Journal Archive

May 2014

11 And she vowed a vow, and said: 'O LORD of hosts, if Thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of Thy handmaid, and remember me, and not forget Thy handmaid, but wilt give unto Thy handmaid a man-child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.' Samuel, Chapter 1

The birth of a child is the creation of something new. An addition. An expansion. Growth.

But it is also a subtraction, as this addition comes to being through a series of physical, emotional, and intellectual offerings from the mother.

In this journal we look at the intersection of motherhood and sacrifice, including the ways it has changed and the ways it is the same as it ever was.

ART: Mirta Kupferminc talks about the evolution of a chair made entirely of breasts.
ESSAY: Elissa Strauss is Hannah. Elissa Strauss is not Hannah. A meditation on the eternal paradox of motherhood.
ESSAY: Brooke Berman took a work trip and left her son at home. On always living in sacrifice and blessing.
ESSAY: Hannah a martyr? No way. She was a stage mom, just like Yehuda Hyman's mother.
COMMENTARY: Ruby Namdar on  the story of Hannah and why it is a tragedy despite what the sages say.

March 2014 

6 And Sarah said: 'God hath made laughter for me; every one that heareth will laugh on account of me.' 7 And she said: 'Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should give children suck? for I have borne him a son in his old age.' Genesis, Chapter 21

Sarah is one of the matriarchs. The matriarch really. She came first. Sarah was the mother of the matriarchs, themother of the mothers. And yet this mother, mother of our mothers, came so close to not ever becoming a mother. This made her totally nuts.

In this journal we look at the connection between motherhood and power. In Sarah's struggle to overcome barrenness and create a male heir, we see the complicated relationship between these two things. She longs for thepower that motherhood would bring her, but is also consumed by this longing. Things don't get much easier once she has the kid either.

Is motherhood oppressive? Empowering? A distraction? A purpose? A chance to hold the keys? Or a way to get yourself locked in by one? The answer is, and always has been, all of the above.

COMMENTARY: Ruby Namdar on the dynamics of motherhood in Genesis and why Sarah was so bitter.

 ESSAY: Elissa Strauss says motherhood does not make women nicer. So get over it.

ART: Siona Benjamin took Sarah and the other four matriarchs into the pardes. Watch a slideshow of her four new multi-media works and come see them in the gallery at the Y, this month.

ESSAY: Sigal Samuel on her adventures in feminist mythmaking and the maternal ambivalence she discovered there.

ESSAY: Clémence Boulouque takes a look at Regina Jonas, the first female rabbi and a mother who had no children.  

MOTHER JOURNAL #1: Creator/ Destroyer
January 2014 


16 Unto the woman He said: 'I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy travail; in pain thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.'  Genesis, Chapter 3
Welcome to the first journal of our MOTHER year. The work in it is inspired by the story of Eve, whose name means "source of life" and is credited with the creation and destruction of each and every one of us. Yes, even you.
It is because of Eve that we are alive, and it is because of Eve that we die.
A quick summary of the world's first mother's life, in case you forgot. Eve eats a piece of fruit from the tree of good and evil and as a result is capable of having children and dying. You see, motherhood has always been inseparable from sacrifice.
This year we chose to represent our theme of mother with a graphic of a dot encircled by a thin line. (You can see it above.) It is a simple image, but in no way a benign one.
We all have mothers, which means we have all been the dot, protected and content inside that circle. And we all have mothers, which means that we have all been the dot, claustrophobic and stymied inside that circle.
Many of us spend our lives yearning to go back to that circle while simultaneously wanting nothing more than to escape it. We are drawn to our mother's capacity for creation, and, in turn, repelled by her capacity for destruction, of us and herself. It's all pretty complicated, really. 

COMMENTARY: Ruby Namdar on why we hate thinking about our mothers having sex.

ESSAY: Elissa Strauss on why the expulsion is the best thing that has ever happened to her and Eve's not-so-famous last words.

MUSIC: Nadav Lev writes and sings about the communal lodgings he slept in as a child on a kibbutz and the nighttime mothers who watched over him there.

ART: Tom Block explores the knife's edge between creation and destruction in his multi-media piece "La Bestia: Sweet Mother."  

July 2013: Food and Desire


6 And she went down unto the threshing-floor, and did according to all that her mother-in-law bade her. 7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn; and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down. 8 And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was startled, and turned himself; and, behold, a woman lay at his feet. Ruth, Chapter 3

The other day I saw a commercial for a dessert in which it was described as a guilt-free pleasure. Can such a thing exist? Pleasure, true pleasure, without guilt?

Because for pleasure to be pleasure it must, must, come from desire. And for desire to be desire, something must be at stake. And when something is at stake, there will inevitably be, for most of us, some remorse.

Now the guilt doesn't necessarily need to be of the pedestrian variety. No "I shouldn't" because you are overweight, short on cash, have to get up at 6 in the morning, or are training for a big race. The guilt can run deeper, manifesting itself as byproduct of a struggle with the structures of power and forces of fate that envelop us all.

Ruth was a hungry widow. She should have stayed that way. In her story we witness her longings for food and flesh and watch as she lets these longings lead her to Bethlehem, and eventually, to lying with Boaz among a heap of corn. She later gives birth to the grandfather of King David thereby, according to some, saving the Jewish people.

Ruth's strength was in her ability to let desire lead, to open herself up to its consequences along with its delights.

Elissa Strauss 


COMMENTARY: Ruby Namdar discusses the lust in the haystacks in the Book of Ruth.
RECIPE: Find out how to make Erin Patinkin's delicious LABA bread. Just like Ruth would have made!
ESSAY: Sarah Seltzer on why she eats ice cream because she wants to, and why her grandma did because she should.
ROCK MIDRASH: Stephen Hazan Arnoff on why, sometimes, you just got to follow desire.
VIDEO: Misha Shulman presents: 'Coffee is the morning silence.' Two grandparents compete to make the perfect cup.




2 Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways; as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God, they ask of Me righteous ordinances, they delight to draw near unto God. 3 'Wherefore have we fasted, and Thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and Thou takest no knowledge?'--Behold, in the day of your fast ye pursue your business, and exact all your labours.' Isaiah 58

There is a deep-rooted human instinct to ritualize eating. Maybe it is your morning coffee, just the way you like it. Maybe it is your grandmother's brisket, your only true moment of Shabbat transcendence. Maybe it is maintaining a careful separation between all things milk and all things meat, for reasons that you can't quite rationalize. Or maybe it is a cold-pressed juice or a Pinot Grigio, quaffed in a search for a new truth.

The decisions about what we eat and what we don't eat are rarely isolated ones. Instead, they are part of a larger attempt to create meaning in our lives and control the world around us. Through eating we punctuate our days, participate in moral systems, and express our vitality in the purest and most intuitive fashion available to us. I eat because I am. I am because I eat.

This ritualistic power of eating is precisely what gives not eating its might. Fasting is a way for humans to refresh and reboot, to break habits and to question our values. We deny ourselves food with the hope that our hunger will yield a sharper understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.

In this journal we look at the ritual of fasting, how it slows down time and empowers us all while denying us our might. Can we really change through fasting? Can fasting really change us?
Elissa Strauss 
ESSAY: When Karen Hartman fasts, she feels. But is it true?
MUSIC: Like fasting, Amir Shpilman can slow down time.
FICTION: A fabulist short story from Sarah Seltzer about a woman whose juice cleanse goes too far.
ROCK MIDRASH: Stephen Hazan Arnoff on Bob Dylan and a tale of two Angelinas.
COMMENTARY: Basmat Hazan Arnoff on how fasting can empower the powerless.




9 And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. 10 And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.   
Leviticus, Chapter 19 

We are living in a time of intense interest in ethical eating. Organic. Vegetarianism. Anti-GMOs. Local. Fair trade. Free-range. We've all got a food cause these days. But the marriage of food and ethics is hardly something new.

In fact, the concern over the ethics of food creation, consumption and distribution is quite old, arguably as old as ethics themselves. Food connects us all, and because of that we have long been burdened with making sure that this connection is a fair and just one.

In this journal we explore the relationship between food and ethics, and why we should all be sure to leave some wheat in the corners of our fields.

Elissa Strauss 


ESSAY: Diana Spechler on her search for someone to eat with. 

COMMENTARY: Ruby Namdar on why the old method to feed the poor is much better than what we do now.

LIST: Elissa Strauss's list of ten things you share when you share food.

ART: Artist Joshua Schwartz wants to make you a playlist.

CURRENT: Sarah Seltzer on Sandy and how we fail at providing for our gleaners.

ROCK MIDRASH: Stephen Hazan Arnoff on Bob Dylan's call to help the poor.


December 2012: FOOD AND POWER

29 And Jacob sod pottage; and Esau came in from the field, and he was faint. 30 And Esau said to Jacob: 'Let me swallow, I pray thee, some of this red, red pottage; for I am faint.' Therefore was his name called Edom. 31 And Jacob said: 'Sell me first thy birthright.'32 And Esau said: 'Behold, I am at the point to die; and what profit shall the birthright do to me?'33 And Jacob said: 'Swear to me first'; and he swore unto him; and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. 34 And Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So Esau despised his birthright. Genesis 25:29-34

Let's face it. Food is all about power.   

Through food we gain pleasure and love. Through food we incite desire. Food makes strangers companions; loved ones, transparent.   

Yes, when we prepare a meal for one another is often about generosity. But somewhere, perhaps deep, in that stew, soup or roast, or in Jacob's case, a bowl of lentils, lies a hunger for something more. Come on, don't feign innocence, you know it's true.   

In this journal, the first of our EAT year, we take a close look at the intersection between food and power and how Jacob used his knowledge of this connection to pull off one of the biggest heists in Jewish tradition.   

Elissa Strauss

INTERVIEW: Exclusive! Elissa Strauss sits down with Jacob and learns about how hepulled of stealing his brother's birthright and how it all comes down to the difference between food and a meal.

FICTION: A modern-day Rebecca muses on why she helped one son steal her other son's inheritance.

ART: Eli Valley takes us on a tour of the blood-hungry werewolves of Canaan.

MUSIC: A new song by Clare Burson on why kids just can't #$%& share.

ROCK MIDRASH: Stephen Hazan Arnoff on food and power in Bob Dylan's album, "Desire."


#1: Babel
#2: Noah's Ark

#3: Cain and Abel
#4 Leviticus & HomeSave & Close
#5 Talmud & City