I first discovered The Red Tent, or as is often the case with books, it found me, as a twenty-something newlywed. I was invited by a colleague to read it with her and then attend a special discussion on the book with a rabbi visiting from New York, I jumped at the chance. From the first line, I was hooked:
We have been lost to each other for so long.
This line – the voice of history speaking to its descendant – resonated deeply with me. I am obsessively curious about the stories of my past, particularly the matriarchs that came before me. Dinah (of the Biblical story in Genesis, daughter of Jacob and Leah) goes onto say,
“My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust. This is not your fault, or mine. The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the word passed to the keeping of men, who had no way of knowing.”
These words, so eloquently stated a feeling I have long held, but couldn’t express. Anita Diamant wrote the words of my heart and this story has held me captivated ever since.
The story of Dinah, a more complex version of the biblical woman who was little more than a footnote, fascinates me. Yes, I know it is fiction, but Ms. Diamant weaves it all together so convincingly; I feel the deep, resounding truths of this story. It speaks of connection – between mother and daughter, aunt and niece, women and nature. The rhythm of life with the moon and the seasons, life and death. So beautifully rich and vividly portrayed, that I long for this sisterhood, this connection.
Upon reading it the first time, I focused on the history and theology of it all, which was exactly what I needed at the time. This most recent reading has given me a more personal and intimate connection to Dinah. I am now at a much different place in life – a mother of two, older and wiser, more sure of who I am. I see myself in Dinah, who as the only daughter of Jacob, is her family’s storyteller. This is a role I am keenly aware of in my own life. As my loved ones age and leave this earth, I work diligently to keep their stories alive – I want my children to know their history, their roots, and their sense of context in this world. The power of the female also struck me as I read, the power to adapt and persevere.
Dinah’s power is our power, our story – under unthinkable circumstances, she survived with a quite strength – so can we.
Exploring such truths encourages us to pause and evaluate our own lives, our own relationships. There are so many layers to this story. This time around, my appreciation for my own mother and all of the women who have come before me is much stronger than before. They guide me and call me back to my roots, my core values. Each person, whether related by blood or marriage, contributes in profound ways to who I am today and, more importantly, to who I am becoming.
I love books, the written word has a way of meeting you right where you are – providing the lessons and truths as you are ready for them. This is why I will always hold onto a few beloved books, among them The Red Tent. I am sure in some future version of myself I will be ready for new lessons. Until that time, I reflect on these truths – the connection of us all to each other and to nature, the strength we possess and the sacred gift of storytelling.