At critical points in our lives we often seek guidance and consolation. In this stunningly candid collection, twenty Jewish women — a formidable group of feminist rabbis, educators, scholars, most past fifty— turn back to critical points in their lives and show how Jewish texts offered help and understanding. For some a simple phrase was an illuminating flash; others grappled with the conflict between text and their reality; some turned to new practices. All made clear their struggle and desire to get past it and live fully again.
Struggle exists at several levels here. In a deeply thoughtful essay, Judith Plaskow grapples with the presence of evil in the world and finally finds majesty and motivation in the God who appears to Job. Lamentations is the template for Rachel Adler’s moving record of her mother’s descent into dementia. Three times a widow, Tamara Cohn Eskenazi still awakens to love each morning with the holy poetry of the Song of Songs. Blu Greenberg’s honest confrontation with the disappointments, benefits, and, perhaps, futility of interfaith friendship and dialogue contrasts strikingly with Margaret Holub’s honesty as a self-described pharaoh and occupier who finds herself in “a morally difficult place in this moment of history.”
The traditional roles of women — daughter, sister, wife, mother — are here enriched by contrast to and knowledge of biblical women. Leah and Rachel are models for Ellen Umansky’s relationship with her younger sister; Hara Person looks to David as a way to understand her son. Ellen Frankel, for the first time, talks about the shame of her sterility, the result of a hysterectomy at twenty-six; Sue Levi Elwell talks about the shame of silence about her choice to have an abortion when it was not the “time of favor.”
During a stress-filled car trip, Nancy Fuchs Kreimer briefly finds her husband of almost forty years a stranger and turns to Jewish stories for solutions.
Facing widowhood, remarriage, sickness, retirement — forced or natural — these writers find direction and solace in their Jewish knowledge, and through them readers may share that knowledge and find their own sources of strength and guidance. Authors’ endnotes, contributor biographies, glossary.
Maron L. Waxman, retired editorial director, special projects, at the American Museum of Natural History, was also an editorial director at HarperCollins and Book-of-the-Month Club.