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September 17-23

Celebrating Jewish Women on Shabbat

I was on a team that put together a celebration of Jewish women’s culture on Shabbat.1

Planning a Shabbat celebration focused on women sounded pretty2 straightforward. However, we soon realized how much male domination and patriarchy have seeped into every crack of Judaism and Jewish cultures: We found a Yiddish song about unity of all people, including women, but it was called “Every Brother”; we wanted to include a song that is sung each Friday night in congregations around the world celebrating the feminine Spirit of Life, but the metaphor is of a groom greeting his bride; we wanted to recite traditional Sabbath evening blessings, but Hebrew is a gendered language and all of the words used to describe the Divine are in the male form.

So how do you put together a cultural celebration when the culture is so riddled with oppression? We discussed, we discharged, we edited, we rewrote, we created, we searched for new prayers, and we concluded that we have to face and challenge any sentimental feelings or numbness we have attached to our Jewish identity. As Jewish women, we sell ourselves short3 if we settle for sexism in exchange for a frozen hope for security. Our integrity is compromised as allies to the liberation struggles of other women if we don’t find the courage to fight our own battles.

The celebration of Jewish women during Shabbat was spectacular. With help from our allies, we presented some of the breadth of Jewish women’s experience through song and poem and prayer and storytelling. Everything about our loud, bold, powerful presentation was a victory. I think we were able to show love for and pride in our heritage while also taking an uncompromising stand for the liberation of women.

Jevera Temsky
Washington, D.C., USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of women

1 Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath.
2 In this context, “pretty” means quite.
3 “Sell ourselves short” means deny ourselves what we deserve.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00