Celebrating the wisdom of women

When I was invited to join a friend at her synagogue to bake “Loaves of Love” – how could I possibly refuse?

Standing next to a hockey pitch in the cold our conversation went along the lines of ..“So, chicken soup? What is it about “Jewish” chicken soup?   I mean, is it really just chicken soup – or is JEWISH chicken soup different somehow?”

She laughed and said “well, it’s just normal chicken soup – but it isn’t really – it’s definitely Jewish chicken soup”.
If you are confused by now I totally understand – so was I!  But I think we finally nailed down that its infamous for the “intention” with which it is made and the love with which it is prepared  – it is often prepared for someone that feels unwell or needs nurturing in some way.  That’s why it’s also known as “Jewish Penicillin”!

Anyhow…. she asked if I would like to join her at the synagogue as they had a monthly Ladies Guild Challah Bake – and all were welcome.  Challah is the name of a special braided loaf that is blessed at the start of meals during Sabbath.

But this was to be a special Challah Bake which was just one tiny part of “The Shabbat Project” –  an annual worldwide event which brings together women in 465 cities and 65 countries to celebrate their faith whilst making bread, sharing fun, laughter, education and love.

As a non-Jew I was welcomed in by the ladies (and one gent) at Solihull synagogue who introduced me to each other and their children.  Rebbetzin (wife of the Rabbi) Dinie Pink talked us through the process of the recipe, explaining each element which was important to their traditions and faith, and mixed up a huge bucket of dough – before sharing out another 2 enormous bowls with true “heres some I made earlier” style.

Whilst we rolled and stretched, massaged and shaped our bread into plaits I was able to sit around a table with generations of women and girls and ask them questions about Jewish belief and culture.  I listened to them talk about family, raising children, motherhood and shared friendships.  I was able to ask them questions that probably seemed ridiculous – but they answered with patience and warmth. Most interestingly they answered with assurance and confidence – the answers were part of a heritage that went back through thousands of years.

These women are following the traditions that have been handed down from grandmother to mother – from mother to daughter.  And as a non-Jew I felt totally in awe of their knowledge, trust and openness with each other.

And there it struck me –  there is a clear parallel to the roles we fulfil as birth workers.  So many ladies employ a doula/independant midwife as they cannot access a known face to support them through pregnancy and labour – a most intimate and vulnerable time as they make the biggest leap in their lives. A time that historically we would have been supported by our mothers, sisters, grandmas and wider female community.   Of course many women have incredible partners – but it simply isn’t the same as a female supporter that can offer that generational trust, insight, confidence and wisdom about birthing and parenting.  It reminds me of the old adage “It takes a village to raise a child”.

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