Our Time by the Forward

Our Time: A new monthly newsletter by and for Jewish women

Welcome to OUR TIME, a new monthly newsletter by and for Jewish women – an eclectic mix of inspiration for mind, body, soul and heart. It is produced by The Forward and distributed in partnership with Hadassah. I’m your host, Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, Life editor at the Forward.

Growing up in a family of Soviet Jewish emigres, I knew from a young age that there was only one thing that could get you through Nazi occupations, Stalin, and the Iron Curtain: A wicked sense of humor.

For Soviet Jews, humor was a lifeline. It breathed air into the most suffocating times.

And in a society that systematically repressed Jewish culture, humor was perhaps the greatest marker of one’s identity: Anekdoti, situational jokes, featuring characters named Rabinovich, or Avrom and Sara, were the Talmud of the Soviet Jews. They were the narratives that were shared and memorized over tables in cramped kitchens. Men and women would bring their notes on the latest jokes they heard, often poking fun at current events and Jewish culture, and read them aloud at gatherings to a roaring audience and another round of vodka. Some of my warmest childhood memories are of those moments, transposed from Kiev and Minsk to New Jersey.

Inside the Soviet Union, it was in this oral, self-deprecating genre that the Jewish way was preserved and passed on — a system of codes, with a sprinkling of cynicism, whatever the risk. After all, a casual joke was never just that — shared with the wrong person, it could land you in a labor camp.

In the 1980’s, when the month of Jewish month of Adar would approach, Soviet Jews in large cities would gather secretly for Purim shpiels, comedic plays (often featuring refusenik actors) of the Purim story. The sagas of ancient Persia — of totalitarianism, of threats of mass slaughter — felt all too contemporary.

The story of Esther is, after all, one big anekdot, a story of extreme dark irony, with a brave heroine at its heart: A dictator and genocidal bigot are overturned by an unlikely duo, a secretly Jewish queen and her wise uncle. It’s terribly funny, but also, terribly serious, right? We only narrowly escaped being decimated. Even so, the Jewish way is to laugh, of course — to dance on the tip of the sword, to celebrate every survival with utter abandon.

So here is my Purim gift to you, a quintessential Soviet anekdot that rings true today:

A Soviet Jew comes to the KGB office, asking permission to leave.

The KGB official: “Where do you want to go?”

The Jew: “Israel. Ah, actually, no — wars, terrorism, tough economy. O.K., America, then. Oh, no — racial tensions, crime…”

The KGB official puts a globe on his desk in front of him and says: “Just tell me where.”

The Jew spins it for a while, then asks: “Do you have a different globe?”

Wishing you and yours a jolly Adar,
Avital

#followher

Leah Forster, @leahforster, is one of those comedians who has truly mastered the art of social media. In her beloved “Tichel Tuesday” weekly video, she pokes fun at Hasidic women’s culture, and at the community where she grew up, with sharpness and compassion. Follow her to get into the Purim mood, and read this profile of her by our colleague Aiden Pink.

culture club

Our minds this month lean towards Queen Esther’s Shushan, so we picked up Persian Brides, a novel by Israeli Dorit Rabinyan. It’s the story of the cousins Flora and Nazie, two young girls in the fictional Persian village of Omerijan, set sometime in the 19th century: Flora is 15, pregnant, and abandoned by her husband, while the younger Nazie longs desperately to be married, though she is only 11. The novel conjures the strong sense of sisterhood in traditional communities, a chorus of village-women gathering and commenting, celebrating and mourning life together. Between the sex and the food, be prepared for a deeply sensual read.

Have a book or film you’d like to share with our readers? Thoughts about this month’s selection? Write to us: ourtime@forward.com.

handle with care

February is heart health month, and cardiologist Dr. Donna Zwas of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem says that the best way to empower women is to educate them to listen — to their bodies. “We’re so busy worrying about everyone else that we are not worrying about ourselves,” she said. “You need to take yourself seriously and take the next step. It’s okay to go to the ER for a false alarm.”

She noted that women often wait longer than men do to call for help when experiencing chest pain. “It’s not a pain threshold issue,” she explained. “It’s an interpretation issue.”

Which makes us think: How do women’s tendencies to push away help for ourselves affect not just our health, but our personal lives, our work, our dreams?

signature style

Meet Los Angeles style empress and fashion blogger Rachelle Yadegar — we are extremely here for her Cali sense of je-ne-sais-quoi. We asked Rachelle for her go-to styling tips; here’s what she told us:

Blaze your way: Wear a blazer on your shoulders to give you structure, height — and confidence.

Stripes forever: Dress a striped shirt up or down. Pair her with a jean skirt, layer under a strapless dress, or dress up with some fun earrings and bold lip.

Bottoms up: I wear a black slip skirt twice a week. They are insanely flattering and make anything you pair them with on top instantly a “look.”

Top it off: Don’t be afraid to wear a wide-brimmed hat with character — it’s a way to express yourself, and it’ll pull your outfit together.

Who’s your Jewish style icon? Nominate her here.

secret ingredient

You’re supposed to get drunk on Purim, so we asked Gitty Halberstam of Misceo Liqueurs to train us in at-home mixology. Here’s a guide, whether you’re reaching for tequila or tonic.

🍹Have two tools: Make sure to have a jigger — you want to be able to measure exactly (tip: know the difference between a cocktail that’s shaken vs. stirred) — and a muddler for herbs.

🍯 Understand flavors. Know how to balance sweet, sour, and neutral. If you’re making a mocktail, use tonic water, because it has a bitterness to it that seltzer won’t.

🥃 Bring in the bitters, a controlled flavor that adds a lot to round out a cocktail. You can find them in most liquor stores and in Target.

🍋 Garnish with purpose. It’s not just about the look; there ought to be a purpose to the garnish: Whether a cinnamon stick or lemon or celery, it must add to the flavor of the drink.

🥒 Have fun. Anything in your kitchen can be put into a cocktail or a mocktail — even pickle juice

Looking for some Purim-inspired cocktail ideas? We’ve got you covered.

p.s. check it out

🛁 Has Judy Blume changed your life? Read my colleague Molly Boigon’s lovely ode to this beloved author, in honor of her birthday, who taught her the facts about periods and kisses.

🎙️ Tune in to Hadassah’s The Branch podcast, hosted by the American-Israeli journalist Dina Kraft, for a fascinating glimpse of two peace advocates, one in Israel and one in Gaza, and how they organize via Skype and WhatsApp — connecting people across the bitter divide.

📺 Are you watching “Soon By You,” the frum and funky “Friends”-esque sitcom taking the Upper West Side by storm? The latest episode explored the dilemmas faced by queer young people who want to embrace their sexuality without leaving their Orthodox communities, and Irene Katz-Connelly has thoughts.

👛 A recent biography of Coco Chanel’s wartime spent in the French Riviera minimizes her Nazi sympathies and anti-Semitic views, and offers a gauche portrait of a French elite continuing to party as the war raged — Hermes gas masks included.

📥From our inbox: “I loved your first newsletter! I use hawaijj in my coffee every morning. for those who can’t or don’t make their own - a very good hawaijj for coffee is made by Pereg spices - it is sometimes labelled ‘Spices for Coffee’.” ~ Ann Ellen (Chana) Dickter

👩‍⚕️ Next month, we’ll be thinking about all kinds of doulas, women who help people through life-changing journeys. Have a related story, book, or historical photo you want to share? Let us know.

What are you reading, listening to and watching online these days? Let us know: ourtime@forward.com.

matriarchs

Every month, we highlight a photograph from the Forward or Hadassah archives.

This newsletter was edited by Helen Chernikoff and designed by Angelie Zaslavsky.


shevat: sustainability, style, and (yemenite) spice

February edition of ‘Our Time’

With fire consuming much of Australia, deadly floods ravaging central Israel, and the thermometer here in New York looking more like June than January some days, I’ve been thinking a lot about weather — and about Honi the Sage.

Honi is not a modern meteorologist, of course, but a Talmudic character who was walking along a road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man how long it would take for the tree to bear fruit, and the man replied, “Seventy years.” Honi asked him: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise, I am planting for my children.”

The Jewish month of Shevat starts Sunday at sundown, and the 15th day, Tu b’Shevat, is what the Talmud called the New Year for the Trees. It’s listed right up there with Rosh Hashanah. In ancient Israel, it was central to the observance of agricultural laws.

Growing up, I barely acknowledged Tu b’Shevat — it seemed like a really minor holiday, something hippy and exotic. At best, it was an excuse to eat a weird fruit as we trudged through the American winter until spring.

But this year I’m thinking about the holiday differently, and seeing the whole month as an opportunity to reflect on our collective responsibility for the earth. In particular, I’ve been pondering the Jewish perspective on the female connection to the earth. Doesn’t it seem like it is largely young women — including Jamie Margolin — who are the faces of the fight for environmental consciousness today?

Traditionally, according to Genesis, it was Adam who was the gardener, the planter — a role inextricably tied to a curse, for his sin of eating the forbidden fruit.

But what about Eve? Is Eve possibly then given the opportunity of relating to the earth and its bounty in a different way than Adam? While Adam is created from the adamah, from soil, she is created from his flesh — and perhaps that degree of separation from the earth allows Eve to appreciate it all the more. While Adam’s relationship to the environment may be complex — he is commanded to toil over it, in a ruthless battle to yield fruit — that of his partner’s might be that much more liberated.

Perhaps, perhaps, our tradition is suggesting that women have the capacity to rise above the grind of daily labor, to look ahead — and to think about the next generation.

Wishing you a fruitful Shevat, and hope you enjoy this first installment of OUR TIME.

Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt

#followher

Shira Barzilay, @koketit, is a Tel-Aviv based artist and “animal-loving vegan” who creates visually-striking portraits combining her love for fashion design and art. We find her work thought-provoking and tres Tel Aviv.

culture club

So many books, so little time. This month, we’re celebrating the first year of a new decade by reading “Cosella Wayne, Or, Will and Destiny” — wait for it…the first American-Jewish novel, published in 1860. Yes, a woman wrote the first American-Jewish novel! Her real name: Henrietta Pulfermacher. Never heard of it? Don’t feel bad; almost no one has. Or had, until Prof. Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University found it in 2016 while doing research in an Israeli archive; a new paperback edition was published last year with his introduction.

Have a book or film you’d like to share with our readers? Thoughts about this month’s selection? Write to us: ourtime@forward.com.

signature style

Meet fashion blogger Elizabeth Savetsky, also known as the “Excessories Expert,” our style icon of the month, who brings some much-needed color to our dreary January morning:

For my everyday look, I need my outfit to be both functional and fashionable. I’m constantly on the go, from carpool to the gym to lunch meetings to shoots. Here are my 7 go-to style elements.

Statement outerwear. If you have a great coat on, it doesn’t matter if you have pajamas underneath!

Western boots. Maybe it’s my year in Dallas, but I have been so inspired by western pieces and they have been all over the runways as well! I love them because they start a conversation, and bring a glamorous look down to earth.

Huge sunglasses. I usually don’t wear much makeup unless I am doing photos or going out at night. I count on big sunglasses because I think they are the most glamorous way to hide tired eyes in the carpool line.

Layered jewelry. In my daily life, I layer a few delicate necklaces. I also have nine piercings so my ears are full of diamond huggies and tiny studs; these days, I’m having a celestial moment with lots of stars, moons, and lightning bolts.

A fabulous handbag. The best investment is a designer handbag. My grandma and my mom have held on to all other theirs, and I raid both of their collections; I especially love the vintage Judith Leiber bags. A bag doesn’t get worn out like a pair of shoes, and it’s much more practical than an expensive piece of jewelry.

Bling. I grew up going to the Miss Texas pageant, so my affinity for huge sparkly earrings and false eyelashes was deeply ingrained in me from childhood. And to this day, I have never met a sequin I didn’t love. I’ve never been afraid for people to take notice when I walk in a room.

Tribal symbols. If you take one look at my jewelry, you can see that I am a proud Jew: I wear a “L’Chaim” necklace from Jennifer Zeuner; a diamond Hebrew letter “Pay” necklace from the Israeli designer, Hot Crown, for my Hebrew name, Pesha; and a gold dog tag that says “schvitz” from Van Der Hout Jewelry. I also wear a ring that says “KOSHER” in big gold letters. My most precious possession is a gold coin that my great-grandfather gave my great-grandmother, for whom I am named. It reminds me of the sacrifices the people before me made so I could be here today.

Who’s your Jewish style icon?

handle with care

Spending time in nature — yes, even in the winter — is good for you. According to a recent study by British scientists, it takes 120 minutes a week outdoors to get the full health benefits of nature. Plus, for those of you who feel overworked, take note: Research also shows that time spent in nature can reduce stress, anxiety and fatigue.

Dr. Hagai Levin, of the School of Public Health at the Hadassah Medical School at Hebrew University, told us that soon, doctors may prescribe to their patients not just pills — but time in nature. “Now, more than ever, as the majority of the world population resides in cities, it’s essential that we all have easy and free access to the natural environment,” he said. ‏‪”Most people don’t need to take along a blood pressure cuff to know that they feel happier, more relaxed and invigorated in fresh air and among forests and inspiring landscapes.”

Duly noted, Dr. Levin. We’ll take an Rx for an ambling walk in Central Park any day.

Hawij

noun • /Ha-wa-ee-juh/

1) A savory Yemini spice blend of cumin, black pepper, cardamom, coriander and turmeric popular in Israel that will take your chicken soup to the next level, just in time for flu season.

2) A sweet Yemini spice blend: ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, clove. Use it to turn your coffee into dessert.

Let us know how you used hawij. And don’t keep your ingredient secret — share it on social media and tag The Forward!

p.s. check it out

🎙️ Tune in to Hadassah’s The Branch podcast, hosted by the American-Israeli journalist Dina Kraft, for a closeup on an unlikely duo: Yuval Ben-Ami, son of an Israeli army spokesman, and Husam Jubran, who spent a year in a wheelchair after being shot by Israeli soldiers as a teenager. The two team up as tour guides for a powerful experience crisscrossing the two narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

📜 For two years, Avital tried to convince a rabbi running an underground Talmud class for Haredi women in Jerusalem to let her join. He finally relented. Read the article.

📺 Of course, we’re all gearing up for Fauda’s third season, which we expect to come to Netflix in several months. In the meantime, here’s the Forward’s definitive guide to what Israeli TV and films to stream.

✈️ Did you know that Louisa May Alcott may have had Portuguese Jewish ancestry? Take a fascinating stroll through once-Jewish Lisbon streets with Alcott’s cousin and biographer Eve LePlante.

📱This month, we chatted with Bracha Bard-Wigdor, a birth doula and intimacy coach, who has taken to Instagram to teach sex ed to fellow Orthodox Jewish women. No filters.

🤣 Next month, we’ll be talking about comedy, because Purim. A meme or joke you love? A female Jewish comedian you follow? Send it to us!

What are you reading, listening to and watching online these days? Let us know: ourtime@forward.com.

matriarchs

Every month, we’ll highlight a photograph from the Forward or Hadassah archives. This month, our eyes lingered over this beautiful moment: A woman from an African-American Jewish community in Harlem lighting Sabbath candles. Originally published in the Forverts on January 5, 1941.

If the little things make you happy, you’ll never be sad — that’s one of our mantras. And that’s why we like type. Your newsletter was set in a typeface called Helvetica, designed in 1957 by Max Miedinger, to appear dense, solid and clean. There’s even a movie about it. Thanks Max!

This newsletter was edited by Helen Chernikoff and designed by Angelie Zaslavsky.

Our Time: A new monthly newsletter by and for Jewish women

Author

Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt

Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt

Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt is the Life/Features editor at the Forward. She was previously a New York-based reporter for Haaretz. Her work has appeared in the New York TimesSalon, and Tablet, among others. Avital teaches journalism at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, and does pastoral work alongside her husband Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt in New York City.

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