This poem, “We All Stood Together,” written in the early 1980s, had its beginnings in a deeply felt, intense conversation amongst close feminist friends who sat together one night studying an article by Rachel Adler. The full story of how the poem came to be can be found in the pages of A Spiritual Life (State University of New York Press, 1999), along with the poem itself and many other poems and stories.
"We All Stood Together" is included in numerous contemporary anthologies, in several prayerbooks, in haggadot, in sisterhood Shabbat services, in educational curricula, in bat mitzvah booklets. It's published now in the Russian translation of A Spiritual Life and has been embraced by Jewish communities across the former Soviet Union; the book and the poem are currently being translated into Hebrew. And every now and again I hear that it's on a synagogue wall in Westchester, it's part of the permanent collection of the Jewish museum in San Francisco.
Quite simply, the poem has had a life of its own. Though one rabbi has termed it "the anthem, the emblem" of the Jewish feminist movement, I have never really paused to reflect on why it has had such power for the multitude of contemporary Jews. Pressed to do so for this exhibit, I share the following thoughts. Perhaps it touched and then opened some deep longing, some considerable pain, within sisters, mothers, daughters – longing to embrace the rich Jewish traditions that nourish us all, pain that as women our way of being has been seen as "less," as "other," pain that we as women have had to fight, really fight, to be included as valued, respected equals. And yet the poem doesn't galvanize our past sorrows, exclusions, diminutions into an energy that demonizes fathers, brothers, sons; rather, it expresses the hope, the expectation even, that we will all come together to rejoice in our heritage and in the shining new life we can bring to the tradition when we imaginatively remember that Sinaitic moment together, women and men, "recreat[ing] holy time, sparks flying."
Working at my computer one morning soon after A Spiritual Life had been published, I logged onto my email and found a message from a young woman introducing herself and querying me about some aspect of her doctoral thesis. She concluded by sharing the following: "We use your Sinai poem every Pesach at our seder," she said. "Our family tradition is that the youngest girl present reads it." Dayenu (this is sufficient).
Merle Feld, poet and playwright, was born and raised in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in an assimilated family. In college her curiosity about Jewish life and her desire to find a community drew Feld to Hillel, where she found a deep and enduring connection to Judaism and Jewish life.
Feld was active in Jewish feminism from its early years, but did not perceive herself as a political person until 1989, when she spent a sabbatical in Israel with her husband and two young children. During that year, she became involved in peace activism, facilitating an all-women Israeli-Palestinian dialogue group on the West Bank. This group was very important in creating a sense of shared humanity among Israeli and Palestinian women, breaking down prejudices and forming a grassroots context for understanding. Feld also demonstrated regularly with Women in Black, an Israeli women's weekly, silent protest of the Occupation. These experiences formed the basis of her play, "Across the Jordan," included in the first anthology of Jewish women playwrights, Making a Scene (Syracuse University Press, 1997). In addition, her memoir, A Spiritual Life: Exploring the Heart and Jewish Tradition (revised, SUNY Press, 2007) includes a chapter describing the dialogue work of that year in Israel.
Merle Feld's most recent book is Finding Words (URJ Press 2011). She currently serves as Founding Director of the Rabbinic Writing Institute and lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband Rabbi Edward Feld.
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