This Israeli-American ‘Bohemian Balabusta’ seeks a religious sexual revolution

Malka Chana Amichai wants you to talk about sex.

The religious Israeli-American headscarf-wearing mother of four has spent much of her career focusing on women’s reproductive health. And in recent years – through her website and on Instagram – she has focused on breaking down taboos against discussing such issues publicly in many Orthodox circles.

Drawing on her experience as a labor and postpartum doula, her training as a “kallah teacher” – someone who guides religious brides on the laws of family purity – as well as a prenatal yoga instructor and Lamaze educator, Amichai aims to empower women Jewish religious talk. under their body.

Amichai didn’t even own a smartphone for much of her life, but after opening an Instagram account for the first time in November 2020, she racked up 5,000 followers in the first year. She has almost 57,000 followers from all over the world today.

“I’m a religious, Orthodox, Jewish woman who covers her hair and I’m speaking openly about sexuality and menstruation and birth – those are really taboo things,” she said in a recent interview with The Times of Israel. “I think it’s probably what I stand for that fascinates a lot of people, and normalizes it. Because I’m not a show – I’m going through the same things.”

Calling herself the “Bohemian Balabusta” – a Yiddish word that generally means a homemaker – Amichai, 34, has progressed in recent years from active work as a doula and coach to becoming an influencer, with digital workshops, seminars, workbooks – even a coloring book. of the female anatomy entitled “Holy Woman.”

Malka Chana Amichai coloring in her ‘Sacred Womanhood’ coloring book. (Chava Abrams/Simple Wonders)

Amichai, who lives with her family in the Etzion Bloc, said that she sees all her work in women’s health being directed, as it were, backwards. Shortly after getting married, she trained as a postpartum doula, coaching new mothers and families through their adjustment. Although she enjoyed the work, “I felt like I needed to go to this woman sooner,” she said, before she was “exhausted and not feeling supported.”

She then trained as a birth doula, “but all the same – I felt like I needed to get to them sooner.” She was a prenatal yoga teacher, then trained as a birth educator and took a course to become a kallah teacher. “It seemed like a really organic fit – I’ve worked with women, we’re going to continue to go to them earlier, so they’re starting these life journeys from a place of empowerment already.”

Career rebirth

After having her fourth child, Amichai transitioned to a career that allowed her to spend more time at home with her children instead of dropping everything to attend births and coach women physically through the process.

“I quit giving births, which I did for 10 years,” she said. “After I gave birth to my fourth, I didn’t want to waste my children’s childhood. I was taking care of other families more than my own, and that really wasn’t what I wanted.”

Friends suggested she open an Instagram account, and then a website appeared. On her site, visitors can sign up for the “Sacred Women’s Moon Course,” which costs $225 and includes three live Zoom sessions that discuss anatomy, menstruation and sexual pleasure. Also available is a refresher course on “Taharat Hamishpacha,” the Jewish approach and laws that guide marital sex, with five live classes for $350; as well as pre-recorded digital workshops on hair coverage for $25 or the female libido for $45.

“I work in the field of women’s empowerment, and I support women as they go through various life events,” she said when asked to provide a current job description. “The education I offer is largely based on helping women understand their bodies, and feeling empowered to understand their bodies.”

Malka Chana Amichai and her husband, Rabbi Ezra Amichai (Levi Dovid Greenberg)

In some ways, she said, she is working to counter the lessons that have been imposed on women over the years: “It’s not just education, it’s getting rid of shame and resentment and embarrassment and these things that so many of us have been doing since we were teenagers, and our youth – and when we clear that, we rewrite our story and take our story into our own hands.”

A fork in the road

Growing up, Amichai never dreamed of pursuing such a career – or even life as a religious Jew in Israel.

Born in South Florida, Carly Fleisher said she was “not religious at all” as a child or teenager. During her time at the University of Florida, she joined the Hillel house on campus, and met a rabbi who took “a very colorful spiritual view of Judaism.”

She went on a Birthright trip, which sparked her first connection to Israel, and came back for another trip before coming to study abroad near the end of her college degree – and she met the man who became her husband in the end.

Although she had long planned to become a public school teacher, Amichai did not feel she could take on such a career in the Israeli school system. But shortly after getting married and settling in Israel, she saw an ad for a course to become a postpartum doula, which set her on a whole new path.

“I definitely feel like the way I grew up is a big part of who I am and why I want and can do this work,” she said. “I never grew up feeling that these things are taboo… I think there’s a lot more fear in the religious world — if I’m generalizing”” to have those conversations.

Malka Chana Amichai (Chava Abrams/Simple Wonders)

Amichai recently said that most of the negative feedback she receives online comes from men, who are “scared to see a movement that empowers women and still holds Torah and is still modest.” Speaking openly about sex and menstruation and women’s bodies, she said, “my things are not raw, my things are ordinary virginity, done in a holy, delicious way.”

If she wants her fans to walk away with one thing, they need to find time to focus on themselves amidst the other pressures and burdens of life.

“There’s this kind of pressure to be a superwoman” and handle everything without complaint, she said. “I think a big part of that is taking care of yourself, and making sure you’re eating and making sure you’re nourished from the inside out and really keeping ourselves alive while juggling all these things – and I think your women. it’s a big wake-up call now.”

When women also remember to focus on themselves, Amichai said, “there is much more joy, which leads to pleasure which also leads to sexual pleasure – the value of joy and pleasure in this world is putting ourselves first.”

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