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The Power of a Jewish Woman
By Gloria Shukert Jones
From the beginning of creation to modern times, Jewish women, whether by unusual talent, intuitiveness, or just plain chutzpah, have altered the course of history. She may be the CEO of a large corporation, or the executive head of the kitchen; she can be a barrister or your bubbe, but regardless of who she is, a Jewish woman makes her presence felt.
While the Jewish man of the house is often the primary breadwinner, and lends his name and nobility to the family, the wife and mother, with her self-sacrificing, caring, persevering manner possesses the cohesiveness that keeps the household together.
Let's go back to Eve, the premier matriarch. All was not well in the Garden of Eden, when she demonstrated her gullibility and disobedience. So influenced by the serpent was she, that Eve not only failed to resist temptation, but also led Adam astray. So what was Eve's gift to women other than labor pains? Granted, she may not have been the best role model by today's standards, but she did show us the consequences of poor choices, and why most of us are squeamish about snakes.
While Methuselah's unusual longevity may have impressed his peers, Sarah, the wife of Abraham, did one better. At the ripe old age of 90, she gave birth to a son, Isaac. The Torah did not mention whether or not Sarah suffered from any post-partum depression, but it is said she was amused at the thought of pregnancy at her advanced age. Both Sarah and Abraham knew that with G-d, all things are possible! (Oye -- but it should never happen in our day!)
When Isaac reached adulthood, his father, wanted him to marry a good wife, who was not a Canaanite. Abraham was getting up in years, and Sarah had recently passed away. Isaac declared that his future wife must not only offer a cool drink to a man in the desert, but must also give water to his camels. So Abraham sent his servant into the desert to find such a wife for Isaac. Meanwhile, When the servant thirsted on his journey, and saw the beautiful, young Rebecca coming toward him, carrying a jar of water on her shoulder, he asked for a drink, which she eagerly granted him. Not only that, but she watered the camels also. He was so impressed with her, he felt she would make the perfect wife for his master's son.
The servant made the proposal to her family, and Rebecca agreed to accompany him, along with her maidservant, ten camels and the rest of the entourage. When they arrived at their destination, Isaac learned his future bride fulfilled his requirements, and they were married in Sarah's tent, and lived happily together for many years. Rebecca and Isaac had twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Rebecca may have taught us that kindness to animals is one criterion for a happy marriage.
When Jacob reached manhood, he was introduced to sisters, Rachel and Leah, by their father, Laban, for whom he was working. Rachel was prettier than her older sibling, and Jacob wanted to marry her. However, as one of the conditions necessary to procure the hand of Rachel, Jacob must work for her father another seven years. And not only that, but Jacob first had to marry Leah and then wait at least a week, because the law of the land dictated the older sibling must marry first. Jacob ended up marrying both daughters. Leah stood stoically by, while sharing her husband with Rachel. God rewarded Leah by giving her many sons, while Rachel remained barren for a long time. In desperation, Rachel donated her maidservant to Jacob, to bear a son for the couple. The maidservant, in fact, gave Jacob two sons.
Not to be outdone by the wiles of her younger sister, Leah gave Jacob her maidservant, to perform the same duties. (Evidently in those days, this type of surrogacy was permissible). Ultimately, Jacob ended up with two wives, two maidservants, a dozen sons and one daughter. The sisters demonstrated patience and tolerance to a degree, but were also guilty of "one-upmanship".
Esther, who was also called, Hadassah, the young Jewish queen of King Ahasuerus, was perhaps the ultimate heroine in her time. When Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, the hateful renegade decided to take out his fury on all the Jews and annihilate them. He almost had the king convinced to issue this proclamation, until Esther, who confessed her Judaism to her husband, reminded him that she would also be on the execution list. The king, so enamored of his lovely wife, became enraged, and had Haman put to death on the same gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Good thinking, Esther! We owe you a big debt of gratitude. You were a small, but powerful woman to stand up against such an arch enemy.
Ruth and Naomi forged an indestructible bond between them, and gave rise to the fact that in order to have a happy life, you gotta get along with your mother-in-law.
Now let's fast-forward to the early 20th century, and pay homage to the pioneer, Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah, Youth Aliyah, nursing schools and hospitals in Jerusalem. Hadassah is now renown as a world-wide Zionist organization for women. In addition to its many other humanitarian projects, the current focus is on support and promotion of stem-cell research, a major weapon in the fight against genetic disorders and fatal diseases.
A little known fact in the life of Szold, is that she once had an admirer with whom she fell in love. The feelings were mutual. But her goal in life was the obligation she felt to improve medical conditions in Israel. That had to come first. Eventually, the young man got tired of waiting, and ended up with someone else. Though self-sacrificing, Ms. Szold was saddened by her lost opportunity for personal happiness.
Lillian Wald, founder of the Visiting Nurse Association, also developed the Youth Aliyah movement for refugee children from German-controlled countries. She and her contingent of nurses and trainees, on their visits to patients, stepped from rooftop to rooftop in order to avoid all the tenement steps in the poorer neighborhoods.
That Jewish women have left their mark, can be taken literally as well as figuratively. A Jewish poet and spokeswoman by the name of Emma Lazurus wrote a poem entitled, "The New Colossus", which is engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty -- A message from the literary heart of a Jewish woman, written in stone.
Lauren Bacall, Barbra Streissand, Ethel Merman, and others, were just a few of the singers and actresses who entertained millions of people in the era of show business. Quality entertainment provided diversion in troubled times, and helped people gain new perspectives.
Rose Blumkin arrived in the United States, a poor immigrant who couldn't read or write, but was a whiz at numbers. At the age of thirteen, she had already developed business acumen. She rose from poverty to great wealth and became world renown as the founder of the Nebraska Furniture Mart. "Sell cheap and tell the truth", was Mrs. B's motto, which not only made her rich and famous, but set a standard for others seeking similar secrets to success.
Midrash has it, that in her youth, my late maternal grandmother, a resident of a shtetl in the Ukraine, used her wits to protect the family's most prized possessions during a pogrom. The story goes that she pretended to flirt with a Bolshevik officer, in order to divert his attention away from other family members who, meanwhile, surreptitiously managed to hide the valuables.
Politically speaking, Jewish women such as Golda Mier, former prime minister of Israel, (1969-1974) have gone down in history for their many contributions to the cause of peace, diplomacy and successful legislation.
Jewish women throughout the ages, though having taken many different paths, had one thing in common -- They helped forge the destiny of civilization, and gave new meaning to the phrase, "Never underestimate the power of a woman" -- especially a Jewish woman!
And how about those of your own personal acquaintance? Aren't they the most amazing women you've ever known? There's just something about them that makes you crave their friendship. And once a friend; always a friend.
The modern Jewish woman has been described as a "mover and a shaker". She might be a teacher, writer, editor, organizer, musician; nurse, doctor, lawyer; judge, librarian -- the list goes on. Just read articles about noteworthy Jewish women in your own and other communities, and you'll soon get the idea.
But, some of you might say, "Why all the hoopla? The only thing I've ever done is keep house and raise kids." Well, I've known some "balabustas" and cooks that could challenge Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray. And as for raising a family, I know of no job more important than nurturing and shaping young lives.
The point is, no matter how greatly or insignificantly a Jewish woman may view herself and her achievements; no matter what her age or circumstances, each and every one has inherited some traits of her trail-blazing forebears. She is definitely the hub of the family unit and the magnetic appeal to all who surround her. The hand that lights the Shabbat candles, also wields a mighty torch. G-d bless the Jewish woman; long may she reign!
from the August 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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