Nishmah event enlivens weekend

BY VICTORIA SIEGEL, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Spontaneous dancing.

Tambourines jingling.

Voices raised in joyous singing.

These sights and sounds were the setting of Nishmah’s Second Annual Women’s Passover Celebration. Over 375 women and girls, from newborn to late 80s, filled the Grand Ballroom on Sunday, Mar. 25 at the Crowne Plaza St. Louis-Clayton to celebrate the female Seder experience, “Join the Journey…A Nishmah Passover.” “It is wonderful for women to get together to find meaning and to bring this meaningful experience back to our own seders,” Sara Winkelman, Rebbetzin of Bais Abraham and program coordinator at the Helene Mirowitz Department of Jewish Community Life at the JCC, said. “I hope this event inspires women.”

The multi-generational and cross-denominational experience took the participants on a spiritual and spirited journey that included a specially written program that emphasized the roles women have played throughout Judaism’s history. Co-chaired by Sue Fischlowitz of Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Community and Sima Oberlander of Young Israel and Bais Abraham, a committee of over 35 women created a program full of readings, music, and prayers designed to prepare the women and girls spiritually for Passover. Along with explaining the symbols of Pesach the program wove stories about remarkable women who have inspired and helped others by breaking stereotypes in the field of medicine, creating a food pantry, or battling the Nazis. “In writing the program we tried to make it as pluralistic as possible,” said Ronit Sherwin, executive director of Nishmah: The St. Louis Jewish Women’s Project. “We are sensitive to all the denominations; this is a program of inspiration and a celebration of all women.”

In addition to a buffet table full of Israeli salads, the attendees were treated to the moving music of Yachad, the Traveling Tefillah Band from Kansas City. The songs and rhythms of Yachad were so powerful that dancing broke out several times during the program. The energy of so many women and girls dancing joyously hand-in-hand around the large ballroom brought smiles to the faces of all the attendees. Evelyn Goldberg who is a member of Temple Israel was accompanied by her daughters Miriam Wilhelm and Martha Aronson. “I came for the camaraderie of being with other Jewish women,” Goldberg said. Joy Melman, also from Temple Israel, was part of three generations of women in her family at the celebration: her daughter Robin Feder with her daughters Rabbi Amy Feder and Jessica Gamlin, as well as Melman’s niece and great-niece. “It is such a thrill to have my granddaughter back here,” Melman said. “This has been a great experience.”

For the youngest attendees, the event was something new and exciting.

Talia Gottlieb, a seven-year-old student at the Saul Mirowitz Day School Reform Jewish Academy, couldn’t contain her eagerness for the program to begin. At the pre-program bazaar, she was already dancing around the room with one of her classmates. “I’m excited because there are only girls here,” Gottlieb said. “And I heard there’s going to be singing and dancing.” Her mother, Karen, attended last year’s event without her daughter because she felt she was too young. “I thought this year was the right age to bring her,” Gottlieb explained. “This event is a spiritual adventure and a very big bonding, cross-generational experience.” The number of tables filled with grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and granddaughters was evidence of Gottlieb’s impression.

Rebbetzin Paula Rivkin, whose husband is Chief Rabbi Sholom Rivkin, said that by presenting the history and legacy in such a meaningful way, the women could bring the whole spirit of the holiday back to their homes. “This event is a way of affecting people in a very spiritual manner,” Rivkin said. “This has been a wonderful experience for me.”

When she addressed the attendees, Sherwin explained that it was important for women to tell their stories. She then pointed out the stack of small colorful notebooks in the center of each table.

Sherwin asked everyone to take one home and to write their own stories in the journals in order to continue the journey.

The Passover celebration also included a creative way of doing tikkun olam.

Each table had a vintage handkerchief, fabric markers, and information about a different local non-profit organization supporting women and girls. The members of each table were asked to decorate the handkerchief with their impressions of the particular non-profit agency.

The completed handkerchiefs were placed in a pocket of a fabric mural.

“We are writing an educational program about this fiber art,” Sherwin explained. “We want to use it as a teaching tool for social action in the community.”

After basking in the warmth of sisterhood and indulging in the dessert tables overflowing with cakes, cookies, pies, chocolates, and a chocolate fountain, the women and girls were visibly moved by their experience.

During the singing of L’Chi Lach, table by table, the seated participants stood up, wrapped their arms around their neighbor, and swayed back and forth to the music. The affection, love, and spirituality of the event were palpable to all who attended and sent everyone back to their homes to infuse their experiences into their own seders.

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