The following essay about lessons learned from biblical women was written by Georgia Dahill-Fuchel, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project; an example of this last component can be seen below. The process improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.
June 6, 2013
For my major paper, I have chosen to write about what I can learn from biblical women that will help me through my adolescence. I first came up with this idea because I was thinking about the struggles of going through adolescence. This led me to think about how women in biblical times faced the challenges of becoming a woman. Then I began thinking about what lessons biblical women have taught us and how they might relate to modern women. I researched several women and chose three to explore further: Miriam, Judith and Rachel.
In order to learn more about each of these women, I asked myself the following questions:
· When did they exist in history?
· What is the important part of their story?
· What lessons can we gain from these stories?
· What character traits do they each embody?
· Who are the modern versions of these Biblical women?
· Why do I value these character traits?
· Why are these traits important to have in 2013?
· Who in my family carries on the names of these Biblical Women?
When we think of the story of Passover, we think of ancient Egypt and of Miriam and her baby brother, Moses, who was put in a basket in the river Nile shortly after his birth. That was because Pharaoh created a law that ordered all male Hebrew babies to be killed. Pharaoh did this because his advisors had prophesied that a man was to be born who would defeat him. Since he didn’t know which baby boy would grow up to be that man he figured he would eliminate them all. In my mind this is offensive toward women because it is saying that women were not capable of defeating a Pharaoh. Miriam was a prophetess and saw that her mother was going to have a son who was going to defeat the Pharaoh and free the Israelites from the Pharaoh’s rule. But Miriam’s parents had decided to stop having children altogether because they feared that if they had a baby boy he would be slaughtered. However, Miriam, being the persuasive person she was, told them it was unfair to stop having children because there was a 50% probability of having a girl. Miriam’s argument was successful and because of her intervention her parents had another child who turned out to be Moses.
The character traits I admire from Miriam were her ways of being protective, wise and persuasive. I am using these traits as tools as I grow up. I need to be protective over my friends, and my family in certain ways. For instance, if someone tries to insult my friends or my family, it is my responsibility to stand up for them with words in a protective manner. Also, at my age, there are lots of decisions to be made and I need to be wise when making them. Being able to look at both sides of a story rather than only focusing on one side is part of being wise. Finally, I am developing my powers of persuasion to learn how to convince people to follow my path. Being persuasive in my world means persuading people to walk me to dance class, or persuading people to want to go with me to get water from the water fountain at school. Or it means persuading my friends that Glee is not a bad show, or that some pop songs aren’t terrible. Being persuasive may help me in the future if I am ever trying to get people to not litter, or to stop smoking, or to go green.
In my world I have some special people whose names are Miriam. Our cousin Marilyn’s Hebrew name was Miriam. Marilyn recently passed away. She used to always let me play with her dog ZZ. She was an amazing artist and she touched many lives.
Another special Miriam to our family was Miriam Cohen, the woman who took in my grandfather, Kurt, during World War Two, when he was sent away on the Kindertransport. By taking in Kurt, in her own way she also played a part in securing the future of the Jewish people. If my grandpa had remained in Austria, it is likely he would not have survived the war. The only reason why his parents survived the war was because they went into hiding and with a small child it would have created a higher probability of being caught and killed. Miriam raised Grandpa Kurt as her second son. She only died recently at almost 100 years old.
From when I was six months old all the way until I was nine years old, I had a wonderful babysitter who became a part of our family. Her name is Miriam. My family and I have always called her Senora. She was a huge part of my life. She taught me Spanish and took care of me just like the biblical Miriam did with Moses. I remember sleeping over at her house and attempting to build a house with spaghetti, with her granddaughter Genesis. Miriam is so sweet and so caring, I don’t know what I did to deserve such an amazing babysitter like her.
Even though my name is Georgia Elizabeth, my Hebrew name is Yehudit Yonina. I was named to honor my mother’s mother Judith, and my dad’s mom Betty. Judith is the biblical character who I will talk about now.
Historians believe Judith lived in the 1st or 2nd century. Judith is known for doing something very gross and gory but courageous. Judith was an Israelite during a time period when a war was going on between the Israelites and the Assyrians. Judith knew that she could use her beauty to persuade the enemy general, Holofernes, to trust her. Nobody suspected what she was going to do. She went into Holofernes’ tent and fed him lots of cheese to get him sleepy. Then she took her knife and cut his head off. Afterwards, Judith carried his head back and Holofernes’ army surrendered when they saw proof of their general’s death.
Judith showed that women are just as powerful as men. She was a woman who took risks and showed great bravery. These are traits I admire about her and can use as I grow up today. Often I can be too complacent instead of being a risk-taker. For instance, I recently chose not to take a risk on a high ropes course on a class trip. I know that in order for me to fully enjoy life, I will need to take chances on things whose outcomes are not always certain. I also admire that Judith was brave. Judith’s bravery made the statement that women were a force to be reckoned with. I believe it takes bravery to put forward a statement that is not necessarily popular. In my world, I think I need bravery to make statements to my friends; like if I see one of them being mean to someone, I need the courage of Judith to tell them that what they are doing is wrong.
Judith is my Grandma’s name as well as part of my Hebrew name. My Grandma is just incredible. She has done so many things for me and has always been there for me. When I am sick at home and my mom is at work, she calls me to make sure I am ok. And she has made so many sweaters for me. I remember when she used to take my brother and me to the Museum of Natural History. We would walk there together. We would sit outside and she would always have apples and cheese. She has also taken me to see The New York City Ballet rehearsals which was always great. She would pick me up early from school and we would grab something to eat and go! Grandma has some characteristics that relate back to the Biblical Judith. She is a risk taker who has traveled all over the world. She also shows me her bravery now as she has to live with not being able to walk comfortably and yet still finds a way to keep herself active in the world.
In my family, the biblical story of Rachel and Jacob is well known because those are also the names of my mother and brother. The story goes that Jacob went to his uncle Laban, and Laban put Jacob to work for him. One of Laban’s daughters caught Jacob’s eye. Her name was Rachel. Rachel also liked Jacob. Jacob asked Laban for Rachel’s hand in marriage. Laban responded by saying, “if you work for me for 7 years you can marry Rachel.”
Seven years went by and Jacob did indeed work for Laban. Rachel had an older sibling named Leah. Since Leah was older than Rachel, it was tradition to have Leah marry first. When the wedding day came, Jacob thought he was marrying Rachel, however he was actually marrying Leah. Leah’s face was covered by a veil, so Jacob couldn’t tell who he was marrying. Jacob was tricked and because Rachel was such a good sister she went along with the deception. Rachel didn’t want Leah to lose face. She must have felt jealous when she saw how many children Leah and Jacob were having. As much as she loved her sister, she must have wanted those things for herself. After another 7 years, Laban told Jacob he could also marry Rachel, and he did. They tried to have children, but it was difficult for them. Eventually they had two kids, Joseph and Benjamin, but, sadly, Rachel died during childbirth when Benjamin arrived.
The character traits I admire from Rachel are caring and sacrificing. Rachel was caring because she had her sister’s interests in mind when she went along with pretending that Leah was Rachel on her wedding day and night. She was sacrificing because she gave up her happiness and her life and showed courtesy to her older sister. I believe it is noble to sacrifice something of yours to please someone else. I think sacrificing has to do with compromising, and this is of value to me because one has to know how to please all people, without favoring one over another.
Women make sacrifices today. Mothers must sacrifice much of their spare time, and in order to have children one must sacrifice one’s own safety for another. For girls growing up, there are different sacrifices we need to make. However, for me, some sacrifices I have to make in my life are giving up a dance class for a school dance, or going to dance class when I could be with my friends. Sacrificing is not an easy thing to do. However, that does not necessarily mean it shouldn’t be done. Telling my friends I cannot do something with them is not easy but I do it because I have a place I need to be, which in most cases is dance.
Caring, to me, is something that I do in everyday life. I use my caring abilities to show affection to my friends at school. There are lots of ways to show people you care and lots of the time I show I care by giving someone a hug.
The central “Rachel” in my life is, of course, my mother. My mom has shown me how it is possible to make sacrifices in her life while still being an independent, strong, and courageous woman. She has been an amazing role model for me. She sacrifices time for me, she sacrifices sleep for me, she sacrifices so many things.
Being a teenager is not a comfortable place to be. In some ways it’s a lot of fun, for example having freedom to be out with your friends without an adult. However, it is also difficult. What is your identity, who are you friends with, who are you not friends with, what high school to go to, is that food healthy for me to eat, so many things are being questioned and the answers are not easy to find! These questions are deep and are scary to have to answer. In order to answer these questions, I looked to Biblical women for lessons on how they dealt with issues of life. As I go forward, I am looking back at what Miriam, Judith and Rachel have taught me. I will try, like them, to be persuasive, wise, protective, a risk taker, brave, willing to sacrifice, and caring.
In addition to the paper that I have just presented, I wanted to incorporate my love for dance into this project. I have asked my two friends from dance, Imani DeJesus and Genevieve Whaller-Walen to help me by being in a dance that I choreographed and having it filmed to show to you today. I have incorporated some Martha Graham movements along with some Ana Sokolow movements along with choreography by me. All of these movements will tell certain stories of Biblical Women.
Some themes that I have incorporated in this dance are striving, loss, hope, courage, bravery, fear and strength. These are all traits that I associate with Rachel, Judith, and Miriam. I hope you enjoy.