A Beacon of Light: Jewish Women Illuminating World Issues

Throughout history, the victor, the statesman, the warrior all are glorified and magnified. Those who have achieved greatness are highlighted and embraced in literature, art, theater, film, dialogue, debate and a host of other forums and disciplines. As far back as biblical times to present day, we study, learn, and hear about these individuals. Yet, one cannot ignore the fact that most are men, including those members belonging to the Maccabean forces. Yet, we do know that there are a multitude of women who have contributed equally or even more than their male counterparts.

This is the case with the Hanukkah story. Perhaps a lesser known version of the Hanukkah miracle centers on Yehudis, or Judith, during the time of the Maccabean revolt against Syrian oppression. We learn that Judith was just as significant as Judah.  With the help of her maid, she conceived and executed a plan that convinced the people of Bethulia in the land of Judea to have faith and trust in God, and not surrender to Holofernes, the Syrian-Greek General who took siege of her town. And, to a great extent, it was because of her heroic deed that the faith and courage of the Jewish people throughout the ages are inspired. Her plan led to her beheading Holofernes and the surprise attack on his army, thereby saving all of the people of Bethulia.

There can be no denying that the Jewish people’s survival and identity always have depended upon women. On Hanukkah, the festival of lights, the significance of the Jewish woman is underscored, especially as the Shamash lights the other candles. In fact, women are required to participate in the candle lighting because they played such a significant part of the holy and miraculous event. Rashbam explains that they were the catalysts for these miracles, and explains that women were as exposed to just as much danger from enemy decrees as were the men, and therefore, must be equally celebrated. In addition to Judith, we know that Esther, in the story of Purim, saved her people. And let us recognize the righteous women of Israel who participated in bringing forth the Exodus from Egypt. All were miraculous events.

Women continue to be leaders who keep our community together. From Yehudis to Esther, Jewish women have proven their leadership.  Women have a statement to make as both leaders and caretakers, as role models and negotiators. When all seems hopeless, the women illuminate our path. When families are threatened, when healthcare is at risk, when equality is jeopardized, women mobilize and speak up. When women raise their voices, they refuse to be ignored. Yet they understand that action speaks just as loud as do words. Nishtama!

This is why the NJDC’s Women’s Leadership Network continues to lift up women’s voices and stories, fighting for freedom, equality and justice in our nation and abroad.

This Hanukkah season, we ask Jewish women throughout the world to rededicate themselves to protecting our values. Pledge to help us fight for our Jewish values reflected in our dialogue and laws so that our families, communities and nation are protected. May we go from strength to strength.

Email us at wln@njdc.org to say you’ll join the fight.