Rabbi Avraham Yitschak HaCohen Kook, religious Zionist icon and the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, philosopher and poet, saw in the establishment of a Jewish state an opportunity for the renewal of all that was spiritual in the Jewish nation, of all the inner talents that could not achieve full expression in the Diaspora.
Nowhere was the truth of the great Torah sage’s vision more evident than at Emunah [the National Religious Women’s Organization} Israel’s unique celebration of International Women’s Day this past Tuesday, with the first ever “Day of Dance-- for Women Only”.
The first class performances at the event, by women, of women and for women showed that the state of Israel has enabled not only the Jews but also the spirit of the Jewish people to come out of exile.
Actually, the idea of celebrating a Women’s Day has its origins in communist countries, where it was part of an attempt to downgrade family loyalty. The first to make it a national holiday was none other than Vladimi Ilyich Lenin.
That may be the reason that it is generally a day for women and their organizations to complain about what is wrong with women’s lives. A perusal of the Israeli mainstream media on Tuesday bore out that fact, with most articles replete with criticism, pessimism and demands.
Not at Emunah. At the auditorium in Kibbutz Tzora near Beit Shemesh, over 800 women of all ages made the day a celebration of the opportunities that religious women have in the Jewish state and the once unheard of possibility of developing their talents in fields such as the dance within a strict halakhic framework.
And what talents! At the morning session, after a Torah lecture on dance in Biblical sources—for today’s religious Zionist woman learns Torah—there were six parallel dance groups, expressing ideas such as faith, emotions, longings for G-d, finding the inner self and six participatory dance workshops ranging from jazz to Ethiopian hip-hop to flamenco.. The workshops were filled to capacity and the joy was palpable.
The early afternoon was dedicated to performances by women’s dance groups. I, a former New Yorker who frequented the best in music, dance and art, was astonished by the international level and perfect technique of the classical ballet group Divertissement, led by former Bolshoi dancer Nadia Timfeyba. “The Barefoot Dance Group”, an original dance trio from the Judean religious-secular town of Tekoa, and the Noga group from the Dance Department at Orot Teacher’s College in Elkana, Samaria, were top rate examples of modern dance.
All the dancers were dressed modestly, including the ballerina soloist in Swan Lake, a fact which seemed as natural as it was beautiful. Some were married with head coverings, some had babies close by. The sound of babies cooing that accompanied the performances managed to seem natural as well. It was special to be with women only at the Day of Dance, to be part of an exclusive club whose members feel good about themselves, who have the commonality of pride in accomplishment, in what women can do and want to do.
And one of the main things that women want to do at Emunah is to build a Jewish home, not because they have to but because they want to. That made it fitting that Emunah’s woman of the year was Dr. Chana Katan, a respected obs-gynm, author of medical-halakhic papers with her rabbi husband, and the mother of 13 children who said that “her family comes first” without any references to egalitarianism. MK Gila Gamliel presented Dr. Katan with the award.
(Left to right: Dr. Chana Katan, MK Gila Gamliel, Emunah Chairperson Liora Minka, Family Dept Head Rina Wasserman)
“We wanted to use the day to show what women have accomplished,” summarized Liora Minka, Chairperson of Emunah Israel, “and what we have seen today just makes me want to say—Wow!”
Where did it all start? In Emunah.
Emunah College for Women in Jerusalem was established 30 years ago with the aim of offering religious women career opportunities in fields where there were no religious schools extant. The college offered Plastic Arts and Fine Arts, Drama and other fields which are full of halakhic pitfalls, making the schools for those subjects that existed before the college opened its doors unsuitable for religious young women.
Teaching Fine Arts in an observant all women’s framework eliminated many of the problems. Ongoing queries to rabbinic authorities solved others. Studying the arts and planning theatre performances for women only became a reality. So did national awards and prizes for excellence. Audiences that filled the exhibit halls and auditoriums led to other performing groups and institutes. The creativity and talent had been there, just waiting.
And then came the turn of the dance. Thirteen years ago, Orot Teacher’s College in Elkana, opened an academic course of study in dance for religious young women. They came in droves and danced. Talia Perlstein, who organized Emunah's Day of Dance with the help of the Orot College, heads the Department. It wasn’t long before serious women’s dance groups soon sprang up in different parts of the country.
Emunah Women's Organization decided that it was time to celebrate.