A Circle of Women
Pam is a Wexner Heritage Toronto alumna. She is a lawyer and artist, who now edits ”think: The Lola Stein Institute Journal” (http://www.lolastein.ca/050~Think_Magazine/). She can be reached at email@example.com.
Girls are female beings, b’tzelem elokim. They are not adaptations of men. Thinking about bat mitzvah rituals, I was uncomfortable guiding my daughters towards any reworking of the male model. My sons had had b’nei mitzvah, and it felt disrespectful to them and to my daughters to create a sameness as the girls came of age. Differentiation felt closer to the truth.
I asked myself, “Do Bat Mitzvah rituals communicate that we are happy to fit women into shoes made for men? Are we aligning girls’ experience to the male standard? Is this good? Does “liberal” enthusiasm for gender neutral roles blur distinctions between Jewish men and women that are unsung yet perhaps meaningful? Do “centre-right” rituals for girls derive from the male requirement to be overt in the matter and obstruct a purely female sense of self? Can we find a female archetype?”
God said, “Listen to her voice” (Genesis 21:12) and I decided a female narrative would best welcome my youngest daughter to adulthood. Voices she loved and respected would call her to the circle of Jewish women, where she would be greeted by the stories, values, and virtues of the women in our life.
Our source of peace and renewal is the Sabbath and we welcome each as a bride on her special day. I would welcome Eva to womanhood in conversation over a beautiful dinner. I wanted Eva to sense her uniqueness and feel herself valued and valuable. I wanted her to appreciate togetherness, and to notice how personal actions repair the world bit by bit. So I dreamed up, “A Circle of Women.”
The invitation read:
“You are invited to a Circle of Women, a gathering of special friends and relatives around my table, to welcome Eva to Jewish womanhood. Together we will celebrate Eva’s milestone, and share with her our own experiences of the specialness of being a Jewish woman.
Eva doesn’t have to DO anything to enter the circle of Jewish women. She joins because she is Eva Rose. We welcome her to womanhood, just being herself.
Equally, all you have to do is be yourself. This is the whole point. If you would like to bring a poem, a reading, a recipe, anecdote, or joke that offers insight or history to Eva, please do. A song or a dance is also good. It’s you I am inviting, not what you tote along.”
I invited the number of women that fit comfortably around our large round table and only those currently engaged in a real friendship or family relationship with Eva. The plan was not that Eva would learn things about these women, but that she would feel women she knew well bringing her personally into their circle.
A sisterhood feeling blossomed and I was surprised by my guests’ passion to share their feelings on being a Jewish woman. It seemed they were answering a long awaited question, sharing a feeling, known but never expressed. The evening became a gift to all.
We began with legacy. Eva heard her Bubbie describe the strengths of her very own matriarchs. A cousin reveled in motherhood, despite the effort needed for Jewish family life. I watched Eva absorbing the personal challenges faced by women of her Circle, tests of distance, commitment, life and death. That night, the stories were told just for her and they became hers.
The circle shared values. A daughter to a child of the Shoah, honored children who never had the chance to grow up. She prayed for peace and explained her sense of responsibility for humanitarian vigilance. An aunt urged Eva to protect her soul, and to know she would be the same Eva at 13, at 33, and 93. A friend described discovering girl power on a ‘girls only’ canoe trip and outpoured memories of fun and hopes for adventure.
Relationships came up. Eva’s older sister declared they were partners and best friends for life, even if their worlds seem very different right now. One message advised Eva to see friendship as a source of strength and love; that true friends walk the path of life together. Someone modernized Ayshet Chayil and someone read Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” and we sang. We listened to a song Yudit Ravitz wrote with her brother and drew little abstract pictures that reminded us of Eva Rose, and that she could put in her scrapbook of the evening.
I knew the messaging had worked when after all the women had spoken, Eva leaned into me saying, “I think I should say something back to them.” And she did.
The event exceeded my imaginings. We had welcomed Eva to womanhood, sharing what we treasure as individuals who stand in community. Our openness demonstrated she was one of us. A whole new celebration crystallized from nowhere. If we look to what our pages of ancient text do not say, in those spaces we see the Jewish woman.