June 24, 2018

Make Your Own Haggadah With Gendered Themes

By Amy Powell

Just before Pesach in 2011, the New York Times reported some important news about gender and Passover: The fusty Maxwell House Haggadah, offered free in grocery stores with a purchase of Maxwell House coffee (this year there was one in my matzo box), adopted some gender-neutral language.

Rather than calling G-d a king, they used “monarch,” and changed the four sons to the four “children.”

Today, there are so many varied haggadot with more profound changes relating to gender than simply adopting gender-neutral language. Haggadot exist for a spectrum of observances, age groups and personal preferences, many with updated themes of freedom, plagues, renewal and more.

For those searching for readings and themes — and perhaps not ready to invest in new haggadot — there are many downloadable versions. HBI has compiled a few tools to help you design your own seder with an eye to HBI’s mission of developing fresh ideas about Jews and gender.

For example, JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, compiled numerous  Pesach Divrei Torah, described as “by women, for all,” in a 32-page free download titled Shema Bekolah, Hear Her Voice.

Another resource, is JewishBoston.com and The Wandering is Over Haggadah: A Seder For Everyone, their free and downloadable, contemporary and customizable haggadah. Here, you will find readings and options on anti-Semitism, mental health, immigration, feminism, labor rights, social justice, climate change, racial justice, inclusion, Israel, LGBTQ liberation and more. The contributors include The Jewish Climate Action Network (JCAN), JCRC, ADL, Ruderman Foundation, Jewish Family & Children’s Services, Emilia Diamant, JewishBoston.com, New England Jewish Labor Committee and others.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, known as the “Velveteen Rabbi,” created a downloadable haggadah, the Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach, out of her desire for a seder text which cherishes “the tradition and also augments that tradition with contemporary poetry, moments of mindfulness, a theology of liberation, and sensitivity to different forms of oppression.”

Jewish Family & Children’s Services released two downloadable haggadot related to healing and wholeness: the Chaverim Shel Shalom Haggadah and the Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for Jewish Healing Friendly Visitor Passover Seder.

Haggadot.com has a tool called Let’s Make Your Passover Haggadah Together, with a platform that allows you to create a custom seder, using content aggregated from more than 150 individuals, artists and 13 organizations. These can be tailored and either downloaded or printed for your seder.

I’m probably not banning Maxwell House completely. I have a soft spot for a wine stain that may have been created by people who have since passed away. It’s also useful to have multiple copies of at least one haggadah with every single verse of Dayenu! But as the four children remind us, it’s better to have a multitude of voices around the table, asking questions and heightening our awareness of what the holiday means.

Amy Powell is the assistant director of HBI.

The LGBTQ Jewish Anthology

By Violet Fearon

There is a tendency to closely associate LGBTQ identities with the modern era, as enormous strides in visibility and acceptance have been made in the past few decades. This was certainly Noam Sienna’s experience: growing up in a “very accepting Jewish community” in Toronto, he felt welcome, but also “like my identity as a queer Jew was seen as innovative or novel.”

This worldview was turned upside-down when, while an undergraduate at Brandeis, Sienna attended a talk by Peter Cole on his book, The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain (Princeton University Press, 2007). After Cole discussed the medieval homoerotic poetry of Jewish scholars like Yehuda haLevi and Shmuel haNagid, Sienna was struck by the sudden possibility that there was a vast history of LGBTQ Jewish topics that had been neglected or obscured in his own Jewish education; he wanted “to learn about Jewish history in a way that respected all the facets of my identity.”

A decade later, Sienna—now a doctoral candidate in Jewish history at the University of Minnesota—is publishing a groundbreaking work with the support of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, tentatively titled: The LGBTQ Jewish Anthology: a Reader of Primary Sources from the Talmud to Stonewall. Over his years of research, Sienna has shifted from a simple desire to share these primary historical sources with others to a hope that they will serve as “raw material for further work.”

But The LGBTQ Jewish Anthology is not meant just for academia. Sienna hopes “people will take all the stories in this book and use them to write other books and articles, incorporate them into college courses or classroom activities, design summer camp programs or synagogue lectures with them, make films and write poems and paint pictures about them.”

The entries in The LGBTQ Jewish Anthology are varied; about one third of them have never before been published in English. In totality, they form a collection of documents relating to a wide variety of same-sex relationships and homoerotic desires, transitions between and across gender identities, and ambiguity in how bodies are gendered. As an example, Sienna relates a particularly compelling entry: the story of Esther/Jacques, the first recorded Jew in Canada. Born Esther Brandeau in early 18th-century France, as a teenager they chose to live as Jacques La Fargue, a Christian boy. After traveling around Europe, Esther/Jacques reached present-day Quebec; but when their birth identity was revealed (and they refused to convert to Christianity), Esther/Jacques was deported back to France.

The story of Esther/Jacques reveals the uncertainty inherent in exploring these texts. As Sienna explains, “one way to read this source would be through a trans lens, looking at Esther/Jacques as someone who understood themselves to be a different gender than they were assigned at birth. Another way would be to imagine why else Esther/Jacques might have chosen to live as a man: to pursue marriage or partnership with a woman? To seek new professional, economic, or social opportunities? To leave a restrictive or oppressive family life? Some combination of all the above? All these readings are possible, and they can all co-exist.”

A tempting question arises: which interpretation is the truth? But Sienna steers us away from that line of thought, and towards a more complex perspective. “I’m not suggesting that I know the “true” story of Esther/Jacques’ life,” says Sienna, “but I do believe that reading their story alongside our own contemporary experiences and identities adds a richness and depth that had been previously ignored.”

In  The LGBTQ Jewish Anthology, Sienna has assembled a rich historical exploration of the intersection between Jewish and LGBTQ identities. His work documents the persecution faced by LGBTQ Jews (multiple entries concern individuals who died in concentration camps, who not only faced harsh treatment from Nazis, but were socially ostracized by other prisoners; other entries document the execution of Jews convicted of sodomy by the Inquisition, and the difficulties faced by gay and lesbian American Jews in the McCarthy Era), but also the outpouring of creativity which emerged from this pain. The many examples of poetry, drama, memoir, art, and midrash presented in the book all celebrate the richness of LGBTQ Jewish identity, and the important (and unacknowledged) role that LGBTQ lives and experiences have played throughout Jewish history around the world.

More personally, Sienna himself views his own queer identity as “inseparable” from his Jewish identity. Being queer and Jewish have both directed him in similar ways:  “towards a social orientation that pays particular attention to individuals and communities left marginalized and vulnerable; towards an appreciation of ancestry and family, both biological and chosen; and towards building a safer and more loving world for all people.”

Sienna’s anthology will be published in the fall of 2018 through Print-O-Craft Press, but pre-orders will begin within the next few months. For information, sign up at printocraftpress.com.

Learn more about the HBI Research Awards.

 

Violet Fearon, a freshman and Humanities Fellow, is the HBI student blogger.

Noam Sienna, Brandeis ’11, is a Jewish educator, artist, and doctoral candidate in Jewish history at the University of Minnesota. His anthology of LGBTQ Jewish history is slated for publication in 2018. He received a 2016 HBI Research Award in their newest category, LGBTQ Studies.

Zionism and Feminism 101: A Guide by Janet Freedman

By Amy Powell

Last year, sparked by two widely read articles in The New York Times and The Nation, a lively and contentious debate on the place of Zionism within feminism emerged with well known voices facing off on either side.

Is the controversy new? Prior to the publications of the articles that kicked off so much debate, the op-ed in The New York Times by Emily Shire, Bustle politics editor, Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists, and the rejoinder in The Nation, an interview with Palestinian-American feminist activist Linda Sarsour, Can You Be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No, the issue bubbled up often in within the history of the application of intersectionality in both the women’s movement and the academy.

In an effort to understand the context, vocabulary and history, Janet Freedman, resident scholar at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center and member of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute’s Academic Advisory Committee, published “Feminism and Zionism” a free, downloadable pamphlet published through the Academic Engagement Network’s Pamphlet Series.

The pamphlet outlines the issues and their history along with useful definitions, turning points and trends. Subheadings include The Linking of Women’s Rights and Anti-Zionism: The United Nations Women’s Conferences, Ms. Magazine Responds, The National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) and Its Jewish Caucus, Coming Home to a Changed Community, Coming Out as a Zionist, An Assault on Academic Freedom and Democracy, My Experience in 2015, A Surprise That Should Not Have Surprised Me, Suggestions for Action and Conclusion: What Has Worked for You?

Freedman also discusses basic questions like, “Should you stay or should you go?” when an organization feels anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic. She urges people to continue to march, to join, but with greater knowledge of the platforms and issues espoused by various organizations and activist responses. For example, Freedman remained a member of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) despite the adoption of a pro-BDS resolution and is now urging the association to provide a hospitable and open environment for Jewish members that goes beyond defining Judaism in the simplistic framework of one’s view of Israel and Palestine.

“When you walk away, you ensure that your views are not heard,” Freedman says, “so, it’s important to stay and try to have a meaningful conversation.”

Freedman began publishing on Zionism and feminism two years ago. Between November, 2015 and March, 2017, Freedman wrote a series of blogs on related topics for Fresh Ideas and The Sisterhood  including A Statement in Opposition to the NWSA Resolution on BDS, For the Women’s Studies Association, the BDS Vote Was Over Before It Began  and Unfinished Business: Remaining in the NWSA, Post BDS about her experiences as one of the lone voices speaking at the 2015 National Women’s Studies Association conference in opposition to a Boycott, Divestment and Sanction resolution against Israel before the membership.

The Academic Engagement Network (AEN), an organization of faculty members, administrators, and staff members from American college and university campuses across the United States committed to opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, affirming academic freedom and freedom of expression in the university community, and promoting robust discussion of Israel on campus, invited her to create the pamphlet after she wrote these blogs. Her work on the Zionism and Feminism pamphlet led to another response to Shire and Sarsour in Fresh Ideas, co-authored with colleague Ruth Nemzoff,  a resident scholar at the WSRC, entitled, Not My Feminism.

One of the most useful parts of Freedman’s pamphlet is the Suggestions for Action, ways that “faculty members can work toward fostering a more positive climate on campus and in academic associations.” The goal is to find “the words to say it and the ways to do it” including the challenge of finding words to clearly explain one’s views in an increasingly polarized political climate.

Although this work grew out of Freedman’s experience within an academic organization, she is eager to discuss and encourage discussion of the controversy of Zionism and feminism outside the academy and to learn from the experiences of others.

Says Freedman, “My greatest goal for this pamphlet is that it serves as an impetus for productive dialogue on these important topics.”

Download a free copy of Feminism and Zionism. 

Dr. Janet Freedman is a Resident Scholar at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center, a member of the Academic Advisory Committee of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and the author of Reclaiming the Feminist Vision: Consciousness Raising and Small Group Practice (McFarland, 2014). She has a grant from AEN to begin a study group on Zionism and feminism.

In Sara Levy’s Salon

By Rebecca Cypess

When, in 1798, the Jewish writer Wolf Davidson published his treatise On the Civic Improvement of the Jews, he joined an ongoing discussion among both Jewish and Christian thinkers of the Enlightenment concerning the merits of Jewish emancipation in Prussia and the participation of Jews in civic and cultural life. By way of justifying his agenda of emancipation, tolerance, and citizenship for Jewish residents of the kingdom, Davidson cited a long list of Jews, from philosophers and educators to practitioners of the mechanical arts, who were already making significant contributions to Prussian society. Among these, Davidson mentioned a handful of musical “Dilettanten”— amateurs for whom music was an essential component of the moral and cultural edifying process known as Bildung. One such dilettante who, Davidson noted, had acquired a reputation as a “prodigious keyboardist here in Berlin,” was a certain Madame Sara Levy.

Sara Levy, née Itzig (1761–1854), was a Jewish woman, salon hostess, musical collector, patron, and performing musician whose long life spanned a dramatic and tumultuous period in German history, and her distinctive persona and historical profile offer a vista onto these historical circumstances that has remained closed until now. Through both research and performance, my work attempts to open this vista, and to understand Levy as a complete and complex individual—a Jew, a musician, a woman, a modern individual.

With the help of two research awards from the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, I have recently brought one portion of my work on Levy to completion: a CD entitled In Sara Levy’s Salon, released in June 2017 on the Acis Productions label, which proudly bears the logo of the HBI. The second phase of the project is a collaboration with Nancy Sinkoff, my colleague in the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers. Nancy and I co-organized a conference entitled “Sara Levy’s World” in 2014, and we have expanded that project into a book of essays with perspectives from musicology, Jewish studies, history, philosophy, and related disciplines. This volume is due to be published in the spring of 2018 by the University of Rochester Press. At the same time, I have undertaken a single-author book entitled Resounding Enlightenment: Music as an Instrument of Tolerance in the World of Sara Levy, which is in progress. My goal is to retell the story of Levy’s world by placing her at the center of the narrative.

Born into one of the few wealthy and privileged Jewish families in eighteenth-century Berlin, Sara and her siblings received the finest educations available—appropriate, of course, to their sex—including unrivaled musical training. The only known student of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710–1784), eldest son of the famed baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), Sara was performing as a harpsichordist for family guests by the time she was a teenager, and around the time of her marriage she began hosting a salon with musical performance at its center. Like other salons, that of the Levy home brought together family and friends, artists and intellectuals, philosophers and socialites, Jews and Christians. And she went still further, appearing in public performances as a concerto soloist at the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin, a bourgeois amateur musical society with both Jewish and Christian membership, in an age when few aristocratic women would expose themselves to a public audience. By citing Levy’s musical skill as evidence of the contribution of Jews to society at large, Wolf Davidson asserted the power of music to act as an instrument of Enlightenment—as a bridge between diverse individuals within a tolerant society.

For some, like Davidson, Levy’s activities as a performer, patron, and collector of music fulfilled this idealistic promise. Yet for many of her contemporaries, Jewish participation in music was unthinkable: Jews, these detractors claimed, were inherently unmusical, and this unmusicality was both evidence for and a result of their immorality and errant ways. Levy’s connection to the Bach family highlights this tension: the legacy of J. S. Bach was fundamentally grounded in an orthodox, pre-Enlightenment Lutheranism colored by anti-Judaism, and his biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel, a close friend of W. F. Bach, included in his General History of Music (1788) a screed against modern Jews and their unmusicality.

Sara Levy knew of these tensions and debates, yet she left no written verbal testimony concerning them, nor any number of other pressing issues. She wrote no autobiography and no diary; all but a few of her terse letters are lost. Instead, what remains is the remarkable collection of some 500 musical scores that she assembled together with her husband, a banker and a proficient amateur flutist. Her collection did not appear by accident; instead, she cultivated it, shaped it, and left her mark upon it, inscribing each score with her name or stamping it with her distinctive ex libris. Seemingly in response to the accusation that Jews were inherently unmusical, Levy partook of German music and made it part of her own experience. In donating the majority of her holdings to the Sing-Akademie around 1815, she rendered her collection part of the Prussian patrimony and emerging cultural identity, and she inscribed herself—a Jewish woman—into that heritage. When her great-nephew Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy ignited the public “Bach revival” within the walls of the Sing-Akademie with his performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in 1829, he was picking up on family tradition.

If Levy’s participation in the musical culture of Prussia set her apart from other Jewish women whose salons focused solely on belles lettres, she stood apart from them in another essential respect as well: in contrast to many of the other salonnières, who left Jewish practice and identification, assimilated into the predominantly Christian society around them, converted, and married Christian husbands, Levy continued to identify strongly as a Jew throughout her long life. She provided financial support to numerous institutions of the Berlin Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), including a Hebrew publishing house and a Jewish school and orphanage. She was intellectually, financially, and socially engaged with the Haskalah to an extent unmatched by other women.

Levy is known among musicologists as a transmitter of important German music, and among scholars of Jewish studies as merely a peripheral figure in the world of Jewish salons. Consideration of the relationship among these aspects of her persona—unexplored until now—sheds new light on her life as an individual, and on the story of this tumultuous moment in European history as a whole. I argue that through her salon, her public concerts at the Sing-Akademie, and the cultivation of her collection, Sara Levy forged a common cultural environment with music at its center in which both Christians and Jews could participate.

***

Rebecca Cypess is Associate Professor of Music at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, and an affiliated faculty member in the Rutgers Jewish Studies Department. A harpsichordist and musicologist, she is founder of the Raritan Players, whose debut recording In Sara Levy’s Salon was released in 2017 by Acis Productions. Her publications include Curious and Modern Inventions: Instrumental Music as Discovery in Galileo’s Italy (University of Chicago Press, 2016), and she is co-editor, with Nancy Sinkoff, of Sara Levy’s World: Gender, Judaism, and the Bach Tradition in Enlightenment Berlin, forthcoming in 2018 from the University of Rochester Press.

Sara Levy’s story is fictionalized in the novel, And After the Fire by Lauren Belfer, a book selected by several of HBI’s Conversations programs.

Reflections for the High Holy Days

Editor’s Note: To prepare for the High Holy Days, Fresh Ideas reprints three prayers, unique to the Rosh Hashanah service, from Marcia Falk’s book, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season, published in the HBI Series on Jewish Women. In her book, Falk recreates the holiday’s key prayers from an inclusive perspective. – 

thedaysbetween_MarciaFalk

Introduction to Skofarot, Zikhronot, Malkhuyot: Calls, Recalling, Callings

Unique to the Rosh Hashanah service are three extended liturgical passages — Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot— each comprising a rabbinic poetic prologue, ten biblical verses, and a concluding petition and blessing. After the reading of each passage, the shofar is sounded.

The themes of the traditional passages, in their original order, are as follows:

Malkhuyot (literally, “sovereignty”): God as ruler and creator; God’s power over all creation and, by extension, His role as judge of our actions.* The tenth biblical verse of Malkhuyot is Judaism’s keynote, commonly referred to as the Sh’ma: Sh’ma, yisra’eyl, adonay elohe’ynu, adonay ehad, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4), emphasizing God’s singular dominion over all.

Zikhronot (literally, “remembrances”): God’s remembering (taking account of, being attentive to) all creatures, and His fidelity to His covenant with the people of Israel.

Shofarot (literally, “rams’ horns”): The shofar calls out, and we hark to it. Some of the biblical verses describe with dramatic force God’s revelation of Himself to the world and His giving of the Ten Commandments to Israel. Other verses proclaim the advent of the festivals, including the New Moon and Rosh Hashanah.

*References to God as personified or gendered reflect the language and theology of the texts being quoted or paraphrased, not the perspective of this book.

The re-creation offered here reorders the sequence to create a progression of awareness. Each section is interpreted afresh, emphasizing the twin focus of the holiday: looking inward, to better know oneself, and looking outward, to strengthen one’s relations with others. I have distilled the liturgical text to a few of its key biblical verses (the Sh’ma is adapted), augmenting them with brief reflections. To these elements I have added Deuteronomy 30:12-14 and a poem.

The themes are re-visioned as follows:

Shofarot (Calls): The call to awakening the self and to hearing others.

Zikhronot (Recalling): Memory, imagination, and the forming of the self; the emergence of relationships.

Malkhuyot (Callings): The values we hold above all else. The Sh’ma is reframed: finding our place in the greater one-ness.

Shofarot: Calls

HEARING AND ATTENDING

Sound the shofar on the New Moon,

on our holiday, when the moon is still hidden.

–Psalms 81:4

The shofar calls, the crescent rises.

The new year is upon us.

O inhabitants of the world,

you who dwell upon the earth:

When the flag is raised on the mountain–look!

When the shofar is sounded–listen!

–Isaiah 18:3

The shofar quiets us, wakening us

to the silence within.

In the clearing, where the mind flowers

and the world sprouts up at every side,

listen

for the sound in the bushes,

behind the grass.

The shofar takes us into the self

that is hidden from the self,

then returns us to the world.

In the silence we hear the voice of the other,

we hear what has gone unheard.

Zikhronot: Recalling

MEMORY, SELF, AND OTHER

Recollections shape us, remind us who we are.

Imagination brings what is buried

to light.

With each moment recalled,

the kaleidoscope turns,

patterns change, colors shift places.

The selves within the self come into view.

I remember the lovingkindness of your youthful days,

your love when you were betrothed,

when you followed me in the wilderness,

in the land barren of seed.

–Jeremiah 2:2

From youth to age,

our bonds with others deepen,

become more truthful.

I will remember my covenant with you

from the days of your youth

and I will establish that covenant for eternity.

–Ezekiel 16:60

Reciprocity, fidelity:

the grounding of relationship.

Malkhuyot: Callings

SELF AND ONE

Lift up high, O gates,

lift the eternal portals!

–Psalms 24:7

The gates are open, portals

to possibilities:

What is it that reigns for us supreme?

It is not in the heavens, such that you might say:

Who among us can go up and get it for us and let us hear it so that we may do it?

 And it is not across the sea, such that you might say:

Who will cross the sea for us and get it for us and let us hear it so that we may do it?

No, it is something very close to you,

in your mouth and in your heart,

for you to do.

–Deuteronomy 30:12-14

We turn back to ourselves,

listen for our callings.

Hear, O Israel—

The divine abounds everywhere

and dwells in everything.

Its faces are infinite,

its source suffuses all.

The many are One.

–Adapted from Deuteronomy 6:4

Marcia Falk is the author of The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season.

Protected by Akismet
Blog with WordPress

Welcome Guest | Login (Brandeis Members Only)