Exploring Jewish Feminist Thought at Kallah

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By Sandra Wortzel

I have had the great fortune of studying with wise and wonderful teachers through the Aleph Ordination program. Rabbi Leila Gal Berner is one of them.  In the spring of 2012 Reb Leila taught a course called Jewish Feminist Thought in which we studied and discussed the foremost Jewish feminist theologians and thinkers beginning in the 1960’s through to the present.  For our final assignment I created a visual timeline of Jewish Feminism in the form of an artist’s book*.  The design is in the form of an eight-foot long accordion book.

Photos by Janice Rubin

My artist’s book is an exploration of the Jewish Feminist movement’s second and third waves.  It presents many of the extraordinary women who spoke up and out, a timeline of their activities and some excerpts of their writings.  The book is compromised of images from various time periods, feminist symbols, and photos depicting the trajectory of many of the powerful, momentous and transformative acts forged by a multitude of women during this unprecedented time in Jewish history, both sacred and secular.  The book embraces many changes over 60 years including the redefining of what feminism is and means to each generation that has had the privilege of experiencing the evolution of Judaism through the bold and brilliant excavations and reconstructions of feminist theologians, scholars and every day women.


Accompanying the book is a poetic response to the creative act and process. The making of this book unfolded and developed over 5 months time. To my early consternation and final delight, the book took on a life of its own that I ultimately could not have envisioned when I began the project.

“Like Miriam wandering the desert with the Israelites, divining for water and finding wells of rejuvenation for a tired, thirsty, parched peoples…  Jewish Feminists of the 2nd and 3rd waves were and are diviners of thoughts, words, actions and deeds. They have navigated uncharted territories, deep ravines, seemingly unreachable peaks, and seas of turmoil, having made discoveries of breathtaking beauty changing the topographical map of Judaism forever.  Through the early and middle of the 20th century, in the parched and seemingly monotonous traditional world of Judaism there arose out of the stale, staid, and stagnant air, a refreshing, cool breeze in the form of Jewish Feminists.  These women took on the ardent, risky and sometimes downright dangerous task of reinventing a Judaism that included the unheard and unseen lives, voices and misdrashim (stories) of Jewish women from the past, into the present and opening to an envisioned future that is our NOW.

My hope is that this book will reflect the ingenuity, grace, holy chutzpah and chesed that was and is Jewish Feminism”. 

I am delighted to have the opportunity to exhibit my book this summer at ALEPH Kallah in Rindge, New Hampshire, and to present a workshop to share my process and discuss the use of the arts in expressing our creative visions both religious and secular.  We will engage in a discussion of the use of the arts in expressing our creative visions both religious and secular.  I hope to see you there!

*(According to Wikipedia: Artists’ books are works of art realized in the form of a book.  Artists’ books have employed a wide range of forms, including scrolls, fold-outs, concertinas or loose items contained in a box as well as bound printed sheet. Artists have been active in printing and book production for centuries, but the artist’s book is primarily a late 20th century form).

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Rabbinic Pastor Sandra Wortzel was ordained in January 2013 and integrates Expressive Arts therapy for growth and healing, a 4 Worlds Jewish Renewal perspective, Hashpa’ah and contemplative practices, and her own soul-evolving through art-making into her work, workshops and retreats that offer experiential arts adventures in natural settings.