Yuvi Tashome was born in a small village in Ethiopia. She left with her family when she was 6 years old, as part of the mass migration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, but she remembers the village ways, and especially the ways of the women…
(* see my video interview with Yuvi at the bottom of this page)
Yuvi’s Mom said Goodbye to her family once a month and went to the Women’s House. In the center of the village, encircled by stones, surrounded by the whole community, stood the Women’s House. Yuvi’s Mom, like all women, went there to rest for an entire week, each and every month.
Yuvi went to her aunts’ homes, or hang out with other family members, while her mother was resting in the Women’s House. Yuvi’s father, like all fathers, took on his wife’s chores, as did the elder women and older children.
Protected by traditional laws, women resting in the Women’s House were not allowed to do Anything for Anyone, except for themselves, or for other women in the Women’s House.
People weren’t allowed to ask anything of them, not even in emergencies. They had to cope with what was in front of them while the women rested.
Yuvi remembers the feeling of belonging when her mom wasn’t home: surrounded by other women, and many of the village folk, she felt great: they all took care of her! When she really missed Mom, she could go into the Women’s House and stay there for the day. At sunset she had to leave, wash herself in the river, and return home to her family for the night. Yuvi smiles as she recalls this. These are some of her most treasured childhood memories.
She remembers playing with the girls in her village, pretending to be on her period. She would scornfully ask her playmates to “stop bagging her” and let her go to the Women’s House, at which point the children collaborated in building her a separate place where she could “rest”!
Women retired to the Women’s House whenever their body needed to rest and renew: at menstruation they retired for a week. After the birth of a boy – a mother will retire for 40 days. After the birth of a girl – for 80 days!
The Women’s House was a sanctuary
Girls went there when they began to menstruate. Women went there to give birth and bond with their newborn babies. Everything made sense, says Yuvi, because this was the norm: to bleed, to birth, to care for an infant — in the company of other women. All was explained in that environment, and all was natural.
The Women’s House is where women talked about everything: from herbal cures, to men and husbands. From relationship tips, to ways of avoiding pregnancy. From listening to one’s self, to self care. In many ways this was a school for living a woman’s life in harmony.
One of Yuvi’s fondest memories is that of the women’s daily walk to wash in the river, with their babies. An older woman will point out the leaves that become soap when immersed in water, or the leaves that will produce oil. Older women instructed younger ones in identifying, and using, the herbs that surrounded them, in the ways of gathering them for medicine, in the dosages needed for children and adults, passing on ancient knowledge to another generation of women.
When I ask Yuvi about the traditional name of the Women’s House, another cultural layer is revealed: in Amharic the Women’s House was known as Mergem Godjo. Mergem means a Curse.
Despite the thriving women’s culture inside it, despite the village’s honoring of women’s need to rest monthly and after birthing a child, despite men taking care of everything while women rested — the cultural reference to women’s periods, or giving birth, is that of the curse inflicted upon Eve by God.
Women simply called it the Women’s House, and rejoiced in the culture they created within it – since time immemorial – despite the cultural negativity, which no doubt emerged with the rise of patriarchal beliefs.
Regardless of cultural attitudes, women created a “cocoon” in which deep conversations started. Needing to continue once they returned home, and needing to preserve privacy, the women developed a “secret language”. This allowed them to continued their “blood conversations” without anyone understanding. Yuvi remembers her mother and grandmother talking in a tongue she couldn’t comprehend. Her aunt clarified with a smile: this was “the women’s language!”
It is humbling to hear a first-hand experience from an unbroken women’s tradition
While women around the world are passionately reclaiming and reviving MoonTime traditions that are long gone, here is a living testament of an ancient one, which survived cultural animosity and remained in tact. Until the immigration to Israel, that is.
When Yuvi was but a child, she moved with her family to the land that was to rob them of their traditions. She pushed aside her parents’ ways, like most children arriving in a new land, and didn’t have the opportunity to enter the Women’s House when she begun bleeding. In the “modernized” country of Israel — the tradition broke.
Yuvi’s generation deemed their parent’s ways as “non modern” and irrelevant to their new Israeli culture. Young mothers abandoned old traditions and adopted Western ones, having been made to feel shame for their parents “primitive” ways. Within less than one generation — the tradition was severed.
Yuvi initially marveled at how modern Israel was:
Women could work outside of their home, vote, be their own person. It was easier for women to adjust to Israel since there were many state-run programs helping women become independent. This made things worst at home: many families were separated, and Yuvi was sent to a boarding school, believing she would get a better education there. Life in Israel was not anchored in gatherings, in helping each other, or in communal living. Within a generation – the community’s strength broke.
After getting married and having her first child in Israel, Yuvi went with her baby to her mother’s house. However, she refused to listen to her mom’s advise since mom “only” raised children in Ethiopia, not in a Western culture. “What would she know?” Yuvi asked herself.
Yuvi’s mom wasn’t deterred. She continued to speak, and to Yuvi’s surprise things her mom mentioned begun to take place. When Yuvi’s baby boy had a stomach ache, her mother’s herbs helped. As time passed she realized that she probably needs to listen. And so she did. Her own former world begun to reveal itself to her.
In the west, says Yuvi, if you need support – you go to a therapist, but if you don’t have the money — you are all alone. When Yuvi’s pregnant aunt lost her child in Israel, she was alone in hospital. Once the Ethiopian community heard about it, they started pouring into her hospital room: neighbors from near and far, women of all ages, women her mother’s age – all kept coming, staying, and talking. Her aunt suddenly felt “normal” when she realized: “I haven’t done anything wrong to lose my child”.
Today Yuvi’s point of view has completely turned around
“When you come from Africa to the West” she says “there is a feeling you need to prove yourself, to show you’re smart.” Yet, she says, though her parents can’t read or write, they’re the smartest people she knows!
In the past 10 years, Ethiopian people in Israel begun to awaken to the fact that they possess invaluable traditional wisdom, which is almost lost. A Community Garden was started, in the town of Gedera, where people of all ages gather to work, where Elders pass down their knowledge, where they teach the young ones of the ways of the Earth. Yuvi, who is part of this project, realized by listening to her Elders that they, as a culture, had Everything in Ethiopia,
Inquiring into the Ethiopian Women’s Ways of her mother and grandmother, Yuvi begun offering Full Moon ceremonies for women of Ethiopian heritage as well as women at large in Israel. Her gatherings are named “Mitglala” (“Revealed”) and her vision is that women all over the country will observe the growing of the moon, monthly, for the sign that it’s time to gather.
Yuvi’s Full Moon gatherings in Gedera, Israel, are inspired by the Women’s House in Ethiopia, with activities such as massaging each other, braiding each other’s hair, and caring for for one’s self and for each other. During these 3-hours long gatherings – time is dedicated to sharing personal stories, which always brings women together, realizing they are not alone. A different woman speaks to the group each month, and the gathering always ends with a ceremony.
Having been uprooted from her people’s tradition in Ethiopia, Yuvi turned around full circle to reclaim it in Israel.
She now practices her people’s ways not because “this is how it was always done” but because she found deep value in it, having experienced the isolation of life without it.
Yuvi’s favorite prayer, spoken by the Elders in the Community Garden, says: “God, after you give to the birds, to the insects, to the animals… let there be some left for me, too.” This prayer demonstrates to Yuvi the opposite of Western prayers, which typically focus on “Give me more!” Instead, she says, the Elders feel they are not alone in the world, they are part of everything!