I like the holiday of Shavuot (we just celebrated it this past Sunday) for two reasons. First, we read the Book of Ruth. It should come as no surprise to my readers that I identify with and admire Ruth. She inspires me to be a more brave and a better person. Second, it is customary to spend the entire night on the eve the holiday begins studying a variety of texts – Tikkun Layl Shavuot – that address the various themes of the holiday. So, in honor of my personal biblical hero and in the spirit of Shavuot, I decided to take time out to learn in a uniquely modern way. This year, I turned to TED Talks for inspiration.
If you are not familiar with TED Talks, it is an international series of conferences offered by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, under the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading.” The video-based talks address a wide variety of topics and are delivered by experts in their chosen fields. I decided to see what specific ideas and thoughts TED offers by women for women. Thus my quest for knowledge began.
At first, upon entering the search words “women” and “empowerment,” I was upset to see only two talks listed. I promptly deleted the word “empowerment” and tried again. Fortunately an actual list appeared this time and I quickly found women and topics that could provide the basis for a good syllabus. In addition, a playlist called “10 talks by women that everyone should watch” produced excellent material. And so began my video binging in search of ways to become more enlightened and empowered.
I’m happy to report that I learned a lot in a short period time. (My new aspiration is to do my own TED Talk one day.) Since I cannot summarize each video for you, allow me to offer a few that made particular impressions on me:
- Courtney Martin updated my understanding of feminism from the 1960’s perspective to today’s. She highlights being a young adult and an activist in today’s world, and addresses many paradoxes with which we are confronted. Listening to her gives me high hopes for my daughter and her friends. I am proud to confess that I was and still am a devout feminist.
- Sheryl Sandberg confronts the reality of women’s inequality in the workplace in terms of leadership roles and the stereotypes that hold women back. Listening to her finally convinced me to read her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, and do more mentoring with the young women in my office. It’s time that women of all ages — especially in the not-for-profit world — aggressively strive to be the best they can be and reach the highest positions they can attain in their fields.
- Hanna Rossin highlights the recent increase in numbers of women earning college and graduate degrees, entering the workforce, starting businesses, and earning higher salaries. These are great steps forward that should be nurtured by more mothers and grandmothers — and female colleagues.
- And my favorite… Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley shares her incredible personal story of determination and drive, from being a child who escaped the Holocaust on the Kindertransport to starting her own “women-only” business; to becoming an activist and a philanthropist. She was motivated to prove she had been worth saving. (Aren’t we all?!?)
While there were other memorable talks (Esther Perel’s talk on “Rethinking infidelity…a talk for anyone who had ever loved” is a great blog topic for another day!), these particular ones kept reminding me of Ruth.
Ruth is a role model who embodies female empowerment and defies stereotypes. As a Moabite woman, she was married to a Jewish man for ten years (not common or popular) during which time they had no children. (She controlled her own biology!) When he died, instead of staying with her family and people, she followed her mother-in-law Naomi (also not common or popular) back to her homeland –- the land of Israel. There, Ruth openly adopted the Jewish way of life and values; eventually marrying one of Naomi’s kinsmen (Boaz) and bearing his child (unemotionally controlling her own biology again) to perpetuate the family line.
Ruth speaks to a cross-section of audiences as she teaches lessons of faith, courage, loyalty, commitment, integrity, and love. She is a complex and a deep character -– a foreigner, a non-Jew, a wife, a childless woman, a daughter-in-law, a widow, a Jew-by-choice (the first “convert”), a problem-solver and a connector — who was ahead of her time. She is a feminist in a chauvinistic patriarchal world.
I love Ruth and look forward to understanding and learning from her -– and myself –- even better next year. But for now, let’s focus on embracing today’s lessons and seizing the opportunities to promote change that lie in front of us.