by Rabbi Jim Prosnit, May 2018/Iyyar-Sivan 5778
The Biblical text is not known for its focus on women. Most of the narratives and legal traditions reflect the patriarchy of the times. How significant then that the Exodus story , the core narrative we read each Passover, mentions five women as being central to the survival of the Israelite people.
We meet Shifra and Puah, the midwives who in perhaps the first recorded instance of civil disobedience, defy the order of Pharoah and refuse to cast the Israelite baby boys into the Nile. We see the maternal instincts of Jocheved, Moses’ mother as she fashions a vessel in which to save her child and we follow Miriam, Moses’ sister as she watches the basket flow down river. When retrieved by Pharaoh’s daughter, it is Miriam who boldly recommends Jocheved as the perfect nursemaid. Even the daughter of the Pharaoh, is moved by empathy and humanity. Recognizing that the crying boy discovered in the reeds is a Hebrew child, she too defies her father the King and rescues the boy.
Our Women’s Torah Commentary reminds us that, “The liberation of the people Israel from slavery in Egypt begins with the saving acts of women.”
I dare say the four women that we will honor at the end of this month would blanche at the thought of my comparing them to the heroines of the Torah. So I won’t! But, I will suggest that since the very beginnings of us as a People, it has been the actions of women, frequently overlooked and neglected, that have sustained Jewish community after Jewish community.
As B’nai Israel enters its 160th year how appropriate and important for us to honor four women who represent the spirituality, the learning and the caring nature of what we have long strived to be. In voice and deed Barbara Abraham, Janet Jurow, Liz Nigrosh and Naomi Schaeffer represent the very best of B’nai Israel’s commitment to congregation and community.
They are our honorees, not because of their formal leadership (although at one time or another each has done her share on the Board or on a congregational committee) but because they regularly involved themselves in the well being of the synagogue. They lead through example. They pray. They study. They serve. And they welcome people in to our midst and care deeply about other the members of the congregation. To be certain there are any number of B’nai Israelites who do similarly – but how wonderful to single out four most deserving women who are the epitome of the heart and soul of sacred community.
I hope you’ll join us on May 31 when we celebrate and honor these four heroines who continue the ancient teachings and who prove that the key to our story is the human devotion and commitment that certain individuals make to the whole.
And Not Yet a Heroine – but a Blessing
Let me extend a special word of thanks to our Student Intern, Stephanie Crawley. On May 6th she will formally become Rabbi Crawley at the HUC –JIR ordination ceremonies at Temple Emanu –El in New York City. For over two years she has inspired us with her creativity and insights, enriched our services with her musical talents and showed us that the Jewish People are in very good hands with young leaders like she. While we will certainly miss her around here, how wonderful to know that Stephanie will soon become Assistant Rabbi at Temple Micah in Washington D. C. I know she will be make a wonderful mark there and go on to touch many lives in a rabbinate of sacred service and blessing.