A COMMUNITY Of WOMEN
When I tell people about the Jewish Women’s Center, invariably the first question they have is, “Where is it?” A very reasonable question, wouldn’t you agree? I usually end up stumbling around and saying, “Well, we don’t have a building, we meet in different places but we have a library and…” You get the picture-in fact, some of you have no doubt heard this very answer. But in light of this year’s programming theme, I now have a better response: the JWC is wherever its members come together.
The theme the board chose for the year 5763 is “Reaching In, Reaching Out: A Community of Jewish Women.” We decided on this at our annual board retreat in July (the only board retreat I know of that starts with a flower ritual and ends with an M&M ritual). After ten years, we felt that it was time to revisit our mission statement. We found that it did not reflect our current priorities. The original board envisioned the JWC as a teaching and mentoring group for Jewish women. Because the JWC was the first group in Pittsburgh to experiment with Jewish feminist programming and ritual, the members were very conscious that they would be acting as role models for women in the community. Hence, the founding board felt a great responsibility to focus outward in its programming. They wanted to design events that would draw many women, who would in turn bring Jewish feminist skills and approaches to their congregations, sisterhoods and social service organizations. The concept worked…sort of.
What we have found over the past decade is that Jewish feminism has indeed spread throughout the community. Congregations have Rosh Chodesh groups and women’s seders. Jewish social service groups have become much more conscious of the economic and political power of women. Pittsburgh has women clergy, educators, board presidents and foundation chairs. Even the Orthodox community has begun to institute a bat-mitzvah type ceremony for girls entering adolescence.
We have come to realize, though, that our leadership role was less direct than we had originally envisioned. Women in the community watched what we did, occasionally came to our programs, and decided that they could do it themselves, within their own congregations or women’s groups. Although that was not the way we thought it would happen, in reality, that is the true essence of Jewish feminism-that any woman can obtain for herself the skills and knowledge necessary to bring about change. And we are proud of our sisters and thrilled for the progress we have all made.
Now we can take a breath and look at our own needs, our own interests and the unique ruach of the JWC. At the board retreat, we amended our mission statement to reflect the importance of our sense of chavurat-a women’s community. This year’s theme reflects that sense. Our tradition teaches that Judaism is a way of life which is most authentically experienced in a group; hence, for instance, the requirement for a minyan to recite some of our most important prayers. We come together at Rosh Chodesh and other times primarily to share the experience of being Jewish women in the 21st century. In this tenth anniversary year, we plan to explore the entity we become when we assemble each month. What does it mean to be a conscious community of Jewish women? How do we deepen our understanding of womanhood, feminism and Judaism in a group setting? We will approach these questions via a variety of program styles. We will look to the inner self and think about how the JWC affects our sense of Jewishness, and we will look at how we as a group relate to the larger world. We will share our creativity in writing and art projects, explore difficult issues such as domestic violence in the Jewish community and interfaith relations, engage in traditional text study and celebrate our holy days and festivals in our customary JWC way-with song, prayer and introspection and lots of great food! In short, we will mingle our collective wisdom, energy and holiness to create greater moments of chavurat-Jewish women in community. And we will be strengthened in our individual lives by what we have created together.
Please join us this year as we savor the very special “place” called the Jewish Women’s Center. From that place, we will reach in to ourselves and out to the world, for there is nowhere we cannot go together.
In June, Malke Frank and I were privileged to represent the JWC at a mini-conference in New York. The event was hosted by Ma’yan: The Jewish Women’s Project. The Ma’yan staff invited representatives from 3 Jewish feminist groups to convene for what was billed as a “consultation”, in which the participants would exchange information and ideas about their organizations, describe challenges their groups face and brainstorm responses to those challenges. The other groups invited were from St. Louis, Washington D.C. and Denver. (Unfortunately, the Denver representative had to cancel at the last minute.) The consultation was so energizing and inspiring that Malke and I wanted the entire JWC membership to know about it.
Ma’yan is a unique organization. The Hebrew word ma’yan means well or source, and Ma’yan’s mission is to act as a source of information, inspiration and change for Jewish feminists and Jewish feminism. Its mission statement describes it as a “catalyst.” As such, Ma’yan is more like a think tank than a conventional Jewish feminist group. Its funding does not come from memberships; instead, a single donor has created an ongoing fund to support the organization. Currently six women are on staff, and one former staffer is a long-distance consultant. Barbara Dobkin, the underwriter, acts as chair of the organization. Ma’yan creates programs which it offers to the public via the New York City JCC, in which it is housed. It also publishes an impressive quarterly newsletter and maintains an extensive library and website (see below for more information on the latter). Ma’yan decided to hold this consultation for two reasons: first, to provide guidance and support to a few groups which they perceived as being very active and perhaps ready to grow but uncertain about how to do it, and second, to gauge the state of Jewish feminism outside of New York.
I will not try to describe all the work we did in 2 ½ packed days of workshops. But I would like to report the major sense of the consultation. First, we discovered that the JWC is exceedingly rare in that it is entirely independent. The other groups, including Ma’yan, are connected in some way with their local JCCs and receive either funding or services in kind to help support them. (Ma’yan, for instance, publicizes its programs via the JCC’s catalog, which reaches a huge audience.) They each have a physical space and they each have at least one professional staffer. Because we are not connected with any other entity, we are obligated only to you, our membership, whereas the others must satisfy their funders. Our independence allows us to program in very progressive ways, but it limits our capacity to do outreach.
Second, we heard some wonderful ideas for programming which we hope to incorporate in the future. For example, all of the other groups had done some programming around the subject of women, Judaism and money. Surely this is a very critical issue for all of us, and yet we have never done anything on the topic. How can we use our financial power to influence our Jewish communities in a feminist direction? How can we work together to multiply our economic clout? Is there a feminist approach to tzedakah? Questions of this sort lead to an entirely unexplored field of inquiry for the JWC, and the possibilities are very exciting.
Third, we talked about our vision for a wider spread of Jewish feminism. We envisioned a national network of groups like ours, exchanging ideas, supporting each other and using our collective influence to bring about changes in the way Judaism exists in the 21st century. Just think about what we’ve been able to do on our own in the last 30 years, and imagine what can happen when we work together! Plans for such a national network are in process at Ma’yan, and we will keep you posted on their progress.
The JWC board is very interested in your reaction to the results of the consultation. Please let us know what directions you think we should be taking. How can we make our programming more responsive to your needs and interests? How can we improve our outreach? The consultation reminded Malke and me once again that the Jewish feminist movement is the most powerful source of energy and innovation in Judaism today. Our commitment to Judaism that is responsive to and inclusive of women’s voices provides the sustenance that Judaism needs to survive and thrive. As we meet every month to connect, refresh our spirits and deepen our understanding of Jewish feminism, we work with our sisters around the country and across the globe to shape the future of Judaism. Our horizons are limitless!
Please note: Starting with the next issue, the JWC will start sending this newsletter via email. If you would prefer to receive a paper copy, please let us know by mail, phone or email. You can reach us at (412) 422-8044 or at P.O. Box 81924/Pgh., PA 15217. If we do not hear from you, we will assume that the email version is your preference. Thanks!
The old truism about the Jewish holidays always being early or late but never on time is applies again this year. No sooner do we finish our Labor Day picnics and get the kids back to school than the Days of Awe arrive on our doorsteps. And with them comes our first event of the new year, Tashlich. This year it will take place on Sunday, September 8 at 4 PM. This is the second day of Rosh Hashanah, but halacha allows us to perform Tashlich any time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so we’re right on time. (How un-Jewish!) We will meet in the parking lot at Tree of Life, on Wilkins Avenue off of Shady, and walk to the Chatham College pond. Bring breadcrumbs and a kippah if you would like.
The weekend of October 4-6 brings us our long-delayed fall retreat. We will meet again about 90 minutes south of Pittsburgh. Last year’s retreat had to be cancelled due to the events of 9/11, and we are all very ready to spend a weekend together praying, studying and enjoying the fall countryside. The theme of this year’s retreat is “Community Starts At Home: Ourselves and Our Mothers, Daughters, Sisters…” Cost for the retreat is $30 for members, $36 for non-members. Directions and details will be mailed to you when we receive your reservation, which you can send by email or online. You can find a reservation form at the end of this newsletter.
And on Tuesday, November 5 at 7:30 PM we have our annual Jewish Women’s Writings in celebration of Rosh Chodesh Kislev and National Jewish Book Month. It’s never too soon to start thinking about a good piece to bring to read! You may choose a piece you’ve written or one by a favorite Jewish woman author. The location of the readings will be announced at a later date. As we have done in the past, we offer the option of meeting for dinner at 6 PM. Again, location will be announced closer to the date.
Although this is not a JWC event, we wanted to bring it to your attention because it relates to a program we did last year. The Rauh Jewish Archives of the Heinz History Center and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Pittsburgh will present “Jewish Genealogy: A Path to Our Identity” on October 27, 2002, from 2 pm to 4 pm, at the History Center in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Sallyann Amdur Sack, Ph.D., will be the speaker. Dr. Sack is the editor of Avotaynu, the International Review of Jewish Genealogy. Following her talk, representatives of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Pittsburgh, Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania Archives, Rauh Jewish Archives, Rodef Shalom Archives, and the Allegheny County Register of Wills will be available to answer questions about personal family research. Refreshments will be served. The program is free to members of the Heinz Center. Non-members may purchase an admission ticket at the door. For reservations call 412-454-6372.
Special Book Group News:
Thanks to Marilyn Asimow and Lynne Feinberg, the book group will meet this fall! The first meeting will be on Monday, October 21 at Marilyn’s home. Lynne and Marilyn have chosen Weave of Women by E. M. Broner as the first book in this fall’s series. If you would like to attend the book group, please call Marilyn to make a reservation and get directions. For those of you who like to read ahead, the second book the group will discuss is The Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska. It will be available at the Squirrel Hill Barnes & Noble. We’ll let you know when you can pick it up. We hope to see you there!
All of these events are open to Jewish women bat mitzvah age and above. Feel free to bring friends! For more information, please email us or call (412) 422-8044.
In the fall we’re always energized to rediscover and explore our Judaism. Here are a couple of books that will help you do that, from two different perspectives. The first is called Her Works Praise Her: A History of Jewish Women in America from Continental Times to the Present. It’s by Hasia R. Diner and Beryl Lieff Benderly, and it’s a social history of the ways America has affected Jewish women-and the ways we’ve affected it. Included in the book are familiar figures like Bella Abzug and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as lots of women with whom we are not familiar. This is an important milestone in our quest to recapture our history.
The second book we would like to recommend is What It Means to Be Jewish: The Voices of Our Heritage, compiled and annotated by Ina Abrams. This book contains quotations from many prominent people on various topics relating to Jewishness and Judaism. Abrams has added her comments on the topic areas. Jewish identity is an ever-changing process and always requires conscious effort on our part. The material in this book helps trigger our thoughts and bring issues of Jewishness to the front of our minds. What could be better for the Days of Awe?
Now, here are a couple of web site recommendations. Ma’yan has an absolutely great new site called Ritualwell.org. It is an ongoing project, which compiles new Jewish rituals in an on-line database. Some of the material on the site is from Ma’yan and some is from other sources. You can search by occasion, author, content or symbol (such as matzah or lulav). We are very proud to report that many JWC-designed rituals can be found on this site. Ritualwell.org is a huge step in the dissemination of Jewish feminism around the world, and we are thrilled to be a part of it and to recommend it to you! Its URL is www.ritualwell.org
The second site we would like to recommend is www.jwn.org.uk. This is the site for the Jewish Women’s Network. The JWN encourages Jewish women across the religious spectrum to talk together and work together to improve the status of women in Jewish life. It emphasizes the importance of dialogue, learning and action. The site has some interesting articles in its archive and the programming it lists is very exciting. If you’re wondering what Jewish feminism looks like in other countries, check this site out.
If you have recommendations for this column, please send them along. We’ll be glad to share them with the JWC membership.
If you have news about yourself or a family member that you would like to share with the JWC, email it to me anytime, and it will appear in the upcoming newsletter.
The traditional name for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the days between them is Yamim Nora’im-the Days of Awe. This term is, I think, much more descriptive of the spirit of that time than the contemporary “high holidays”, which has a more secularized feel to it. During Yamim Nora’im we as a people come as close to God as we ever can. We are poignantly aware of the miracle of life. Our innermost selves are laid bare as we strip away our normal defenses and excuses. Time seems to stand still as we engage in the especially intensive teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah that are required of us at this season. Teshuvah, repentance, takes us to the past, to our failures, shortcomings and losses. Tefillah, prayer, finds us in the present, examining ourselves with relentless honesty. Tzedakah, acts of giving, express our commitment to the future. We must balance these three if we are to succeed in our awesome spiritual work. Rabbi Neil Gillman describes this balancing as a threshold experience, a moment “when two different orders or structures interface and blur. To stand on a threshold is to be in between, neither here nor there, and invariably to feel a certain tension.”
This year that tension is exacerbated by the impending anniversary of the September 11 attacks. We have already begun to suffer an onslaught of news stories about plans for commemorating a day none of us has forgotten. For Jews, this day of remembrance could be especially difficult, coming as it does at a time our emotional defenses are down. How can we give the past its due and yet keep the balance this season requires of us?
Rabbi Gillman reminds us that “one of the traditional blessings we offer each other on [Rosh Hashanah] is, ‘May the year and its curses end, may the year and its blessings begin.’ This blessing captures well the threshold nature of the day.” That blessing can be said with equal validity throughout Yamim Nora’im, for we do not truly feel that the old has ended and the new has begun until the final shofar blasts at the close of Yom Kippur. Perhaps it is fitting that this sad anniversary falls during a time out of time. Could it be that it will be a bit easier for Jews to cope with memories of 9/11 because we are already awash in memories, prayers and hopes? During the Days of Awe we experience the past, present and future simultaneously in a way that is unlike any other time of the year. It is our peak threshold moment as a people. And when the sun sets at the end of Ne’ilah we are at once drained and refreshed as we let go of our old selves and prepare to welcome the selves we will become during new year. We know that the past never entirely leaves us-nor would we want it to-but we can put it in its proper perspective and devote our energy to the days ahead.
I don’t know how these Days of Awe will feel, weighted as they will inevitably be with reminders of our national sorrow. But I do know that I am ready to leave 5762 and its curses behind. And I think that our Yamim Nora’im rituals will help me cross the threshold into a new year and look forward to the blessings that wait for us there.
Ready or not, it’s holiday time again, so we cook with special kavannah (intentionality), trying to incorporate foods with symbolic content into our menus. The first recipe is a great way to use up all those luscious summer tomatoes you have on your vines-one advantage of early holidays! Stuffed foods are traditional at Yom Tov time because they symbolize our hopes for a new year filled with prosperity, blessings and well-being. And at Sukkot, stuffed dishes represent our hopes for a bountiful harvest. As for the second recipe-well, even the worst of us can only use up so much bread at Tashlich. And besides, honey cake isn’t the only way to symbolize our hopes for a sweet year!
L ‘shana tova tikateivu!
May you and those you love be inscribed for a good year!
½ cup raisins, soaked in warm water 10 minutes and drained
12 medium-large ripe tomatoes salt
lemon juice 2 tblsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, diced ½ cup pine nuts
2 tblsp. parsley ¼ tsp. allspice
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper ¼ tsp. paprika
1/8–1/4 tsp. cinnamon ¼ cup tomato juice
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional) 1-2 tblsp. olive oil
2 tblsp. fresh lemon juice ¼ cup white wine OR water
1 cup cooked rice (Arborio-type rice recommended)
Slice off the tomato tops and reserve for use as a lid. Scoop out the pulp and seeds. Lightly sprinkle the insides with lemon juice and salt. Invert the tomatoes on a baking rack set over paper towels.
Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the onions and sauté over moderately low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent and golden. Add raisins, pine nuts, allspice, pepper, paprika, cinnamon and cayenne pepper (optional). Cook, stirring frequently 2 minutes. Add parsley and lemon juice. Continue cooking long enough to heat through.
Preheat oven to 375°.
Add rice to onion mixture and combine well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fill the tomato cavities, taking care not to press the rice mixture in too firmly. Place the stuffed tomatoes in a baking dish sized to fit the tomatoes snugly and upright.
Combine tomato juice, wine, and olive oil in a small saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, covered. Pour the liquid around the tomatoes, drizzling some over the tops of the tomatoes. Cover with the reserved tomato tops. Bake until tomatoes are tender but still firm, 25 to 30 minutes.
May be prepared in advance. To serve, allow tomatoes to come to room temperature. Serves 12 as a side dish or 6 as a main dish.
CHOCOLATE CHALLAH BREAD PUDDING
1 pound challah, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
3 cups milk 2 cups heavy cream
6 large eggs 2 yolks
1/2 cup sugar 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Spread challah cubes on cookie sheet and let dry in warm oven (250°) about 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°.
In a small saucepan combine the chocolate, milk and cream over medium heat, whisking until mixture is smooth.
In a large bowl whisk the eggs and yolks with the sugar and add the hot mixture in a steady stream. Whisk in the vanilla. Stir in the challah.
Transfer the mixture to a buttered 3-quart shallow baking dish. Let stand 10 minutes for challah to absorb the custard mixture.
Bake about 30 to 35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm. Serves 8.
Jewish Bulletin of Northern California 1999
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