The term heroine comes to the forefront this time of the Jewish year. As two of the quintessential players in the Chanuka tradition (as told by Orthodox Jews for millennia,) for their essential roles in the physical and spiritual victory of the Macabees over the Hellenists and their supporters, were women.
The concept of the true meaning Jewish heroism inspired me to write this post today as I have just left the presence of a modern day Jewish Heroine. This inspirational woman truly follows in the footsteps of Yehudis and Chana. Through her own self-sacrifice, devotion to the Torah, and faith in Hashem, this heroine has served as a role model to all of us who are privileged enough to know her.
In contrast to the understanding of modern day heroes and heroines, this woman is not an athlete, she does not have a movie or modeling contract, she does not have any fancy degrees, she has not authored any books and she has never had her name in the newspaper or on television. She is not working to bring about social change by protesting the status quo or by bringing attention to “gross injustices.” She is not trying to change the face of Judaism to make it more user friendly.
To the unsuspecting eye, this woman is quite ordinary. She cooks dinner, does laundry and washes dishes. She supports her husband while he learns in Yeshiva and is working on building a traditional Jewish family with him.
I can hear the groans through cyberspace already. Another victim of Orthodox misogyny, another poor girl who has incorporated the beliefs of her Rabbinic Handlers, another poor ignoramus willing to suppress her potential to support a lazy, good for nothing Torah scholar. I have read all these comments and worse, the judgment of this lifestyle choice is so loud – you can cut them with a knife. But all you naysayers beware, because your gut reactions to this woman and her lifestyle choice could not be further from the truth. Despite her seemingly simple exterior, this woman is an inspiration to all those who are privileged to know her and her mere presence has enriched all of our lives.
The saga of this young woman’s strength began a few years back when she became engaged to a mutual acquaintance. Her engagement party seemed to be like any other, she wore a beautiful dress, the proper L’Chaims were made, and everyone was thrilled that this young couple would soon marry.
But her path to a “simple,” “ordinary” lifestyle was short-lived. Right before their wedding, the groom began to experience sharp pains. He had to be hospitalized. He was subsequently diagnosed with cancer. This young woman could have bolted and no one would have thought any worse of her. She had not known the groom that long. This innocent 20 something had her whole life ahead of her. But she decided that this young man was her true life partner and believed that her faith would carry her through.
Shortly after the wedding the groom suffered setback after setback, requiring surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He spent their honeymoon and subsequent first years of marriage in and out of the hospital, suffering and in terrible pain. This young couple suffered through things together, that no should experience in their life time.
With the over 60% divorce rate in the US, no one would have thought badly of her if her marriage became another statistic. In this modern age, we all have freedom of choice, and marriage like everything else is disposable. If the first marriage you buy is broken, just go out and buy another one.
But this couple resisted all odds. Their suffering had a paradoxical effect, it brought them closer together. They inspired each other and those around them. They always had a positive outlook and believed that things would work out for the best. They saw the hand of G-d in all their suffering and used their pain to build a stronger life together, a stronger connection to Judaism, a stronger connection to G-d. Not only did their experiences improve their lives, their pain brought out positive attributes and behaviors in the community around them. The love and support heaped upon this couple, by their family, friends and neighbors, strengthened anyone they encountered, Jews and non-Jews alike.
On this Chanukah morning, five years later, this heroine and her husband celebrated the Bris Milah of their first son. The day was filled with joy and inspiration. This heroine and her husband continued to inspire those around them. The day was filled with tears of joy, hugs and blessings for the future of this baby and his special parents. This young couple and their families, repeatedly expressed gratitude to G-d for the glorious gift of life bestowed upon their family. In their suffering they did not become bitter, they learned to appreciate every day, and they learned to be grateful for their portion in life.
This woman is a true Jewish heroine not because of what she does for a living, because of her education or because of what she wears. She is a heroine because of her inner strength and devotion to G-d, her husband, to her family and her faith.
This heroine is close to G-d, not because she wears a Tallis and Tefilin, gets and Aliyah to the Torah, or wears a Kipah and participates in an egalitarian minyan. She is close to G-d, because she believes in G-d and the Torah with all her heart and wants to transmit those beliefs, in their unadulterated form, to the next generation.
This woman is the ultimate example of K’Vod Bas Melech Penima; her true strength lies within. Her true legacy will not be determined by her external attributes, by her beauty, by her wealth, by her career – but by her success in building a home that nurtures and respects our holy traditions.
To me she is a quintessential Jewish heroine, one who truly follows in the footsteps of the countless Jewish heroines that came before her. She is a true beacon of strength, light and inspiration – someone we should all try to emulate. She has inspired hundreds and perhaps thousands of people to become closer to G-d through her silent devotion, through her unwavering belief in G-d and the Torah, through her simple acts of love, devotion and strength.