- From the EditorsSister Miriam in Her Times and Ours
What a bittersweet joy it's been to put together this "Miriam" issue of Bridges with our friend and co-editor Enid Dame, who died in December 2003, in our hearts. The work collected here is based on an anthology Enid was in the midst of editing when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2001. We are grateful to her partner, Donald Lev, for letting us sift through Enid's files and allowing us to honor her in this way.
The issue opens with a presentation Enid gave on Jewish women poets re-imagining the Biblical Miriam, "the paradoxical prophet," at an academic conference in 2000. Early in life Enid learned from her non-religious, politically progressive mother that "the body of Jewish stories, history and laws called the Bible was not an exhibit behind glass in a museum, or ground too holy to walk on. It could excite and irritate. We could take sides, interpret, comment, expand upon, and in doing so, examine our own lives." For Enid, [End Page 1] midrashic writing, which imaginatively takes flight from preserved Biblical text (often just snippets), and allows our compartmentalized thinking—categories such as "art," "politics," "culture" and "religion"—to break open and shift.
Included here are about a dozen pieces from the work Enid had selected, including two of her own poems, and about a dozen pieces that came to Bridges over the past few years. Enid's vision for her anthology included writing that had been previously published; however Bridges can only use work that is unpublished. We've tried to cite and acknowledge many of the published works on Miriam, some of which can be found in Rebecca Schwartz' All the Women Followed Her: A Collection of Writings on Miriam the Prophet & the Women of Exodus (Rikudei Miriam Press, 2001), an excellent anthology of feminist voices exploring and changing Judaism.
With feminist seders as early as the 1970s including "Miriam's Cups" along side Elijah's in the annual ritual, feminist creativity inspired by Moses' sister Miriam already has a well-documented history. In Standing Again at Sinai (1991), Judith Plaskow tells us that "Perhaps the favorite subject for feminist midrash is Miriam" (p. 54). And in 1997, Ma'yan: The Jewish Women's Project in Manhattan and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform movement seminary, presented "Drawing from the Source: Miriam, Women's Creativity and New Ritual: Original Miriam's Cups Created by Women Artists, a stunning exhibit and sale of work by eighty artists (almost all were sold). The gorgeous exhibit catalog, for those lucky enough to have one, should be "put behind glass" (or in the Ark?) as a timeless artifact of Jewish feminism.
Now, in 2007, what more is there to say? By using the context of Bridges' unique mission—to publish feminist and Jewish perspectives on the pressing social justice issues of our times—we think we have put together a fascinating collection of new work by a wide array of writers who would not be brought together elsewhere.
In this issue, the work on Miriam is organized into six interlocking sections: Miriam's Birth, Miriam and Baby Moses, Miriam and the Exodus, Miriam in the Desert, Miriam Confronts Moses, and Mourning Miriam. Some of the stories here are entirely imaginative (there is no mention of Miriam's birth in Torah), while others stay close to the preserved texts; some are set in the present, while others turn time inside out. Some rage, some celebrate.
The Bridges context of these stories includes Hebrew and Yiddish translations, a short story and three reviews that do not mention Miriam at all, yet relate to themes raised in the Miriam work, such as women's feminist leadership, escaping disaster, and song and mourning. The subjects of reviews include books by Adrienne Rich and Bettina Aptheker—feminist and Jewish leaders who've mentored so many to "sing our own songs," including Marla Brettschneider, the author of the third book under review, The Family Flamboyant: Race Politics, Queer Families, Jewish Lives.