Temple Israel holds first Women’s Seder

May 24, 2019

Other News

After a great deal of thought, discussion, planning, negotiating, shopping, cooking, and implementing—not to mention the counting, hard boiling and peeling of no fewer than 96 eggs—Temple Israel held its first Women’s Seder on April 24, 2019.

TI member Shirley Cofino-Rehder had long wanted a Women’s Seder at the synagogue. She’d done several before at other temples, and felt the time was right to bring the tradition to Temple Israel. A committee was formed, and Rabbi Ellen Jaffe Gill offered to write a Haggadah.

The idea was so popular that before long, the men of the congregation also wanted in on the Seder, and the women were happy to accommodate them. Eventually, men and women from across the community, including from area churches, attended, with more than 90 reservations received (hence all those eggs…).

The Haggadah, which featured a lovely cover illustration by Confino-Rehder, included a welcome that embraced inclusion of everyone, while focusing on honoring both Biblical and contemporary women and their contributions to Judaism and the Jewish people. Rabbi Jaffe Gill and Rabbi Michael Panitz shared the task of leading the Seder.

Blessings over the wine included a dedication to the schechinah, the feminine aspect of God as manifested on Earth. The items on the Seder plate were described as usual, with the notable addition of an orange—a tradition begun by Susannah Heschel, daughter of Rabbi A.J. Heschel, to serve as a symbol of solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

Another addition to the Seder plate, and one of the highlights of the evening, was a kos Miriam, a Miriam’s cup designed and hand painted by Emily Panitz, with help from Bobbie Fisher.

As timbrels and tambourines were distributed, Rabbi Jaffe Gill led the guests in the singing of Miriam’s Song. Gad Brousch accompanied on the piano.

When the four questions were asked, they focused on questions about the roles of women in both Jewish and secular life. And the four sons became the four daughters, beginning with the committed daughter, who wanted to deepen her understanding. The angry, alienated daughter was one who had turned away from Judaism; the superficially identified daughter’s Jewishness was marginal; and the daughter without Jewish experience did not even know where to begin.

One of the evening’s most poignant moments was the singing of Dayeinu! In addition to acknowledging their gratitude to G-d in the traditional verses, the Haggadah expressed thanks and admiration for the many Jewish women—Betty Friedan, Vivian Gornick, et al, who were leaders in the early wave of feminism. They celebrated Civil Rights activists Gertrude Weil, Justine Wise Polier, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who took women past suffrage to real protections. They acknowledged the first Jewish congresswoman, Florence Prag Kaln, while honoring Virginia’s own Elaine Luria. They rejoiced at Rabbi Sally Preisand and Rabbi Amy Eilberg—but looked forward to a time when women rabbis and cantors are paid and respected equally with their male counterparts.

The second cup of wine was dedicated to Shifrah and Puah, the midwives who defied Pharaoh’s edict to kill newborn Hebrew boys, while the third cup was dedicated to Yocheved and Tziporah, the mother and wife of Moses.

The fourth cup was dedicated to the 111 women whose names are included in the Torah, noting that throughout Jewish history, women have done great things and remained nameless, forced to let their contributions speak for them. The Seder concluded with the words of Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell—“In the cities of Judah and wherever our people gather, the voices of daughters join the voices of sons in songs of freedom and celebration.”

L’shanah ha-ba’ah b’Yerushalayim!

Bobbie Fisher

Letter to the Editor