High School Essay Contest sponsored by The Role Model Project
First Place Winner:
The People She Chose – Pharaoh’s Daughter Batya
By Ariela deLeon, Las Vegas, NV
My mother has trained me to be a feminist since I was still in the womb. On the day I was born, she read me a collection of vignettes about society’s unrealistic expectations for girls, and the strong women who overcame the unending obstacles placed in their way. Our home was built of novels with inspiring heroines who fostered my own growth; as a young girl, I explored the American frontier with Laura Ingalls Wilder, experienced love and art with the March sisters, and mastered magic at Hogwarts on adventures with Hermione Granger. My childhood was filled tracing the lives of successful women.
The same evening I entered the world—when I first learned about Rosa Parks, Marie Curie and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—my mother also gifted me my Judaism. Over 20 years ago, she converted through the Conservative movement, claiming the chosen people as her own. And so, Jewish education for her four children became a priority. We discovered our mixed family history and celebrated our religion, reading stories about the Jews and the unending obstacles in their way. Because of the people she chose, my greatest inspiration comes not only from my mom who instilled in me the compass of Judaism, but also from the women who too were cultivated by their Jewish identity—whether they came from the world of books or the remarkably real one in which I am lucky to live.
Like my mother, Batya was willing to see past the family and culture she was raised in to rescue a Jewish baby and become a “devout convert.” As Pharaoh’s daughter, she observed the cruel abuses inflicted on the Israelites, hearing every decree against them, including that to murder every male Jewish infant. The Talmud illuminates that as Batya bathed in the Nile river—submerging herself into the water to culminate her Jewish conversion—she heard the cries of a baby, floating to safety along the water in a woven basket. Recognizing he was a Hebrew baby, Batya made the monumental decision to draw him from the water, an action that became her inspiration for his name—Moses. It was her ability to do what was right that strengthened her transformation from both non-Jew to Jew and daughter of Pharaoh to daughter of God.
Batya’s heroism is ascribed to her Jewish compass, which had already begun to guide her before her conversion was complete. She loved and cared for Moses as her own, and left a life of Egyptian idol worship to embrace her Jewish soul. Without her courage and kindness, it is likely that Moses would not have been able to lead our people out of bondage; he would not have become a righteous leader without the self-sacrifice he undoubtedly acquired from his own role model, Batya.
Judaism is not a missionary faith. It is interesting that the survival of the Jews in their exodus from Egypt was made possible not by a born-member of the Israelites, but rather by a woman who made the Jews her chosen people. When I think of the women who inspire me, I instantly identify my mother and Batya, both of whom chose Judaism in order to raise their children and improve their own lives.
In a world where we are constantly challenged and set back as women, it is important to remember that our role models can be found in books and all around us. I am grateful that mothers of today will have a new collection of vignettes in RBG’s Brave and Brilliant Women to read to their daughters, who will move the world forward for the people that they choose.
To learn more about the 2022 Teen Essay Contest, click here.
To learn more about The Role Model Project, click here.