WHY WOMEN’S SEDERS?
It’s over ten years since the first women’s Pesach seder was held in Pittsburgh. The Rosh Chodesh group out of which the JWC grew hosted that seder. When that first seder took place, it was a radical event in our town. Women’s seders could be found in some big cities but were by no means widespread. Since then, women’s seders have become commonplace. Pinsker’s carries the May’an hagaddah and several congregations here in Pittsburgh have created their own women’s Passover programs. A web search reveals several pages worth of links to women’s groups in cities big and small that hold their own seders. Women’s haggadot have proliferated, Miriam’s Cups are big sellers in Judaica stores and synagogue gift shops, and more and more families are making room on their seder plates for an orange. (There’s even a new seder place design that has a special place for the orange!) It looks like the practices and values of Jewish feminism have become a part of mainstream Pesach practice. So…why are we still doing women’s seders?
Let’s step back a bit and look at the history of the women’s seder. The first one that we know about was the famous 1976 New York seder attended by E.M. Broner, Gloria Steinem, Phyllis Chesler and Letty Cottin Pogrebin, among others. Broner and her friend Nomi Nimrod had begun to create a women’s hagaddah the year before when they were both living in Haifa. This was the text that the New York group (later known as the Seder Sisters) used. This first feminist hagaddah was angry and defiant, outlining the ways women had historically been excluded from Jewish history and practice. But it was also proud and joyous, celebrating the names of women almost forgotten and announcing the intention of women to find a place for themselves in Judaism, whether men liked it or not. (The full story of this seder and the text of the hagaddah can be found in Broner’s The Telling.)
The stark anger of that text can be off-putting when we read it today. But social change is fueled by anger. Contented people do not make revolutions. These women were anything but contented, and their energy sparked enormous changes in Judaism. As Jewish feminists became more confident in flexing our Judaic muscles, women’s seders began popping up around the country, using Broner and Nimrod’s text, creating new ones or combining sources. The pattern became familiar: early women’s seders continued the tone of the Broner/Nimrod hagaddah as participants, often for the first time, publicly acknowledged their rage and pain at their exclusion from Jewish life. Over time, the bitterness became mixed with joy, as women uncovered our buried history and created ways to feminize traditional practices. Women’s hagaddahs achieved a more balanced approach to Pesach and to our Jewish story.
Since 1976 we have let go of some of our anger at the historical sexism of the Jewish tradition and found ways to express joy in our Judaism. We have been able to leave the stage of reaction behind and open ourselves up to our own creativity, connecting to ancient practice where we can and devising new woman-based ritual and liturgy when the need arises. We have filled rabbinic schools, altered the way the Jewish community thinks about philanthropy, sought and won positions of influence within Jewish institutions. No stream of Judaism is untouched by Jewish feminism. The struggle is not over by any means, but we have changed the terms of the discussion, so that exclusion of women has to be justified rather than assumed. And we have accomplished all this in barely thirty years. We have good reason to believe that the ultimate victory will be ours, if not within our lifetimes then in the lifetimes of our daughters. So…we return to the original question: why are we still doing women’s seders?
As it turns out, the answer is obvious: because our journey is not yet complete. Just as we continue to tell the story of the Exodus, we need to tell our own women’s story. As Jewish women, collectively and individually, we still have a long way to go before we reach the end of our road. We still suffer from exclusionary practices within Judaism and in the world. We still confront violence against women, unjust interpretations of halacha, power imbalances within Jewish institutions. We still struggle to nurture our Jewish spirits in our frantically busy lives, to bring holiness to the mundane. We seek deeper knowledge of Jewish wisdom so that we can make the difficult decisions about work, relationships, family and money with which we are all faced at times. We still need regular opportunities to stop and look around us, to see where we are and decide how to take the next steps on our journey. And the Pesach story, with its cast of remarkable women, is an especially conducive text to inspire us in our spiritual work.
The JWC seder is unusual in that we hold it during Passover, rather than before as is more common. We prefer to do it this way for several reasons. First, we feel that the time before Pesach should be used to think about the holiday in its wholeness so that we can give our full attention to our family seders. Second, we know that preparation, cleaning and so forth before the holiday are very time-consuming, so scheduling can be difficult. Third, by the time we’re in the middle of Pesach we’re definitely ready for a night off! We can really savor the seder experience when we don’t have to prepare the celebration ourselves (or wash dishes afterwards). And it makes sense to us to have the women’s seder be a variant on our family seder rather than the other way around. We want to preserve the particularity of the women’s seder, rather than having it supplant or color the family seder.
This year we’re doing things a bit differently. We will not be serving a full meal. Instead, each participant will receive his or her own seder plate and we will serve hors d’ouevres and desserts. It’s always difficult to find a place that serves appetizing food that is kosher for Pesach, and we suspect that no one will leave our seder table hungry this year. Accordingly, we have been able to reduce the cost somewhat.
We look forward to seeing you at the JWC women’s seder. Join us as we celebrate our having arrived at this place-and as we prepare for the next stage of the journey.
We will celebrate Rosh Chodesh Iyar on Wednesday, April 21 at 7:30 PM. Appropriately for erev Earth Day, the theme is "Jewish Women: Spirituality and Environment".
Rosh Chodesh Sivan takes place on Thursday, May 20. The theme will be announced closer to the date. It’s also our annual meeting.
Friday, June 18 is our second Family Kabbalat Shabbat dinner of the year in celebration of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz. Again, details will be announced closer to the date. All of these programs will take place at the LZC.
Except where noted, all of these events are open to Jewish women bat mitzvah age and above. Feel free to bring friends! For more information, please email us or call (412) 422-8044.
After more than ten years of talking, dreaming and planning, the JWC board is thrilled to unveil our new logo! Well, actually, we started using it a couple of months ago, but consider this the official premiere. We have wanted a logo ever since we incorporated as the JWC, but we could not find the right blend of time, energy, money and graphic designer to make it happen. But, finally, thanks to Malke Frank and graphic artist Marsha Zuckerman, we were able to agree on a design. We hope you like the full moon/new moon idea. Look for our logo on pens, Post-It notes, mugs, mouse pads, and t-shirts! Just kidding-we think we’ll avoid a major marketing drive. But the t-shirts do sound tempting…
Here are a couple of new titles that sound intriguing. Nowadays there are so many new books coming out on the topic of Jewish women that it’s hard to choose only two!
Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey Among Hasidic Girls by Stephanie Wellen Levine examines the lives of girls within the Chasidic community. Levine lived for a year with the Lubavitchers of Crown Heights, center of the Lubavitch universe. As a student of Carol Gilligan (pioneering author of In A Different Voice), Levine wanted to know how being raised in a very conservative, closed religious community would affect adolescent girls. She found that, in stark contrast to many teenaged girls in the secular world, the girls she studied were confident, bold and assertive. Levine attributes this to the values of the Lubavitch culture and to the single-sex educational system that is practiced in that community, both of which work to separate girls from boys until marriage. For those of us who reject such separation, this book challenges our beliefs. We are forced to ask what we might learn from the Lubavitchers. Can we find a way to raise strong girls without isolating them from male culture?
Beautiful as the Moon, Radiant as the Stars: Jewish Women in Yiddish Stories: An Anthology, edited by Sandra Bark, is a collection of short stories about Ashkenizic women in the late 19th and 20th centuries. The authors are both men and women (including both Isaac Bashevis Singer and his sister Esther Singer Kreitman). The themes of the stories will sound very familiar because they are the same struggle we have today: Jewish identity, love and loss, work and ambition. This might be a good one for the book group.
And on the web:
Ah, the eternal Jewish question: what on earth should I cook for Passover this year? Check out this list: http://passover.freerecipecollection.com/recipes_disk_97.htm. The format is a little daunting, since all the recipes are on one page, so you have to scroll through all of them to get to the ones you want to see. But you can copy and paste the recipes into a Word document and print them out individually. Gefilte fish with tomato and basil…mmm!
Just in case you’re not convinced that Miriam’s Cup has gone mainstream, here’s a link to a site specifically about it: http://www.miriamscup.com. It’s a nice little collection of information, including the history of the ritual, gender-neutral blessings and instructions on how to perform the Miriam’s Cup ritual. Many of us may be familiar with this information, but for guests at our seders who haven’t experienced it, this site will be very helpful.
If you have recommendations for this column, please send them along. We’ll be glad to share them with the JWC membership.
If you have news about yourself or a family member that you would like to share with the JWC, email it to me anytime, and it will appear in the upcoming newsletter.
This article appeared in the Miami Herald on April 14, 2003. It’s an interesting piece to consider in light of this year’s theme of ritual. I’ve edited and formatted it slightly. Although it contains a number of mistakes about the wearing of taleisim, it’s worthwhile to read because it shows that this practice, which many of us now take for granted, is still controversial – and not just among the Orthodox.
Tallis-wearing girls an emerging tradition
Jewish prayer shawl was long a male garment
Like many girls of her generation preparing for their bat mitzvahs, 14-year-old Taryn Manzini gave a lot of thought to what she'd be wearing when she read from the Torah for the first time. One article was a certainty: her new tallis, a traditional Jewish prayer shawl, which for thousands of years was forbidden to women. ''Every boy I know is wearing one. I should be able to wear one,'' said Taryn, a tall eighth-grader who plays center on the Highland Oaks Middle School basketball team. She's a member of Temple Sinai of North Dade, a Reform congregation.
Taryn and other Jewish girls across the nation have decided to wear the male garment during their bat mitzvahs, the ceremony marking their entry as adults into the faith. For many of them, it is a statement of equality with their male peers, or as Taryn says, “not missing out.''
While the practice has been common among women in the more liberal branches of Judaism, such as with Reconstructionists, rabbis in Reform and Conservative temples across South Florida say they've noticed an increase in the number of women wearing taliesin in recent years. ''In the last 10 years, there has been a revolution in women's spirituality, and more and more women have been wearing taliesim,'' said Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz of Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach, a Reform congregation. ``One of the things that has been so fascinating has been seeing the deluge of designers coming out with taliesim for women.''
Indeed, the Judaica industry has seen a rise in the demand for taleisim designed specifically for women. Just two years ago, Maryland-based JewishBazaar.com stocked 12 styles of taliesim for women -- in shades of pink and purple and with floral embroidery. Today, 50 varieties are offered. ''Women have been wearing taliesim for many years, but it got big really in the last two years,'' said Sunny Golan, president of JewishBazaar.com. ``We noticed a big jump.''
The shift has its opponents, who say that a woman wearing a tallis flies in the face of cherished traditions. Many of these opponents reside within the Orthodox branch of Judaism and in more traditional Conservative temples.
`WANT TO BE LIKE BOYS'
''What are they going to be wearing next, tefilin?'' said the manager of Torah Traditions, a Judaica store in mid-Miami Beach, referring to the box containing sacred scrolls that men wear. ”They want to be like boys. I'm not uncomfortable about selling taliesim to women,'' said the manager, who wouldn't give his name. “I simply don't.''
The prayer shawls, rectangular cloths with tassels of knotted string at each of the four corners, contain religious symbolism and history. In biblical times, Jewish men wore the garment for all occasions. Today, customs range from wearing small taliesim all the time to wearing it only when reading from the Torah, depending on a man's adherence. The tassels are intended to remind followers of their obligation to 613 Jewish commandments. Their intricate system of knots and coils are symbolic of events in a man's life, starting with circumcision, some say.
''A tallis is distinctively a man's garment,'' said Rabbi Eliot Pearlson of Temple Menorah, a 1,200-member conservative congregation in Miami Beach. ``This does not mean women are less holy or less important, it just means they are different.'' Pearlson says he is surprised that women are choosing to assert their equality by wearing a tallis. After all, women ''don't need the constant reminder from a tallis not to go astray,'' he said. ``Who's holier? Who's stronger? There are many places in the Torah that show that women have higher spiritual potential than men.''
Many South Florida rabbis from Reform and Conservative congregations said that well over half the girls in their congregations are wearing taliesim during their bat mitzvahs. ''It's a sign women feel comfortable with their increased role in Judaism over the last 50 years,'' said Rabbi Randall Konigsburg of the Conservative Temple Sinai in Hollywood.
Paula Hyman, director of Undergraduate Judaic Studies at Yale University, was a leader in the 1970s Jewish feminist movement and was among the first women to wear a tallis. Wrapping herself in a white prayer shawl in 1973 drew sharp criticism from her male peers, she recalled. ''It was shocking. Donning a tallis was a way of making a symbolic statement that we are equal with men,'' Hyman said.
Seeing so many girls wearing the tallis during bat mitzvahs is a vindication of sorts, she said. ''It was a feminist statement in the 1970s and 1980s and 1990s. Now it's becoming commonplace,'' Hyman said. ``When you don't have to be daring to do it, it means new ideas have become routine.''
The first bat mitzvah was performed in 1922, two years after women received the right to vote in the United States. The ceremonies did not become widespread, however, until the 1960s.
For Taryn, the tallis she wore has extra significance. It was a gift from her 69-year-old grandmother, who never had a bat mitzvah because girls in her Orthodox synagogue in New York City were not allowed to. ''I never saw taliesim on anybody but the men,'' said Monica Barg as she and Taryn fingered through prayer shawls at Traditions, a Judaica store in the Aventura Mall. ``But I think it's wonderful starting a new tradition. Something that Taryn can pass on when she has her own daughters.''
Taryn settled on an off-white silk tallis decorated with peach-colored ribbons, which she wore during her bat mitzvah at Temple Sinai of North Dade on Saturday. ''It's a beautiful new tradition,'' said Barg, as she eyed the $260 price tag. ``And a beautiful tallis.''
One of the best aspects of our annual fall retreats is the fabulous food prepared by attendees. This year, the dishes were so popular that we insisted on a recipe exchange after the retreat. Here are a couple of them, and more will follow in the next newsletter. You’ll notice that both of these are pesadik-what a happy coincidence!
Elizabeth Gordon prepared this delicious and healthy soup.
"Creamy" Vegetable Soup (from Sheila Lukins in Parade magazine 2/93)
2 TB oil 1 c. chopped onion
1 TB peeled, minced ginger 1 tsp. curry powder
1/4 c. uncooked rice (I use arborio) 2 lbs. carrots, peeled and sliced
10 c. vegetable broth (I like the one in the box - Pacific or Imagine, watered down a bit)
Salt and pepper, to taste 2 TB chopped mint, for garnish
(I also add cumin)
Heat oil in heavy pot over low heat. Add onion and ginger, cook 10 minutes, stir occasionally. Add rice and curry powder - cook 1 minute, stir continually. Add carrots and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until tender. Let cool. Puree in batches, in blender (my preference) or food processor. Return to pot and heat through. Add salt, pepper. Garnish with mint. This recipe serves 8-10.
This is the basic recipe. I play with it by varying the vegetables. For the retreat I used a combination of mushrooms, cauliflower and parsnips. I also added a potato or two, which helps make it creamy when pureed. I've added celery and garlic at times. You can garnish it with chopped green onions, chives, mint, dill, etc. It always tastes good.
My technique is a bit different than that described. I'll start the vegetables and broth in one pot to get them going. In a separate sauté pan, I'll cook the onion/ginger and rice/curry powder, then add the contents of the saucepan to the veggie/broth pot. Even though I have two pots to wash I prefer my method: the soup is done faster and I control the sautéing better in a sauté pan.
This recipe came from Nancy Arnold. Any ideas on what it should be called?
Salad (It doesn't have a name yet) Serves 6
One head of romaine lettuce cut in 1/2 inch strips
one apple peeled and sliced in thin wedges
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese (I used Danish blue this weekend)
1/3 cup toasted walnut oil 2 Tblsp. apple cider vinegar
1 shallot finely diced 1 tsp. dijon mustard
salt & pepper
Mix vinegar, 1/2 t salt and shallots. Allow to sit for 15 minutes. Add oil and mustard and fresh ground pepper and shake well. Toss the lettuce, walnuts, apples and cheese with the dressing.
Jewish Women's Center
P.O. BOX 81924
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
CONFIRMING, CONFRONTING, CREATING: JEWISH WOMEN EXPLORE RITUAL
PROGRAM DATE AND TIME LOCATION
Rosh Chodesh Nisan Monday, March 22 LZC
Women’s Pesach Seder Sunday, April 11 LZC
Rosh Chodesh Iyar Wednesday, April 21 LZC
Rosh Chodesh Sivan Thursday, May 20 LZC
Annual Meeting 7:30 PM
Rosh Chodesh Tammuz Friday, June 18 LZC
Family Shabbat Dinner II 6 PM
Rosh Chodesh Elul Monday, August 16 TBA
Women’s Picnic 6:30 PM
*The Labor Zionist Center is located at 6328 Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill.
Gayle Abrams Ritual/Program/Archive (412) 421-6912
Barbara Baumann Membership (412) 421-9713
Pat Cluss President (412) 421-2219
Melissa Jones Library/Good and Welfare (412) 799-0132
Lynne Feinberg Ritual/Program/Archives (412) 242-6601
Malke Frank Ritual/Program/Archives (412) 422-8044
Elizabeth Gordon Publicity (412) 661-5020
Laura Horowitz Communications (412) 421-2044
Larissa Mysakovsky Membership (412) 344-8899
Miri Rabinowitz Treasurer (412) 241-8131
Julie Newman (ex officio) Rosh Shira (412) 366-6154
JWC MISSION STATEMENT
The Jewish Women’s Center is a community of women of all backgrounds that provides educational opportunities and spiritual experiences rooted in Jewish values and feminist ideals. The JWC is a supportive environment for broadening our knowledge and involvement in Jewish life. The programs and resources of the JWC create opportunities for Jewish women’s learning, leadership, spiritual growth and ritual practice.
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