Women in Jewish History

I hope I have done my part to introduce you to Multicultural Kids Blogs.

This group of mother-bloggers does so much more than introduce play-dough recipes or headbands or exciting new ways to discipline; the focus is multicultural, but it is absolutely that! We are blogging from different countries, varied cultures, holding different religions, speaking different languages, but all holding the belief that children are uniquely wonderful and the world can be good and not terrifying. This is a group of women raising up leaders. I mean it. ūüôā

So. In honor of Women’s History Month, dun duh duh duhhhhn!

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My last post was about the power and need for diverse dancers. I learned so much in the process.

For this post, I wanted to celebrate Jewish women in history. I had much to learn. I found someone.

Just one person. Here she is.

But first, a letter to my daughter on the subject:

Dearest Daughter,

You are not alone, ever, and you are not alone as a Jewish girl. You come from a long line of women with talent, with purpose, with healing in their hands.

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From Sarah, mother of faith, to Rebecca, Leah, and on and on and on, until you. Along the way, there was unfairness, the hazards of earth, of dwelling in lands where women have had to fight. Or be silent. You come from a lineage of leaders and teachers, scholars, doctors, tearing down walls, raising money for the poor, for the weak. The women who led the suffrage movement, in Europe, in America, in South Africa, those fighting for the oppressed, the women tending almonds, defying fathers, mending conscience and making a way for civil rights, working to ensure safety for all workers. The women who composed and read original poems, somehow everyday of their trapped lives in disgusting, degrading concentration camps. They have sat on the Supreme Court, have had the ear of kings, have fought for children and their children and their children and not just for us. For every woman’s children. For the right to exist.

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My daughter, “brave” ought not be the exception when we have so many powerful examples of skill, of intellect, of decision. Starting with you, with me, your grandmothers, great grandmothers. But really—where do we start in delivering a history lesson on the feminism of ¬†such¬†giants, those who started movements and rose up, solid.

I want to be great, strong, and giving in this¬†life. I can’t wait to study these women with you, dear. Let’s see who inspires us; let’s see what we learn about history, the need for justice, kindness, and a woman’s strength.

Let’s take a little walk and simply start, sweetie.

Ms.¬†Gertrude Weil, who lived from 1879-1971. Let’s look at her. She was born and died in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

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From what I read, she didn’t have such fancy digs, didn’t rule a country, or meet with many dignitaries. She was first-generation, German-Jew. The Jewish Virtual Library only supplies one paragraph about her. Upon further inspection, you see that:

She was instrumental towards the equality for voting, founding North Carolina Equal Suffrage Association. Really, it seems that she toiled and spent all of her energy on that.

Chapter One describes her background and formative 
years as a young girl growing up in the thriving Southern 
town of Goldsboro. This chapter emphasizes her unique 
background as a first generation German Jew educated in a 
new school system based on the German method of education. 
Unlike many young Southern schoolgirls, Gertrude was 
expected to continue her education: attending Horace Mann 
School at Columbia Teachers College in New York and later 
Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The Horace Mann 
years are also included in Chapter One. *

* from The Emerging Political Consciousness of Gertrude Weil: Education and Women’s Clubs, Wilkerson-Freeman

Ms. Weil left North Carolina first for Horace Mann, as written above, and then later, to Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts (my birthplace, incidentally), where she was the first North Carolinian to enroll. Fine, still not so amazing or deserving of deep, solemn “wows”; after university, she¬†returned to her family and hometown in Goldsboro. She did not accept status-quo, did not meet the minimum requirements, but exceeded every expectation.

Gertrude Weil asserted herself, kept growing as leader, and raised money for numerous organizations. This is fairly basic, but then, you remember this was the deep south. It was often assumed that women did not need a formal education. Women could simply be lovely and comfortable, provided they were white, Anglo-Protestant, perhaps.

She, on the other hand, was decidedly Jewish, an impassioned zionist, a woman who served the aged, the voiceless. She served and served and served, in this hometown where an angry mob lynched¬†Leo Frank, the only Jewish person to by lynched in America. This was a deeply contemptuous, heated case which brought up much distrust of Jews and anti-semitism, bringing the Ku Klux Klan into town to march. Many say this was the action that gave way to increased anti-semitism. And yet, Gertrude did not shy away; she didn’t lose her voice or her nerve to stand up straight.

She pushed the envelope, pushed the agenda called “equality and fair treatment, justice for all”.

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Our Gertrude¬†(can we call her Gertie?) is seen on far left. She founded the League of Women Voters, working to topple sexism and provide women with equal, deserved voice. Name a societal ill or negative regional issue–Gertrude toiled fastidiously, working towards labor reforms. This is a woman who did not merely complain or simply raise money at a cake walk; her beliefs mirrored Judaism’s take on justice and the responsibility and joy of every person: to extend aid to those in need, to recognize basic rights for everyone, to not tire of doing good, or blessings called mitzvot.

Ms. Weil did not stop at suffrage or battling in a fight for improved working conditions for laborers, she also sought equality and dignity for African Americans, bringing together a¬†an integrated, bi-racial group inside her home. The world, rather, the south, wasn’t not ready for integration at that point. They probably weren’t ready for a strong women, let alone a strong Jewish woman. And yet…within those confines, she built swimming pools, places for these disenfranchised blacks to have physical community rather than miss out altogether, thanks to hate. She of course wanted more than that.

She worked in the place she knew, using her love and knowledge to spread equal-sized rainbows of joy, to spread dignity and the right to improved social responsibility. Gertrude didn’t simply stay in the north, enjoying Radio City Hall,¬†letting North Carolina “do its own thing”. Gertrude worked right down to her roots, to improve the town,¬†city, and state.

“She is a key transitional figure who successfully crossed from the Victorian era to the twentieth century and emerged as one of the generation of “New Women”: educated, independent and willing to take a public political stand.” (Wilkerson-Freeman).

And that is important, right? Not simply being a fixture of society’s eyelash-batting expectations, but being beauty that is tough. Deciding to have some moxie, some verve,¬†to advance something greater than our own position or self.

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There¬†is yet another facet of her influence–alongside her mother, Gertrude Weil helped rescue children who would otherwise experience persecution in Europe, prompted, perhaps by the plight of her very own relatives.

This is what I call “legacy”.

This is who I want to be: a woman who never shies from doing good, a woman who uses every molecule of her being to set the wrong things in society, right.

Thank you to Gertrude, for showing us a woman who uses her intellect, love, and compassion, to fight.

Thank you for encouraging us to cultivate a joy in hearing our own voice and ability to change laws of state.

Melissa

A Brief Interlude

A passing out of programs

the rapping of the baton,

orchestra’s warming up;

lights will be dimming soon.

Curtain opens up

velvet, soft, grand.

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My girl will be taking part in shichi-go-san,¬†šłÉšļĒšłČ.

But you know, she is quite different in this town.

A stroll through the gardens,

not the same clap at the temple.

 

Her prayer comes down first from another mountain

and bathes in streams of another East

even as it mixes, develops

on the slopes of Tama River.

 

The intones of an Aaronic benediction,

the chorus of Totoro, and a complete feast

with red beans and white tabi socks with the neat toe split.

 

Do you hear that song?

Sono uta wa nani desu ka?

The rise and fall of the amida,

the Jewish call to worship,

the Sh’ma.

 

And over her lifetime,

or through the span of one year,

Sakura, traditional melodies danced with fans,

skipped in summer sandals,

praised in yukata,

digging up dirt with kabuto-mushi.

Frogs and a single reed, the whoooosh of wind through leaves,

lai lai lais ending as the sun slips down.

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Hers is the crescendo of crickets, violins, a trumpet.

The buzz of cicada, and the whirr of a jet plane

over the Pacific,

the pianissimo

in the covering of eyes.

What are two songs or some sounds that meld together in your life, from your languages & cultures? What songs are your kiddos/future kiddos inheriting?