Seder Elevates Women of the Haggadah
The sold-out event was held at Congregation Shearith Israel.
Three years after the Atlanta section of the National Council of Jewish Women held its annual community women’s seder on Zoom due to the pandemic, the group sold out its event on March 26 at Congregation Shearith Israel.
A waiting list was created after 90 people signed up for the seder that was also co-hosted by Ma’alot, a spiritual community led by Rabbi Ariel Root Wolpe.
According to Sara Duke, co-chair of the seder, the women’s seder was to include “a huge mix of women,” with many under age 40. While many of the women – some with teenage children – were members of Shearith Israel, the group also included NCJW members, Emory University professors and many from in-town neighborhoods.
“I’ve been quite amazed myself,” said Duke, who is also on the board of NCJW. “At first we didn’t expect more than 60.”
According to Wolpe, she was asked to get involved in the annual women’s seder by NCJW president Sherry Frank. “She had seen me lead concerts and services at Congregation Or Hadash. They wanted to hold it at Shearith Israel, which doesn’t have any female clergy.”
Ma’alot is a two-year-old organization. According to its website, Ma’alot – which means “elevate” in Hebrew – is a “spiritual community that comes together to observe Shabbat and holidays, celebrate lifecycles, meetup for cultural and social gatherings, provide life-long education, and build spiritual relationships with one another and the Holy One.” It was launched by Wolpe and her husband, Jon Mitchell. Also a singer, Wolpe met her husband in a band and collaborated with him to record her second album.
The theme of this year’s women’s seder was Dayenu, which means “enough.” In the introduction to the Haggadah, which Wolpe adapted from last year’s Haggadah, she explains that Dayenu has two messages for women. As a statement, it means that women have accomplished a lot, and they should celebrate their efforts and successes.
The second message is “lo Dayenu,” it is “not enough,” and states the Haggadah introduction. “Not until society recognizes the full potential of each woman, not until our culture values her equally, not until the world protects women from violence and coercion instead of crushing us underneath the power and egos of others, will it be enough,” she wrote.
Wolpe told AJT that she has been building on the message of Dayenu. “As women, we often feel we’re not doing enough. It’s the superwoman complex. But Dayenu, what you’ve done is enough.”
In contrast to previous community seders, Wolpe facilitated a process for each table to lead part of the seder, exploring the women who are important to the story in the Book of Exodus, but not named in the traditional Haggadah. Each table was to create a blessing or a prayer for each of the Passover story’s women, notably Miriam, Yocheved, Batya, Shifra and Puah.
According to Wolpe, Ma’alot’s approach is to “use the arts and improvised learning to make Judaism come alive.”
In the Passover story, Miriam is the sister of Moses and Aaron. Yocheved is their mother. Batya is Pharoah’s daughter who saved the baby Moses, and Shifra and Puah were the midwives who refused Pharoah’s orders to kill the firstborn son of every Hebrew family.
Each of the four cups of wine was dedicated, in the Dayenu Haggadah, to the women as well, who are referred to as “sheros.” NCJW celebrates a number of women, referred to as sheros, at their annual fundraiser.