, and for her independent research project she will be studying how Hillels across the United States create opportunities for Jewish students to engage with their gender identities in Jewish ways. She is excited to gain experience doing research in the Jewish social sciences and to meet and learn with the scholars at HBI. 

Sarah Mandelblatt (she/hers) is a recent graduate from Boston College where she received a BA in English, concentrating on Creative Writing, and supplemented her degree with coursework in Biology and Classics. This summer, she will be working with Brandeis WSRC Scholar Janet Freedman to study the use and abuse of language in social justice movements through Freedman’s ongoing research project, The Words to Say It. Mandelblatt loves to explore her identity with a pen and paper. During her time as a Gilda Slifka intern, she is planning to produce a series of creative short stories that discuss the varying narratives of what it means to be a Jewish woman. As a native Pittsburghian, Mandelblatt has found herself contemplating her Jewishness in new ways after the October shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue and hopes to continue to learn more about her Jewish identity through her time at HBI.

Sara Marcus (she/hers) is a recent graduate from Yeshiva University where she earned degrees in English and Communications. During her time at HBI, Marcus will be assisting Shayna Weiss, the Associate Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies with researching the spatial imposition of Orthodox Jewish norms in non-religious spaces in Israel. Additionally, Marcus is looking forward to researching how power is maintained and held by religious women in conservative communities. Her research may include—but is not limited to—an analysis of the roles of Chasidic rebetzens and prominent female religious scholars in medieval ages. She is excited to learn more about Judaism, womanhood and their intersection this summer; both from scholars as well as her peers.

Leah Trachtenberg (she/hers) is a rising Junior at Brandeis University where she studies Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and minors in Social Justice/Social Policy and Women and Gender Studies. This summer, she will be assisting Brandeis WSRC Scholar Penina Adelman in researching the story of Eve for her fictionalized family memoir, Rebels in the Family. Additionally, Trachtenberg will be working on her own research; comparing Isaac Bashevis Singer’s folktales to his stories published in Playboy magazine. She hopes to uncover the ways in which Bashevis Singer’s portrayal and perspective on sexuality differ between these two works.

Lily Schmidt Swartz (she/hers) is a rising senior at Brandeis University where she is majoring in Politics and Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, and minoring in Business. Swartz is originally from Los Angeles and attended an all girls Orthodox day school which informs her independent study project for this summer. Her research will revolve around the ways in which the Orthodox community manages and supports victims of pre-marital sexual abuse and assault, and whether or not there can be improvements made to the system. Additionally, she will be working with retired HBI co-director and NEJS Professor Sylvia Barack Fishman on a new project where she is analyzing relationships between Jews of Israel and the Diaspora. Swartz is a former student of Professor Fishman and took her class in “Sociology of the American Jewish Community.” She is excited to continue learning with her this summer. 

Shaina Kaye (she/hers) is studying Social Sciences at Delgado Community College in Louisiana and is considering pursuing a BA in Psychology. This summer at Brandeis, she is working with HBI director Lisa Fishbayn Joffe on a new project that is focused on women who choose to leave cultural minority communities and the pathways that they take to do so. In a similar vein, Kaye will also be working on her own to create a community chapbook—a pamphlet of stories—about her journey as a Queer and Orthodox Jewish woman to discover her sexuality beyond the norms and expectations that her community placed on her. She hopes that this chapbook will help other young women who are on similar paths of discovery in realizing that there is no “right” way to have a relationship with one’s body. Kaye is excited to build relationships with her fellow interns this summer who are similarly committed to answering questions of self and purpose.

Eliana Padwa (she/hers) is a rising junior at Brandeis University where she studies History and Teacher Education. Padwa hopes to become a history teacher for middle or high school aged students, and her passion for education is reflected in her research placement this summer. She will work with Jonathan Krasner, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Associate Professor of Jewish Education Research at Brandeis on his oral history project that focuses on the experiences of women teachers in Jewish day schools from past to present. Padwa is excited to learn about the social science research process and to improve her interview and oral history skills. Additionally, she will be researching Jewish academic journals and examining how women have been represented by them over time. On campus, Eliana helps to publish the Brandeis Judaic Studies Journal, and she hopes that this research will not only enhance her publication knowledge, but also provide some historical context for where women have been and are currently in the Judaic narrative.

Rachel Levy is a rising senior at University of Michigan Ann Arbor and a HBI Gilda Slifka summer intern. 

Graceful Masculinity

By Rabbi Mike Moskowitz and Rabbi Rachel Timoner

The phrase “toxic masculinity,” in the news and culture a great deal these days, is often misunderstood. Rather than indicate that masculinity is inherently toxic or harmful, the phrase “toxic masculinity” points to an overly narrow and repressive definition of manhood, by which boys and men are taught that the only way to be “a real man” is through violence, sex, status, and aggression. Toxic masculinity can be implicated in everything from school shootings to sexual harassment to mansplaining. But what does healthy masculinity look like? What can we learn from Torah about a more expansive and robust definition of manhood and about how to heal the toxic forms of masculinity?  

In this week’s parsha, Naso, we are taught about the Sotah: a woman whose jealous husband suspects her of being unfaithful. It is clear from the design of the ritual that the problem being addressed is not an actual question of infidelity by the woman but dangerous possessiveness and entitlement by the man. Here we see the Torah acknowledge the very real and universal emotion of jealousy, understanding that in a society in which a man’s honor and status is dependent upon being able to control his wife, such jealousy could be dangerous, even deadly.

The Torah provides a remedy for the man’s excessive bitterness and entitlement: the woman is brought before the high priest and must drink a mixture of bitter water and humble earth with G-d’s name dissolved into the mixture. G-d is willing to have G-d’s holy name erased in order to protect the life and safety of a woman, to heal the wounded heart and pride of a man, and to make room for peace.

The parsha immediately proceeds to teach us about the Nazir, a man who temporarily steps back from society and adopts an ascetic posture of separation. The Talmud explains the juxtapositioning of the Sotah and the Nazir as divine advice for men who witness the disgrace of a Sotah. In order to break the cycle of excessive possessiveness and entitlement, a male witness to the Sotah ritual should accept upon himself a period of excessive self-denial and restraint. It is as if he must swing from one extreme to another as a corrective in order to eventually find a middle path.

It is noteworthy that this chapter ends with that middle path, a three-part paternal blessing and message for Aaron and his sons. This is also the blessing that is traditionally offered from parents to their children every Shabbat. The three verse blessing starts with a request for protection/guardianship and concludes with an ask of peace. What sticks out is the middle verse that reads: “May Hashem illuminate G-d’s countenance toward you and endow you with grace/חן.”

We find an interesting connection between grace and masculinity in early mystical sources. Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation, says that G-d made the letter “ת” “Tav” king over grace and it corresponds to the day of Shabbat. It has been observed that when you insert the “tav” in the middle of “grace” you form the word “Chasson – חתן”, the Hebrew term for groom.

Our rabbis teach that the essence of grace comes from the Shabbat, in that after man’s sin of crossing a boundary in the garden of Eden (where despite being able to eat from all of the other trees, being told “no” to just one thing was too much), the Shabbat was a time to pause in an atmosphere of G-d’s total acceptance and love, an atmosphere that enabled him to reflect and change. R’ Tzodok writes that the blessing of Genesis 2:3 “And G-d blessed the seventh day” was the blessing of חן/grace.

The gift of Shabbat is the gift of G-d’s grace, in which we experience acceptance of and gratitude for the world as it is; in which we have no need to control, possess, or dominate; in which we feel loved and “good enough” just as we are. The Talmud teaches us that we are meant to learn from the way in which G-d models for us the proper way to act. G-d’s behavior is in contrast to the jealous husband in the ritual of the Sotah. Although G-d created us, G-d does not act as if G-d owns us. In fact, G-d values above all our free will and ability to make choices. A groom, if behaving like G-d, will deeply honor the free will of his spouse and feel an aspiration to be worthy of such a partner. Filled with חן/grace, he will feel accepted and loved for who he is, and ready to accept and love his partner.

G-d, the source of all genders, has many male attributes and is also the source of all good. The humility and respect that G-d has for the space that we take up in this world, despite the actual power differential that exists between the Creator and Their creations, provides an important template for our interpersonal interactions where the power differences are only a social construction. May we all find the illumination necessary to create a society where all gender expressions are reflections of the Divine, and all are filled with grace.

Rabbi Mike Moskowitz is a Scholar-in-Residence inTrans and Queer Jewish Studies at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York. (Pronouns: He/Him)




Rabbi Rachel Timoner is the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Elohim, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where she focuses on community building, spiritual life, and activism to make the world more just. (Pronouns: She/Her)

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