A Conversation with Adrienne Gold Davis: How to Be an Empowered Jewish Woman
With Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, the topic of empowerment as a woman and as a Jewish woman is front and center in the media. How can Judaism empower a woman in her home and her community? How can she leverage her empowerment to make the world a better place? We spoke with JWRP Trip Leader Adrienne Gold Davis about Judaism’s long history of “Wonder Women” and how Judaism can actively empower women to be their best selves.
What does it mean to be an empowered woman?
Being an empowered woman means being fully aware of one’s potential as a human being and taking great pleasure in that knowledge. Once a woman fully understands her potential, she will also feel an impetus to improve the world — in whichever way she sees fit. The source of her strength, wisdom, and perseverance comes from her limitless capacity to love, nurture, lead, inspire, and direct her energy in positive ways. Coupled with a sense of humility, all of this translates into a sense of power.
Viktor Frankl, a famous psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz, wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” An empowered person takes mastery over her reactions and character traits and is able to behave with dignity — despite outside stimuli. Becoming an empowered person means exercising self-control, which leads to the freedom to be our best and truest selves.
What does it mean to be an empowered Jewish woman?
An empowered Jewish woman is exactly the same as an empowered woman — with one additional gift! She has the spiritual DNA of our matriarchs and the wisdom of our Torah, which help her direct her boundless potential in positive ways. An empowered Jewish woman sees her Jewish identity as a gift and a responsibility, and humbly seeks out ways to share her strengths.
Have you seen the new Wonder Woman? What did you think about it?
I have not seen it yet, but she comes from a long, long line of Jewish superwomen! Our first matriarch, Sarah, had more prophecy than her husband, Abraham. Even G-d told Abraham to listen to his wife! Jewish women — from Queen Esther to Yael, Yehudit to Devorah, and right on up to our JWRP Founding Director Lori Palatnik are forces to be reckoned with. Our history is replete with stories of the strength and power of women.
Many people believe that Judaism is a patriarchal religion and not female friendly. How would you respond to that?
I would say that that’s an uninformed view! According to our history and Torah, women are the ones who shape and mold our culture, society, and even our laws! For example, the five daughters of Zelophehad, Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, are responsible for ensuring a woman’s right and obligation to inherit property — thousands of years before the suffragettes even existed. The primary laws of family purity are entirely up to women. Women generally decide what Judaism will look like in their homes. We are the backbone of the community. Just read how women are described in the Shabbat song, “Eshet Chayil” (Woman of Valor). We do it all!
How can a Jewish woman be empowered in her home?
One of the reasons we hang a mezuzah, which contains a scroll with the Shema prayer, on our doorframes is to remind us that our behavior must be the same whether we are in our home or outside of it. Many people think that they can simply be “themselves” at home, dropping all pretense and simply relaxing. But here’s the thing: we need to be ourselves at home — that is, our best selves.
It is in our homes that we model behavior that our children will emulate. It is in our homes where we build the foundation for generations to come and ensure Jewish continuity. A Jewish mother is empowered in her home when she internalizes that it is the most important place she will ever be, and where she will have the greatest influence in her life. The empowered Jewish wife understands the sacred feminine strengths that enable her to love and nurture her spouse so that they reach their greatest potential — as individuals and as a couple.
How can a Jewish woman feel empowered in her community?
One of the first steps in personal empowerment is knowing where your strengths and passions lie and understanding that these were given to you to build a better world. Even in the Warsaw Ghetto and in the worst of times, Jewish communities created services and schools, free loan societies and soup kitchens. Jews have always been outwardly focused and have recognized the value of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). Every community has issues that need to be addressed. Knowing that you are making a difference in any way builds self-esteem, and that is the most empowering feeling of all.
What are your tips for women who want to feel empowered in their everyday lives?
If you identify as a Jewish woman, then you are a descendant of warriors! Given our history, your Jewish identity should be such a source of pride and dignity. As a Jewish woman, you are the "daughter of the King" so straighten your back, hold your head up high, and embrace your strength.
Empowerment also comes from helping others. So, look for such opportunities like: visiting senior homes (and bring your kids — they will brighten up everyone’s day!); volunteering at community events; reading to the blind; helping out at your kids’ schools; taking part in fundraising initiatives; hosting learning groups in your home; delivering “Meals on Wheels.” There are so many worthy endeavors.
It takes a village. So, get out there and help build one!