Archive for the ‘What Does She Think She Is Trying To Do?’ Category

Sinner Number One

June 13, 2011

The cover of the premier issue of Ami Magazine

Today is a special day –  a friend alerted me this afternoon to the fact that I was mentioned in a magazine article. Slammed, would be more like it. But hey – any publicity is better than no publicity, right? Well, maybe.

I would post the link to the article, “The Seven Sins of the Charediphobic Media” (apparently “Charediphobic is a word), in Ami Magazine (a Haredi publication out of Brooklyn), but there is none. But I can quote the relevant parts from the pdf of the article my friend sent me.

It seems I am the best example they could find for sin #1 (I’m honored to have been #1): “Different – and unequal – strokes” (as in, I paint all ultra-Orthodox/Haredi Jews with one brushstroke, lumping them all together in one big undifferentiated group). The writer of the article, Rabbi Aryeh HaKohain Katz, took particular umbrage at a story I wrote for the Forward about a ban in Williamsburg on women’s talking on cell phones in public. It’s not too shocking that they went after me and the Forward, rather than the male writer of the Failed Messiah blog, which I cited as my source for the story.

Here’s what Ami had to say about me:

“The sign was put up by member of one particular group of people. Williamsburg is quite a large neighborhood, with numerous voices. Yet, according to Ghert Zand [sic], the implication is that all Charedi groups/and or their leaders joined together in unison and voted unanimously to post this sign…And there we have it, sin number one in all its glory [!]; ‘Will the Charedim try to silence women all together?’ The Charedim. That monolithic, uni-brained colossus where others do the thinking, or rather non-thinking for them. (By the way, I think she meant altogether – but far be it from a Charedi writer to correct the grammar or spelling of a genuine journalist from the Forward).”

I don’t appreciate Katz’s challenging my journalistic credentials – nor his sarcasm – but I do appreciate the grammatical tip. I’ll try not to make that error again in the future.

I don’t think there is really any point in my responding in detail to what Katz said about me or what he read into what I wrote. I know that the Haredim are not monolithic, but that does not excuse any xenophobic, misogynist or other negative, hateful or destructive behavior coming from any Haredi group or individuals (or any Jew or person, for that matter).

And FYI, Rabbi Katz, some of my best friends and closest colleagues wear black suits and black hats, and long skirts and wigs. Really.

© 2011 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

I Am Woman, Hear Me Tweet

May 9, 2011

This post was first published as “Tweeting the Encyclopedia of Jewish Women” on The Sisterhood blog of The Forward.

“Big Hats and bigger opinions, she knew ‘This woman’s place is in the House—the House of Representatives,’” Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder tweeted on May 2, the launch day for Jewish Women’s Archive’s “#jwapedia: Tweeting the Encyclopedia” project. By doing so, she sent a link to the article about Bella Abzug in the online “Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia” hurtling out into cyberspace, to be clicked on, opened and read by her many Twitter followers.

Bella Abzug

The rabbi (and occasional Sisterhood contributor), together with 25 other prolific tweeters in the Jewish community, will be tweeting a significant portion of the encyclopedia’s 1,700 biographies, 300 thematic essays, and 1,400 photographs as an experiment throughout May in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month.

Although they were asked to commit to tweeting just one article a week, many of the partners have immediately embraced the project and have been tweeting multiple articles a day. Three days into the effort, 58 articles had already been tweeted — and retweeted many times over.

Abusch-Magder, who originally suggested the project idea to JWA, sees this as an experiment in harnessing the power of social media to let people transmit and translate historical information in their own way and to their own networks. “Scholars are not going to make history popular, but something like this will,” the rabbi said.

Click here to read more and find out how to join the campaign on Twitter.

© 2011 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Gertrude, Molly and Me

August 26, 2010

This post first appeared as “Gertrude Berg, My Inspiration” on The Sisterhood blog in the Forward. Click here to read it there.

Gertrude Berg when she started out in radio.

Gertrude Berg left this world at the age of 68 on September 14, 1966, two months to the day before I entered it. I’d like to think that maybe our souls met one another in a possible netherworld between life and death. I imagine that the departed Berg whispered something in my fetal ear — planted a seed — that would come to fruition exactly 43 years later, when I sat down last September at my laptop and wrote my first blog post as a first step on the path to a new career in journalism.

Actually, I thought it was Berg’s dramatic alter ego Molly Goldberg, and not Berg herself, who was my muse. After all, it was Molly’s photo that I put on my blog’s header. It was in homage to Molly, the quintessential Jewish mother, that I assumed the persona of “The Gen X Yiddishe Mamme.”

However, since recently reading Berg’s 1961 memoir, “Molly and Me” (co-authored by her son Cherney Berg), and viewing Aviva Kempner’s documentary film, “Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg!” — the DVD was released this week, and is reviewed here — I realized that I have even more to learn from and be inspired by Berg than I do the Jewish uber-balebuste character she inhabited for nearly 30 years that “The Goldbergs” ran on radio and TV. (The radio version was called “The Rise of the Goldbergs.”)

It was Berg who was ultimately far more of an interesting character. Unlike Molly —an impossibly great cook, attentive parent, loving wife and loyal friend and neighbor — Berg was a real person with real faults. It’s not as though Berg didn’t possess some or all of Molly’s positive qualities, it’s just that she didn’t lead an existence in which all loose ends were tied up and problems solved at the end of every episode.

But don’t think that Berg didn’t try to make us think that her life played itself out like Molly’s. Not only did she make public appearances as Molly (à la Stephen Colbert) but she also recounted the story of her life as though it were a sitcom. Her autobiography is not so much of a memoir as it is a collection of beautifully crafted short stories and sketches about the real-life characters who served as inspiration for the fictional characters that populated the thousands of shows she wrote. Other than the occasional short-lived bout of garden-variety anxiety or self-doubt, Berg presented her life as consistently rosy and invariably amusing.

Not once did she make mention of an older brother who died in childhood of diptheria, and all references to her mother ended after the chapters recounting Berg’s teenage years spent at her parent’s hotel in the Catskills. A product of her era and without the benefit of hindsight, Berg did not understand how much more she would have been appreciated by Jewish women of future generations had she revealed the hardships she endured, including her mother’s downward spiral into mental illness and eventual institutionalization.

It is Berg, far more than Molly, who would capture the attention and gain the admiration of mothers today. Molly was the exemplary — yet typical — immigrant who struggled to rise to the middle class and raise first-generation American children, and it was because of this that so many listeners and viewers identified with her. But it was Berg who uniquely managed to build a remarkable creative and business career at a time when very few women were doing so. She paved the way for women, and also Jews, in American society.

When I look at my blog’s header, I now see both Molly Goldberg and Gertrude Berg. Molly Goldberg was a woman of her times. Gertrude Berg was a woman before her time. I am a woman of my time who is grateful to them both.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


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