It has been a season of powerful images. A human skull on the floor of an Iraqi prison. An American soldier kissed by a child in Baghdad. Women, faces and bodies burqa-draped, striving to be seen. Suicide bombers and the carnage they create.
For weeks, I’ve had the strong feeling that we need some visuals of a different sort—to remind us, at least for a while, of what can restore us a little. And to suggest to us the peace we hope we can attain on a more regular basis, and on a global scale. We need to see images not of war, but of a joyous daily life. In this issue they come to us from the camera of Joan Roth, who caught on film the last days of the Lido Spa, a hotel in Miami Beach that for decades was a haven devoted to women’s pleasure, women’s relaxation. Unlike the current “spa culture” of busy female executives barely able to turn off their cell phones long enough to get a massage, the women Roth profiles, in ages ranging from late seventies to early nineties, give themselves up willingly to corporeal delights.
These women are, ultimately, optimists, even as they anticipate life after the Lido. They remind me of an aunt of mine, now deceased, a working-class woman who’d migrated to Winnipeg from her native Poland after suffering great privations during the First World War. She knew how to tell bad times from good. One day, when I was visiting from New York and we were listening to lively music, she asked me, “So. Where do you like to go dancing?” Go dancing? 1 was incredulous. “Auntie Tillie, I don’t go dancing.” She, in turn, was dumbstruck. I was in good health, of sound mind and understanding, and I did not go dancing??
Maybe it is time to reimagine leisure in our lives.
Roth, whose photographs of European and Ethiopian Jewish women have graced LILITH’s pages and covers in the past, and whom we welcome to Lilith’s masthead with this issue, went to Florida several times this spring to photograph the Lido’s energetic guests. A friend had alerted her that this classic hotel was closing its doors. She went, she saw, she fell in love with the women. The wonderful pictures she brings us are entirely unironic. Far from the jokey stereotypes of Boca-based bubbes, the women we meet in Roth’s photographs are real, zesty, and have a lot to teach us younger females about unabashedly enjoying ourselves.
Portraits of another sort come in our summer reading section: of women who are guides to more ethereal pursuits. Look at Malka Druckcr’s vignettes about Jewish women who have become spiritual leaders. Read what Lori Lefkowitz and Miriam Greenspan have to say about the ways we learn from loss. Though in keeping with the hopefulness of the women at the spa, this issue also brings a rich lode of poems, so that you can sit down and focus on some potent leisure reading. You have more poems here than in any other LILITH single issue, accompanied by extraordinary illustrations. Plus, the winning story in LILITH’s annual fiction contest. As fewer and fewer magazines publish short fiction, particularly stories written by new and emerging writers, we’re proud of LILITH’s ongoing commitment to the form.
While the overseas war and its after math have occupied the airwaves for months, another, quieter, war at home is trying to is ravage women’s rights. That’s the war against hard-won reproductive freedoms. Many women who are now in their 20s and 30s have little historical and no visceral knowledge of the crises an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy often precipitated in the pre-Roe V. Wade decades. Illegal, back-alley abortions which were sometimes lethal. Women forfeiting the ability to plan careers. Dreams put aside forever. Young families cast into penury. With Washington now trying to pack the courts with anti-choice judges, and with many states restricting access to abortion, we women had better be vigilant. But which Jewish women are going to take up the cause? The same cohort of Jewish women who would in an earlier era have been on the ramparts for safe and legal abortion are now worrying, instead, about infertility.
The trammeling of abortion rights is the canary in the coalmine. The erosion of these rights prefigures the slow stifling of other rights as well. This, then, is the moment for a coalition of Jewish women’s organizations. Maybe we need a set of color coded alerts (light pink to deep purple?) which will signal, week by week, how dangerous life is becoming for women of child bearing age. It’s time to band together to proclaim the rising dangers of monolithic anti-choice laws, and an anti-choice judiciary, as images of fetuses—called by the anti-choice activists, in a gnarled construction, “the pre-born”—wave in our faces.