Thursday, June 10, 2021
In all but one way, Amber Adler is running a pretty normal campaign for New York city council. She knocks on doors and attends rallies; she campaigns outside of grocery stores and subway stations; she puts posters up across her district and places ads in local newspapers.
But look for a picture of her face in one of those local papers, and you're not likely to find one. Why not? Because most of the magazines and newspapers in her neighborhood refuse to publish her photo.
Adler, 37, is the first Orthodox Jewish woman to run for city council in her Brooklyn district, which includes ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods scattered throughout Borough Park and Midwood. And as she heads toward her June 22 primary, she's a victim of a fairly recent trend among Jewish media outlets in Orthodox neighborhoods in the United States: a refusal to publish photographs of women and girls for religious reasons. Which means if Adler wants campaign ads printed in the Jewish news, she can't be in most of them.
For Adler, who is only the second ever Orthodox woman to run for publicly elected office in Brooklyn, the visual gag-order is yet another hurdle in an uphill campaign. She is butting up against expectations that Orthodox women don't assume positions of communal authority and should instead stick to more internal-facing roles.
She's trying to change that perception — and also highlight some of the other issues that Orthodox women face, including a system of religious divorce that frequently leaves them trapped in broken marriages. (Such a woman is referred to by the Hebrew term "agunah," which literally means "chained.") Adler, who herself spent two years as an agunah and speaks candidly about the experience, supports a current bill in front of the New York state legislature that would make coercive control a Class E felony.
But how far can she get in making things better for women when she can't even get her photo in the paper?
"If you're designing a building and you've never seen someone with a disability, you won't understand that you need a ramp. Obviously those people are going to be left out. That's what's happening [to women] in Orthodox Judaism right now," said Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, a Jerusalem-based writer and activist who opposes banning images of women from Jewish media. "Community leaders are making decisions without even considering how they're going to impact women."
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