Honoring the Women of Passover
Many of us are observing Passover this week and celebrating the feminist heroes of the Passover story like Miriam who led the Israelites across the Red Sea, the midwives Shifra and Puah who defied Pharaoh and saved Israelite baby boys, and the often-unnamed Pharaoh’s daughter who rescued Moses and raised him as her own.
We also raise up the women who celebrate the female narrative in Exodus. In 1976, notable Jewish feminists came together on the third night of Passover for a women-only celebration, The Women’s Seder. E.M. Broner, co-author of The Women’s Haggadah, said of the ritual, “we wanted to take a major Jewish holiday, to continue interpreting it, to insert ourselves into it, to make ourselves historic.” The first Women’s Seder was held in her home and attended by feminist icons like her co-author Naomi Nimrod, feminist scholar and author Gloria Steinem, and congresswoman and activist Bella Abzug.
More recently, Ma’yan, the Jewish Women’s program at JCC Manhattan, began holding feminist Passover Seders in the mid-90s. Barbara Dobkin and Eve Landau combined their knowledge and interest in Jewish feminism and ritual observance to create The Journey Continues, Ma’yan’s haggadah. The Journey Continues incorporates feminist components like Miriam’s Cup, which symbolizes Miriam’s Well that provided water to the Israelites in the desert. It includes feminine and gender-inclusive blessings and both traditional and new readings, poetry, and songs. Today, the last day of Women’s History Month, we honor the women of Exodus and the women leaders moving us forward.