Publication of Merle Feld's "A Spiritual Life: A Jewish Feminist Journey"
April 1, 1999
Merle Feld's memoir, A Spiritual Life: A Jewish Feminist Journey was published on April 1, 1999. In the book, Feld combines poetry and prose to tell the story of her life from her childhood in an impoverished Brooklyn family to marriage and motherhood, involvement in Israeli-Palestinian peace work, and feminist activism.
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 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.
Feld's peace work was honored in 2000, when she was named a "Woman Who Dared" by the Jewish Women's Archive. In interviews with the Jewish Women's Archive, she commented that "I don't really understand what political activity is about if it's not grounded in some sense of the importance of spirit in people's lives. And I certainly don't understand what spirituality is about that has no connection to or bearing on how we live in the world and what's happening to the people around us." Feld's own spiritual journey forms the thread that ties together A Spiritual Life; her search for meaning in her own biography, in political work, and in the everyday world is at the core of the story she tells in the memoir.
In addition to A Spiritual Life and Across the Jordan, Feld has published the play The Gates Are Closing. Her poetry has been widely anthologized, and has appeared in the magazines Tikkun, Lifecycles, and Lilith. A revised version of A Spiritual Life was published by SUNY Press in 2007. Her most recent book is Finding Words (URJ Press 2011), which was reviewed by Zeek in 2011 ("Merle Feld Finds Her Words," by Rachel Barenblat).
See also: Reading Series Guides: Spiritual Journeys.
Sources: jwa.org/exhibits/wwd/jsp/bio.jsp?personID=pmfeld; Merle Feld, A Spiritual Life (2e, SUNY Press, Albany, 2007); Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution, jwa.org/feminism/index.html?id=JWA024.