This week’s post is by Talia Liben Yarmush, co-founder of Achayot: Sisterhood of Jewish Women Writers.
At its foundation, Achayot is built on the principles of wisdom/chochma and community/kehilla. Recognizing the rich legacy of Jewish text and tradition, with a desire to incorporate this legacy into our own writing, Achayot is dedicated to the creation, cultivation, and promotion of Jewish literature by women. This is our mission statement. At its core, Achayot brings together Jewish women – both virtually and physically – to learn, inspire, uplift, and promote each other in our writing.
In his essay, Rabbi Sid Schwarz says that, “In an age of globalization, Jewish institutions need to offer multiple avenues to explore chochma, the wisdom of our sacred texts put into the context of the world’s religions and in the language of contemporary culture.”
Our goal at Achayot is both to bring the text closer to the women – making it accessible for those who are unfamiliar with Torah study as well as expanding the views of those who have a stronger background in limudei kodesh – while also drawing the women closer to the text – building connection, inspiration, and tradition. We firmly believe that the Torah belongs to each and every Jewish person and, as such, it should be accessible to each and every Jewish person. Because we are an organization for writers, we use Torah study as a tool to enhance, not only ourselves and the sense of holiness/kedusha within our own lives, but our own writing as well. And, indeed, it is our writing that is equally essential to our organization.
At Achayot, we believe that something magical happens when women create a space of their own, and come together in a unified effort to learn from one another and raise each other up. During our writing retreats, we immerse ourselves in Torah study, creative writing, expert panels, and a communal experience like no other. Women leave the retreats transformed, invigorated, and deeply connected to one another. By incorporating Torah study into a shared love of writing, all women, no matter their level of Jewish knowledge or practice, come away feeling closer to a tradition that is thousands of years old, but was withheld from them for thousands of years.
In his essay, Rabbi Sid describes this imperative of kehilla as such: “At a time when technology has made meaningful social intercourse much harder to come by, the Jewish community must offer places where people can find support in times of need, communal celebration in times of joy, and friendships to make life fulfilling.” While we feel strongly that Achayot indeed fulfills this view of kehilla, we also feel that it is important to take advantage of the technology of our time and use it to enhance our kehilla. We firmly believe that, with a basis of friendship established in-person at our retreats and workshops, social media forums and other technological advances enhance our community. As writers from diverse geographical locations, signing in to our Facebook group and asking a question about networking, pay rates, or for more information on a religious custom for an article, is an essential aspect of our community-building methodology.
While the explanation given to describe social justice/tzedek (and truly, the essence of social justice) cannot be found within the framework of our organization, there is a reason this organization is for women, and not for men. And that is because, like in many other fields, the writing and publishing world is dominated by men who are able to sell more because they are men, and earn more because they are men. It is not meaningless that in the 1800’s, Mary Anne Evans chose to write by the name of George Eliot. Or even that still, in 1995, Joanne Rowling wrote under the name J.K. Rowling. In a society that unjustly favors men over women, our group is dedicated to creating a sisterhood that networks, uplifts, and promotes one another.
Talia Liben Yarmush is a writer and editor, and co-founder of Achayot: Sisterhood of Jewish Women Writers. You can find her at www.TaliaYarmush.com.