Interview with Miriam Chaya: Continuous Commitment to Speak Out on Women’s Wisdom

Miriam Chaya is a name chosen by a resident of AgeSong at Bayside Park,  the AgeSong Elder Community in Emeryville. She chose this name to celebrate her 60th birthday.  In 2000, she co-produced Timbrals and Torahs, Celebrating Women’s Wisdom. This interview reflects her continuous commitment to speak out for women’s rights and to celebrate women’s wisdom.

Why did you produce the movie?
I wanted to mark my 60th birthday with some sort of ritual – I had studied for my Bat Mizvah, and then I realized I was not 13. As I moved from the past  and midlife to eldering, I thought was a great thing, rather than duplicating something from a teenager.

What was the movie about?
Women are very wise.  Community Participation, Naming Ceremony, Reading Torah, Receiving Blessings, Tree-Planting Ceremony, A Convenant – Your Commitment.

I see in the movie that you changed your name to Miriam.  When did you change your name?
1997

Why did you change your name?
In giving myself this name on a daily basis, it was a very bold step.  I always loved the name Miriam because Miriam in the Bible was the older sister of Moses. She saved his life and he became the leader of the Jewish people. I still feel that I have the name of Miriam Chaya.  Every time someone calls me that name, the memory of that Simchat  Chochmat comes up.  It is traditional for Jewish people, when they are making a major transition in their lives, to choose a new name.

What does celebrating wisdom mean?
Each of us has a great deal of wisdom and collectively we have even more wisdom. Looking back  at ourselves and acknowledging who we are is traditional and sharing that  in a group, it is a collection of wisdom.  Traditionally wisdom has been attributed to men.  Now with the Simchat Chochmat, women can acknowledge and celebrate their wisdom. The film is really about how women were denied the privilege of participating in Jewish ritual (i.e., reading Torah).

In the film, you said:
Like Miriam, I want to dance with my timbrel.  I want to teach other women to listen to their heart’s desire.  Today, it is time for me to take my full power, to stand up and be counted, to take my place in my community. From this day forward, I will be known as Miriam, a leader of women.

That was so inspiring. Do you mind if I call you Miriam?
You can call me whatever you like.

Miriam was a biblical woman.  Would you tell me something about her?
She was Moses’ sister.  She pulled him from the bulrushes. When he led the people through the Red Sea, she led the women.

In the film, you said:
I will not live an unlived life.  I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire.  I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise. I choose to risk my significance, to risk that which came to me as seed goes onto the next as blossom, and that which came to me as blossom goes on as fruit.

At this stage of your life, are you still interested in empowering women?
Of course! It is the reason for my life.  It’s not that I shall ever finish it.  It is the purpose of my life – to inspire other women to live their lives to the fullest, not to be afraid of change. Coming to AgeSong has been a remarkable experience for me, because I have an opportunity to meet women of all ages and backgrounds and to become friends with them.  They are my teachers and I am theirs.

In the film you talked about life and death, your body changing and your mind changing.  Your movie relates to the AgeSong philosophy of beauty and knowledge at any age and any stage. Thank you for this interview and for sharing with me and with the community your beautiful, inspirational film.

Dr. Sally Gelardin

AgeSong Journalist and Reporter

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AgeSong Senior at Bayside Park | 1440 40th Street, Emeryville, California 94608 | 510-594-8800 | License # 015601452

AgeSong Retirement Communities: Locations throughout the Bay Area, including San Francisco and the East Bay: San Francisco-Hayes Valley • San Francisco-Laguna Grove • Oakland-Lake Merritt • Oakland-Lakeside Park • Emeryville-Bayside Park • Castro Valley-OakCreek

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