This space is a shout out to Jewish women leaders. Educate yourself on famous heroines from our nation’s past with a short guide on four powerful women who not only ensured our survival, but fought for our freedom, shaping who we are as a nation today. Choose one or two to mention at your seder table. While two of these women did not live at the time of the Exodus, they also helped bring Jews to freedom.
- Miriam the Prophetess
Miriam, sister of Aaron and Moses, is best known for a prophecy she made as a young girl, a vision of her unborn brother who would grow up to save the Jewish People. And it came to pass. When the the Nation of Israel left Egypt, Miriam is mentioned at the Red Sea, “…and Miriam the Prophetess, sister of Aharon, took the tambourine in hand” (Exodus 15:20). She led the women in their own song and dance, rejoicing in their freedom. A leader in her own right, she merited to have a well of water accompany the Jewish people as they wandered the desert. We celebrate this incredible woman with a “Miriam Cup” at the seder table.
The force of her vision brought about the reality of Israel’s redemption. Powerful stuff.
- Batya the Princess
Batya rejected the ways of her father, Pharaoh, the most powerful man in Egypt. Searching for truth, she chose to convert and join the Jewish People. She rescued Moses, raised him, and loved him as her son. Batya gave up her status as a princess when she left Egypt with Israel, leaving her culture and old life. Her convictions and resolve to go against everything she was told puts her in a special category of her own. She was a modern woman, ahead of her time. Did you ever have to give up something that was important to you?
- Gracia Mendes Nasi
Nicknamed “Our Angel” by her fellow Jews, Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi wielded her influence as a wealthy widowed businesswoman. Originally from Spain, she settled in Portugal and later fled to Belgium and Istanbul to avoid religious persecution. She did business with European royalty and the Ottoman Empire, sometimes offering bribes to rescue other Jews in need, and used her own fortune to help them rebuild their lives. When Dona Gracia moved to Istanbul, she was finally able to openly practice her Judaism. She built synagogues and schools, working with the Sultan to develop cities in Israel, and directed many of her personal funds to support the city. Dona Gracia made one of the earliest movements to settle Israel, and our efforts today connect back to her proud legacy.
- Raquela Prywes
Raquela Prywes (PRIV-ess) was born and lived in Israel during the early years leading up to Statehood. According to biographer Ruth Gruber, Raquela worked as a nurse and midwife, delivering thousands of babies for immigrants, bedouins, and Holocaust survivors. During the battles of 1948, she walked through minefields to rescue wounded soldiers and tended to them. Raquela mixed a serene attitude with a passion for life during such a tumultuous time in Israel’s history. Her service as a pioneer during Israel’s battles inspired a novel as well as a musical production based on her accomplishments. The takeaway message? Raquela was a pillar of strength, constantly risking her life for others. While you aren’t called to risk your life like Raquela, you are in a position to help others in need. Can you think of three ways to improve someone else’s life?
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and meaningful Passover!