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I summon Lilith. The first woman. The woman fighter—the foremother. The one who overturned the social norm set for women at the very moment of her birth

I summon Lilith. The figure of the biblical rebel of Eden, who was marginalized by the canonical reading of the Book of Genesis because she contested binarity and the patriarchal world order.

Lilith, the person-demon, disrupted the myth of the harmonious, procreative vocation of woman controlled by man. She refused submission to Adam during intercourse and voluntarily left Eden (with no note, no goodbye, as the Enid Dame writes in her poem). 

I create in metal the Sign of Lilith, a queered gendered symbol of the woman, in which instead of a circle, the crescent moon appears as symbol of a new beginning and undermines the idea of woman before it takes shape. It is illuminated by the menorah, a primary form of visualization of Judaism, which is accompanied by two birds, which are linked to attributes of femininity in Jewish tradition.

I deconstruct historical images of Lilith from incantation bowls whose purpose was to ward her off. These bowls were inscribed with incantations and buried upside down in front of the thresholds of houses. I turn them upwards, into the open space of freedom, burning verses on their surface evoking the presence of Lilith as an energy that reclaims women’s rights.

I re-capture and reinterpret it, bringing to life installation images of 20th century Jewish women activists from different parts of the world. Referring to the contemporary context of their fight, I show how the figure of Lilith melds with women’s struggles for social and reproductive justice, access to free and safe abortion, for the rights of minority, refugee and FLINTA people (Female, Lesbian, Intersex, Non-binary, Trans and Agender people).

I invoke the plants whose voices Lilith listened to. I use textile as an artistic medium to convey information about abortifacient plants, titling this series Pro-choice Plants

I also use the form of open wooden boxes in which I display archival resources relating to the figures of selected heroines and matrons of emancipation movements associated with the figure of Lilith.

Drawing on the heritage of Lilith, I ignore the imposed restrictive laws. I am queering official rituals and installing plaques illegally on decommunized stone to recover the memory and renew the idea of the fight against various forms of fascism. I paint signs, stigmatizing minorities, on the doors to signal that democracy is passing away before our eyes.

Zuzanna Hertzberg, ‘Invoking Lilith: Incantation Bowls’, 7 ceramic bowls with pieces by feminist poets dedicated to Lilith

Zuzanna Hertzberg, ‘Tribute to Gisèle Halimi/Zeiza Gisèle Élise Taïeb’, 2023, wooden box, collage, painting, 57 × 49 × 7 cm (closed)

Born in Tunisia to a conservative Jewish family, Gisèle Halimi from an early age rebelled against imposed social norms. She was a lawyer, activist, feminist, and writer, in later years also a politician and parliamentarian.

In 1960, she took on the defence of a young Algerian woman, Djamila Boupach, a member of the National Liberation Front accused of a bombing in an Algerian café. Thanks to her actions, the woman sentenced to death, tortured, and raped during interrogations by French soldiers, was pardoned (1962). This case gained worldwide attention and was a strong voice for advocacy against the modern forms of colonialism.

In time, her activities became focused on the fight for women’s rights, particularly reproductive justice. In 1971, she signed an appeal published in Le Nouvel Observateur, referred to as the ‘Manifesto 343’, in which 343 women, admitted publicly that they had undergone an illegal abortion and demanded autonomy in making decisions about their own bodies and freedom of choice in matters of parenthood. In their appeal, they pointed to social and economic factors, emphasizing that illegal abortion means no access to safe abortion for underprivileged women. It was called a ‘slut manifesto’ by opponents of accessible abortion.

In the same year, she founded the feminist group Choisir (To Choose), which was initially intended to protect the signatories of the appeal and, after a year, evolved into an organization working for accessible contraception and the law decriminalizing abortion, which was passed in France in 1974.

In 1972, she took on the defence of three women, including a 17-year-old charged with aborting a pregnancy that resulted of rape, and led to her acquittal (the landmark Bobigny trial). She made history as one of the first women’s rights advocates, paving the way for legislative reforms that led to the decriminalization of abortion in France. Her actions combined a rebel stance with an in-depth analysis of a male-dominated world that is based on discrimination and exclusionary policies.

Zuzanna Hertzberg, ‘Tribute to Judith Arcana’, 2023, wooden box, collage, painting, embroidered textile, 57 × 49 × 7 cm (closed)

American poet, writer, teacher, and activist, member of the underground Chicago-based Jane Abortion Service (1968–1973). From the founding of the collective until abortion became legal in the US in 1973, around 125 women activists operated as a part of The Jane, providing safe abortions to nearly 12,000 women. In one of the interviews, Judith Arcana said: ‘I did not mind that we were breaking the law because I knew the law was wrong. … We’re committing a crime in order to do what we think is good for women and girls. Why did we join an underground criminal abortion organization? The element of responsibility for the society, of taking on responsibilities beyond the basic—that’s part of the deal for Jews.’1

Below is a stanza of a song from the late 1960s popularizing the activities of Jane Abortion Service:

[…] 643-3844 is a number you’ll adore
The women in the service know what you’re calling for
They’ll give you an abortion
No matter what the reason for
And 643-3844 is a number you’ll adore
“Don’t you worry, don’t you fret”
My friend said to me so plain
“I’ll give you a telephone number
And you can tell it all to Jane.” […]

Judith Arcana was one of The Jane activists accused in the trial of aiding and abetting abortions. During the trial, American law changed, and she became, from a ‘criminal’, a respected and award-winning writer, activist, and lecturer.

In her socially engaged poems, such as the collection ‘What if your mother’ (2005), she addresses issues of reproductive justice, depicting the roles assigned to women in contemporary society and their everyday experiences of coping with problems to which this society responds with indifference and a practice of marginalization.

A well-known essayist and journalist, Merle Hoffman, wrote of her work that it is ‘a map of an internal, psychological and physiological journey through the territory of previously unrecognized experiences’—miscarriages, abortion, adoption, the experience of childbirth and the everydayness of motherhood. In the poem ‘We Have Always Done This’, presented in my art work, Arcana makes a circular reference to the biblical figure of Lilith—the matriarch and ancestor of women fighting for their equal rights—which has been re-appropriated by anarcho-feminists.

We Have Always Done This

The moon rises, glowing silver-white.
The old woman watches it rise.
Standing in the grass of the meadow, looking up over the trees, she watches the moon rise.

On this night, for this moon, she is standing there.
She has been called to welcome the moon.
She has been called to talk with the young ones.

She will tell them: We have always known this; we have always done this.

Some have the skill in their hands.
Some grow the herbs. Some carry the tools.
Some chant, beat the drums, rock their bodies under the moon.

We do this now, she will tell them. We have always done this.
This is in our blood.
Our blood is in you, she tells the young ones.

We must know when to do this. We must know when not to do this.
Dream and dance and think, together.
Dream and dance and think, alone.

Ask the moon in her narrow crescent, and as she grows, rounding.
Answers will be luminous in the silver-white light of the moon.
Answers will be shadows in the moon’s dark time.

We can make life, and break it.
We tend life, and can end it.
Always, we ask: Is now the time for this life?

You will decide, she tells the young ones: Always, you will decide.

Zuzanna Hertzberg, ‘Pro-Choice Plants’, 2023, installation, 20 pieces of fabric / flags, obverse: illustration of a plant, reverse: preparation and dosage for abortifacient purposes*

Zuzanna Hertzberg, ‘Jewish Anarchist Women Against the Hegemony’, 12th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, 14.09.2022 (performative walk, spoken word performance, conversation)

During an anti-hegemonic, anti-imperialist performative walk from KW (Kunst Werke) Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, I led the participants to a nearby courtyard in the former Jewish quarter, where I shared stories about Jewish-Ukrainian women anarchists from the first half of the 20th century.

Fanny Kaplan, Olga Taratuta, and Milly Witkop were connected to Berlin through the migration of ideas, nomadism, and transboundary resistance against various forms of hegemony (exercised by state, ideology, and socio-cultural system of oppression).

My artivist action was also an introduction and invitation to a conversation between the participants about how each of us understand hegemony and imperialism and a joint attempt to re-contextualize these terms from different perspectives, practices, and experiences.

The herstories of the Jewish-Ukrainian women anarchists may show us how we can grasp their message at present.

What they acted and fought against is also relevant to our better understanding of the current events and the perspective of people from the former Eastern Bloc.

Internationalism and Nomadism. Energy overcoming territorial borders and cultural differences.

Embodiment of Utopia is a matter of today, not of tomorrow.

Zuzanna Hertzberg, ‘ZA-CZYN! (IGNITE!)’, 2021; visual story of a Jewish-Ukrainian woman anarchist, founder of the Anarchist Black Cross; Triptych—silkscreen on textile, two banners

The artwork, composed as a triptych, records a fragment of the history, iconography and idea of anarchism, stretched across a timeline.

The installation is tied together by the visual story of a Jewish Ukrainian woman, Olga Taratuta (the founder of the Anarchist Black Cross that still exists today), with whom I enter into a dialogue, enriching her story with a personal commentary. I refer to contemporary practices of rebellion and solidarity by conveying the message of anarcho-feminism, symbolized by a scarlet shekhinah on one of two banners. The internationalist overtone of the work is emphasized by the use of the alphabet and calligraphy of several languages (Yiddish, Polish, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Russian), illustrating the diversity of the anarchist tradition. The form and content of the banners link the past with the present fight for the rights of women, minorities, and refugees.

I use the medium, which is traditionally attributed to women, namely textile, to record the herstory of activism on material printed with archival photographs and eyewitness accounts. I treat this work as part of the new affective archive that I am constructing. Its contemporary milieu is a public space accessible to all. It is an action directed towards the passing on herstories and recovering memory.

It is also a story in which I juxtapose the archival documents with the contemporary, everyday anarchist practices, including the ones in which I participate. One of the wing-banners was created as an act of solidarity with people protesting in Belarus (also referring to that country’s first multilingual banner) and the other for the Pride Parade, at a time when LGBTQAP+ people in Hungary were losing their rights.

The documents and the banners show anarchism as an initiatory situation, a spark/ starter—transnational, internationalist, non-hierarchical, igniting and reviving in different places and historical moments. It is a struggle for radically perceived social justice wherever the mechanism of cultural and political oppression comes to the fore. The title of the work highlights the nomadic nature of the embers of revolution, which migrate and grow like rhizomes because every bit of freedom taken away once and elsewhere is a loss of freedom here and now.

Memorial plaque mounted during the public space intervention ‘Nomadic Memory’, 2017, Defilad Square: A Step Forward, 9th edition of the Warsaw Under Construction festival, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Photo by Mikołaj Tym

Zuzanna Hertzberg, ‘In memory of Zofia Szleyen, the cycle Volunteers of Freedom’, 2016, wooden box, collage, textile, painting 57 × 49 × 7 cm (closed)

‘Volunteers For Freedom’ is a project that aims to bring forth the participation of women who fought in the International Brigades defending the Spanish Republic (1936–1939). The project takes the form of 3D collages series, presented in boxes, and is accompanied by a spoken word performance in which I depict their personal stories. Each box is devoted to a particular woman and consists of an abstract painting portrait of a woman (Mirjam Gotchelf, Anna and Adela Korn, Elżbieta Bekier, Zofia Szleyen, Dora Goldszajder, Miriam and Braina Rudina) and a collage created of elements from her biography that were reconstructed on the basis of archival documents and interviews with family and friends. The family background and fates of the heroines I have chosen are very diverse, so that they can become a universal story of women who decided to go to Spain to fight on the ground against General Franco’s military coup.

The format of a box was chosen as it resembles a space where certain family stories are being kept and traces of presence, such as old photos and documents, are stored. Boxes are also objects used by many women to keep and lock inside their secrets and memories. During my meetings with family members of the International Brigades who fought under the slogan: ‘For Your Freedom and Ours’, it was from various boxes and cartons that they take out different objects that belonged and were connected to their relatives, boxes they had not opened for years or ever.

Zuzanna Hertzberg, ‘Jude, Татары, …’, 2014, photo documentation of the site specific art project, 15 Spokojna Street, Warsaw

Project Jude, Татары, …. is a historical reconstruction to widen our memory space. The starting point for this intervention in the public space was the annexation of Crimea by Russian troops (2014) and the action of marking the doors of those openly declaring their Tatar identity. In the same year, on May 18, Tatars were banned from commemorating the 70th anniversary of the deportation and purging  in government’s effort to eliminate the memory of it from the public debate.

On the surface of two front doors of a Warsaw building on Spokojna Street, near the Jewish cemetery, and a preserved fragment of the Warsaw Ghetto wall, I painted white symbols in a way that stigmatizes ethnic and national affiliation. And the third door I marked with a diagonal sign that primarily appeared in Christian communities on the doors of people affected by the plague to warn against contact with them. 

This is an application, within the field of art, of Adorno’s categorical imperative ‘to think and act in a way that something similar could not be repeated’, and Didi-Huberman’s theory ‘to remember we have to imagine’  … ‘to know we have to imagine’.

Through this action, I wanted to give visibility to the events in Ukraine, in Crimea, and to make people aware of the consequences that may come. I aimed to show the relationship between visuality, politics, and practices of exclusion, accentuating the fact that visibility can be both a privilege and a defamatory sign, pushing one into non-existence.

As Derrida wrote, ‘democracy always arrives’. But in fact, democracy was already disappearing then and before our eyes.

Zuzanna Hertzberg is an interdisciplinary artist, art activist, and researcher. Her artistic practice comprises painting, textile-based works, and interventions in public space. Her work addresses the intersection of individual and collective memory. In 2018, she received her doctoral degree from the Faculty of Graphic Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. She is a co-founder of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Bloc and a board member of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute in Poland. 


* DISCLAIMER BY THE PUBLISHER: This is not a safe method to terminate pregnancy. For more information, visit

1 Embedded in Judaism and Jewish tradition is the obligation of the individual to act for the benefit of the community. The tradition also places a strong emphasis on social justice and a principle regarding the daily practice of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). For many secular Jews, this is one of the fundamental ethical commitments and elements of their identity. Heather Booth, founder of the abortion service Jane, often says in the context of Jane’s actions and her motivations, ‘Believing in freedom and justice and the struggle for freedom itself was a Jewish value. … We need to act on the principle of Tikkun Olam. If we organize, we can change the world.’


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