Eshet Chayil is a hebrew saying meaning woman of valour. The concept, rooted in Jewish mysticism, describes a woman that speaks for herself. It connotes bravery and righteousness even in the face of oppression, while still contributing to an abundance of good to the universe.
March is of course Women’s History Month, and there are so many women of valour to rejoice in, past and present. One woman of valour I had the opportunity to find out more about was an Israeli woman combating gendered violence; Linor Abargil, the former Miss World.
I recently went to the Israeli Embassy to see a screening of Brave Miss World, a Cecilia Peck film that tells Abargil’s story while unpacking the concepts of rape culture. According to Sasha Altschuler, a young woman in her 20s working for Jewish Women International, the event was inspired by International Women’s Day (March 8th). The film was the perfect intersection between Israel and the work of JWI (ending violence against women and girls) and was even followed by a wonderful spread of Israeli and Spanish wines and cheeses, as well as a selection of Mexican chocolate and Ruggeleah from Sunflower Bakery.
Brave Miss World shed light on Linor Abargil’s experience with rape, but the movie is not just about her struggle, as it also centers on the global epidemic of violence against women, and how she believes her voice can make a difference. During the run of the film she interviews many survivors of sexual violence, giving them a platform to share their stories, their pain, and their hopes for the future. We’re also given a glimpse into her personal life, and how she deals with the experience during her daily life. Her family members, boyfriend, and best friend all seemed supportive, yet had a hard time understanding the situation, believing she was dwelling too hard on the incident. In actuality, Linor explained it was keeping silent that caused her so much pain. She travels from South Africa, the UK, then to her home of Israel trying to spread the message to other rape survivors that speaking up is part of the healing process.
With tears in her eyes, the former Miss World said in a press conference that “rape is very isolating,” which just goes to show how important it was for her to open up about it. She also talks at length about how her new found faith helped her overcome the pain. In the film she goes from modeling bikinis in Italy to becoming an observant Jew. During the movie we could see examples of how Abargil began to practise the faith. Such as taking her all mother’s dishes to the mikveh a ritual cleansing bath of kosher water to try to make all her family’s dishes kosher.
After her rape she found comfort in Judaism. The same spirituality gave her strength to continue on to make a victim impact statement against her rapist who was currently up for parole while also traveling all over the world to make sure other rape victims keep their ruach (hebrew for spirit) up, despite how isolating and painful being a survivor can be.
The film started out with footage of an 18-year-old Miss Israel, winning the 1998 Miss World pageant while wearing a sparkling crown perched on her collection of gorgeous curls, Abargil smiles brightly, having just won. You would never know by her smile that she was recently raped and abducted just a few months before getting crowned. She may not be adorned with an actual crown on her head anymore, but she still sparkles like diamonds on a tiara full of valour. Her rauch is still there, proving not even her rapist could dull her sparkle.