Post­ed by Nao­mi Firestone-Teeter

Aliza Lavie, Win­ner of the 2008 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award in Women’s Stud­ies for A Jew­ish Woman’s Prayer Book, just sent me a link to the Dvar Torah she gave at last week’s Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award cer­e­mo­ny. The Dvar Torah was pub­lished on Ynet (in Hebrew) here.

She also sent me her Award speech from the ceremony:

Women’s Prayers are Com­ing Home

This award is not mine alone. I have the priv­i­lege of hav­ing served as the voice of for­got­ten women, and of their prayers and life sto­ries which have all but dis­ap­peared. I ded­i­cate this award to their mem­o­ry and in their hon­or: to our moth­ers and grand­moth­ers, and to their moth­ers and grand­moth­ers. To the great matri­archs of us all.

Through­out the gen­er­a­tions – from Miri­am the prophet­ess, through Don­na Gra­cia, Frei­ha the daugh­ter of Rab­bi Avra­ham of Moroc­co, Fan­ny Neu­da of Moravia, and Toby Track­eltaub, who wrote a 6‑line Hag­gadah in Auschwitz – women have been busy address­ing needs. Women not­ed that in their soci­eties, Jew­ish edu­ca­tion was not being extend­ed to girls – and they did some­thing about it. Women in the Jew­ish Dias­po­ra – in the east and west alike – wrote texts and prayers in the local lan­guages – Yid­dish, Ladi­no, Judeo-Ara­bic, and Ger­man – for hap­py moments and for times of sad­ness. These women paved their own road, by them­selves and for them­selves, from the depths of the heart; from their souls.

I view the accep­tance of this impor­tant award as an expres­sion of the very mov­ing and excep­tion­al accep­tance of the ancient texts that are all at once com­ing back into our lives, into the here and now. They are resum­ing their role in the tex­ture of our lives – both in prac­tice and as inspi­ra­tion for con­tin­ued research. The enthu­si­asm that has greet­ed this col­lec­tion, tran­scend­ing all the usu­al sec­tar­i­an divi­sions and bar­ri­ers, is an expres­sion of a feel­ing, of the long­ing for the world of our moth­ers and grand­moth­ers, for the fem­i­nine Jew­ish sphere – a world that has been left behind; a long­ing for com­mu­ni­ties that were destroyed, for syn­a­gogues that were aban­doned, and for the secret of Jew­ish women.

It is my hope that this award will encour­age many oth­ers to ask ques­tions. Won­der is the root of all knowl­edge. I grew up with women who spoke with God, and I was aston­ished to dis­cov­er, as an adult, the dis­dain in many quar­ters towards them. I set off on a jour­ney that last­ed three years, to trace their foot­steps and their secret. And per­mit me a word about real­iz­ing a dream: even if no-one around you believes in your work, even if they scorn it and refuse any assis­tance – if it burns in your heart, go with the dream. On your way you will dis­cov­er good peo­ple who will help and who will believe along with you.

Women’s prayers, and the process of mak­ing them acces­si­ble, have touched a raw nerve amongst Israeli soci­ety, amongst the Jew­ish world, and among many oth­ers. The task await­ing our gen­er­a­tion is to locate and iden­ti­fy this spark, to know how to tell our sto­ry using con­tem­po­rary tools and through mod­ern chan­nels, and to trans­form it if not into a blaz­ing fire, then at least into an eter­nal light.

Aliza Lavie, Ph.D. is one of the most rec­og­nized pub­lic advo­cates in Israel today. A for­mer Mem­ber of Knes­set, Dr. Lavie served as chair­per­son of the Com­mit­tee on the Sta­tus of Women and Gen­der Equal­i­ty in Israel’s Knes­set. She is the Chair­per­son of the Israel Film Coun­cil and the author of five books, includ­ing A Jew­ish Women’s Prayer Book, a 2008 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award winner.