From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. Now our columnists are helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in 2020. Send questions to email@example.com.
Embrace your inner runway
I have to say, being a West Coast Woman (WCW), I was offended when The New York Times made fun of women in Beverly Hills who get dressed, with make-up and jewelry, to fill their cars with gas.
Things are tough these days: most of us worry constantly; we miss going to our favorite brasseries to schmooze with elderly waiters and hot bartenders. Life is just different, so really if we want to show off a little at our fave gas station where you can get unleaded for as low as $2.69 a gallon, please do not tease us!
I wear the same clothes most days — it’s so easy, pull them off the chair and throw them on. If every now and then I add my Chan Lu multi-colored sea pearls, I do not think I should be made fun of. You would be surprised how my mood, my inspiration, and my motivation improves wearing such accoutrements.
Can you add some support to those of us West of the Rockies locked in our houses for three-plus months? Please.
— A WCW
As Fernando Lamas (portrayed by Billy Crystal) often declared, “It is better to look good than to feel good. And you look maaaaahvelous.”
WCW, don’t lose heart. If you rearrange the letters in the word RIDICULE, subtract “ridic”, add a J, an S, and all the vowels except I, you get JEALOUSY. Whichever reporter had the chutzpah to shame you was probably still bereft that fashion shows and festivals have been canceled all over the world, with no rescheduling dates in sight. But you, WCW, are neither canceled nor postponed. So pay no heed to these bullies and please bring on the bling!
Look, you know this trope from countless movies and TV shows: women who like to look nice must only care about their looks. They take an hour to get ready to go anywhere, to the endless annoyance of their long-suffering beaus. Being feminine means being shallow. It’s such a pervasive idea that some schools of feminism even buy into it.
But, hopefully, you also know that this is utter crap, used to justify a lack of respect for women, as though blow dryers fry our brains and the only way to be smart is to be like a man. (And, of course, it’s a total catch-22, because if you don’t care about looking nice, you’ve “let yourself go.”) I like to think we’re moving on from this trope (starting with “Legally Blonde”), but we’ve still got a ways to go.
I’ll be honest, my idea of pandemic fashion is anything with pockets and a drawstring. But I have been known to apply lipstick and mascara for Zoom “dates” with friends and I have a floral-print mumu for special occasions. That’s not because I’m trying to impress the random passerby or the hedgehog in my backyard. It’s not because I don’t still care about my work, or about politics. It’s because it makes me feel sassy.
If you’re looking for more inspiration on your fashion journey, check out this new report on indoor shoe styles or type in “5 minute fashion” on YouTube and turn your old dish cloths into crop tops.
Bottom line: To all the anti-fashionistas out there, can it. Instead of telling us we’re shallow or slobs, invest in some leopard prints and love.
And to all the WCW’s, please make your mask the brightest accessory.
To snip or not to snip…
Oy vey, my communities (Jewish + non) are so judgemental about circumcision that I feel like whatever we decide I will be harshly judged. What’s a modern Jew to do?
Oy vey indeed. I remember so clearly being in your shoes — or really, flip flops, since my feet were too swollen to squeeze into anything else as I walked through the public park over and over again, weighing this decision.
I’d been to enough brises by then to know it didn’t sound like much fun for a new mom — the kugels, the wailing, the scalpel approaching as I lifted my newborn. But not entering my future son in the holy covenant felt like I would be flouting not only God but my family traditions. Both my parents died before I gave birth, and we never explicitly talked about circumcision, but it was definitely on my unspoken to-do list.
Until I started taking prenatal yoga classes. They were so luxurious and comforting. They filled me with hope and oxytocin and a deep belief in myself. There was also a fabulous book I read on my way home from classes, filled with self-affirming mantras and childbirth stories. And a harsh condemnation of circumcision. I’d never thought about the baby’s autonomy before; the comparison to genital mutilation. I had only thought of this ritual as my Jewish duty. This is your covenant, my mom’s ghost warned.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks. The Mayo Clinic adds, there are not that many risks for the uncircumcised, and that in the last four decades, the percentage of newborns being circumcised has decreased by six percentage points. (Side note: would not want to be the person collecting that data).
But Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told The New York Times that while there may have been “a time when all American baby boys were circumcised, of all religions,” now “it’s a choice, it’s a decision.”
There are certainly those who feel a boy cannot be Jewish without having this ceremony, and those who feel like, hey what about some body-centered ritual that covers all genders? Ultimately, MJ, it’s up to you.
And there’s the rub. This parenting thing starts even before your child makes its way out into the world. It’s terrifying to think that we can have this much control over another person’s body and mind. But it’s also the greatest gift to see this new being evolve.
In the end (or really, the beginning), my husband and I had our sons circumcised just after birth, by the midwife. No fanfare. No bagels and schmear. I wanted to uphold this sacred tradition, but I didn’t want to make a party out of it. Some of my relatives were disappointed; maybe even my late mom. There will always be people telling you what’s right and wrong and holy. But I feel confident I did what I needed to do for my family.
And as for my sons, they don’t remember the event at all.
Abby Sher is a writer living in Maplewood, N.J. Got a question? Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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