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Celebrating the Lives of Jewish Women: Patterns in a Feminist Sampler

Celebrating the Lives of Jewish Women: Patterns in a Feminist Sampler
edited by Rachel Josefowitz Siegel and Ellen Cole
The Harrington Park Press, $19.95

“Thou Shalt Not Lessen the Humanity of Women,” writer Cynthia Ozick demanded in 1983. As an unwritten 11th commandment, Ozick’s injunction has led women to battle the sexism that confronts them. Celebrating the Lives of Jewish Women, an enriching and provocative new.collection of 28 essays by American and Canadian-based writers, continues this tradition. In essays both political and personal, the anthology posits solutions to gender inequities that incorporate activism and ritual. In addition, tikkun olam, the individual’s responsibility for repairing the world, is analyzed in feminist terms. For Lenore Walker and Judith Chalmer, who write about domestic violence, this means smashing the myth of the peaceful Jewish home.

Other essays tackle intermarriage; homophobia; assimilation; identity; Sephardi/Ashkenazi relationships; conversion; the Holocaust; anti-Semitism; coming of age; and the role of the synagogue in everyday life. While all of the contributors are Jewish females, the book includes the work of teens and great grandmothers, immigrants and native born Americans, the secular and the observant, the socialist and the conservative. Yet a common theme—a feeling of otherness—is expressed in virtually every chapter.

The work to be done in dealing with this otherness and eradicating sexism and misogyny within the Jewish community and in the world itself remains enormous. The mandate, concludes writer Ellyn Kaschak, is this: “We must insist upon not seeing ourselves through others’ eyes as Jews or as women, but instead reclaim our own vision. . . . We must weep and wail, and argue and support, and question, and question. And we must subvert the traditions that exclude women’s perspectives with our subversions.”