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Ritual

Helène Aylon

Through her art, Helène Aylon explored the intersectionality among her feminism, the Orthodox Judaism of her upbringing, and her place in a war-torn world.

The Power of Stories

When I was younger, if you had asked me which of the many Jewish holidays is my favorite, I would never have said Passover. The restrictions that Passover requires made it hard for me to enjoy the message behind the Passover story. Plus, the drama that Passover created in my family, with my parents running around the house cleaning, only added to the stress. My grandmother changed this feeling for me.

Following in Miriam's Path

At every Passover Seder, there are the traditional items on the table: the Seder plate, a place for Elijah, and that gnawing hunger before finally feasting. On my table there is another item that makes a quiet appearance every year. A Kiddush cup, the same one my family uses for Shabbat, is given a new name for Pesach. The Kos Miriyam, or Miriam’s Cup, has its own part of our Seder rituals. After a certain number of parody songs about the holiday, and some acting out of the plagues—aided by ketchup (blood) and sunglasses (darkness)—the Kos Miriyam finally gets its turn. Passing the cup around, we listen as my mother tells us about Miriam’s well and the divine healing power held by the water. This water brought the Jewish nation from a place of physical and emotional slavery to a free, spiritual, lively community. She explains that as Jews and as individuals we are still on journeys to a better place.

There are times in our own lives when we try to reach a land of milk and honey, but often there are roadblocks, speed bumps, and detours along the way. We can take on these challenges single-handedly, but if we do, we are more likely to work ourselves into the ground, unable to continue moving forward. Instead, we can choose to reach out to the women surrounding us for assistance. With their help, we can overcome obstacles and continue on our individual journeys. The women in our lives provide support to each of us, as Miriam supported the Israelites on their grueling journey to the Holy Land.

Cecillia Etkin

Cecillia Pollock Etkin’s faith in Judaism delivered her from seven concentration camps during the Holocaust and in 1950 to the Seattle Orthodox Jewish community where she lovingly served as the “mikveh lady” for 27 years, from 1970-1997. Born in Sighet, Romania in 1922, Cecillia was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 where her parents and many siblings were murdered. In 1945 Cecillia emigrated to New York City, married Seattle native Nathan Etkin, and moved to Seattle with him where she ran her own dressmaking business and raised four children. As Seattle’s first volunteer “mikveh lady” she prepared the ritual bath according to Orthodox Jewish law, and counseled brides and married women, converts, the sick and the elderly, who sought her quiet spiritual guidance.

Tillie Israel De Leon

An independent, intelligent, and industrious woman, Tillie De Leon is the matriarch of the original Peha family in Seattle, Sephardic immigrants from the Greek Island of Rhodes. One of the first Sephardic children born in Seattle, Tillie’s ground-breaking life continued when she left her close-knit community and moved to Los Angeles to take an accounting job. Married and widowed in Los Angeles, Tillie married Albert De Leon and returned with him to Seattle. Ever hardworking and optimistic, Tillie continued her paid work until age 80, and remains active in volunteer activities.

Feminism: More Than Just a Lens to View the World

Somewhere towards the end of my freshman year of high school, I became the class feminist. You know, the girl who always has to speak up about slut-shaming and rape culture and “where are the women in this narrative?”

I had begun to read feminist blogs, and the critical gender lens they used on everything from history, to clothing, to everything in between rapidly became part of my worldview. Right as I was hitting my stride as “that angry feminist,” I studied in the Dr. Beth Samuels High School Program at Drisha in New York. In addition to being a feminist, I was (and remain) a lover of Talmud. Spending the summer with other girls who took Judaism and Jewish text study seriously was a formative experience for me.

The erudite feminist women who taught us became my role models. (It was not unusual for us “Drishettes” to enthusiastically exclaim to one another that “I want to be insert-name-of-teacher-here when I grow up!” after a particularly great class.)

JOFA: Beyond Belief - Part 3

In her final interview before leaving JOFA, Elana Sztokman talks about Orthodox feminism and JOFA. This is the final part of our three-part series, posting weekly.
Read part one here.
Read part two here.

Susan Reimer-Torn: Do most JOFA women want full inclusion in Jewish ritual life as currently practiced by men? Or are they looking for another, more woman-oriented approach to the communal or spiritual experience?

Laughter, Ritual, and the Pew Study

To paraphrase the legendary Joni Mitchell, I have looked at the Pew Study results from both sides now. I can see how the disconnect with Jewish ritual can be disconcerting and I see how the community’s freedom to identify themselves openly as Jews is incredibly empowering. There’s been a lot of talk about how to interpret the study and where to go from here, but I wonder if we might already have the tools we need to bridge the gaps noted in the study, using some of the traits that the study said best identify the Jewish community.

Savina Teubal

Savina Teubal was an accomplished biblical scholar and the founding president of Sarah’s Tent: Sheltering Creative Jewish Spirituality. Sarah’s Tent is an organization that offers Shabbat dinners, retreats, classes, and holiday festivities such as Pesach seders and Rosh Chodesh gatherings.

Marge Piercy

Marge Piercy is the author of 17 novels including the New York Times Bestseller Gone To Soldiers, the national bestseller The Longings of Women, and the classic Woman on the Edge of Time; 17 volumes of poetry; and the critically acclaimed memoir Sleeping with Cats.

Pages

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Ritual." (Viewed on October 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/topics/ritual>.

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