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Biblical Heroine Serah bat Asher, a “Nasty Woman” For Our Times

During the first month of the Trump administration, my thoughts turn to Serah bat Asher, the immortal witness to Jewish history. Because of her many good deeds, rabbinical tradition ascribes to her eternal life as one of the seven who entered the Garden of Eden.

We first encounter Serah bat Asher in the Torah (Genesis 46:17) as the Patriarch Jacob’s granddaughter — and the only granddaughter — mentioned in the genealogical list of Jacob’s family members who go down from Canaan to Egypt. Serah is also named in the census in the Book of Numbers (26:46), “the name of Asher’s daughter was Serah.”

According to rabbinic legend, Serah foretold that Moses would redeem the Israelites from Egypt, and showed him Joseph’s burial place in the Nile River so Moses could fulfill Joseph’s dying wish to carry his bones from Egypt. Tradition also tells that Serah was an eyewitness to the Exodus and was present on the entire journey to the Land of Israel.

As another significant historical era unfolds, we implore Serah bat Asher to again be our eternal witness and record how 21st century women are responding to the Trump age.

Tell future generations how millions of women protested the new presidential administration and marched for human rights in Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, and cities across the globe on inauguration weekend.

Testify how brave women brought their children to airports to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order that barred immigrants and refugees from entering the United States. Record our tears as we watched pregnant women and young children handcuffed or turned away from our borders because they presented a “security risk.”

Remember our present-day struggles to preserve reproductive freedom, public education, universal healthcare, and LGBTQ rights in America, and maintain our American legacy as a nation of immigrants — and also ensure the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with equal rights for all its citizens.

The ancient rabbis were fascinated with Serah, with many legends attesting to her wisdom and longevity. In one story, Rabbi Johanan, a 3rd century sage in Tiberias, was explaining the verse about the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:22) and how the water became a wall. Serah suddenly appeared and, like a “nasty woman,” had the audacity to correct a famous rabbi, saying, “No, it was a transparent window. I was there.”

That’s exactly why, despite our many social media feeds, we need Serah to report history accurately for future generations. Serah remembered, saw, and told the true facts. Serah told the real truth rather than fake facts, and even displayed the courage and integrity to correct a renowned rabbinical scholar.

This Shabbat (February 11) is Shabbat Shira when we read the same Torah portion, B’shallah, that describes the crossing of the Red Sea. It’s also Tu b’Shevat, the Festival of the Trees, when we plant seeds as a symbolic hope for the future. On Sunday, February 12th (Abraham Lincoln’s birthday), Jews in cities across the U.S. will join together for a Jewish Day of Action for Refugees.

As we commemorate this triple-header weekend as American Jews, let’s remember Serah bat Asher who immigrated from both Canaan and Egypt, witnessing the history of our Jewish nation. And let’s hope that she will tell our story — just as it should be written and recorded for posterity.

Paula Jacobs is a writer in the Boston area.

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