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Aya Baron, 2017 Twersky Award Finalist

Aya Baron is Wilderness Torah's Youth Programs Director. She joined the staff in 2015 after three years in serving as a lead field instructor. Previously, Aya worked as an educator and program designer at Urban Adamah and Eden Village Camp. She is passionate about cultivating a regenerative Jewish culture, developing rites of passage experiences for youth, and working with adolescent girls. Aya holds a degree in Contemplative Education from Brown University.

In Search of Eshet Chayil

By exploring the traditional Jewish prayer, Eshet Chayil, along with contemporary popular magazines that depict images of women, young girls find their footing in the face of popular culture in ways that ignite their confidence, creativity, and self-expression.

Overview

Enduring Understandings

  • Engaging in Jewish text and poetry can help us find our own beliefs, voices, and creative expression.
  • Valor, beauty, and worth are subjective, and everyone’s personal interpretation and expression of them deserves celebration.

Essential Questions

  • What does the eshet chayil (woman of valor) prayer teach us about what Jewish tradition has to say about the value and role of women and girls?
  • What do messages and images from the media have to say about mainstream America’s ideas of women and girls’ worth?
  • What does it mean to be an eshet chayil today? How does the original text translate, and where does it fall short?
  • How are you a modern day eshet chayil (woman or girl of valor)?

Materials Required

  • Journals or paper and pens for personal reflection and writing
  • Sharpies
  • Pop-culture magazines marketed towards adolescent girls (Seventeen, Teen Vogue, J-14, etc.)
  • Fire pit or fireplace and supplies necessary for safely building and maintaining a fire:wood, matches, water/fire-extinguisher (optional), or other materials for closing ritual

Notes to Teacher

  • This lesson is designed to help adolescent girls feel empowered, valorous, and strong in their sense of self, and aware of the messages sent to them by mainstream media and Jewish tradition, so that they can make wise choices about how they relate to them.
  • The target audience is female-identified adolescents wishing to engage in pluralistic study of Jewish text. This lesson can be adapted to all ages. The central text, eshet chayil, is complex and rich and offers an opportunity for deep inquiry.
  • Notice that there is a ritual proposed in part four of the lesson. Consider the proposed ritual, and imagine possible adaptations that fit your demographic
  • If you will involve fire in your ritual in part four, as you prepare program materials, consider if you will build and tend the fire throughout the lesson, or do so when girls begin journaling in part 3.

Introductory Essay(s)

Background Information on Eshet Chayil

by Aya Baron

Eshet chayil is a 22-verse poem found in proverbs 31, verses 10-31, which delineates qualities of an ideal Jewish woman. This prayer is traditionally read before the Kiddush wine blessing as families welcome in Shabbat on Friday evening. This is a custom many believe originated with the mystics in Tzfat who connected Shabbat to shekinah- the feminine manifestation of The Divine. This prayer has since entered the domestic sphere, with the male head of the home singing it to honor his wife. As such, there are many families for whom this tradition resonates, and many for whom, for a variety of reasons, modern or creative adaptations are a better fit.

This acrostic poem presents insight into ancient Jewish culture and customs. According to one Midrash, Abraham wrote it for his wife, the biblical matriarch Sarah. According to another, the verses correspond to 19 Jewish ancestral matriarchs. Thus, it contains grains of history and layers of that have the potential to spark imaginative artwork and critical conversation.

Further, imagining this prayer in its original context, a time in which domestic labor was the primary way for women to express their value, it remarkably and beautifully honors unseen labor performed in the home. While this can feel limiting in a modern context where unseen labor, performed by individuals within the household or others beyond, is often overlooked, this prayer captures a snapshot of a time when its recitation was a meaningful way for women to be seen and honored for their service.

This lesson explores how eshet chayil interacts with contemporary American culture, translating age-old questions into a modern context through creative and tangible inquiry. This is relevant to adolescent girls who are forming their identities and are increasingly bombarded with images and ideas from mainstream media about what it means to be a girl. Shedding light on cultural forces that impact identity formation, and elevating personal journaling, critical conversation and creative writing creates an opportunity for adolescents to thrive. 

Lesson Plan

Part 1

  • Explain. Explain to students background on the Eshet Chayil.
    • Discuss. Ask students if anyone’s family recites the prayer, and if so, invite them to describe what they know about it, or what it means to them.
  • Pass out the original Eshet Chayil text to the group and ask them to read it.
    • Encourage them to circle three verses they like, three verses they dislike/want to change, and two verses they have questions about.
    • In partners or small groups, ask students to discuss the prayer and the lines they circled.
  • Discuss. What is the prayer saying? What were the students’ reactions to it? What parts resonate? If it were up to the students, would they say it in their family? Why or why not? If not, what would they say instead?

Part 2

  • Ask students to browse magazines and decipher what messages they send about how girls should look, treat themselves, and act.
    • Discuss. What does the magazine depict about beauty and worth?
    • Instruct them to select two images from the magazines that stand out and deconstruct them.
  • Students should share their images with the group.
    • Discuss. What different components did everyone notice about what a valorous, beautiful, ideal woman or girl is like, according to the magazines?

Part 3

  • Pass out and read excerpts from the modern Eshet Chayil.
    • Assignment. Ask students to take time to write in their journals on the following questions:
      • What does eshet chayil mean to you? What is modern Jewish eshet chayil? How are you an eshet chayil?
  • Assignment. Students should write their own personal eshet chayil poems about what they think a valorous (courageous, beautiful, empowered) girl or woman is like, and also about what makes them valourous and special.
    • (optional) Since eshet chayil is an acrostic poem, with one verse for each letter in the Hebrew alphabet, they can write an acrostic poem- with the alphabet, with their name, etc., or a write free-form composition.
  • Ask students to share their creations with the group.

Part 4

  • Ask each girl to think of one line or word from their poem that is especially important to them, and one word from the magazine activity they want to let go of.
  • Teach students the traditional tune to eshet chayil and sing it as a niggun (wordless melody).
  • Ask the students to rip up their magazine pages. If you choose to have a fire, they can toss the images into the fire and share the word they want to let go of while they do so.
    • Alternatives could include putting all shards into a basket or bin.
  • Recite the eshet chayil prayer, sing its melody, and close by asking each student to share the word they wish to elevate

Document Studies

Eshet Chayil (Original text)

Eshet Chayil (Original text)

Proverbs 31:10--31

(10) A woman of valour who can find? For her price is far above rubies. (11) The heart of her husband safely trusts in her, And he has no lack of gain. (12) She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. (13) She seeks wool and flax, And works willingly with her hands. (14) She is like the merchant­ships; She brings her food from afar. (15) She rises also while it is yet night, And gives food to her household, And a portion to her maidens. (16) She considers a field, and buys it; With the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. (17) She girds her loins with strength, And makes strong her arms. (18) She perceives that her merchandise is good; Her lamp goes not out by night. (19) She lays her hands to the distaff, And her hands hold the spindle. (20) She stretches out her hand to the poor; Yea, she reaches forth her hands to the needy. (21) She is not afraid of the snow for her household; For all her household are clothed with scarlet. (22) She makes for herself coverlets; Her clothing is fine linen and purple. (23) Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land. (24) She makes linen garments and sells them; And delivers girdles unto the merchant. (25) Strength and dignity are her clothing; And she laughs at the time to come. (26) She opens her mouth with wisdom; And the law of kindness is on her tongue. (27) She looks well to the ways of her household, And eats not the bread of idleness. (28) Her children rise up, and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praises her: (29) ’Many daughters have done valiantly, But you rise above them all.’ (30) Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; But a woman that fears the LORD, she shall be praised. (31) Give her of the fruit of her hands; And let her works praise her in the gates.

Modern Eshet Chayil

Modern Eshet Chayil

"A Woman of Valor" for Today

by Juliet I. Spitzer

Dedicated to Bracha Hollander Goldfein

A good woman, so hard to find

She is more precious than rubies Her circle cast with friendship deep, Full of love and graceful ease--

She is a woman of valor.

She opens her hands to the poor She does not fear the other, Extends her heart to those in need, Encourages her friends to succeed--

She is a woman of valor.

Credit is hers for the fruit of her labors Optimism is her might;

Surrenders to God, she does not despair Knows how to wrap you in her care--

She is a woman of valor.

Trust in her with your secret fears

Know that she'll hold you gently;

When she speaks wisdom's spread around Her depth of compassion, so profound--

She is a woman of valor.

She counts herself vital in the world And revels in its wonders

In others she sees the Divine

Holds on dearly to her lifeline

She is a woman of valor

Praise her, love her, hold her with your eyes

Be the safety that she needs to unlock all that she can be And let her goodness rise.

Eishet Chayyil: Today's Woman of Valor Shared by Kohenet Ahava Lilith EverShine

A woman of valor, who can find? Far beyond pearls is her worth.

Today's woman of valor, she and she alone, determines her own worth.

Her husband's heart trusts in her and he shall lack no fortune.

Today's woman of valor trusts in herSelf, and her fortune is found in the size of her heart and how she wishes to share it; whether or not she shares it with a partner, spouse or lover.

She repays his good, but never his harm, all the days of her life.

Today's woman of valor surrounds herSelf with things that are good for her and recognizes those that may do her harm. She focuses on how these things affect her before trying to change things outside of herSelf.

She seeks out wool and linen, and her hands work willingly.

Today's woman of valor gives herSelf the time and space for creative expression, whether she does so by expressing herSelf through her work or through extracurricular activities.

She is like a merchant's ships; from afar she brings her sustenance.

Today's woman of valor knows that she needs to sustain her spiritual being as well as her physical being, her intellectual self as well as her emotional self.

She rises while it is still nighttime, and gives food to her household and a ration to her maidens.

Today's woman of valor seeks a balance between work, rest and play; between the things she does and who she is.

She considers a field and buys it; from the fruit of her handiwork she plants a vineyard.

Today's woman of valor dares to plant her own dreams and tend the garden of her soul.

She girds her loins with might and strengthens her arms.

Today's woman of valor is comfortable with and confident in her sexuality and finds strength in her womanhood.

She senses that her venture is good, so her lamp is not extinguished at night.

Today's woman of valor seeks adventure in her life and can light her way down any path she chooses.

She puts her hand to the distaff, and her palms support the spindle.

Today's woman of valor seeks to do things, whether work or play, that fulfill her in all aspects of herSelf; the maiden, mother, and maven/the child, adult, and wise one within.

She spreads out her palm to the poor and extends her hands to the destitute.

Today's woman of valor is generous of heart and spirit. She shares every facet of her prosperity with others.

She fears not snow for her household, for her entire household is clothed with scarlet wool.

Today's woman of valor defines her own personal space and determines her own boundaries, honoring them as she chooses. She seeks to make her home a sanctuary; a place where she can be replenished and share time and space with those whom she loves.

Fine carpets she makes herself; linen and purple wool are her clothing.

Today's woman of valor crafts her life to meet her needs, as well as her desires in every possible way. The way she speaks and moves, dresses and carries herSelf expresses who she is and how she feels about herSelf.

Well-known at the gates is her husband as he sits with the elders of the land.

Today's woman of valor acknowledges and honors her experiences and the wisdom she has earned over time. She is not afraid of aging and knows that every wrinkle on her skin is a line in the story of her life. She trusts her instincts, does not judge and gives counsel when it is asked of her.

Garments she makes and sells, and she delivers a belt to the peddler.

Today's woman of valor carefully chooses the items she uses in her daily life and the nourishment she takes into the temple that is her body. She is ever mindful of the footprint shes leaves upon the Earth.

Strength and splendor are her clothing, and smilingly she awaits her last day.

Today's woman of valor strives to dwell in the here and now of life. She has learned from her past and looks forward to her future.

She opens her mouth with Wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

Today's woman of valor is ever conscious of her thoughts and actions and the effect they have on herSelf, others, and the world. She considers the way her words taste on her tongue and how they may be digested by those to whom she speaks. She allows the light of her heart to guide her.

She anticipates the needs of her household, and the bread of idleness, she does not eat.

Today's woman of valor works to feed her own needs, as well as she feeds those of others. She knows that neglecting herSelf can lead to neglecting the other vital parts of her life.

Her children rise and celebrate her; and her husband, he praises her:

Today's woman of valor mothers what she wants to nurture in her life. She actively loves herSelf, the people with whom she surrounds herSelf, and the universe. She makes an effort, no matter how great or small, to improve whatever she may want to change about herSelf, her life, the world.

"Many daughters have attained valor, but you have surpassed them all."

Today's woman of valor strives to build a support system of other women in her life. Whether they be friends, sisters, adult daughters or co-workers, she reaches out to the other women in her life.

False is charm, and futile is beauty; a G-d-fearing woman, she should be praised.

Today's woman of valor is comfortable in her own skin. She possesses an inner beauty that radiates so strongly that it is the first thing one sees when they look at her. She is a living embodiment of the Divine Feminine and is aware of and celebrates the divinity within herSelf.

Give her the fruits of her labor, and she will be praised at the gates by her very own deeds.

Today's woman of valor acknowledges and enjoys the fruits of her labors. She feels proud of all that she does in the world, whether great or small; of those whom she loves in the world, one and all. This is how today's woman of valor lives her life. She is you and she is me. Kein y'hi ratzon! So may it be! 

Teacher Resources

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Aya Baron, 2017 Twersky Award Finalist
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Aya Baron, 2017 Twersky Award finalist

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Aya Baron, 2017 Twersky Award Finalist." (Viewed on December 14, 2017) <https://jwa.org/twersky/baron-aya>.

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