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Archive for : Gender & Sexuality

Her Ladyship…on International Women’s Day

I’m not ashamed to admit my addiction to Downton Abbey, the Emmy® Award winning drama about the Crawleys, a well-to-do British family around the time of World War I. The acclaimed series—a phenomenon, really—transports viewers to another era; one in many ways simpler (and no this is not commentary about smartphones and technology), and one in many ways much more complex. Think servants working downstairs, gilded furniture, marriages arranged to your cousins and multiple-course formal dinners, after which women are sent away so the men can discuss the “real business” of the day.

Like many, in my addiction to this fictional saga, I’m struck by the impulsive and impassioned character, Lady Sybil Crawley, the youngest of three daughters born into this life of opulence and privilege. Not only does she – in her own way – defy her aristocratic upbringing, she fights for women’s rights, often asserting in conversation that women can – and should be – equal players in politics, the workforce and family matters.

And on this, International Women’s day (and Purim, by the by), I’d like to point out some highlights of what makes this character so swell:

  • She empowers other women: Lady Sybil insists that one of the chambermaids – a character with whom she is not expected to engage beyond her duties helping her get dressed – get a job as a secretary, a career (gasp!) that excited the maid’s passion. Lady Sybil’s belief that women should not be simply expected to play out a role assigned to her, but rather to follow one’s own aspirations tempers the maid’s worry that her family would not understand giving up a good job (as a maid, no less) to do something that she felt inspired to do.
  • She maintains her own identity (and a touch of style): The glory of Downton and its ladies is embellished evermore by the refined, intricate, conservative, lacy, ultra-feminine styles of the day (not so much our wash-and-wear attire of today). But Lady Sybil rebels. In a much subtler scene, Lady Sybil enters flaunting a new style of dress – pants! – considered a bit risqué for the day.  By shocking her parents and the (ever delightful) Dowager Countess, Lady Sybil reminds us that every woman should be able to build her own identity on her own terms.
  • She’s outspoken: Outside the safety of their Abbey, Lady Sybil defies her father and attends voting rallies comprised of men that, at the time, often include discussions of whether or not women should have the right to vote. By showing up, she shows that women can–and should–be part of the conversation.  Her presence alone helped change the dialogue.
  • She takes action: Lady Sybil refuses to sit idly during a time of crisis like so many others of her social class. She, instead, enlists herself in training to become a nurse, heading straight to work helping those injured at war. Regardless of her privilege, the Lady makes a point to get her hands dirty for the greater good, all the while engaging with people from outside her close-knit community.
  • She has integrity: Her family condemns the Lady’s marriage to Tom Branson, the family chauffeur. Yet, Sybil is guided by her heart, not by tradition. Despite this tension, she continues to love and respect her disapproving family even when they threaten to cut her off.

Lady Sybil’s actions on Downton Abbey wouldn’t likely end up being recorded in today’s history books. These acts – usually done quietly – reflect those of women who stand up for themselves, their daughters, their mothers, their sisters and their supportive brothers across the globe everyday.  But, all combined, Lady Sybil’s characteristics complete the portrait of a strong, inspiring woman deserving of recognition and to whom we can still connect today.

I, like many others who are addicted to the Abbey, have many modern-day Lady Sybils in my life: my great grandmother who went to work to support her family at a time when that was frowned upon, my aunt who faces every challenge with dignity and poise, a dear friend who fights for equality through modeling an inclusive life to her daughters, and on and on. They inspire me daily.

My hope – as a man who proudly considers himself a feminist – is that on International Women’s Day, we honor not only the great pioneering women who have led the cause of women’s rights throughout history but also the Lady Sybils in our own families and communities who have done their part to build a better world for us all.

And this year, perhaps you can honor your favorite “Lady Sybil” by dressing as her for Purim.  I know that I will – as long as I can find some trendy pants…




Who Is Under Your Mask?

This year, the Jewish holiday of Purim coincides with another important day, International Women’s Day. (Read more about the day’s history, which dates back to the early 20th century, here.)

The parallels are not hard to find: International Women’s Day celebrates women’s great achievements throughout history; Purim celebrates the achievements of two remarkable women. First there’s Queen Esther – a woman of remarkable bravery, who played a critical role in changing the course of Jewish history for the better. Purim also retells the story of Queen Vashti, a woman who stood up for what she believed in, despite the potential consequences. (Read more about Esther and Vashti here.)

We think it’s a pretty cool coincidence. We also think the convergence of these two holidays lends itself to some pretty great Purim costume inspiration. So what better way to celebrate both Purim and International Women’s Day than by dressing up as an amazing female leader – embodying her for the evening, and sharing her story with anyone who asks, “What are you?” (yeesh, that got really deep).

So if you’re still looking for your Purim costume (and let’s face it – many of us are), consider dressing as one of history’s greatest female leaders. Some ideas to get you started–fully loaded with what you’ll need:

  • Queen Esther
    Who she was: The heroine of the Purim story.
    What to wear: A flowing, drape-y dress, lots of silk scarves, a crown or beaded headdress, dangly earrings.
  • Queen Vashti
    Who she was: King Ahasuerus’ first wife who was banished because she refused to dance for the King.
    What to wear: Pretty much the same as above.
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg
    Who she is: A Supreme Court Justice of the United States – only the second woman to hold the position.
    What to wear: A salt and pepper bun, glasses, a black judge’s robe with a frilly white collar.
  • Rosa Parks
    Who is she is:  Known as “the first lady of civil rights,” Rosa Parks became an international icon after her refusal to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus spurred a city-wide boycott.
    What to wear: a bun, rimless circle-shaped glasses, 1950’s vintage skirt suit and purse.
  • Jane Goodall
    Who she is: A scientist and naturalist who is considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees.
    What to wear: khakis and neutral colored turtleneck, long white wig tied into a ponytail. Bonus prop: carry a chimpanzee doll.
  • Annie Leibovitz
    Who she is: One of America’s most influential portrait photographers. Think of someone famous. She’s probably taken their picture.
    What to wear: A long salt and pepper wig (or powder in your hair), glasses, black turtleneck. Bonus prop: carry a camera.
  • Golda Meir
    Who she was: The fourth Prime Minister of Israel, and the first woman to hold the position.
    What to wear: A vintage black house dress with a brooch or pearls, hear pulled back in a low bun, strong penciled-in eyebrows.
  • Betty White
    Who she is: Nonagenarian actress who is best known for her role in the Golden Girls, but who has had a remarkable comeback career recently.
    What to wear: A coiffed white wig, a modest but brightly colored sweater with a scarf, big pearl clip on earrings, red lipstick, a charming grin.
  • Billie Holiday
    Who she was: One of the most influential jazz singers of all time.
    What to wear: Hair in a french twist with a white flower tucked in the front, a vintage dress, red lipstick. Bonus prop: carry a microphone.

Need even more inspiration? Check out Biography’s awesome roundup of Women’s history bios here.

Who are you dressing up as for Purim? Let us know by tweeting @repairtheworld

Celebrate Women’s History Month and Empower Women’s Health with Sharsheret

March is Women’s History Month – a month dedicated to the amazing women – from Sojourner Truth and Amelia Earhart to J.K. Rowling and Gabrielle Giffords – who have changed the shape of history in ways both large and small. We at Repair the World think Rochelle Shoretz is a great candidate to add to that list.

Rochelle is the founder of Sharsheret, an organization dedicated to serving the unique concerns of Jewish women with breast cancer. This year’s Women’s History Month theme is empowerment and education – and we couldn’t think of a better way to honor that than by highlighting Rochelle and Sharsheret’s profound work.

As the largest and most influential organization supporting young Jewish women who are facing breast cancer and their families, Sharsheret is already worthy of a mention. (On that note, check out Repair the World’s interview with staff member, Elana Silber.) But Sharsheret’s work around education, and empowering people to spread the word that breast cancer is an issue touches virtually everyone’s life, is truly amazing.

We particularly admire how they’ve rallied teens and college students in awareness raising. Here are just some of the ways:
Read more

In Memory of Whitney Houston, Volunteer to Help People Facing Domestic Abuse

This past week, the entertainment industry said goodbye to one of it’s legends: Whitney Houston. The pop icon and many-time Grammy Awards winner was known for her phenomenal singing, as well as for starring in movies like The Bodyguard and Waiting to Exhale. She was only 48.

The cause of Houston’s death is still unknown. What is known is that Houston struggled for many years with substance abuse and alcohol addiction. It is also known that her relationship with husband Bobby Brown was, as her New York Times obituary put it, “marred by drug use and by his professional jealousy, psychological abuse and physical confrontations.”

While Houston’s talent was a rarity, domestic violence is unfortunately all too common. Physical, mental and sexual abuse within a domestic context are societal problems that impact both the famous and not, adults and children, men – and primarily women. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.” Meanwhile, the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse reports that, “abuse occurs in Jewish families at about the same rate as in the general community – about 15% – and the abuse takes place among all branches of Judaism and at all socio-economic levels.”

In honor of Houston’s legacy – and especially today on Valentine’s Day, when thoughts of love and partnership are in the air – make a commitment to helping people facing domestic abuse and domestic violence. Here are some organizations that are doing great work:

  • Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance: Check out JOFA’s comprehensive list of domestic violence-related resources, books and websites.
  • Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse: This organization supports and empowers victims of domestic abuse. Sign up to be a part of their Volunteer Corps.
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: Volunteer to answer calls and provide support to abuse victims through this national hotline.
  • Safe Horizon: Volunteer as a childcare assistant, tutor, program assistant – or in many other ways – for this organization, which is dedicated to providing services and support to victims of abuse and violence.

8 Nights of Service: Give Girls the Gift of Rights

Welcome to Repair the World’s 8 Nights of Service: awesome volunteer projects, donation opportunities and tikkun olam ideas to bring service to the center of your Hanukkah celebration!

While many kids in high school are anxious about their homework, friends or extra-curricular activities, in developing countries, young girls deal with much more. Last week, Gabriella Runnels, a high school student in Louisiana, released “It Only Takes A Girl,” a video that highlights some astounding (and often overlooked) issues that effect women and girls in developing countries – like a lack of education, HIV/AIDS, pregnancy – and marriage:

Hanukkah is about bringing light into the darkness – and we think Runnels’ video is a perfect example of shedding light on important issues to inspire change. Join Runnels and give the gift of standing up for the rights, health and empowerment of women and girls around the globe. Here are a few great organizations you can get involved with:

  • Girl Effect: Empowering girls and young women around the world to lift themselves, their families and communities out of poverty.
  • Girls Not Brides: A global partnership working to end the harmful traditional practice of child marriage.
  • Fistula Foundation: Working to restore health and dignity to women injured in childbirth, particularly in developing countries.
  • Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing: Encouraging self-esteem, meaningful friendships, and positive Jewish identity for girls.

Let us know how you stand up for women’s rights and health by tweeting @repairtheworld and #8Nights

Support Men’s Health – and Killer Moustaches – with Movember (Deadline Today!)

‘Stache, soup strainer, nose neighbor – whatever you like to call them, moustaches are the height of men’s facial fashion. And during the month of November, they’re also a call to raise awareness about men’s health.

The stats are astonishing: 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, and 1 in 2 will be diagnosed with some kind of cancer. Still, men’s health tends to be overlooked in the media. That’s where Movember came in.

The month-long campaign invites men or “Mo Bros” to grow a moustache throughout the month of November, while raising awareness and money to support men’s health, and specifically prostate cancer research. Think of Movember as a fundraising marathon, except instead of lots of sweat, training and electrolyte-guzzling, participants end up with a sweet, stylin’ ‘stache. (There are lots of opportunities for women, or “Mo Sisters” to get involved too – with or without the ‘stache.)

Funds raised during Movember support super-worthy causes like the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Lance Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG Foundation, as well as Movember’s own education campaigns. (Find out more about where Movember’s money goes by watching the video below.)

Today is the last day in November, which means it’s also the last day to donate towards participants’ moustache growing campaigns during Movember. Check out the fuzzy madness on Facebook, and scope out this funny Top 5 Jewish moustache-wearers list here. Then make a donation to support men’s health and cancer research here.

Work for Social and Environmental Justice with Tevel b’Tzedek

Israelis have a thing for Nepal. Each year, thousands of young Israelis strap on their backpacks and travel the world, with many ending up in Kathmandu. It’s no surprise then, that the state’s capital city regularly hosts one of the world’s largest annual seders, often feeding more than 1,500 travelers. (That is a LOT a lot of matzah!)

Now, Repair the World grantee-partner Tevel b’Tzedek (The Earth- In Justice) offers another way to have a meaningful Jewish experience in Nepal. This February, Israelis and Jews from around the world can join Tevel b’Tzedek on a 4-month adventure promoting environmental justice and human rights and working to ease poverty in Nepal.

The Israel-based nonprofit launched in 2007 with the mission to “create a community of Israeli and Diaspora Jews engaging in the urgent issues of global poverty, marginalization and environmental devastation from a place of deep commitment to the Jewish people and its ethical and spiritual traditions.” Since then, more than 250 people have participated in the volunteer fellowship in Nepal and Haiti (where they also run service programs.)

The Nepal program combines both Jewish study and volunteering including:

  • Working with local communities on youth education, agriculture, women’s empowerment, and health
  • Learning about social and environmental justice, Judaism, economics, globalization and the history and culture of Nepal.
  • Studying Nepali language.
  • Volunteering both in Kathmandu and outside in more rural areas.

Check out the Tevel b’Tzedek experience in participants’ own words by watching the video below and checking out their personal blogs. Then, apply for the 4-month program here.

Monday Link Roundup

Happy Monday! We hope you had a fabulous weekend kicking through the autumn leaves and drinking hot cider (or is that just our idea of the perfect weekend)? Now, to get your day started off right, here is your weekly roundup of inspiring and thought-provoking service and social justice stories from around the web. Read on…

    • Have Fun Do Good highlighted the work of dancer Sara Potler, whose amazing organization Dance 4 Peace focuses on conflict resolution and civic education through dance in youth around the world.
    • JSpot highlighted a recent meeting of faith-based disaster and relief recovery leaders, which focused on how best to serve the low-income communities that are often hardest hit.
    • The Forward honored Evelyn Lauder (who recently passed away). The daughter-in-law of cosmetics legend Estee Lauder, Evelyn pioneered the pink ribbon that has become the leading symbol of breast cancer awareness.
    • The Huffington Post published an inspiring article by Racheal Yeager of the HERproject about empowering women to be leaders in sustainable development.

    GOOD ends things on a hopeful note with their “document hopefulness” slideshow. It’s a bit cheesy, sure, but there’s nothing wrong with a little excess hope. What are you feeling hopeful for this week? Email us.