I first appreciated that a part of my heritage was Jewish is Grade 5. My teacher, Mrs. Regent, was Jewish and she taught our class about the traditions of Hanukkah, making latkes for us and telling us the story of the light that burned for 8 days. I had not heard this story so memorably before and when I spoke with my father about it, he went and found a small top, in his desk drawer – clearly a dreidel. My father had grown up in the Ottawa Valley and, with no Jewish community, his family had converted to Catholicism like the other Poles in the region. I don’t even think that his family thought a great deal about their original heritage, focused as they were on a hard life in a new country. Considering that one of his sisters became a Catholic nun, I’m not even sure they remembered or knew. Like other descendants of immigrants, however, I was hungry for the stories of that other community. The main thing that appealed to me were the stories of the great women of Judaism – other than Mary and holier-than-me martyrs, Catholics didn’t have many women heroes in those days.
Because of these stories, I am puzzled by reports in the National Post over the last week or so of the Lev Tahor, the Jewish fundamentalists who fled to Ontario, perhaps to avoid dealing with child welfare authorities in Quebec concerned about child neglect and possibly abuse. There are concerns about forced marriage, health problems and not educating girls. http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/11/22/secretive-sect-referred-to-as-the-jewish-taliban-flees-quebec-for-ontario-amid-child-neglect-investigation/
Considering that the women of Israel were my heroes growing up, I am wondering how this group avoids the obvious lessons in the tales of these women. What do they tell their children of Deborah, the prophet who served as a judge? Have they forgotten the Matriarchs, Sarai and Rebekah? All of these women saw their greatest role in motherhood, but had gifts beyond their power to reproduce and have been celebrated for those gifts as much as for their children. Sarah’s husband and son were the making of Israel. Rebekah received communications directly from G-d and Deborah was learned and wise. What of Shlomzion, whose devotion to her community and to the great teachings is believed to have supported a return to tradition after the Babylonian exile? Even if the only role for women is that of a mother, do the Lev Tahor give their little girls the tools to be a great Matriarch in the tradition of Sarai and Rebekah?
If you do not educate girls and encourage them to use their minds, where will the new Esther’s come from? Most Jewish families teach all their children about Esther’s heroism at the holiday of Purim, as you can see from this Maccabeats video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgJInVvJSZg
But perhaps the Matriarch who comes to mind most strongly, as I consider these girls and the future being denied them is Rachel. Is she weeping for her children, for her daughters?
Jeremiah 31:15: A voice was heard in Ramah: weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and refusing to be comforted, because they were no more.