Author Archives: S. L. Wisenberg

The Lilith Blog

January 28, 2020 by

Celebrating Jewish Feminism … in Serbia


About eighty mostly-European, mostly-Jewish feminists gathered in Belgrade, Serbia, in September for the ninth Bet Debora conference. The History of the region makes this significant.

In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union crumbled two years later. There was room for Jewish renewal and flowering in countries that had been behind the Iron Curtain. But not in the former Yugoslavia.

Instead, in the early 1990s when Rosh Hodesh groups were first gathering in a united Berlin, Yugoslavia was turning into a failed and former country. When travelers in Prague were following women-led Jewish tours, Yugoslavia was in civil war. When women throughout the former Soviet bloc were discovering they were Jewish, learning to lead seders, creating egalitarian services and studying for the rabbinate, Jewish women in bombed-out Sarajevo were, alongside men, providing food and medicine to their fellow citizens of all ethnicities.

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The Lilith Blog

September 29, 2017 by

Hagar, or: The Handmaid’s Tale


You may recall the story of Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar. We read about them on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, from Bereishith in Genesis. The crone Sarah is barren, so she gave “Hagar, the Mitzrite woman, her maidservant” to Abraham to bear a son for him. Later Sarah has her own child, Yitzhak, and thinks that Ishmael, the son of Hagar her handmaid, is mocking her. In response, she tells Abraham: “Cast out the handmaid and her son, for the son of this handmaid shall not inherit together with my son Yitzhak.” Abraham is reluctant. God has told him that each boy will be the seed of a great nation. Still, Abraham sends Hagar and her son Ishmael away with “bread and a skin of water.” Hagar becomes lost in the wilderness and leaves Ishmael under a tree because she cannot bear to see her son die. Eventually, God leads her to water and they survive. Ishmael grows up, becomes a “great archer,” and marries.

Rabbis tell us that Hagar was an Egyptian princess.

You never forgot: you were a princess. You had ladies in waiting, too many to count, who poured sweet oil onto your skin and made your arms lacy with henna. You had men, many men. They brought you gold and silk scarves and more girls to tend to you, to plait your hair. But these men really had nothing to offer. They were dull.

You had nothing nothing to do. Then came the visitors and you saw how Abraham and Sarah were favored by god. You wanted to be with them, even if you had to lower yourself, become a maid yourself. You wanted to learn the secret of their power.

He knew you would satisfy him, that was why he took you. He wanted your fire, which he consumed, yes, but re-ignited. His touch was arousing, always. I am satisfied, that’s what he said. I am so satisfied.

He always said it was her idea, Sarah’s. She wanted you to provide children for her. One after another.

His wife was too old. That was the simple fact.

In time, the inevitable. So maybe you did complain—you were dizzy in the morning. Your limbs felt so heavy. You could no longer carry in the great bowls of water. Sarah watched your belly grow and said, You are still young and still strong. It wouldn’t hurt you to bring me the usual bowls and baskets. She said, You were a princess in Egypt. You’re not in Egypt.

She said: You are here for one purpose. 

She said: How do we know it’s his? It could be anyone’s. 

You boiled inside and all he would say was: Women must patch their own quarrels.

You ran away and the angel led you back, telling you lies. That you would become a leader and a shaman. Others would follow you and seek your wisdom. You imagined lines of the penitent and perplexed, waiting to hear your judgment. Hanging on each word.

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