The Perfect Archetype of Female Power: Chicago Teens Take on Rape Culture in Recently Published Haggadah

By Maayan Hoffman
eJewish Philanthropy

A year before #MeToo and Time’s Up swept the internet, a small group of 12 young women from Chicago made it their mission to tackle rape culture in the Jewish community. This year, they are sharing their recently published Haggadah to “plant the seeds of an emphatic, feminist perspective in our community,” said Alana Chandler, 17.

The Revenge of Dinah: A Feminist Seder on Rape Culture in the Jewish Community” was completed last year by students participating in Chicago’s Research Training Internship (RTI), a program of the local Jewish United Fund and DePaul University. The 10-month paid internship, brings together a dozen high-school-aged girls from around the Chicago area to meet twice a month at the university and get trained by faculty in feminist research methodologies. Every year, explained RTI’s director Stephanie Goldfarb, the youth tackle a social justice topic of their choice, do research on it and then create a project. Last year, they chose rape culture.

“We did not have #MeToo language last year, but we did have a presidential election,” Goldfarb told eJewish Philanthropy. “The group was disgusted by the kind of permissiveness around sexism and sexual violence in the election. When [US President] Donald Trump won, they lost their mind. They could not believe someone they thought to be an abuser had been elected, so they chose their theme.”

Inspired by a text study around the biblical character of Dinah, who was abducted and raped near the city of Shechem (Genesis 30:21; 34; 46:15), they selected her as the “perfect archetype of female power,” said Goldfarb.

At the end of the year, after Passover, the students completed their work on a full-color, illustrated Haggadah, available as a downloadable PDF. The Haggadah includes a full list of ritual objects and groceries that would be needed to carryout an anti-rape culture Seder, as well poems and other commentaries. The Haggadah can be used on its own or serve as supplementary reading at any Seder.

Last year, the students ran a model Seder using the Haggadah for 50 peers and a few adults using the Haggadah and its unique feminist rituals. “It was outstanding,” said Goldfarb. “I am not aware of anything else like it.”

This year, the students are marketing it within their own communities and planning Seders closer to Passover, which begin at sundown on March 30, to engage people once again in this important topic.

Madison Hahamy, 17, from Glencoe said that outside of RTI, rape culture is not something she ever hears talked about in a Jewish setting.

“Nothing will ever change if we refuse to acknowledge that we have a serious problem,” she told eJP. “I hope that at the very least, our Haggadah starts a conversation.”

Hahamy participated in RTI at a time when she herself was struggling with her Jewish identity. She said interacting with the other girls in the program, who she found “strong, confident and articulate,” made her, for the first time, proud to be a Jewish female.

Chicago’s Chandler, who drew the cover image of the “Revenge of Dinah” Haggadah, said she was inspired by the ability to go into in-depth discussion on topics she has never dared speak of in Jewish settings before.

“It was raw, surreal, and religious all at the same time,” Chandler said.

Her cover image is meant to convey the empowerment that overflowed during RTI sessions. The illustration is of a girl whose braids are unravelling, “breaking free of the fence that stands in her way. She represents the independence and conviction, no only of each of the women in my cohort, but women throughout Jewish history, no longer a shadow relegated to the kitchen.”

She believes that, if shared, the Haggadah will have a ripple effect.

“It was from Moses, one person, that the holy words of God were shared,” said Chandler. “By no means are our words holy, but I believe the project paralleled this notion that if one is passionate on enacting change, such will happen.”

RTI was generously funded by Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metro Chicago, The Hadassah Foundation, The Ellie Fund at the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metro Chicago, and The Beck Research Initiative for Women, Gender, and Community.