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Abby Caplin
Abby Caplin
Abby Caplin, MD, practices mind-body medicine in San Francisco, helping people with chronic illness lead empowered and vibrant lives.



Women of the Wall, the Sharansky Plan, and the Continuing Struggle for Women’s Equality in Jerusalem

Apr17

by: on April 17th, 2013 | Comments Off

To what lengths will patriarchal power and arrogance go to retain its hegemony? We are finding out as the struggle for women’s prayer plays out at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem, at Judaism’s most holy site and national monument.

Since 1988, Women of the Wall (WOW), a prayer group of women from all streams of Judaism (including Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Renewal, Reconstructionist, and unaffiliated women), has met at the Kotel to welcome each new month in prayer. It’s very simple. They wish to pray with prayer shawls, read from the Torah and pray aloud, as men are able to do freely on the other side of the partition (mechitza), which separates men and women according to Orthodox customs. This bothers the ultra-Orthodox power that reigns, which has made the Kotel its private synagogue, upsetting them to apoplectic proportion.

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Four Women Arrested at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

Aug19

by: on August 19th, 2012 | 6 Comments »

Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post.

On Sunday August 19, 2012 in Jerusalem, four more women were arrested at the Kotel, the Western Wall, considered the holiest site in Judaism, for reportedly engaging in behavior that could lead to “endangering the public peace and for wearing a prayer shawl.”

They were praying.

Yes, it is still against the law for women to pray out loud, wear a tallit (prayer shawl), and read from the Torah at the Kotel. However, such practices are considered normative for many Jewish women worldwide. The law stems from a 2003 Israeli Supreme Court decision, when the Court upheld in principle the right of Women of the Wall to pray at the Wall, yet succumbed to the bullying of religious extremist parties. Unfortunately, the incorporation of these parties seems to be required for the formation of any coalition government.

The 2003 Court decision moved communal prayer for women and mixed-gender Jewish communities (Reform, Conservative, Renewal and Reconstructionist) to another area of the Wall called Robinson’s Arch, creating a separate and unequal situation, further strengthening the power of religious extremists at the main plaza. For the full history of Women of the Wall’s court battles, click here.

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Gender Bias in Israel’s Protest Movement

Sep8

by: on September 8th, 2011 | Comments Off

When I returned from a six-month kibbutz experience in Israel in 1974, I felt the “culture shock” of reentry into American society. What surprised me most was that I suddenly became aware of women driving cars, and that it seemed strange.

You see, on the kibbutz where I had been living, only one woman was given permission to drive the kibbutz car, and she was considered a little odd. I had become acculturated to the gender bias of that time and place.

Of course, the Israel I knew has progressed in many ways around this issue, but the struggle continues. The details have changed, but the headlines show there’s still a problem.

Read this incredible speech on September 3, 2011 by Daphne Leef, who initiated Israel’s massive protest movement a few months ago, after pitching her tent in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square. You can find it here.

Then read the September 6th commentary in the Sisterhood Blog (Jewish Daily Forward) about how male activists are spotlighted and praised, while female activists are relegated to the lower rungs of relevance. The speech is here.

Unfortunately, gender discrimination remains strong.

It’s time for this to change, too.

Israeli author David Grossman Responds to Flotilla Attack

Jun3

by: on June 3rd, 2010 | 4 Comments »

In case you haven’t see this yet, David Grossman, award-winning Israeli author and peace activist, whose son Uri was killed in the 2006 war in Lebanon, wrote this response to the flotilla attack that happened May 30, 2010:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jun/01/gaza-flotilla-attack-isral-declined

Sunday Morning and the Gulf Oil Spill

May30

by: on May 30th, 2010 | 8 Comments »

George Stephanopoulos is at it again.

The earth is bleeding, 5,000 feet below
the water’s surface of
the Gulf of Mexico,
an opened artery flowing, and
without the surgeon’s deft suture,
mortally wounded

While America wakes to
Sunday morning “This Week,”
where it’s all about PR,
who looks good and who
looks bad in Washington,
what we should think about the
ineffectual response, wasting time
talking about the time wasted and
how politicians could look better.

I change channels and hear
reporters joke
there’s no one to interview,
because not enough
sorry enough looking
real people have yet been affected, so
they have only the pelicans to poll,
never considering they might be
too tarred to respond;
We no longer need canaries.

Planet earth is in the emergency room,
and we have no life support.

George ends with photos
of fallen soldiers, and “Oh-My-God”
music— the cue to honor,
as we ponder the message
over coffee and cereal.
Next programming is

Nascar, with its siphoning zip of engines
converting Mother-blood to exhaust
in defiant euphoria,
speeding in circles,
cheering through the sheer waste.

Bay Area Jewish Agencies Jointly Condemn Criminal Acts Against Rabbi Lerner’s Home

May5

by: on May 5th, 2010 | 27 Comments »

I am gratified to share this announcement with all of you, sent by the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council, The Jewish Federation of the East Bay and the Northern California Board of Rabbis on May 4, 2010. We appreciate their swift condemnation of the attack on Rabbi Michael Lerner and Rabbi Debora Kohn Lerner’s home in Berkeley, California yesterday. Obviously, many people on all sides of the political spectrum are deeply affected by what happened.

“We unequivocally condemn criminal acts perpetrated against Rabbi Lerner’s home. Political disagreements must be resolved in a civil manner, and not by resorting to violence. Our communities are especially disturbed that this crime targeted Rabbi Lerner at his home, thereby conveying to him the message that he may not be safe there. We are encouraged by the responsiveness of the Berkeley Police Department to this incident, and we urge its officers to investigate this crime as thoroughly as possible. The entire community must send a message to the perpetrators that we reject violence and criminality as a means to express our political opinions.”

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Memory of a Role Model

Mar3

by: on March 3rd, 2010 | 8 Comments »

Dr. Benjamin Spock, the American pediatrician whose 1946 book "Baby and Child Care" is one of the biggest best sellers of all time, is arrested at a protest against the Vietnam War in Washington on May 16, 1972.

“Just don’t get arrested,” my mother repeatedly warned me. “You might hurt your career as a doctor.” She had lived through the McCarthy era and knew how easily careers ended. Heeding her words, I kept a low profile at anti-Vietnam war demonstrations.

In 1981 I finished medical school and began my training in Pediatrics. I found myself in what seemed like another war. I was a “private,” a subordinate to the hospital equivalents of lieutenants, colonels and generals. We fought childhood cancer and meningitis, premature birth and AIDS. I ascended the ranks, from the lowly intern to resident. At the time, all residents were subjected to repeated hits from “friendly fire”: enduring targeted questioning from superiors, designed to humiliate us by exposing our abysmal lack of medical knowledge before our colleagues. After three years of this teaching method, it took me awhile to recover from my own PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

While living through this training, I’d come home exhausted to stare at the TV and take in the evening news. At the time, there was a lot of bad news coming from El Salvador. I once watched in horror as a student from the University of San Salvador was shot outside his classroom by military police. The young man moaned in anguish as his blood flooded onto the linoleum floor, and then he grew still.

I read about the four missing North American churchwomen, who had put themselves in harm’s way simply by helping others. Their bullet-ridden bodies had been discovered buried near the San Salvador airport. It seemed my mother was right about taking risks, and one could lose even more than a medical license.

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Yes, We Must!

Feb21

by: on February 21st, 2010 | 9 Comments »

Last week I received one of those annoying phone calls, the kind I figure comes from some mega-complex of phone banks, probably from the plains of Nebraska. Because the caller ID showed an area code with which I was unfamiliar, I hesitantly picked up the phone and heard that split second of dead space, letting me know I was going to be solicited for money. I mentally kicked myself for this moment of trust.

Imagine my relief when I found myself talking to a woman calling on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), an organization to which I had actually donated money. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to tell her about my frustration with a do-nothing Democratic White House and congress regarding financial industry regulation and true health care reform.

I let her talk for a minute then finally interrupted her.

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Name-Calling, Meanness and Misbehavior

Feb7

by: on February 7th, 2010 | 6 Comments »

Polarizing behavior in Israel–it’s disturbing. Very disturbing.

I’ve gotten a slew of emails and forwarded posts this week about the sad state of disrespectful discourse towards righteous Jewish progressive nongovernmental organizations in Israel.

For those who don’t yet know, Professor Naomi Chazan, president of the New Israel Fund (NIF), an illustrious non-profit group whose mission since 1979 has been to fight for social justice and equality for all Israelis, was personally demonized with a full-page cartoon ad taken out by a group calling themselves “Im Tirzu,” (“If you will it.”) The cartoon depicted Professor Chazan wearing a horn, reminiscent of Nazi era anti-Semitic propaganda. In creating this ad, this organization has delegitimized itself and its theoretical message.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, described by Rabbi Arthur Waskow as “one of the most courageous and honorable Jews in the world today,” is the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel (RHR). Rabbi Ascherman wrote the letter below, and I’d like to share it with you:

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