A woman’s brain is a fearsome thing to behold. Especially when she is not afraid to use it.
Beyond the Ghetto Gates: A Novel, by Michelle Cameron, was published last spring. The books tell the story of two different women. Though they are separated by religion, they are brought together by fate and the French invasion of their home city of Ancona, Italy.
Mirelle is Jewish and like all Jewish residents of the city, she lives in the ghetto. Though she has a mind for numbers, it is inconceivable that she could join her father in the family business. Her only goal, as she is told over and over again, is marriage. She could agree to say “I do” to the older and wealthy businessman that everyone is telling her to marry. Mirelle could also run away and elope with her French Catholic lover, but the consequences of such a union would be disastrous.
Francesca is Catholic and lives in the Christian part of Ancona with her husband and children. To say that he is not Prince Charming is an understatement. When he gets involved with the wrong crowd and helps to steal a miracle portrait of the Madonna, Francesca has a hard choice to make. She could do her wifely duty and support her husband, even when she knows what he did was wrong. Or, she could speak up and create trouble for herself.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I was drawn in by the premise of the novel, the well drawn characters, and the detailed description of the world late 18th century Italy. I also loved the ending, which is atypical for the genre. But if there is one major flaw in the narrative, is that the romance. It is supposed to be the high point of the story, but it falls flat.
We live in a world in which antisemitism and misogynistic views still have a hold on us. But there is still hope that both can be overturned.
Last week, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s funeral was held in Washington D.C. As I listened, my pride in her accomplishments as a Jew and a woman were just as prominent as my tears.
She is an icon for so many of us who feel marginalized and pushed aside because of who we are. Listening to Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt speak the ancient Jewish prayers, I had a feeling that in spite of the hatred that still exists, there is light and love at the end of the tunnel. We can look past labels and see each other’s humanity. We only need to open our eyes and our minds.
Though Judge Ginsburg is no longer physically with us, her legacy will last forever.
On the surface, religion and feminism seem to be at odds with one another. Among the world’s major religions, women are often seen as secondary to men. Feminism demands that women be treated as equals to men.
Letty Pogrebin‘s 1992 book, Deborah, Golda And Me, is about Ms. Pogrebin’s journey as she reconciles her faith with her feminist beliefs. Raised in an observant home, she lost her mother as a young woman. Traditional Judaism states that only a man may say kaddish (prayer for the dead). Unable to say kaddish, she drifted away from traditional Judaism. In time, she found a way to mingle Judaism and feminism. While some of the book focuses on the author’s personal journey, other chapters discuss topics such as feminism from the perspective of Black and Jewish women and feminist attitudes in South Africa.
This book is a groundbreaking work of non fiction. While it is not a light read, it is a book that every Jewish woman should read.