Pride by Liora Sophie

My pride is made of a million specks of shame I’ve shaken off my back over the years, A hundred girl-on-girl kisses under the blanket so no one would see, A trickle of my bleeding heart for e…

Source: Pride by Liora Sophie

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12 Sex Ed Things That Aren’t Even About Sex

Even if you are pro abstinence only education (and you believe that it works) there are crucial things you can tell young people without even talking to them about sex at all. While I am mainly aiming for girls here, most of these topics do apply to young boys as well.

By the way, I am in favor of comprehensive sex ed far beyond what is listed below. These twelve items made it into the post because I think there is no excuse for not giving this information to young people regardless of your religious beliefs.

  1. Self Image. No matter what you look like, you are beautiful. This is so important, especially for young girls, at any age. Fat is not a synonym for ugly. Girls should be taught to love their body because this is an enormous measure of self worth for women in a society that places so much importance on how we look.
  2. Options for your period. It’s 2016, and disposable pads and tampons are not the only options anymore! Not only are there other options, but disposable pads and tampons are just about the worst choice for any woman these days. Girls should be provided with information about cloth pads and the menstrual cup, both of which are significantly less expensive, more environment friendly, and healthier by far than the disposable options.
  3. Gender identity. Most people are lucky enough to be born with the sex organs that match the gender they were assigned at birth. But not everyone’s gender is the same as their sex. That is an important distinction that seems irrelevant to those of us who are cisgender. But for transgender kids and teenagers, this conversation could save lives.
  4. Sexual orientation. Surprise! Not everyone is straight. Not all preteen girls start to like boys. And that’s okay, and it’s normal.
  5. How your body works. Even programs that sell themselves as comprehensive sex ed mostly only cover basic anatomy of the internal reproductive organs, and if you’re lucky it’ll be scientifically accurate. The vagina is not the only significant part of a woman’s body just because it’s the one the penis goes in. We need to know what are all the different parts we have and what they do, at least in the same way we understand that we have lungs and arteries and kidneys. What is the clitoris? Is it the same as the urethra? Also, why don’t my lady parts look like that porn star’s? Am I weird?
  6. What is virginity? Is it important? Can I lose it to a tampon? No, you can not lose it to a tampon. Your virginity is not defined by your hymen. If you have one. Also, what is the hymen? Where is it and what is its purpose? (Hint: it is not a layer of saran wrap buried deep inside your vaginal canal that is punctured the first time you have sex. If that were true, where would our period come out of?) Laci Green explains this expertly in her video, “You Can’t POP Your Cherry!” 
  7. Relationships. Even if you believe young people are not having sex, there’s no denying they are having relationships. They need to know about heartbreak, how to deal with it, how to move on. And please do not underestimate the amount of pain an eleven year old can experience from being dumped. Just because their bodies are small doesn’t mean their emotions are not strong.
  8. Abuse. Early warning signs of abuse. What are the red flags they should look out for when dating someone? What if you are being abused right now? How do you get help? How do you know if you are being emotionally or verbally abused, if it’s not physical? For more info, see Common-Warning-Signs-of-Domestic-Violence  and teen-dating-violence-factsheet-a
  9. Safety. It’s not just about condoms. It’s also about wearing a seat belt, and not getting into a car with someone you don’t know, or someone you do know who is drunk. For girls, often it’s about how to set clear boundaries, how to say NO, how to throw a good punch without hurting yourself.
  10. Consent. This should have been higher up on the list, really. What does consent look like? (Hint: it only sounds like an explicit and enthusiastic “Yes!”) When do you need to get consent from your partner? (Hint: always) Does it ruin the moment to stop and talk about things?
  11. Respect. Girls deserve to be respected by their partners. If someone does not respect you, get rid of them. You deserve respect.
  12. Sexual Desire. Whether or not you give kids information about sex, they need to know that it is normal and okay to have those weird and new feelings that they are experiencing. Especially girls. Even if you emphatically encourage young teens not to have sex, they still need to know that it is okay to want it.

If you are in favor of kids and teens knowing about sex – great! If you are not – at least give them the knowledge they need to be healthy, self confident, and not have to spend 200$ a year every year from age 10 to 60 on something they didn’t choose to have.

Two Ways of Telling the Same Story

When I was in tenth grade I went to my first nerd science program at the Weizmann Institute. Our first lecture was about evolution. After the introduction, the lecturer addressed two friends and me and asked us whether we wanted to disagree with what he was teaching. He asked this because we all came from high schools which identify as religious, so naturally he assumed we believed in creation and therefore could not accept the Big Bang Theory. To his surprise, all three of us said no.

On the other hand, my eighth grade science teacher told my class that the chances that the big bang happened were the same as the chances of getting the Bible written by spilling a bottle of ink.

I know a lot of people who can’t reconcile the coexistence of both science and religion. I personally have never had a problem with it. I don’t think it’s necessary to choose between them. Let me explain why.

First, a little math (feel free to skip this paragraph, I promise I won’t go too deep). In math we have the concept of equivalence, where two things can be worth the same thing but not be the same. For example, 4+5 is equivalent to 9. While they clearly look different on the screen, they both return the same value – 9. Still, one is a sum, and the other is a natural number – not the same thing! But you can’t prove that they’re different. Because they’re not, really. They’re just two different representations of the same idea. 3 to the power of 2 is yet another way to represent the number 9. For another example, think about two triangles drawn on paper with the same size, same direction and same angles, but in different places. They’re not the same triangle, but you can’t really tell them apart.

So here’s my idea. Taking the first example from the previous paragraph, let’s use the number 9 to represent the concept of God. There are tons of different ways of approaching it. Everyone relates to it differently, everyone feels differently and imagines differently. But at the end of the day we’ve still reached the number 9.

I was talking to a friend of mine last week and we were discussing how fascinating we both find studying science. There are moments when you learn something new and it’s just mind blowing. What draws us to science are those moments when you feel like “OH MY GOD Nature is frickin’ awesome.” I felt this way when I first saw the proof that i squared equals -1. To get a taste of how awe-inspiring science can be, check out the double-slit experiment from quantum physics.

So scientists get a feeling of awe, and religious people experience spiritual uplifting. My argument is that these two concepts, like 4+5 and 9, are equivalent. Why is it necessary to distinguish between a sense of awe inspired by scientific study and a sense of awe inspired by prayer or belief? Further, is it even possible to distinguish between them? Can one really argue that these two “awes” are fundamentally different, and not just two ways of telling the same story?

You might want to argue that the creation and the big bang theory are contradictory, but I don’t think they are. I don’t see a reason to differentiate between God and the big bang. If you look carefully at Genesis 1, you’ll find that the days of creation line up very nicely with the theory of evolution. Professor Gerald Schroeder takes this idea even further and says that the age of the earth according to creation and according to science are the same!

Set aside for a moment all the traditions and scriptures and whys and hows. I’m not talking about the entire idea of practicing a religion, just about believing in God. When I see a magnificent proof in a math lecture at University, I experience the same kind of uplifting as I have in a moment of prayer, meditation, or creative inspiration. The sense of awe is what drives me to science, just like the sense of awe is what drives people to believe in God. What’s the difference between the double-slit experiment and a miracle? No difference, I think. Two ways of telling the same story.

Why We Need Pride In Jerusalem

Too many people have asked me that question, so here’s your answer.

I am so incredibly proud to be a resident of Jerusalem right now. For one shining moment, no matter who you are – gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, pan, in, out, religious, secular, in between…for one moment you can just live in a bubble of freedom and acceptance. If you are at the parade you are cool by definition. For one blissful afternoon you can live your life without fear of judgment, discrimination, and violence. You can walk through the streets of this holy city and be totally free.

But here’s the catch: One afternoon every year or two is not enough. We march because we have the guts to expect more than that.

Before I go on about how much fun the parade was, I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions about the event itself. Some people feel that the Pride Parade is not appropriate in Jerusalem, the holy city. I’d like to clarify why I believe that there is no place more appropriate than Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.

  1. A religious man marches wearing a Gay Pride flag with Star of David, a mix of Pride and the Israeli flag.

     Inappropriate dress. This is not true for the Jerusalem Pride Parade. Out of 3,000 people, there were only two men who were not wearing shirts. And a male to female transgender in a dress does not count as cross dressing.

  2. Public Display of Affection. Again, out of 3,000 people I saw one couple kissing and a few couples holding hands. Yeah, PDA is gross! But straight PDA is not any less gross than gay PDA.

  3. It’s a secular event. In case you aren’t familiar with the demographics of Jerusalem, a large percentage of the population here are religious Jews / Christians / Muslims / Other. The Pride Parade was packed with kippas and tzitzit, skirts and hair coverings – our symbols of a religious lifestyle. Some of them are out of the closet religious people, some are straight supporters. There were far too many religious people at the parade to say that it is not relevant in a largely religious city.

  4. It’s a sex parade. It’s not. In Jerusalem, it’s a protest. We march for social change. We march because we deserve to live a life without violence, discrimination at work or anywhere else. We deserve health and marriage equality. And we’re not going to get those things by sitting down and being quiet.

In case you still aren’t convinced, let me address a specific moment of the parade. As we marched down Ramban street – which borders on a mainly religious neighborhood but does not go through it – somebody threw a stink bomb. I have to admit I was impressed. It seems like it would take quite a lot of premeditation and preparation to do such a thing. It seems like an enormous amount of energy to waste on hating someone. I’m glad to report that the person who did it was arrested while the parade was still going on, and what a shame, in the end he just stank up his own street.

Seriously, though. It wasn’t as if we didn’t know that was coming. It’s not the first time that has happened. Don’t you think it takes a good deal of courage and purpose to walk down the roads when you know you could be hit by a bag of someone else’s crap? So it smelled a little bad. It stopped no one. The parade marched on. Honestly, what’s a little stink bomb to the LGBT community, who endures far worse on a daily basis?

With that in mind, let’s not forget that a lot of people who march in the parade are not L, G, B, T or Q, but they recognize that this is a protest for human rights. The needs of the LGBT community are relevant to straight people as well. Because bullying and violence, discrimination based on race or gender, hate crimes, equality in health care and marriage are issues that hit every one of us close to home, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

So next year, pick a basic human right you feel you need, make a rainbow colored sign and come march with us. And if you feel you enjoy complete freedom and full human rights, come get your face painted and stand up for someone who doesn’t.

Why I’m So Vocal About LGBT Equality

A few weeks ago I was sitting in the cafeteria with a friend from university who accused me of posting on Facebook only about calculus. “That’s not true!” I protested, “There are plenty of posts about same-sex marriage!” “Oh,” he said, “I didn’t know you were – like that.” “Like what?” I asked, and he just giggled and couldn’t answer me. I’m not gay. I guess that’s why it’s confusing that every other post is somehow related to the topic.

I’m not gay. I’m bi. (That’s the B in LGBT.) Which means I also date guys, so it’s easy to just assume that I’m straight. This is a phenomenon we refer to as bisexual erasure.

Recently people have been asking me why I post so often about LGBTQ rights. Each time I struggle with finding an appropriate answer, so I hope this blog post will do it justice.

My knee-jerk reaction is to just say, some of my best friends are gay. It’s true. And I see what they go through, I hear their cry, and that’s what drives me to write. The suffering my friends endure at the hands of their own community is unimaginable.

I’m going to be cliché and tie it down to the upcoming holiday. On Passover (which starts Monday night) we are supposed to acknowledge that we were once slaves and show gratitude for our freedom. The Jews have a long history of being tortured and enslaved. We know what it’s like to have to hide our identity, to practice in secret, to be forced to convert. We dip parsley in salt water as a symbol of the tears we shed under these circumstances. And since the tradition is all about asking questions, here’s mine: Why do we do this to people? Why are gay and lesbians in the orthodox community forced to hide their identity, or try to “convert?”

Even though I wear jeans, it’s obvious that I grew up in a religious community. So often I’ve encountered accusations like, “Why do you block the roads on Saturday?” (although obviously I have never done any such thing). We can’t avoid being judged, but I don’t want people to think that I’m hateful and homophobic just because I grew up religious. As Jews (and as human beings), it is our responsibility to make justice where we see injustice. Forcing someone to try to change their sexual orientation, to marry a person they are not attracted to, or isolate them from the community because of who they are is doing them an injustice. The holiday of passover is about opening our doors to those who are hungry and including those who are left out. It’s about giving freedom to those who are in slavery, because we once were slaves and we remember what it was like. What better place to start than with our own friends and family? We are supposed to view ourselves each as a slave who was set free. So let’s take action and give that freedom to our gay and lesbian friends.

!לשנה הבאה בני חורין

Book Review: Akiva’s Orchard by Yochi Brandes

הפרדס של עקיבאהפרדס של עקיבא by Yochi Brandes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an important book if you are interested in Judaism or Jewish history, or Jewish. The main thing it does is takes the million Rabbis you’ve heard of and organizes them in your head: Who lives when, whose student is whom, where they taught, how they were related and how they interacted with each other. When reading about them in the scriptures these things are never clear, and one can easily get the illusion that they sit around a table and discuss things, although many of the characters at that table lived in different times. Each Rabbi is depicted as unique, so it is impossible after reading this book to forget who Rabbi Akiva studied with and who his students were.

Yochi Brandes takes the time period (70-135 A.D.) with its central characters and brings it to life. She reframes the famous stories we already knew, telling them from a different point of view or using her imagination to explain missing details. Because the stories are familiar, the book is engaging from the first page to the last, and often surprising when she presents a different view on a story you thought you knew. The language is not pure literary Hebrew (probably why I managed to read the book), it is diluted with references from the Bible and the Mishnah, so that famous phrases will jump out at you and often help you get deeper into a character’s mind by understanding what their situation reminds them of.

The book takes you on a journey through the lives of these beloved characters. Through their experiences the foundation of modern Judaism begins to bud. The author uses the lifestyles of the leaders of the time in order to critique the way we interpret Jewish laws today. For example, where the privilege of studying torah full time and not working was once reserved for the wealthy, today it is common for people to choose not to work and accept their poverty as a consequence. One rabbi may have emphatically objected to teaching Torah to women, but the fact that other rabbis in his own time taught their daughters teaches us that there was never a consensus on the matter, and no excuse for the concept that the Torah solely belongs to men. There is much conflict regarding the relationship which develops with Christianity, which was just beginning to blossom at the time and had not yet been declared its own religion, but it’s clear that while some rabbis believe they should be shunned, others believe that there is nothing more important than keeping peace with those who are different, whether or not they are Jewish. A main theme throughout the book is the changing of the Jewish religion – mainly the removal of God from the religion. You might be raising your eyebrows but truth be told, we don’t realize how much less the concept of God is present in our religion now than it was back then. The temple was still standing until 70 A.D. Prophets and miracles were common and accessible. The teachings of Rabbi Akiva were revolutionary in the way that they took the Torah from heaven and brought it down to earth, where it is now ours to interpret whichever way suits us best. The free interpretation is a controversial topic these days, but it is clear from the book that it shouldn’t be. According to Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues, we are allowed to understand it in our own way.

The book is told from the perspective of the famous Rabbi Akiva’s wife, Rachel. Jewish scriptures describe their loved her as passionate and romantic. They say that although they were poor, he promised to give her Jerusalem of Gold. We know that Rabbi Akiva leaves her for twelve years to study Torah. One sources says that at the end of twelve years he came home with a trail of thousands of students, and before he saw her, turned on his heels and returned for an additional twelve years. I was glad that this approach was not followed in the book. Brandes describes Akiva and Rachel’s relationship as romantic at first. Then Rachel begins to pressure her husband to travel to the Yeshiva and study torah, believing (correctly) that he is gifted. As a man who learned to read at age forty, Akiva begrudgingly leaves, swearing not to return until he becomes a Rabbi. This aspect of the relationship was difficult for me to swallow, because we see it so often in ultra-orthodox couples. Rachel is the image of the original ultra-orthodox woman, whose only wish is for her husband to study, and works around the clock to support her family on her own. Akiva is the original ultra-orthodox man, forswearing contact with women and immersing himself in his studies. The phrase often attributed to Rabbi Akiva, “Love your neighbor like yourself,” stands in contrast with many decisions his character makes in the book.

The ending is difficult, even for those who know how the lives of these Rabbis ended. It seems that the cruelty of the Roman Empire knows no limits. Each one of ten famous rabbis of the time died tortured, humiliating public deaths at the hands of the Romans (Jesus being nailed to a cross doesn’t even come close to what these guys went through). It seems like in the last chapter, the entire world turns upside down. The horrors are impossible to digest. Read it anyway.

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