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Detailed Book Review
Sacred Voices: Women of Genesis Speak         
Sacred Voices: Women of Genesis Speak
By Sherri Waas Shunfenthal
ISBN: 978-1-929763-07-8
Price: $13.95
Shipping: $4.00
Sacred Voices: Women of Genesis Speak breathes life into the heroines of Biblical times. The Biblical women tell their own stories in lyrical poetry. Understand the thoughts, actions, feelings and motivations of these women. Presented in order of their appearance are Lilith, Eve, Mrs. Noah, Sarah, Hagar, Lot's Wife, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah, Dinah and Miriam of Exodus. A great book for reading groups or book clubs! Contains Explanation and Commentary, Bibliography, artist contact information, and illustrations.

Selected by the Lexington Theological Seminary as a text for Dr. Lisa Davison's Women in the Bible courses.

Book reviewed in Washington Jewish Week, Washington Woman, Fairfax Journal, and Ancient Paths. An article about artist Judybeth Greene's monotypes has been published in Fodderwing.

Sacred Voices: Women of Genesis Speak is also available as an ebook on Amazon.com for the Kindle.

Book Review Details:
Reviewed Appeared In: Washington Jewish Week
Reviewed By: Aaron Leibel
Text Of Review: Local poet humanizes women of Genesis Ever wonder what Adam and Eve said to each other right after they ate the apple? Or what Noah’s wife had to say when her husband started banging nails into wood and collecting animals? Or how about Sarah’s laughter after she was told at her advanced age in life, she would give birth to a son?

Wonder no more, for poet Sherri Waas Shunfenthal of Burke, Va., has thought about these very human reactions of people in Genesis and written some delightful, imaginative poetry to fill out our understanding of the matriarchs – and of the patriarchs as well. Her book, Sacred Voices: Women of Genesis Speak, with illustrations by Judybeth Greene of Washington, D.C., was recently published by Pocol Press in Clifton, Va. It all started, Shunfenthal, 44, said in an interview, because when attending monthly parsha (Bible study) group at Congregation Adat Reyim in Springfield, she noted that few details of women’s lives were mentioned in the text. “I wanted to give them [women of Genesis] dimensionality, to view them as whole people,” she said. “After all, those women were experiencing some of the same things women do today – struggling with their family relationships, infertility, jealousy, sibling rivalry.” After writing some of her poems, Shunfenthal did some research to make sure she “wasn’t off base” in her analyses. For example, she did some reading about the period in which Bilhah and Zilpah were “handmaidens” to Rachel and Leah respectively and bore Jacob’s children. She discovered that life was very communal then, validating them in her poems that these two women were involved in the rearing of their sons. She certainly succeeds in making these biblical characters come alive. Take Lot’s wife, for example, who really has a tough time of it. (“And the angels warned Lot and his wife: Do not turn around. Do not look upon the destruction (Genesis 19:17). “First, we’re not told her name. Then, Lot is going ahead, not waiting for his nameless soulmate, simply shouting back for her not to look around. There is smoke all around, people are screaming, she is crying, Shunfenthal writes.

“Heat from the fire of dying cities Drying the water of her eyes. She cannot see where she is or Where she is going. Screams fill her. She does not mean to disobey. Her body twists to look behind.

She turns into a pillar of salt frozen in time. She turns into a pillar of remembrance nameless like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Or Poor Leah, who loves Jacob and allows her father to fool him into marrying her instead of her sister Rachel. (“I think he will come to love me,” Shunfenthal has Leah say.) But then Leah realized she has been duped by her father, who also promised Rachel to Jacob to keep him working.

“My father used me so that Jacob will stay on the land to create abundance in my father’s fields and make the animals flourish.

Jacob is blessed But my life is sorrow. Jacob is blinded. He does not see I love him.”

Shunfenthal also sees Sarah’s agony in the story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac. One night, Abraham heard a voice in a dream telling him to prepare Isaac for a sacrifice. He was sure it was God’s voice.

“Sarah watched anxiously as her husband and boy-man wandered into the distant desert becoming small against the horizon. A cool breeze made her shiver. Her body shuddered. She wanted to rush out, urgently calling her men back to her.

She could not let them go. She must let them go.”

Shunfenthal’s favorite matriarch is Rebekah, for she showed such faith and strength in leaving her family to marry someone she hasn’t met. Greene’s accompanying prints enhance the poetry. The two began collaborating after Greene heard Shunfenthal read a poem at a Havdalah service in 1998 and asked permission to use her poem in her artwork. This led to a print and a greeting card, both containing the poem, “Torah Meditation,” and art. The words and the art were a perfect fit, said Greene in an interview, “I wanted to incorporate words into my work,” she said. “Her poetry slowed you down and brought you to a place of meditation.” The book was a “very collaborative effort,” says Greene. The two women met several times to discuss the poetry and the illustrations. “It’s interesting to work with someone with a picture in her head,” says Greene. For example, Shunfenthal asked her to add a tear to Lot’s wife’s face to remind readers of salt. The author points with special pride to the depiction of Eve and the apple (though the Hebrew Bible does not specify the species of fruit) on the book's cover. To show it as a “positive” experience, Eve is shown with one hand reaching for the tree, while the other passes the apple on to future generations. The book’s total effect is of a series of illustrated, somewhat offbeat and very human biblical commentaries.

Date Reviewed: 06/01/2000
Link To Web Site:    
Author Appearances: Speaking Engagements:

When Sherri first wrote Sacred Voices: Women of Genesis Speak, she did not imagine it would reach across religions and engage all ages of diverse people in discussion. Sherri has been asked to do poetry readings, lead discussion groups, and lead workshops about Sacred Voices and Journey into Healing at synagogues, churches, retreats, bookgroups and colleges.

Sherri has treasured her speaking engagements because she always meets fascinating people and learns something new. Here are some comments from students at Howard Community College in Maryland: "Sherri's talk captured my attention and gave me insights into Genesis." "A moment of poetic excellence." "Sherri has a great sense of people and humor."

Most recently the Christ Cares Women's Group of Burke, Virginia utilized Journey into Healing over a ten week period to do the journaling, meditations and then invited Sherri to come read the poetry with them. They said the book opened them up to sharing and having discussions they might not have had otherwise.

Sherri has read her poetry and/or done meditation/journaling workshops at the following places:

JCCNV Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia 1/13/08 (bookfair talk)
Adat Reyim Synagogue- several times
Kol Ha Lev in Baltimore- 11/10/2007
Olam Tikvah- 11/04/2007
Agudas Achim 10/23/2007
Rodef Shalom- Women's retreat 3/2005
Gratz College 3/24/04
JCCNV Meditation Workshops 2/22 and 2/29/04

Burke Presbyterian Church (3 times) - most recent 3/7/04
Providence Presbyterian Church- 5/16/07
Burke Presbyterian Healing Group
Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church (3 times)
St Barnaby's Episcopalian Church (Meditation and Spirituality Workshop 2/21/04

Danceabilities Performance/Reading- 6/18/04
Lakeridge Literary Salon 6/05
Chantilly Library Poetry Workshop 4/13/04
12/04/2005 Exhibit with Lloyd Wolf Circles Within Circles 6th and I historic Synagogue exhibit and talk
Pohick Library - Yearly Poetry Workshops
Northrup Grumman TASC- 1/28/04
Howard Community College (2 times) Oct. 2000, April 04
Borders Bookstore in Springfield 2/2000 and 6/3/2006
Women's Book Groups- ongoing
Pohick Library - Poetry Workshops
Women's Arts groups- ongoing
Burke Presbyterian Interfaith Group- ongoing
Fairfax Hospital Group- Spirituality Quest - 4/05 and 4/10/07
United Methodist Church of Annandale- 4/12/08
Fairfax Hospital Spirituality Quest - 4/8/08

Contact Author: Email Author

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