Boston 1989: A group of women sat in a circle on the living room floor of a house in the suburbs. It was The new moon, which marks the beginning of the Jewish month. According to tradition, because women did not participate in the sin of the golden calf, they were given the holiday of Rosh Chodesh. It is customary for women not to work on Rosh Chodesh. and the group, which had been meeting every month for some time, was growing comfortable with one another and with experimenting with new ritual. While members of the group often consulted Adelman’s book, they had also found traditional texts and their own life stories to be great sources of inspiration. This month, one woman lead the others in a meditation on Miriam’s Well. She asked the women in the circle to follow her as they journeyed to the Well.
A week later, a member of the Boston Rosh Chodesh group was at home preparing for Shabbat is the Sabbath day, the Day of Rest, and is observed from Friday night through Saturday night. Is set aside from the rest of the week both in honor of the fact that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. On Shabbat, many Jews observe prohibitions from various activities designated as work. Shabbat is traditionally observed with festive meals, wine, challah, prayers, the reading and studying of Torah, conjugal relations, family time, and time with friends. with her family. She was thinking about the powerful experience she had had the week before when she encountered Miriam is the sister of Moses and Aaron. As Moses' and Aaron's sister she, according to midrash, prophesies Moses' role and helps secure it by watching over the young baby, seeing to it that Pharaoh's daughter takes him and that the baby is returned to his mother for nursing. During the Israelites' trek through the desert, a magical well given on her behalf travels with the Israelites, providing water, healing, and sustenance. at her Well. Longing to feel Miriam’s presence again, she set a crystal goblet in the middle of the Shabbat table and filled it with spring water. Each member of her family drank from the glass she called Kos Miriam is the sister of Moses and Aaron. As Moses' and Aaron's sister she, according to midrash, prophesies Moses' role and helps secure it by watching over the young baby, seeing to it that Pharaoh's daughter takes him and that the baby is returned to his mother for nursing. During the Israelites' trek through the desert, a magical well given on her behalf travels with the Israelites, providing water, healing, and sustenance. as part of a new Shabbat ritual. A different kind of peace fell unto the household that Shabbat. A more full, healing and sustaining peace.
When the woman returned to her Rosh Chodesh group, they adopted the ritual of drinking from the Cup of Miriam as part of their celebration of the new month. Soon they developed rituals and new blessings for using Miriam’s Cup as part of Friday night, Lit. Separation A ceremony performed on Saturday night to mark the end of Shabbat and the beginning of the week, using wine, a braided candle, and sweet-smelling spices., Rosh Chodesh, the onset of menstruation and, of course, the Passover is a major Jewish holiday that commemorates the Jewish people's liberation from slavery and Exodus from Egypt. Its Hebrew name is Pesakh. Its name derives from the tenth plague, in which God "passed over" the homes of the Jewish firstborn, slaying only the Egyptian firstborn. Passover is celebrated for a week, and many diaspora Jews celebrate for eight days. The holiday begins at home at a seder meal and ritual the first (and sometimes second) night. Jews tell the story of the Exodus using a text called the haggadah, and eat specific food (matzah, maror, haroset, etc). Lit. Order. The festive meal conducted on Passover night, in a specific order with specific rituals to symbolize aspects of the Exodus from Egypt. It is conducted following the haggadah, a book for this purpose. The mystics of Sefat also created a seder for Tu B'shvat, the new year of the trees.. 1 According to one member “it was as if Kos Miriam already existed and was just waiting to be discovered.” 2
Many women across the country began to feel this way. In 1992, In the midrash (rabbinic story about the Torah story), Lilith is imagined as Adam's first wife. Because she wanted equality, she wss ultimately banished, and God provided Adam with a more obedient wife. Lilith, according to tradition, lives on as a kind of demon, causing men to have wet dreams and stealing infant boys from their cribs. Today, Lilith has been reclaimed by Jewish feminists as a symbol of women's equality. magazine commissioned potter Nissan Graham-Mayk to create a unique ritual object to serve as a Miriam’s Cup. Susan Schnur put the idea in context by tracing the history of Miriam from the Bible and Rabbinic commentaries to current feminist scholarship. 3
What Ma’yan is achieving through “Drawing From the Source: Miriam, Women’s Creativity and New Ritual” is similar to what we are achieving with our feminist seders. A ritual which first developed in closed nurturing circles scattered throughout North America and Lit. ''the one who struggles with God.'' Israel means many things. It is first used with reference to Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel (Genesis 32:29), the one who struggles with God. Jacob's children, the Jewish people, become B'nai Israel, the children of Israel. The name also refers to the land of Israel and the State of Israel. is now being brought out into the open to be shared by a much larger audience. Ma’yan firmly believes that these rituals must become accessible to all. Through our feminist seders, through the national distribution of our Lit. "Telling.” The haggadah is the book used at the seder table on Passover to tell the story of the Exodus, the central commandment of the holiday. It is rich in song, prayer, and legend. There are many different version of the Haggadah produced throughout Jewish history. and through this exhibit Ma’yan is widening the circle in which words like Kos Miryam and songs like Debbie Friedman’s “Miriam’s Song” have resonance. We see these activities as part of a larger process of ensuring that the Judaism we pass on to future generations is a more complete Judaism. Through this specific exhibit we are also making the statement that women artists, as well as liturgists, rabbis and theologians, are an integral part of developing lasting Jewish feminist ritual.
“Drawing from the Source” began with Ma’yan’s invitation to Jewish women artists to re-discover Miriam and her Well through the creation of a cup. But while Ma’yan may have brought the eighty participating artists to the edge of the Well, sharing with them some traditional and feminist tools for accessing its magic, it is they who have given us a taste of its variety and beauty.
Heirs of Miriam’s legacy, Ma’yan understands that true freedom must be celebrated by all – those who have been at the forefront of feminist struggles for years and those who are just beginning to figure out what it is they are yearning for. Thus, we have been blessed with Miriam Cups of all kinds. Cups that dazzle the eyes, fountains with gurgling water, goblets deeply laden with history, delicate vessels and sturdy bowls.
We thank each of the artists for revealing to us a few golden drops of water from Miriam’s Well, a well we are all in the process of recovering and refilling. May this process continue in the homes of every woman, man and child who welcomes the presence of Miriam into their homes through the powerful symbol of Kos Miryam.
From the exhibition catalogue, “Drawing from the Source: Miriam, Women’s Creativity and New Ritual, An Invitational Exhibit.” Created by Ma’yan and held at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York.