Hope’s Prophet

Pal, a Golden Retriever, pulled at his leash, keen to investigate scents scattered across the tiny park. Hope trailed behind him, trying not to spill her drink. Once, this dog’s enthusiasm for the world outside had delighted her. Now Hope’s jaw tightened as Pal dragged her behind him. 

All she wanted to do was get home. People would already be there, waiting for her. Her fingers itched to close her bedroom door, open her laptop, and log on. In her mind, she was already inside the neon world of Sirius, an online virtual world designed for tweens and teens set inside a fictional reproduction of our night sky’s brightest star.

“Wake up!” A voice belted towards her, wrenching Hope to the present. Its sound bounced among leaves, rough but strong. A bird lifted off in flight. 

She looked around in surprise, seeing neither the bird nor the leaves. Her eyes fell on the only other human in the park, a wiry old man sitting on a bench beside a tree with leaves that always danced in the wind. They were turning red now, those leaves, their delicate frames quivering as she approached. 

The old man fixed his eyes upon her. Despite her attempts to hold the dog back, he pulled her forward. As they stopped before the man, Pal’s head lifted. Hope lowered hers. 

“Sit down,” he said, nodding at the space beside him. His voice was low, unhurried. Pal sniffed between the man’s brown boots that barely touched the pavement. 

“You need to follow the list,” he instructed, as she settled herself on wooden planks. There was no greeting, no introduction. Hope stopped. Who was this man? What did he know of the list in her pocket?

The folded sheet of paper, lines of her mother’s writing, pressed through the fabric of her jeans, rubbing against her hip bone. Hope shifted in her seat, confused and uncomfortable, the items of her mother’s list appearing in the air above her.

It was an inventory of good deeds, created for Hope to perform now that she had turned eleven, designed to be followed in the year leading up to her bat mitzvah. This ‘mitzvah’ list irritated Hope. Filled with tasks like dog walking, taking out the rubbish, and daily acts of kindness, it was a custom for the children in her family in their preparation towards Jewish spiritual adulthood. No other family imposed such a burden on their children. Other girls were required to learn Jewish history, the special roles of women in Judaism, or how to read from the Torah as they prepared to step into spiritual womanhood. Hope was required to do some of these things too, but because her parents were not like those of other children, she also had the list.

As the youngest of five children whose very names were a testament to their parents’ unceasing commitment to right the world – Shalom (peace), Emmet (truth), Emuna (faith), Ahava (love), and Tikva (hope) – Hope had known her path to Jewish maturity would follow a road littered with public kindness, mapped by parental merchants of virtue. But in truth, all Hope wanted to do was disappear into her virtual life on Sirius, like so many other children her age.

“The list is good, and you need to follow it,” he said, turning cloudy green eyes towards her. “But I am going to add something to it.”

He wore a coat, a flat cap, with a blue scarf, the colour of a summer sky, tied in front. She had never seen a face with such deep lines, carved like ravines into bronzed skin. He looked older than the hills and yet there was dynamism in his ageing frame. 

Under the scrutiny of his glare, Hope wondered momentarily about her safety. She was alone in this park with this strange small man who smelled faintly of dust and roses. In her gut, though, she felt untroubled.

“Two doors from your home lives a woman named Debra. You will visit her after school tomorrow. Later, when you walk your dog and buy your hot chocolate, I will be here, waiting.”

She thought of the woman who lived on the other side of the Sanders family. Debra had greying hair and moved awkwardly. Hope could not remember ever having spoken to her. She had no interest in starting now. But before she had a chance to object, the old man waved her away, “I will see you tomorrow, Tikva.”

It was a clumsy walk home, with the stop-start of Pal’s odour-driven treasure hunt. She had no idea who that man was, but he knew her name, her neighbour, and he knew about her mitzvah list. Perhaps he was a friend of her grandmother, the only other person who called Hope by her Hebrew name, Tikva. 

He was forgotten the moment Hope closed her bedroom door that day and again the following afternoon when dull clouds dropped intermittent showers on her return from school. Declaring it too wet to walk the dog, she threw aside her list. 

Turning on her computer, Hope entered her online haven, with its simulated places and avatar people. Mid-way through a building project, an unfamiliar figure appeared beside her. He wore a coat, a flat cap, and a blue scarf. He was called “Elijah the Prophet”. 

In the chat bar at the edge of the screen, Elijah asked, “What are you doing? Go now to your neighbour. Then come to me in the park. I am waiting.”

Jumping up, Hope gasped and walked ten times around the living area of her house. It could not be him.

She waited a few minutes before returning online. It was important to know she was not crazy. 

“Why are you still here?” Elijah appeared again, his coat floating where no virtual breeze would reach. “You know what to do, so do it.”

With a pounding heart, Hope rushed to her neighbour’s door and knocked. Who was that man? What was he? What did he want from her?

The door opened. A woman stood in its shadow. Hope simply asked if she needed anything. There was a pause and then, “Yes.”

Debra had dropped a key – an important key – behind a heavy bookshelf. It had fallen into a gap the size of a lemon – a space too small for hands swollen with rheumatoid arthritis – but one easily reached by the slight fingers of an eleven-year-old child. 

Within seconds, Hope had extracted the key. Her neighbour’s effusive thanks warmed her, soothing her troubled mood. It spurred her to ask if she could do anything else. 

And she could. There was a box at the back of a cupboard she fetched; a bottle of sauce she opened, and a knot she untied. It took no more than 15 minutes to complete all of these tasks.

“I have to go to walk my dog,” Hope said, awkward now there was nothing left to do.

“You are a heaven-sent,” Debra told her. “I can’t thank you enough. I was beside myself when the key fell. I didn’t know how I would get it back.”

The old man was waiting. He made no reference to their online encounter but nodded when she told him of her encounter with her neighbour.

“She has no family living now. She is lonely and unwell. You must visit her each week.”

Hope pursed her lips in objection to another mitzvah to add to her obligations, but complied, nonetheless. She followed her mother’s list and visited her neighbour. And every afternoon he was there, waiting for her and Pal. Always, she stopped, and they talked. 

He offered no other clue to his identify than his name but hinted at more. Hope understood the impossibility of this man being Elijah the prophet. It would make him thousands of years old. But he knew things. He was like no one else she had met. And he looked like a man who has lived through time. 

Elijah spoke in elegant sentences, passing comment, giving instructions and suggestions, teaching her things. There was no small talk, no side-tracked conversations. One week he was uncharacteristically garrulous, telling her more in that day that he had in all the months they had been meeting. It was a cold, still afternoon. The sky was high and pale. 

“I am the teacher of redeemers,” he told her.

“I thought you spent all your time visiting Passover seders and circumcisions,” she responded, trying to be funny.

“I do that too. But that’s my side hustle, as they say today. My job is to pull together the strings of the universe – to find the candidates who can carry the world into the coming age. I watch them, guide them.”

“So why are you here with me?” she asked, unthinking. Elijah looked at her, eyebrows raised. “I’m just a kid,” she added, breathless before his gaze.

“I also follow the children who carry a spark that has the potential to become a flame. But this is a challenged generation – a generation in a trance. It has been lured by titans away from the path of righteousness.”

“We are a bad generation?”

“No, you are prisoners. You are abandoned. You are misplaced potential.”

“What does this mean for the world?”

“It carries on imperfectly, waiting for redemption.”

“But why?” she asked, her body tense with uncertainty.

“You know already, Tikva. Every time you open your computer you know the answer.”

But what else was there to do? Hope was the youngest child of a large loving family who cared for each other and for the world. But her parents worked late and when they were at home there were always things to be done – phone calls to be made, events to arrange, good works to be completed. Her siblings were grown, living their lives elsewhere. Only Ava was at home. But her sister, a teenager in fear of the world was becoming an adult who hid from it. Ava was not one to leave the confines of her room to spend time with her baby sister.

At home she was alone, but on Sirius Hope thrived. She made things, devised things, coordinated things. Her friends were there. It was her technicolour haven. And yet, as she ran through different online servers in search of belonging and meaning, she understood that none of it was real.

Months passed, the seasons changed, Hope followed her list and met the prophet. They talked about the world, about her aspirations and dreams. Elijah told her tales from history, from Tanach, from a world that had, until then, only existed as words on the page for her. He recounted memories, stories of people and places, that held Hope captive.

The more they met, the more Hope wanted to hear. “Why do you meet me?” she asked, one afternoon, when the late summer wind flapped her hair about her face. Elijah was still, solid as a mountain.

“You are clever, Hope. When your eyes are open and your mind clear, you see the world with clarity few will ever have. You have the skills and the versatility to lead and inspire. You are blessed with so much and yet it hangs in the balance. You can only live your potential consciously. It requires choice. And courage.” The prophet’s voice was steady. Hope felt her heart tighten in her chest.

“It’s scary,” she said.

He nodded. “That it is. To be great is to be brave.”

“But you will help me?” she asked in a whisper.

He nodded, “Until your bat mitzvah and then I must go, and you must follow the path laid out before you. It is the way of the Divine, it is the way of the Universe.”

Hope felt despair. If he was correct in what he said, how would she know what to do?

“You will know. Or you will ask…or you will guess.” He smiled a little then.

The days before her bat mitzvah grew fewer. In the week before her special day, Hope found herself tearful, stretched, unable to explain the waves of emotion that washed over her. When she lashed out at her parents, they consoled themselves with assumptions about youthful hormones.

It was Hope alone who understood the source of her despair. This strange man who had hijacked her life now filled it with meaning. What would she do without him?

They met again one last time, the day after her bat mitzvah, a light autumn rain dropping around them. “Mazal tov,” Elijah said. “You are a Jewish woman.”

“Whatever that means,” Hope mumbled. She did not want to think that she would not see this gnarled old man again.

“It means the responsibilities are now yours – and the opportunities, the blessings, the mitzvot. And the hope, too. You are named for a reason. You are our Hope.”

“But I can’t do this without you. I have no one else to guide me.” 

Elijah shook his head. “Your guides are everywhere. You just need to call on them.”

At the end, when they said goodbye, it was Elijah who rose from the bench. He took short, quick steps away from her without once turning back. Hope thought her heart would break as she watched him depart. 

Later, when she rose from the bench, Hope noticed Elijah’s scarf lying on the ground. Lifting it, she wrapped it around her neck and, despite her heavy heart, walked with her head held high into the future.

Essay Non-fiction

My Orthodox Jewish Life

Recently, sitting through Shabbat synagogue prayers, I noticed – really noticed for the first time in a while – the patterned partition designed to separate men and women in public prayer. This partition, known in Hebrew as a mechitzah, was comparatively modest in scope. Carved wooden lines formed delicate patterns that stretched out between ample doses of nothingness through which the women held behind were able to see into the main sanctuary, or as is often called by women, the men’s section. Through this prism of decorative shapes, I watched the services and realised that the men sitting across from me had no experience of communal prayer through a lens of obstacles and decoration. Their vision was always unimpeded.

Globally, there remain many synagogues where women are sectioned off in a way that substantially obscures their view of the main sanctuary. Quite often the structures of separation are dense enough that they also reduce the ability of female congregants to hear services. This level of religious stringency goes far beyond the requirement ofhalacha, of Jewish law, but is usually explained as being driven by standards of modesty – a preventative measure that stops men from looking at women during services. I wonder why the rabbis don’t simply ask the men to keep their eyes lowered, so the women can continue to watch the services unimpeded.

I think about Asenath Barzani, who lived from 1590 to 1670 and was the first woman to hold a rabbinical title. The only child of an influential Kurdish Torah scholar, despite her sex, Asenath was raised in Torah learning, eventually taking over her father’s role as chief Torah teacher in Kurdistan. What was Asenath’s view of this issue, I wonder. Did she, the first woman to head a yeshiva, also follow communal prayers through a tapestry of obstacles much like the minimal one of my experience? Or was she required to remain behind thick curtains because of the possibility of immodest glances from men?

In Judaism, prayer is both private and public. Ten Jewish males above the age of bar mitzva must be in attendance to create the quorum required to perform Jewish communal prayer services. This quorum is known as a minyan. Women cannot be counted in a minyan and they are not subject to the time-bound obligations for prayer that are imposed on men. Most commentaries explain that women’s greater domestic and familial responsibilities prevent them from being able to meet such obligations.

Across the spectrum of Orthodox congregations, women’s attendance at synagogue services can vary. Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist communities tend to encourage the presence of women, while the attitudes in Ultra-Orthodox communities can range from encouragement, to near-indifference or deterrence.

I am a regular attendee of Shabbat or festival services. In addition to the social benefits of communal gathering, I join these synagogue services out of a desire to maintain connection with my community but also for my daughter to be familiar with, and to have an understanding of, synagogue practices. But there are also metaphysical elements; communal prayer has provided me with moments of elevated spiritual experience. In particular, reciting the silent Amidah – the core prayer of Jewish spiritual practice – alongside tens or hundreds of my community can be incredibly meaningful and there have been many times that I have left services feeling spiritually enriched and blessed.

However, synagogue services are not just about communal gathering or united prayer, they are also choreographed events that require participation from congregants. In Orthodox Judaism, this participation, whether it be leading prayers or reading the Torah, is the domain of men. Women experience services from the other side of a mechitzah, or the distance of a gallery. While there are many women who are contented with this practice, gaining ample spiritual fulfilment from traditional arrangements, there are those for whom a passive relationship with the services can create a feeling of disconnect. It is not uncommon for women, who are otherwise happy with their Jewish lives, to stay home rather than attend synagogue services because neither their presence nor their absence has an impact on proceedings.

The question of why men and women have different options and responsibilities in Jewish life and practice is popularly explained as, ‘men and women are equal but different’. Irrespective of whether one accepts that there is enough similarity between all men – spiritually and emotionally as well as physically – to consider them uniformly alike and equally different from women, there are still many who believe that the lot of Orthodox men is a far more ‘equal’ than women.

In the past century, there has been a tremendous increase in the acceptance – and even encouragement – of Torah education for Orthodox girls. The establishment of the Bais Yaakov schooling system for strictly Orthodox Jewish girls in the United States in the early 20th century was largely motivated by a rabbinical acknowledgement that secularly-educated women were leaving observant Jewish life. The rabbis recognised that the best way to ensure educated women maintained their connection to a religiously committed existence was through greater exposure to Torah and rabbinical texts. While there are still people in the broader Orthodox community who believe that women are not capable of learning Torah or should not be allowed unfettered access to Jewish texts, there is now general acceptance that girls can and should be educated in this way. This decision gave observant Jewish girls and women an opportunity to learn the texts that shape their daily rituals and beliefs; their engagement was strengthened through doing and knowing.

Throughout the ages there have been women involved in Torah learning and teaching, but, for the most part, these women have been exceptions rather than the rule. One towering example lived almost two millennia ago. A sage of the Talmud, Bruriah was the daughter of a revered rabbinical martyr, Rabbi Hananiah Ben Teradion and wife of the Tanna (1), Rabbi Meir. Bruriah however was also acknowledged, in her own right, as a great scholar of Jewish law and lore.

There are a range of stories associated with Bruriah, many of which emerged from commentaries written long after her lifetime. My favourite legend involves her admonishment of Rabbi Jose the Galilean for speaking too freely when asking her for directions. Instead of asking, as he did: “By which direction do we go to Lod?” she suggested it would have been more judicious to say: “Which way to Lod?”. Her remarks are explained as a reference to a passage in the canonical ethical text, Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) which says:

Yose ben Yochanan, man of Jerusalem, says, “May your home be open wide, may the poor be members of your household and do not increase conversation with the woman.” They so stated with his wife; all the more so with the wife of his friend. From this, the sages said, “Any time that a man increases conversation with the woman, he causes evil to himself and neglects the words of Torah; and, in his end, he inherits Geihinam2.” (Pirkei Avot 1:5)

Many scholars have sought to reinterpret this passage, trying to make it more palatable, but for me it is clear: Yose ben Yochanan thinks Jewish men, perhaps for reasons of modesty or morality, should not have extended conversations with women and the sages, supporting this sentiment, warn of purgatorial consequences to such actions – the inheritance of Geihinam (2). While modern-day women like myself may express indignation at the idea that women should be excluded from conversation with men, we can take comfort from the historical distance that exists between us and the sages. However, for Bruriah, these rabbis were her contemporaries. Is it any wonder that a scholar of her stature might experience frustration, to say the least, at such a passage, written and codified by her peers? I can only admire the dignity of her response under these circumstances. Her irritation resonates to us through the ages, while her caustic witticism reminds us that for our objections to be remembered, it is wise to be clever about how they are framed.

My Orthodox Jewish life changed at Purim last year when I attended a women’s-only reading of Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther. I remember stepping inside the synagogue, leaving behind a vibrant blue sky and following the other women into the quietness of the main sanctuary. It felt awkward at first, as if we were trespassing; then came the guilty pleasure of sliding into one of the front benches – not behind a mechitzah, but beside the bima (3) from which the reading was conducted. The experience was profoundly moving, I was sitting inside the sanctuary, following theMegillah, read by voices which sounded like my own. In that instant, my synagogue practice altered forever.

Within a few months I became involved with monthly women’s Shabbat Mincha services, an Orthodox service for women run in accordance with halachic principles. I am far from alone in finding these women’s services meaningful. To partake in a service where the prayers are led by women, the Torah is read by women and women are called up to the Torah, can be tremendously poignant when you have only ever known a more spectator-like synagogue experience. For me, and for others, that sense of belonging, of inclusion, of relevance – and of learning – has been profoundly impactful.

Women’s involvement in Orthodox communal practice and prayer continues to encounter suspicion. For many people it threatens change to a tradition they have always known; there is discomfort in having the familiar altered, and there is fear that change will lead to the dismantling of a tradition. With discomfort and fear comes reaction. There are people who ask what it is that drives a woman to seek greater engagement in her Jewish life beyond that which had been allocated to her? What is her kavanah, her intention? Is it because she is a feminist, they ask? Is it because she wants to be like a man? Why does she not try to meet all her existing obligations, before seeking to take on those that have traditionally been the province of men?

Human behaviour is rich and complex, motivated by multiple drives and external factors. None of us has pure kavanot in anything we do. But while it is common for women to have their motivation questioned, it is rare that the same scrutiny is applied to men. How often, for example, is a man asked his kavanot in his daily ritual and practice? Is he asked whether he is praying with enough focus and purity of thought? Has he demonstrated that his synagogue participation is guided by proper motives? How many existing obligations he has fulfilled before seeking to take on more?

If something enlivens a person’s connection to God and to their Jewish life, and in the case of Orthodox practice, it does not conflict with halacha, then why would it not be encouraged? If there are Orthodox women who feel greater connection to their spiritual tradition as a result of increased participation, surely that is a good thing?

In Orthodox Judaism, women are a front-line issue. In the tussle for centre-ground between the parts of the Orthodox world engaged with modern life and those who cling to the past, the area of Jewish life that is often surrendered as a compromise by more modern communal leaders is the lot of women. What is lost by rabbis who wish to demonstrate their religious rigour and piety to their stricter colleagues by taking a more strident position in relation to the roles, responsibilities and opportunities afforded to women? It is easier to flex one’s religious muscles when one’s own prospects are not at stake.

I think of Rayna Batya Berlin who lived in Lithuania in the 19th century. Descending from a long line of renowned rabbis, she married Rabbi Naphtali Zevi Judah Berlin, the Neziv, who rose to prominence as the head of the pioneering Lithuanian yeshiva founded by Rayna Batya’s grandfather. Like other women in her family, she was said to have been, by the standards of her time, unusually learned in Jewish texts. However, she was also known as a woman who despaired of the limits imposed on her gender by halacha and contemporary custom; in particular, the prohibition at the time against studying Torah. After years of chafing against the status quo, her loyalty to her spiritual tradition overrode her anguished quest for equal status with men, including the right to learn Torah. Her nephew, Rabbi Barukh Ha-Levi Epstein, recounted Rania’s eventual unhappy acceptance of her lot in his autobiographical work, Mekor Barukh:

Afterwards, she turned to me and said, ‘Just as everything has an end and limit, so let there come an end and limit to this painful matter’. From that time on, never again spoke on this subject. (Bacon, Brenda)

For me, the pathos in Rayna Batya’s struggle for spiritual recognition and emancipation is deeply moving, especially as, in that moment of history, her aspirations were so hopelessly beyond reach. I wonder how she would have greeted the news that some fifty years after her death the prohibition against women learning Torah would be lifted by rabbis in America? Would it have gladdened her heart? Would the bitterness have outweighed the sweetness?

Rayna Batya was asking for more than the ability to study Torah; she wanted complete equality with men in Jewish life and Orthodox practice. The equality she demanded 150 years ago was too much for her time and too much for ours. But as we have seen, the borders of Orthodox Judaism can move, attitudes can shift.

A century ago education for Jewish girls underwent radical change. Orthodox life survived – even prospered – as the mainstream position on this issue shuffled and resettled. Let us apply the same pragmatic wisdom from that time and acknowledge that some women today – although, of course, not all – crave greater participation in Jewish practice. They are not seeking to become men but are asking for greater inclusion in their spiritual inheritance – a metaphorical lightening of the mechitzah, so to speak. Halacha provides options for women to partake in religious practice if they wish, affording opportunity for fulfilment, growth and a great deal of learning. In an age when Jewish women are more educated, financially independent and existentially confident than ever before; where equality of opportunity for men and women in secular life is vastly different from that which is available in our religious tradition, it seems only prudent to act to reinforce women’s connection to their spiritual heritage. As we look towards the future, Orthodox Jews from across the spectrum share a desire for a strong and vibrant Jewish continuum.

Already, there is some movement in this direction in other parts of the world. In Israel and America, in particular, there are Orthodox communities redefining female participation in Jewish life and practice. But they are the vanguard. It is my hope that as these pioneers forge ahead – sensitively and halachically, as they have been – that the rest of the Orthodox world will see that this small revolution does not dismantle our tradition, but instead serves to strengthen our future.

It is my view, that one way to promote this future is by opening ourselves up to halachically permitted possibilities that allow greater engagement for our daughters as well as our sons.


1 Tanna/Tannaim: Rabbinic sages well versed in the Oral Law, recorded in the Mishnah. The period of the Tannaim, lasted approx. 210 years (10-220 C.E.)

2 Geihinam: Jewish purgatorial concept. The average person may descend for an interim period to a place of punishment and/or purification prior to ascending to heaven.

3 Bima: The platform in a synagogue holding the reading table used when chanting or reading portions of the Torah and the Prophets. The focus of the service.


Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers, 1:5
Translation provided by Sefaria (Viewed on August 5, 2018)

Bacon, Brenda ‘Rayna Batya Berlin’,

Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1page6image21053632

March 2009. Jewish Women’s Archive. (Viewed on August 5, 2018)page6image21067456


The Havdalah Curse – A Modern Hassidic Tale

Mr and Mrs Samson were blessed with six fine and gifted children. Five times Mrs Samson dreamt of a baby with a beard who sat before a crowd of learned Jews, all of whom gazed upon the infant’s face. Shortly after each dream, Mrs Samson was delivered of a healthy son. 

When the time came for her sixth child to enter the world, Mrs Samson dreamt again. This time there was a bearded child, but the faces of the crowd were turned in all directions. Some sat with their backs to the child, while others stared with fascination towards its glowing face. Days later Mrs Samson bore a daughter, Geula.

One-by-one, the Samson sons were called to the Torah. Each boy read his portion better than the last. They were a source of great pride and joy to their parents. Geula too wished to learn like her brothers. Her parents sent her to special Torah classes for girls, explaining that there were different paths for sons and daughters. 

Geula wanted to be a good Jew in the way of her brothers. When she took it upon herself to pray three times a day, her parents produced small sighs of concern. When she joined the quorum of responses at grace after meals, they turned to each other with heavy hearts.

One night, following the ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath, Geula saw the remnants of her father’s wine. Lifting the cup to her lips surreptitiously, she finished the last drops. She did not believe in the curse said to befall girls who drank of the Havdalah cup. It felt right to do at last what her brothers had done so many times before.  

The next day Geula was filled with remorse and fear. She knew this time her pride had taken her too far. She needed to make amends. Penitent, Geula undertook to be a good Jewish girl in the way that her parents craved.  And then she waited for the curse to come.

It was not easy for Geula to surrender her desire to follow her brothers’ path. One-by-one each brother set forth to learn at the feet of the world’s great rabbis, while Geula stayed home. She played with friends, helped her mother, and behaved as girls from families like hers were expected to behave. Mr and Mrs Samson’s hearts were gladdened by her transformation. 

In the months leading up to her bat mitzvah, Geula’s parents were advised that it was time for their daughter to learn some Torah. When Geula again opened a book of sacred text, her soul soared. She became consumed with a need to learn. 

Her mother was the first to notice the soft sprouting of hairs around her daughter’s chin. She waited for them to disappear, but the hairs kept coming. They soon tried shaving, but nothing would stop the growth. In the final days before her bat mitzvah, a beard as dense as any worn by her brothers covered Geula’s young face.

Despite his love for her, Mr Samson could not look at his daughter. Mrs Samson struggled also, but her heart cried out for her little girl. She took her child from doctor to doctor but none could explain the cause. Only Geula guessed what it meant. 

A visiting rabbi confirmed her suspicion. “This child has drunk from a Havdalah cup,” he said gravely. “The beard will only go when she stops learning Torah.”

Geula shed tears. She tried to close her books, but she was pulled back the way a moth is drawn to a candle. There was nothing she could do to stop.

It was hard for Mr and Mrs Samson, but eventually they understood that their sixth child would also be a bearded scholar. 

Geula went to school. Geula learnt Torah. Geula became a woman.

Mrs Samson had a dream. In her dream she saw Geula. Many eyes were turned towards her daughter whose bearded face emanated light. The following day the visiting rabbi returned. He came to the house of the Samsons and told them of a new seminary for women like Geula. They consulted Google and saw that he was right.

Geula was the first of five students. Each one had drunk from the Havdalah cup and had grown a cursed beard. Over the years more hirsute women arrived. 

Geula continued studying long after she had stood beneath her wedding canopy and her children had grown. She learnt until the day her eyes could see no more; teaching long after her beard was white. For those not afraid to gaze upon her bearded light, she was the giant of her age. 

Her parents’ hearts were filled with joy, but Geula’s children were their greatest pride.