If I were to ask you to give me a quick summary of the Passover story, you’d probably say something along the lines of, “It’s the holiday commemorating Moses leading the Israelites out of Egyptian enslavement and into the freedom of the Promised Land.”
If I asked you to briefly sum up the story of “Star Wars,” you’d probably say something like, “It’s the epic story of Luke Skywalker saving the galaxy from the dark side.”
In the Star Wars prequel, “Rogue One” (bear with me), before Luke Skywalker saves the galaxy from Darth Vader’s sinister Death Star, we learn that Luke’s sister, Princess Leia, and another brave woman named Jyn Erso, were the ones who found and delivered a plan to destroy the Death Star, thus paving the way for Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion to ultimately destroy it. Without the bravery and intelligence of Jyn and Princess Leia, the entire galaxy would have been destroyed.
In the 1980s, I would go to the toy stores and see Hans Solo and Luke SkyWalker action figures. Today, those same toy stores feature Princess Leia and Jyn Erso. Thankfully, children are now growing up in a society that increasingly values sharing stories of those who have long been marginalized and ignored. When little girls grow up in a world where heroic women’s stories are shared, little girls learn that they too can be heroes. Perhaps equally important — when little boys see those heroic female action figures in the store, they too learn that women can be, and are indeed, heroes. The funny thing is, women have always been heroes, we just don’t know their stories. Because no one shared them.
We all know how the stories of Passover and Star Wars end: The good guys win and freedom prevails! However, when it comes to the story of women’s journey to freedom and equality, we do not yet know how this story resolves because we are still in production. The script is currently being written and we are the characters. And though we do not yet have the final episode, we already do have a prequel that provides the backstory to how the Exodus came to be.
Enter, the Women’s Seder.
A Women’s Seder is a gathering of women of all ages who come together and by following a typical seder format, tell the story of Jewish women’s journey. We begin that journey by expanding the Passover narrative to include the story of the heroic women in our history whose brave actions made the Exodus possible. Somehow, we seem to have universally ignored sharing the stories of women’s roles while sitting at the Passover table with family. By doing so, we have done a great disservice to the world. Hiding stories of strong women, implies there never were any.
In fact, the only childhood memory I have of recognizing any woman’s involvement in the Passover story was vaguely remembering hearing a couple of funny sounding names, ‘Shifra and Puah.” And when I asked about them, no one seemed to know who they were.
It has long been said that the reason women aren’t mentioned in our ancient texts is because women didn’t play a big role in public life. I hear that statement and instantly think of how women have been portrayed in media since the beginning — tremendously skewed, inaccurate, unrealistic and limited. Since the authors of all ancient texts were men, all the stories we have are stories told through the lens of a man’s perspective. Missing, is the female voice.
Thankfully, because of my participation in leading Women’s Seders, I now know very clearly that Shifra and Puah are much more than funny names. They are the heroic women who defied the Egyptian Pharaoh’s order to have all Jewish baby boys killed. And it turns out there were a few more important female characters whose roles were revealed, but greatly understated. It was Moses’ MOTHER Jocheved who saved Moses’ life by placing him in a basket and sending him down the Nile, only to be rescued by Pharaoh’s DAUGHTER, who drew Moses from the Nile. Then there’s Moses’ SISTER Miriam who brought Pharaoh’s daughter to meet Moses’ mother, which led to Moses discovering his true identity. The rest is HIStory and yet all of these heroic women’s’ actions ultimately led to the Exodus. This doesn’t sound to me like a story of women not playing an important role in public life. Let’s be clear, without the quick thinking, intelligence and sheer bravery of these women, there would be no Passover and we may all very well still be in the mud pits of Egypt.
I am often asked, “What’s the point of a women’s seder?” (It is a question usually asked by people who have never been to one.) I found it to be a fascinating question that has led me to find an even more fascinating answer. This year, I asked many women in attendance at the seders, “What is it about this experience that you hold so dear and what does it offer you?”
Every single response included the following statements:
“I really feel like I can let my guard down here and be myself.”
“ I feel so safe here.“
“ It feels so empowering.”
“ I don’t feel I am in the shadow of men”
These answers left me with the heartbreakingly sobering reminder that outside the walls of this women-only space, women do not feel safe, free or empowered on a daily basis.
A women’s seder offers a sacred space for women to come together united by a sisterly bond that we share.
We may not feel free,
But we’re all in this together
and one day because of our efforts,
we are going to be free.
The women’s seder is our platform for sharing, learning from and honoring the story of our collective experience as Jewish women. By drawing inspiration from our foremothers’ courageousness, we highlight how and where we need to be the brave ones to combat the struggles and injustices we face in our daily lives. We name the inspiring women in our lives, and we turn inwards to find and understand the blocks within us that prevent us from reaching that other side of the sea.
We also recognize that while we may not have reached the Promised Land, we certainly have come a long way and so we celebrate our progress with ritual, song, and dance! Imagine hundreds of women of all ages, ‘dancing with their timbrels,’ with ear to ear smiles on their face, tears in their eyes and filled with the greatest joy imaginable.
When I see this chain of women of all ages and backgrounds coming together, time slows down for me. I see our history unfolding in front of my eyes and I am filled with a sense of pride, joy, and inspiration. The overwhelming sensation in the room feels like holiness because we are experiencing wholeness. By attending these seders, women are able to dive into the season of liberation and experience a taste of what freedom could look like. In the end, we all leave inspired and empowered with “A New Hope” (Star Wars fans understand…I couldn’t help myself).
We may not have filmed the final episode of our journey, but I hear there is an open casting call. In this next episode, we are the creators of our own story. Apparently, there’s a rumor circulating about a pretty epic scene where all the women finally overcome the terrible injustices and oppression they’ve faced for thousands of years and march across a sea that splits, giving way for them to pass into the promised land of equality and freedom. I hear the President is a woman…
To learn more about the history of Women’s Seders, please visit www.mayan.org .
To learn more about Singer/Songwriter and Producer, Michelle Citrin please visit: www.michellecitrin.com