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Bronya Shaffer coming to SA to conduct all-women seder

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Born in France and raised in Montreal, Bronya Slavin Shaffer will be coming to South Africa for Pesach and to conduct an all-women seder at the Bon Riviera at the Vaal, where her son-in-law, Rabbi Ari Kievman, has arranged a Pesach retreat for the entire Passover period.
by SUZANNE BELLING | Mar 09, 2016

PHOTOGRAPH SUPPLIED

No stranger to South Africa, Shaffer has visited this country on several occasions, including on an invitation by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein as an opening night speaker at the inaugural Sinai Indaba in 2011.

She has represented the observant Jewish woman’s point of view on many panels, including with Oprah Winfrey, Erica Jong and Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger.

Shaffer raised 10 children with her husband Gedaliah (obm), all devoted to Chabad Chassidic practice, but without discrediting secular knowledge and ideas. Indeed one of her daughters is a physician, another a lawyer and a son of her served in the IDF.

During her 38 years of marriage, the Shaffers’ home in New York was the centre of extended family Pesach celebrations.

Then tragedy struck, when in March, 2007, a drunk driver went through a red light and killed the scholarly and beloved Gedaliah. He was 61.

“That first Pesach without Gedaliah - for the first time in their lives - my children and I didn’t have a seder at home. We went to my siblings,” Shaffer told SA Jewish Report.

“By the time Pesach came again a year later, I told my children that I was determined that we experience Pesach differently, so we thought about how we could create a new, different experience.

“It would never be the same, so it was up to us to create - out of this difference - something of significance.

“I decided to do what I’d never been able to do before, and that was to provide a place where women could enjoy a seder that was not child-centred. At first I thought to invite singles, men and women... but, as usual, there were many more women... so I decided to do it for women only.

I am blessed with family and with children... and could have any number of opportunities to spend these evenings with the wonderful sounds of young grandchildren reciting the Four Questions... but I thought of women who didn’t have that... so the sedarim are meant to be meaningful and fun... with the unique vibe of an ‘adult women only’ evening.”

As a result, Bronya’s Women’s Seder was born. Over the years she experienced the gratitude of participants.

Reinforced by decades of counselling singles and couples, it occurred to Shaffer that for women who had never married, or those who were divorced or widowed, “being even a much-welcomed guest at a family seder wasn’t always a satisfying experience”.

Does she feel it is empowering women?

“One participant mentioned how her self-respect had eroded as she watched her younger siblings, for whom she’d babysat, grow up and establish their own seder tables while she was still in the same position as a child among other children because she didn’t have a husband.”

Another squeezed Shaffer’s hand in thanks: This was the first time she’d ever felt the power of Pesach as it was meant to be, as a full participant.

When asked how she gets around the tenet that the “man of the house” is supposed to relate the story of the Exodus, Shaffer said: “Where there is a man of the house, it is his obligation to lead the telling. Women are obligated in the mitzvah, and in the absence of a 'man of the house', the woman will take the leading role. 

“Indeed, traditionally, the seder was led by the 'man of the house', but we live in very different realities and traditional male and female roles are vastly reimagined... the seder is meant to be experienced by every single individual Jew - woman or man - and it's meant to be a personal experience. We would sit together and the seder conversation would be as diverse as the participants,” Shaffer said.

She is confident that her seder debut in South Africa at the retreat - only a 45-minute drive from Johannesburg - will be a success on the first two nights, April 22 and 23.

* For more information on the retreat and the Pesach programme for men, women and children, e-mail PesachSA@gmail.com.

 

1 Comment

  1. 1 Irit 13 Mar
    This is very interesting. A Chabad women's feminist Seder? It would be fascinating it experience. Are any people signed upnfornthisnyet? I would be very interested in attending. 

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