I couldn’t believe it. My eleven-year old daughter arrived home from Hebrew school earlier this year carrying a new book Introduction to Jewish History; it was a nice-looking book with graphics that caught my eye, but what caught my consciousness was the Fact that out of 125 pages of text and illustrations, there were only three illustrations featuring women: Sarah (looking adoringly at Abraham), Ruth (gleaning in a corner of the field and looking fetching) and two anonymous women sitting on the ground preparing food and ladling it out for a man standing above them! And this, folks, is 1994.
All the talk about Jewish identity and continuity, the subject for commissions and high-octane conferences across the continent this year, mostly overlooks the problem that girls and women (51 % of the Jews) are made to feel excluded from much of Jewish life in subtle and blatant ways. Subtle (maybe); the marked paucity of positive images of females in Jewish texts—STILL! (You’d think more savvy publishers would have cashed in on the needs of feminist parents and educators by now) Blatant: the statistics on how few women are in leadership positions in the organized Jewish community; whether paid professionals or volunteers, women are still an underclass—only 7% of large city Jewish federations, according to a 1993 study, have women presidents, and not a single one has a woman executive director.
LILITH can’t cure all ills (though we try)—but in 1994 we have taken on the formidable and exciting task of repairing some of the damage to Jewish girls and women that these examples represent. With support from the Covenant Foundation, LILITH is undertaking a year-long project to discover and tell you about innovations in Jewish education for girls and women—a project we call in the LILITH office “Updating ‘Women of Valor’.” This exciting project intends to get out the word about feminist education initiatives—too often people interested in creating nonsexist programs, or feminist celebrations for learners of all ages don’t yet know that there are models to look at and other educators to consult. In this issue, we profile three women educators, look at two unusual books for high school, college-age and adult learners in Kol Ishah, and describe some unusual educational ventures in Tsena-Rena. Watch for a special feature on Bat Mitzvah, coming up later this year, to which we hope many of you will want to contribute your own experiences and insights, and a report on the recent statistics on how Jewish education differs for boys and girls.
Let’s hope—with millennial optimism— that by the year 2000 we can elevate the consciousness of book publishers, so that the next generation of Jewish females can come in from the margins of Jewish life (from the corners of the gleaning field) to its center.