Adjust size of text


Follow us and continue the conversation

Your saved articles

You haven't saved any articles

What are you looking for?

Time for a new symbol to ring in Jewish values

The Star of David is a masculine, nationalist Jewish symbol. Miriam’s Timbrel could be a more appropriate symbol for our times.
Rafael Jacobs-Perez
Print this
Embroidery of woman with a timbrel and flowing ribbons

Miriam with her timbrel as imagined by Stitches by Sue (Etsy)

Published: 21 February 2024

Last updated: 21 March 2024

The Star of David is a masculine, nationalist Jewish symbol. Miriam’s timbrel could be a more appropriate symbol for our times.

Any Jew can tell you that, no matter where you stand on the Israel-Hamas War, it is an extremely polarizing time to be a Jew. Jewish and Israeli identity have been conflated and even Jewish activity that has nothing to do with Israel is being impacted.

Jewish identity is deeply tied up with Israel, especially in Australia, but that does not mean Australians, and other Diaspora Jews, necessarily support all of Israel’s actions.

The revival of the Star of David from its historical role as the religious and cultural symbol of the Jewish people to the national symbol of Israel makes it difficult to distinguish between attacks on Israel and attacks on Jews and created potential for conflict even before the current crisis.

Perhaps we need a new symbol for Jews to gather around, one that represents the values that have carried our community throughout the centuries and will continue to carry us out of this conflict towards peace.

The timbrel of Miriam would be an excellent alternative. The timbrel, variously interpreted as a kind of tambourine or set of finger cymbals, was used by the prophet Miriam after the Jews escaped from Pharaoh and enslavement.  I propose that the timbrel be the new symbol for the Jewish community, as a means to symbolize Miriam a Jewish leader we can look up to and a manifestation of Jewish values that we should be proud to hold.

The values represented by Miriam and her timbrels are hope, egalitarianism, the sanctity of life, bravery, courage, and community.

Miriam prophesied the birth of her brother Moses and the future freedom of the Jews. When no one else believed that there was an end in sight to the brutal reign of Pharaoh, Miriam had hope and faith that her community could be saved. But Miriam does not just wait on the sidelines, she takes her hope in hand to make the change she wants to see in the world. Miriam watches by the riverbank to make sure that Moses will live not allowing his destiny and that of the Jewish people to be swept away by the river. Later she becomes the midwife for Pharaoh’s daughter so that she can watch out for her brother as he grows up.

Miriam embodies something more than just hope. She shows us that having hope is not enough, that we cannot wait idly by leaning only on dreams of the future. She teaches us that we must take the hope that we have for the world and use it to drive us to act.

Choosing Miriam’s timbrel as a symbol would honour women’s voices, representing a more modern view of our community that includes the principles of egalitarianism.

Uniting under Miriam's banner communicates values that all Jews, no matter where they stand on Israel, can support.

Miriam was a voice for women and girls. According to the Midrash, when Pharoah decreed that all Jewish boys must be casted into the Nile, Miriam’s father moved to divorce his wife and thereby prevent the birth of more male children. But Miriam argued while saving himself from throwing his male children into the Nile, he is throwing away the lives of his female children by not giving them a chance to live.

Both this action and Miriam’s disdain for Pharoah’s cowardice, are examples of another Miriam virtue: courage.

The courage to raise Jewish voices for humanity is needed at this time. The killing of children was and is an atrocity that cannot be condoned – whether they are Israeli children taken hostage in Gaza or Gazan children who are victims of Israel’s war on Hamas.  With the death counts rising during the current conflict, it is the deaths of civilians and especially children that is hardest to cope with. Learning from Miriam we know that we must raise our voices in defence of children and civilians in any conflict in any part of the world.

Miriam represents the key Jewish value of community one that is being tested at this very moment: the need to bring together a community with hope.

After Moses leads the Jews out of Egypt, it is Miriam who enables them to survive spiritually.  When the people find themselves stranded in the wilderness, she takes out her timbrel and begins to rejoice with song and dance. She reminds her community that even with the future dark and foreboding they have escaped from enslavement and there is something to be grateful for. She cares for their spirits, raising them in celebration of the task that they have accomplished.

Finding joy in even the heaviest of times is a skill we all need, especially now.

Miriam also cares for the practical needs of her community, finding the water they need to survive in the desert. With her well and her timbrel, Miriam is able to nourish and create community. I see her well, as a symbol that no matter where we find ourselves in the world, our community will always be there to nourish us.

Just as Miriam led the Jews out of the wilderness, we can follow the sounds of her timbrels out of this tumultuous time. Uniting under Miriam's banner communicates values that all Jews, no matter where they stand on Israel, can support: hope, egalitarianism, the sanctity of life, bravery, courage, and community. I urge all Jews to take a moment and listen for the sounds of the timbrels of Miriam to lead you towards the peace that our and all communities deserve.

About the author

Rafael Jacobs-Perez is an author who publishes children's literature, poetry, film analysis, op-ed, culture, and travel articles. He can be found on instagram @e.rafael.jp.


No comments on this article yet. Be the first to add your thoughts.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

Enter site