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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Mar Cheshvan- The Nine Women Project

The month of Cheshvan snuck in on Sunday and Monday of this week. After a month of mega-hoidays, fasting, food and celebration, Cheshvan is a month graced with nothing. No holidays, no fast days, no extra requirements, just a month to do ordinary things. Over the past few days as Mar Cheshvan (Mar meaning bitter as Cheshvan laments its lot as a month devoid of holidays) tiptoed into the calendar, both Rabbi Hamilton of Kehillath Israel and Liel Liebowitz's "Take One" Daf Yomi podcasts have both spoken of the beauty of the mundane in our lives.

During the past eight months as life has gotten smaller and more home focused, indeed the mundane is paramount in our existence. I should qualify that by saying that for some of us life has gotten smaller but this is not the case for many people. There are probably three categories of ways to live at this time, people for whom there aren't enough hours in the day to complete their responsibilities and people whom have lots of time they would have spent with community but now are figuring out a smaller life with drastically fewer in person options, leaving them with a life on-line or alone. And then, of course, there are the children, each of whom have the challenges of school, screens, socializing and stability.

Over the past few months I have assembled a group of nine women, including me. Together we range in age from 17 to 92. Each of the nine women represents a decade and each woman is taking pictures to document her life during this mundane time. This project is called The Nine Women project. The photographs and reflections which I have begun to assemble represent the difficult choices that women need to make during this time of Covid. They further attempt to show how women of different ages are coping and living during the pandemic. The participants in this project are not photographers, but they have been asked to step up and be mindful of how they spend their time, what energizes them and what brings them down in their everyday lives. I hope that this will be a way for us to see how Covid 19 affects each of us differently from children to old age.

Cheshvan is quiet and mundane. The pandemic, even during Cheshvan, teaches us to savor the small details in life. Cheshvan helps to emphasize being mindful of taking care of ourselves every day, to do the smallest of things to keep us sane and safe and healthy.

Please note that in the photos that follow, that it is the small and the mundane that infuse life. Life for some is a series of small, deliberate actions which provides meaning to existence. For some subjects, their actions, which blanket their days and nights, are significant and impact upon the lives of others. All photos come from the heart. It's not about the photography, its about the stories. Life during Covid epitomizes the idea of small and regular events that keep us going and keep us strong. We all need Cheshvan and this year can appreciate the meaning of the small and the mundane even more.

Stay tuned for more on The Nine Women project.


Here are the the participants in the Nine Women project and a first photo from each of the participants which shows their focus over the past few months:

Shoshana is 17 and lives in San Francisco with her parents. She is a senior in high school and learning remotely. She is working on planting small seeds in her room and tending to them as a way to mark time, to see growth, to calm her and give her perspective on life.

Arielle is in her 20s and lives in Washington DC. She is an immigration attorney. She lives in a small apartment with her boyfriend and both of them share this small space now for long hours of work as well. Arielle has photographed the building where she has worked with immigrants, but is now closed. She has also been emotionally invested in the politics of 2020.

Elisheva lives in NYC and is in her early 30s. She is a special needs teacher in a Jewish day school. She was teaching in person until a few weeks ago when her school transitioned abruptly back to on-line teaching and then back again to meeting in person. She is exhausted from the demands of teaching at this time and has chosen to photograph her free time which she savors even more now during the pandemic.

Sarah Marie is in her early 40s. She too, is a teacher and an author. She and her husband live in a two family in greater Boston with her widowed mother living downstairs. She has three children all learning remotely and Sarah Marie also is teaching remotely. She estimates that she is working 70 hours per week and that is probably not enough time for the planning she needs to do for her classes. It is an understatement to state the challenges of parenting and working at this time, so Sarah Marie has decided to focus her attention on mothering her children during this time. Photographing her children gives her the opportunity to focus on these small and fleeting moments that matter to her.

Marla is in her early 50s and lives in greater Boston with her husband and one child in high school and two older children, one of whom is at university and one who has completed university. Marla holds a full time job and has devoted her considerable energy these past months toward food justice and the election. She has chosen to catalog her life through photos of her activism.

I am the person who is representing the 60s in the Nine Women project. My project is called The Memory Room. I am doing a series of portraits of the people with whom I am saying kaddish each morning in an online Zoom room at Congregation Kehillath Israel. Early each morning, each person has the opportunity to share short vignettes about the life of the deceased during our short service each morning. This has opened up the room and fostered a sense of close community at this time.Subjects are people in the room who are saying kaddish along with a photo of the person being mourned.

Nancy, from San Fransisco, is in her 70s. She is pursuing her doctorate online and is involved with food saving and providing food for the hungry at a community kitchen at her synagogue. She is cataloging both celebrating the sabbath with the sense of peace that provides her and her work in food saving.

Margaret lives in San Fransisco and is in her 80s. Margaret is restricted to her home with her husband and is cataloging her life away from children and grandchildren. Margaret has photographed the daily routines that give shape to her day.

Bernice, in her 90s and living in a lovely senior living complex, is cataloging her life where rules are set down for seniors living in the community. She records, with great enthusiasm, the joy of seeing family in person and on Zoom.

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