Jewish Ozzies' Inter.Net
The electronic voice of the Australian Jewish Community



AUSTRALIAN JEWISH PROFILE - NO. 4

DONNA SIFE

Storyteller, Singer/Songwriter and Writer

I was born Donna Jacobs on March 15, 1956 to parents who saw their Judaism in terms of social expression, and very little to do with religion. We rarely lit the Shabbos candles, went to Temple for the High Holidays only. I went to Ascham, which was and still is an exclusive girls' school, euphemistically referred to as 'non- denominational' - which meant, in those days, that you could be any kind of Christian you liked! I often say my earliest powerful recollection of being Jewish was when I went to church with the school. My parents migrated from Scotland and New Zealand, but I hasten to add that their parents were from Latvia and Poland - lest you think me an impostor.

My spiritual search was always an avid one, and I searched within the Eastern area of mediation, vegetarianism, and a oneness with nature. It was only when I married at the age of 23, that I became 'nouveau Jewish'. I realized that anything I was searching for could be found within my own religion. That Judaism provided a structure for my spiritual pursuits, an opportunity to give thanks, enjoy ritual and celebration of all aspects of life. Amongst our wedding gifts were two dinner sets and we decided, whilst unwrapping, that one would be meat and one would be milk. My relationship with Judaism grew and developed through my desire to read and learn as much as I could. At the time, my husband and I were attending an Orthodox Synagogue, but before too long, I found the lack of inclusion of women intolerable and we joined the Temple Emanuel in the North Shore of Sydney.

My interest in women's issues and Judaism grew and I formed, with a group of women friends, a Rosh Hodesh group which is still functioning today, seven years later. At the group we ritualize our joy at being created as women, draw from the new month to set a theme, learn from our foremothers and women who have come before us and inspire us Jewishly, ritualize life cycles such as birth, death, divorce, menopause..... we sing, we dance, we share.

When my children started school, I volunteered to teach them Jewish studies through the Board of Jewish Education. Fourteen years later, I am still teaching at a number of high schools in the area. Through teaching, I started to learn and tell stories - just as the Rabbis had done, and soon so many were asking me to tell stories to their students that seven years ago, I became professional.

As a singer/songwriter and writer it has been a natural transition, and one I believe is part of the reason I am here. My interest in story lead to my writing a course for the Melton institute on Jewish story, which I teach over a six week period, which in turn lead to giving lectures in Sacred Story at The university of Sydney and other places.

My Judaism today is a unique combination of all movements, and I refuse to identify with any one movement. I want my Judaism to be filled with colour, joy, creativity and purpose. Everything I do is imbued with the joy and delight that Judaism has to offer. It is relationship of many levels, and provides me with a structure and purpose, a way by which to measure my life and the events around me, to enhance my consciousness, and connect with ritual. Although my relationship with God is beyond Judaism, it is not separate from it.

The more I learn the more I see that all religions are the same, linked by a golden thread, and yet unique - and I value the freedom for all people to express their love and worship their God in their own way, in their own time, and in their chosen place.

Donna Sife


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