Alison Auerbach contributes to Voices of WRJ

Voices of WRJ: Chukat
July 15, 2016
WRJ Guest Blogger
by Alison Auerbach

In this week’s parsha, Chukat 19:1−22:1, we read the following:

20:1 The Israelites arrived at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. Miriam died and was buried there.

These two lines on the death of Miriam seem a short shrift for a woman Rabbi Charles P. Sherman, in his sermon A Woman Worth Remembering describes thusly:

Friends, this was no ordinary lady – not by any means. Yes, she was a fallible human being with faults. On occasion Miriam liked a juicy word of gossip – who doesn’t? But she was a woman of enormous love of life and of exemplary courage, and she played a central role in the exodus which should not be forgotten.

Yet her death is a mere line in the Torah. Miriam, the only woman named as prophet in the Torah, very clearly didn’t receive the recognition upon her death that her male peers did. The text does tell us she was missed; in the very next verse we are told that after she died the Israelites found themselves without water.

Just as importantly when we learn there is no water we also learn Miriam has no heir; no one has been chosen to carry on her legacy. The well has run dry.

Or has it?

Carol Ochs, in Remembering Miriam, from The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, argues that while no one woman was named as successor, all women carried on her work. Miriam’s succession, she tells us, is shown in women passing on Jewish knowledge and practice in their families and in the recognition that home, too, was a sacred space. More ever, she states that: Miriam taught the women to find the holy wherever they were open to it, whenever they could be responsive. The strictures created around ritualized worship in the Torah were of less concern to Miriam than embracing a living Judaism. Women were taught by Miriam that the sacred can be experienced outside of structured worship. That, whenever we could be responsive to the holy, we should act upon it.

Indeed, Ms. Ochs helps us recognize Miriam’s work we are still carrying on:

Miriam’s legacy, which we are just beginning to retrieve, models our capacity to care for those more vulnerable than ourselves (as she did for her infant brother), to intervene in history regardless of our position (as she did when she approached the princess and when she challenged Moses’ conduct and leadership), and to dance as well as to sing publicly as a form of worship.

This is a powerful message. Whatever you choose to do as a Jewish woman, from creating a Jewish home, to taking on a leadership position in your synagogue or your sisterhood, to empowering WRJ to give voice to your values, you are carrying on Miriam’s legacy. It is our actions which mark us as Miriam’s successors.

We are following in her footsteps when we work to create a better world, as Rabbi Jessica Kessler Marshall shows us in her sermon Chukat: Miriam, a Prophet of Deeds:

Our prophet Miriam was a prophet of deeds. She didn’t give fiery speeches, she didn’t adjudicate matters of law, and she wasn’t overly concerned with exact prescriptions for sacrificial offerings. … She was not in the forefront of the public eye. She wasn’t loud or showy. But she did know what her people needed and she provided that. … Our prophet Miriam teaches us about what it truly means to lead by supporting others. To provide the sustaining nourishment and foundation so that one’s people may develop and thrive.

When we take action, support others and express our love of that which is holy we follow in Miriam’s footsteps. We are carrying on in a myriad of ways the heritage of the complex woman who was Miriam.

We carry on Miriam’s legacy when we help those in need.

We carry on Miriam’s legacy when we take a stand against racism, bigotry and hatred.

We carry on Miriam’s legacy when we dare to celebrate our love of Torah at The Western Wall.

No, Miriam was not mourned, not as her peers were. Instead we honor her life by following her teachings today. Her memory is for a blessing, and we, women who embrace the ethical and moral teachings of Judaism, have become her successors. We carry on Miriam’s legacy in ways big and small every day. And that is a memory we all should hold fast to.

Alison Heller Auerbach is proud to be a member of one of the founding congregations of WRJ, Rockdale Temple/KK Bene Israel, in Cincinnati. Alison has served as a board member for her congregation and as sisterhood president, and is currently an Area Director for WRJ’s Central District. Additionally she is on WRJ’s Board where she has worked on creating content for new and continuing sisterhood presidents.

Rosanne Selfon, May 2016 quoting Rabbi Eric Yoffie about WRJ

In 2008, the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) honored WRJ, naming it as the first organization ever to receive the International Humanitarian Award.

Former URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie presented the award that evening in NY saying, “I have faced many difficult challenges in my years at the Union, but I have never had a more impossible task than the one that I have been given today: to pay a comprehensive tribute to the Women of Reform Judaism, doing full justice to their achievements while staying within a time framework that absolutely, positively is not to exceed five minutes. It cannot be done. And so I apologize in advance for the many things that will not be said…”

Rabbi Yoffie began by saying, “…two things about the Women of Reform Judaism. The first is that without our sisterhoods, there would be no Reform Movement, and there probably would be no Reform synagogues—at least not as we know them today”.
He went on to say, “In the last half century, there have been tumultuous changes in our society, and women’s groups have been impacted in a variety of ways. NFTS was not immune to all this, but its leaders have been remarkably adept at keeping up with the needs of modern women. Along the way they changed their name, continued to speak out for social justice, and just completed what may be their most significant accomplishment of all: the creation of the Women’s Commentary on the Torah, a pioneering work of scholarship that showcases our Movement’s best teachers and affirms, by its very being, the equality of women in Reform Jewish life.” He continued, noting, “You know, I didn’t think that they were really going to produce this Torah commentary, and boy was I wrong! But to underestimate these women is always to be wrong.”

Rabbi Yoffie concluded his remarks saying,“There are too many people in our Movement who do not know the story of WRJ. The major reason, it seems to me, is that WRJ is not engaged in a continual campaign of self-promotion—which tends to be the norm in the Jewish world. They are simply too busy encouraging the grassroots efforts of their members, and in doing the everyday, nitty-gritty work that sustains our synagogues and strengthens the Jewish people.

But: “M’oded anaveem adonai” “God upholds the humble,” we read in Tehilim (Ps. 147:6)
God upholds, and we honor, praise, and thank these women for their untiring efforts to advance the cause of Liberal Judaism.

Rabbi Yoffie commented about communities within your district, “It’s interesting. Much of WRJ’s strength is in the Midwest and in smaller communities, and there are those who think of the Midwest and small town America as an America First kind of place, exclusively concerned about American institutions and American values, in religion as well as in politics. But from its earliest days, WRJ has had a very different vision.“

New Nominations from Central District for WRJ Board of Directors

We are so proud of the following women who have been nominated for the WRJ Board of Directors. They will be installed in December at the WRJ Biennial in San Diego.

Sheilah Abramson-Miles
Dr. Hilda Glazer
Hillary Handwerger
Lisa Singer
Charlene Pfenninger

Nancy Apfel will be retiring from the board. We thank her for her service.

We will have twelve Central District women on the WRJ Board: Sandy Adland, Laurie Blinder, Marilyn Goldfein, Rachel Lambermont, Liz McOsker, Marci Delson and Karen Sim. How terrific! We will be well-represented.

Mazel Tov to the WRJ Or Ami Award Winners.

Congratulations to two Bronze Award winners, Kathy Young and Karen Smith and Temple Beth El Sisterhood in Knoxville, TN. for Matan Chaim/Gift of Life Day and Nancy Szabo and Temple Beth Emeth Sisterhood in Ann Arbor, MI for Feeding the Hungry.

Our Honorable Mention winners are Sarah Roberts and Isaac M. Wise Temple Sisterhood in Cincinnati, OH, and Sonja Kantor and Temple Sisterhood of Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation in Indianapollis, IN for five projects: A Women’s Seder, Busted: Are you one of 85% Wearing the Wrong Size Bra? Chili Throwdown & Supper, Havdalah Hoedown and Mad Hatter’s Tea.
Central District is proud of our sisterhoods. The Or Ami Awards will be presented at the WRJ Assembly Dec. 11-15 in San Diego.