Friday, March 26, 1999

Talk links Jews, eating disorders

By Tori Katz
The Daily Pennsylvanian - March 26, 1999

Every culture has its stereotypes, but according to several experts, there may actually be a correlation between Judaism and eating disorders.
To kick off Body Image Awareness Week, the campus group Guidance and Understanding for Image, Dieting and Eating -- in conjunction with Connaissance, Hadassah, Penn Hillel, Commission on Campus Projects of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia and the Jewish Renaissance Project -- presented "Body Image and Judaism," an all-day conference dealing with food, family and ritual in the Jewish culture.
The conference, which was attended by approximately 100 primarily female Penn students, was held last Saturday in Logan Hall's Terrace Room.
As part of the program, observers attended one of five workshops -- led by professionals in the field, University faculty and students -- that dealt with a particular aspect of food in the Jewish culture.
David Steinman, a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who was one of the leaders of the workshop "Eating Disorders in the Jewish Community," highlighted affluence and education -- two factors which are commonly associated with the Jewish community -- as common risk factors for eating disorders.
The extent to which religion leads to eating disorders depends not upon religious law but upon the individual. According to the presenter, nothing in the Jewish religion calls for "giving up" one's body. Eating is something that is expected. However, the idea of fasting and self-denial delivers a complicated message.
During the discussion, Steinman added that many Orthodox women turn to eating disorders as a cry for personal control.
College freshman Noga Newberg, the workshop's co-chairperson, commented on the common paradox between food and Judaism.
"Often, the same mother who spends all week preparing food for an enormous seder will be the same mother who criticizes their child for eating too much," Newberg said.
The morning session of the conference consisted of an introduction by the conference's program chairperson, College sophomore Miriam Kiss. Additionally, the audience heard addresses by keynote speakers Lori Lefkovitz of Kolot -- the Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies -- and Karen Smith of The Renfrew Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting research, education and advocacy in the field of women's mental health.
"There is a big emphasis on food in Jewish culture," Kiss said. "I wanted to give my peers an opportunity to explore Judaism as both a source of conflict with food, body and hunger and as a resource for health."