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Pesach, unpaid care work, and women’s silence

Growing up, Seder night always felt off to me. My mom would work incredibly hard to clean and cook for the holiday — too much to do and too little time to do it in. Of course, she was stressed out and extremely tired. As the eldest daughter in our immigrant household, I shared the work with my mom as much as I could. After days of intense preparation, finally, we would start our Seder — and it would be my dad leading it. Don’t get me wrong; my dad does a great job leading, and there isn’t anything wrong with him doing it. I remember my confusion about my mom’s silence throughout the night. While he leads us, she barely got a word in. She would sit, listen, and bring more food. In my mind, the Seder was hers. She made it; without her, there would be no Seder. No reading the Haggadah, no telling the stories of our ancestors, no singing at the table, no delicious Pesach food (as much as possible, we are Ashkenazi, after all). The picture of our annual Seder night never made sense to me.

Silence is a common denominator in women’s lives. We all know it too well. We inherit it from our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. Suffering has always been carried out in silence: the pain of not being seen, of being a background character in our family’s lives while our mothers gave us their everything, of contributing to everyone’s successes often without having any of our own to claim, of being strong for everybody around us, knowing too well that if we won’t, everything will fall apart, of suffering from abuse, violence, neglect, and silencing. While everyone looks the other way, ignoring the reality of many, many women because it is uncomfortable. Because it’s easier to blame the women themselves; that way, we don’t necessarily have to deal with it.

I dream of a generation of women who stop being silent, who say what is on their minds, express their sadness, anger, and frustration, who don’t shrink themselves for others but take up space unapologetically, who know what they deserve and stand their ground, no matter who tries to enforce roles on them which they don’t want, who demand their justice, who refuse to give up their credit for their work. One day, we will finally start inheriting and passing down strength and truth, replacing the silence and shadows with a loud, shining light.

“Rav Avira taught: In the merit of the righteous women that were in that generation, the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt.” (Sotah 11b). Thanks to them we are now free, and we thank them for it and acknowledge them. Without their labor, we would have never left slavery.

About the Author
Born in Haifa, Israel. Currently lives and studies political science in Germany. Founder of Kol Achotenu. Advocate for women's rights and against gender-based violence.
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