“Devora, wife of Lappidoth, was a Neviah; she led Yisrael at that time.” JUDGES 4:4 (The Israel Bible™)
Throughout Jewish history, many women have followed the example of Devora, described in this verse as both a prophetess and a judge, by taking positions of leadership on behalf of their people. One example dates to the early Renaissance period, when another Jewish woman emerged as a great leader of her people. At the time, the Jews of Spain faced the horrific persecutions of the Inquisition. But despite the strict prohibitions against practicing Judaism, many of the forced converts known as Anussim or “Crypto-Jews” continued to observe their religion in secret. Dona Gracia (1510–1569) discovered her Jewish identity only after she was married, but from that moment on, she was determined to bring respite to her people. As one of the wealthiest women in Europe, she was able to create an escape network for many of the Anussim, and eventually used her position of power to negotiate with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent for a long term lease on the Tiberias region of the Land of Israel, of which she became the ruling authority. She began to rebuild the Galilee’s abandoned towns for other Anussim to settle in, and aimed to turn Tiberias into a major center of Jewish settlement, trade and learning. Today, visitors to the contemporary city of Teveria (Tiberias) can visit the Dona Gracia museum to learn about this fascinating woman who pursued one of the earliest attempts to create a Zionist movement.