In 1997, I was honored by Kolot, the forerunner of today’s Ritualwell, for my contributions to Jewish art. Up until that point I had not created any specifically Jewish feminist art, though I had designed many a birth announcement and bat mitzvah invitation.
In response to the honor, I decided to create a design depicting mythical women reading Torah at the Kotel, something they were forbidden from actually doing. Hostile men were, at that time, throwing chairs over the mechitzah at the brave women who attempted to chant the words of Torah. In my mind’s eye, that chair became an analog to the Chair of Elijah. This would be the chair of Miriam, our spiritual mother, who led us in dance and song, with her tambourine held high. Hence, “Thanks for the Chair!”—a tongue-in-cheek title protesting that it was the women (not the chair-throwing men) who were arrested.
I painted the image on an actual tambourine and the piece was very well received. I took a leap and ordered 50 reproductions. My husband David was very cautiously optimistic—he figured I could always give them away as bat mitzvah gifts. My daughter Nomi was only nine at the time. She and her sidekick Ronya sold the tambourines at the Havurah Institute. To our astonishment, they sold three dozen in one hour.
In time I added more tambourine designs, several with feminist images, and I have sold more than 12,000 to date. I retired the original “Thanks for the Chair” design a few years ago, thinking it was getting tired. I donated the original to Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History, where it is displayed in the permanent collection. People who see it might not know that women are not permitted to read Torah at the Western Wall; ironically, what they see on the tambourine is an image of women doing just that.
When I realized 15 years had passed since I released that first tambourine design, I approached Ritualwell about jointly reissuing the design. Regrettably, women are still not permitted to read Torah in plain sight of the wall.
I am delighted that your purchase of the 15th anniversary reissue of my original design will benefit the wonderful work of Ritualwell, which has been so effective at helping women and men own Jewish tradition. Instead of suppressing our voices, Ritualwell facilitates sharing, encouraging everyone to speak up and be heard! This is as it should be.
Order your tambourine here.
Betsy Platkin Teutsch is an artist in Philadelphia.