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Women of Valor

Friday, 2 September, 2011 - 1:20 pm

Dear Friends,

Every Friday night before Kiddush we recite the passage from Proverbs known as Eishet Chayil – a Woman of Valor. King Solomon composed this lengthy poem as an ode to the Jewish woman. Interestingly he uses the term valor, which connotes something different than one would associate with the role of women in those days. Valor implies strength and bravery, things we relate to soldiers in battle. Back then the role of conqueror or warrior was generally reserved for men. Yet it is precisely this term that Solomon chooses to describe the “ultimate Jewish woman.”

This week my family celebrates our women of valor. Our daughter Sara’s Bat Mitzvah will take place on Sunday. Two days later we say goodbye to her older sister, Mushka, as she spreads her wings to attend Yeshiva High School in NY. Both of these milestones convey the element of valor necessary to be a successful Jewish woman in our times.

Back in the old country it was accepted that girls did not need formal study or to attend school. All life skills could be learned from their mothers and bubbies at home. (There were pockets of Jewish society, such as the Rebbes of Chabad and their families who educated their daughters – see our blog entry entitled, What’s in a Name? – our daughter Devorah Leah.) However, as new winds began to blow across Eastern Europe, and even more so in our times, Jewish leaders recognized that girls needed to be educated as much as boys, in order to give them the tools to combat these assaults on their Jewish ideals.

Fast forward to the post-WWII era. The Rebbe was at the forefront in encouraging women, especially his Shluchos – emissaries, to meet the challenges that modernity brought to Jewish womanhood, by embracing the leadership roles needed to guide the women of the 20th and 21st centuries. The idea behind this approach is not to be just like a man, but rather to be a “woman of valor.” A strong woman is not a woman who does “guy things” but rather a woman who is strong and displays valor in her role as a woman.

My daughters have good role models in their mother and grandmothers, of what an Eishet Chayil – a woman of valor - is. They are women who have taken on leadership positions in their communities while simultaneously maintaining their focus on and giving priority to the traditional roles of Jewish womanhood. To help Sara upon her entry into the world of Jewish women, her women’s only Bat Mitzvah celebration will be centered on the special Mitzvot of the Jewish woman. It is our hope that she absorbs the lessons, and the example of her role models, as she successfully matures into a woman of valor in her own right.

I would like to welcome Anshe Sfard’s new Rabbi David Polsky and his wife Mindy to New Orleans and wish them Hatzlacha in enhancing our New Orleans Jewish community. A similar welcome to Hillel’s new associate Rabbi Binyamin Yitzchak Shem-Tov and his family. I would also like to welcome back Sarah and Zev Attias and their children who are returning to New Orleans after a post Katrina six year hiatus.

Speaking of the weather, I wish us all a peaceful Shabbat and a safe rest of the summer and fall. As is customary, we conclude letters during this month with the greeting of “May y’all be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet new year.”

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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