We will be celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. This year, I was invited to create a scroll on the theme of Blood, Milk and Tears with a group of Jewish and Muslim female artists. The art show, featuring our completed scrolls, opens today, on International Women’s Day. Preparing my scroll with its theme images of blood, milk and tears brought forth for me familiar biblical stories of Abraham serving milk to the angels disguised as ordinary travelers, Queen Esther crying for the king to save the Jewish people, and Moses turning the river to blood. These biblical stories shaped my understanding of myself as a Jew.
What kind of life experiences shaped me as a woman? I would begin with my late mother, Millie Stein z’l. She was a beautiful and gentle person who always expressed gratitude to anyone who helped her, directly or indirectly. She taught me that we each manage our lives though the helping hands of others.
We had a neighbour when I was a girl, a fierce woman, very angry about powerful people and how unfair they were to others. Once a big department store delivered an extra couch to her by mistake. I asked her if she was going to return it. Her answer stuck with me. “They can afford to give me an extra couch because they grow rich by taking advantage of others.” In my mind, she was making the wrong choice. I later studied political science and economics to figure out whether her understanding of how the world works had any merit.
Another woman that stays in my mind was an older woman with many bags, whom I met on the street. She had worked as a maid at Buckingham Palace and told me that the royal family were fine people. I thought my mother would like to meet someone who knew the queen and took her home for tea to my astonished mother. On reflection, I learned that everyone deserves our respectful attention, whether a company president or a lonely old woman.
Finally, my friend Annette has had a big influence on me. She moved to Israel with her husband and four sons a few years after we met. She was a loving and patient wife, a great mother who brought out the unique talents of each of her sons, and a wonderful teacher of English literature. We kept in touch by letter, phone, visits and later email. From her, I learned that every challenge that one comes across in life needs intelligence, patience and humour for a wise solution.
Here’s to the women who shape us all!