Ariela Haim performing "Kaddish."

A Creative Interpretation of Women in Prayer by Ariela Haim, Purchase College

With the generous support of a grant from our Board member Betsy Woolf, Ariela Haim was a Fall 2010 Joseph H. and Evelyn M. Woolf Israel Fellow engaged in pro-Israel activities at Purchase College. As an intern, Ariela Haim created Israel-themed cultural and political programming on campus. She has been an active member of the Jew Crew (Purchase College student leadership group) and has spoken to community groups on behalf of Hillels of Westchester. Here is a look at Ariela’s exceptional creative senior project.

History is always filled with exceptions. And I found them while working on my senior project,  which combined my interest in dance and Jewish Studies. I learned about women who sought to claim the right to experience prayer in the same way as men, finding examples in history of women saying Kaddish. The first such documentation of a daughter reciting Kaddish for her father is noted in halachic literature in the 17thcentury.  A man from Amsterdam who died without sons had asked that she say Kaddish for him, and the local rabbinic had granted that request, apparently without complaint.

 The Kaddish theme is also reflected in the culmination of my project, a reconstruction of a modern dance by the American choreographer Anna Sokolow. In 1945, at the end of the Holocaust, she created a solo dance titled, Kaddish, set to Maurice Ravel’s composition by the same name. Sokolow created the solo especially for a female in order to identify and challenge women’s restricted role in Judaism with an emphasis on women’s exclusion from the minyan. Since Ravel  had borrowed exotic scales from Jewish music, Kaddish has an eerie, hypnotic sound. The dancer wears a black strap around her arm symbolizing the teffilin worn by men during everyday prayer but traditionally forbidden for women. The movements include swaying much like traditional davening, closed curved shapes which represent feeling trapped and grieving, and high releases signifying hope.

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