Come, let us celebrate! After centuries of
silence, the voices of Jewish women are at last heard in the
land-each in her own distinctive idiom, each with her own unique
teaching. Surely our cup runs over!
Our Bubbes teach: How much of the Jewish heritage
has been transmitted through our mouths! From our fragrant kitchens
come recipes from the Old World, all dating back to the miraculous
manna that fell from heaven. Our memoirs recount our people's
wanderings and trials, our irrepressible zest for life, our homespun
wisdom, our remarkable adventures in the New World. From them
we learn ways to bring Jewish life alive with Jewish mystical
hints in the kreplach and stuffed cabbage. We see how they cry
on Rosh Chodesh and wonder about how their grandmothers explained
Our Mothers teach: What a challenging country
America has been for us! What a struggle to keep our daughters
close to us and yet let them go on their way. To make sense of
it all-for us and for them-we have written stories, novels, poems,
and plays, trying through our imagination to reconcile all the
conflicts of our hearts: how to be a good Jewish mother, daughter,
wife, and at the same time, to spread our wings and take flight;
how to honor our people without dishonoring ourselves; how to
support others without surrendering our dreams. We are proud
to have been pioneers, here and in Israel, and we have delighted
in seeing our lives celebrated in biographies and autobiographies,
diaries and letters. We learn how they kept Shabbat alive with
special dresses, even if they only had two of them. We discover
the way they used a mineral bath of flowing water as a kosher
mikve in the Rocky Mountains.
Our Daughters teach: How wonderful to be a
Jewish woman today! So many opportunities to embroider the fabric
of Torah! We are expanding our ever-evolving liturgical tradition
both by writing new prayers as well as by re-introducing forgotten
ones, the special tekhines written by women to celebrate and
safeguard home, family, and soul.
From them we are learning to read our ancient
language to look up the sources of those wonderful tales we heard
from our grandmothers. They sound different and new when we read
the ancient texts for ourselves. We treasure all the women our
tradition describes from Naama, the wife of Noah, to Sara, Tamar,
Devorah, Tamar. We admire their courage and vividly imagine being
in their place and time.
We are joining the debate begun centuries
ago by the Rabbis: What exactly did God say on that mountain
top long ago? To find the answer, we have gone back, as Jews
have always done, to Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, and the long tradition
of Jewish Law, creating our own commentaries on these ancient
writings. In addition to the commentaries, we have modern tools-the
methods and perspectives of anthropology, historiography, archaeology,
feminist criticism, deconstruction, postmodernism, and gender
studies-to discover treasures still buried in these texts.
We have also developed our own special form
of midrash, imaginative interpretations drawn out of the plain
meaning of the original texts, and in so doing, filling in the
spaces between the lines, the voices that have spoken beyond
the hearing range of male Jewish historians, the stories that
have escaped notice.
And from our daughters we have found renewed
meaning in age old mitzvot. Our artists have made us a amazing
variety of candlesticks, mezzuzot, menorahs, talitot and wedding
canopies. Jewish arts of weaving, dying, silver work, pottery
and embroidery are reborn in their hands. Like 20th century creators
of the mishkan, our artists our schooled in every craft. Images
from around the world and from a newly articulated inner world
emerge endless variety.
And our motherline has become sacred to us.
We search family photos and the memories of aging relatives for
a hint of our grandmother,s inner world. What strengths of character
have we inherited from their names, their persistence, their
energy and their unfullfilled dreams?
Ellen Frankel, Ph.D.
Ellen Frankel is currently the Editor-in-Chief of The Jewish