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“Layers” Goes Deep With True-Life Stories About Jewish Women

The book features over 30 personal narratives from Jewish women from diverse backgrounds living in Israel, where Lankin Sheps, a Modern Orthodox Jew, lives.
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June 14, 2021
Credit: Shira Lankin Sheps

When Shira Lankin Sheps was working as a photographer back in 2017, she came up with an idea: She wanted to start a photo project where she would interview Jewish women about stigmatized and taboo topics. She posted a status on Facebook pitching the project and asked if anyone wanted to participate.

“Within the first hour, there were 20 women that reached out to me, asking to share their stories,” she said, in an interview with the Journal. “That’s how I knew this was work that I needed to do.”

Four years later, what started as a simple idea has now transformed into The Layers Project Magazine, which has a Facebook page with 11,000 followers. Koren Publishers Jerusalem released a book version of it, “Layers: Personal Narratives of Struggle, Growth and Resilience from Jewish Women,” this spring.

The book features over 30 personal narratives from Jewish women from diverse backgrounds living in Israel, where Lankin Sheps, a Modern Orthodox Jew, lives. She decided to put the stories into print to bring them to life in a different way.

“The internet is ephemeral. Thank God, there is a vibrant social media space where Orthodox women get to share their lives, images, businesses and art,” she said. “In the right-wing Jewish media spaces, women’s images are blurred and removed for reasons they claim to be about modesty, but really it’s about advertising and placating extremist politics. The Layers Project Magazine lives online. We feature full-length, three-dimensional personal narratives of Jewish women with powerful images. I wanted to concretize the work and bring it into hardcopy.”

Shira Lankin Sheps: (Credit: Tzipora Lifchitz)

Though every story is touching, there are two that stand out to the author. One is from Ahava Emunah Lange, a blogger who wrote about her battle with ovarian cancer; and the other is told by Leah Klein, a Holocaust survivor and powerhouse matriarch of a large family. Both passed away before the book was published.

“[Ahava and I] formed a friendship and we wrote her chapter together,” said Lankin Sheps. “Her chapter in the book ends with her promise to fight for every last breath that she could take in this world. At her funeral, her family shared the very last lines of the chapter we wrote together. They validated that she lived every last moment, fighting to stay in this world. I can’t describe what it is like to participate even in a small way in recording a small part of her powerful legacy.”

Klein talked about her painful and loving memories of family members she lost in the Holocaust and how she rebuilt her life first in America as a post-war refugee, and then again in her 80s in Israel.

“Only a few months after we met and recorded it all, she suffered a serious illness and lost her ability to communicate,” said Lankin Sheps. “Several days before the book went to print, she left this world. We had just enough time to write a tribute of gratitude to her for her sharing her story with all of us.”

Other stories from The Layers Project focus on miscarriage, infertility, disability, antisemitism, issues with physical and mental health, and terrorism.

“I hope that readers will see that ordinary women can live extraordinary lives through their ability to live through pain and love through heartbreak,” said Lankin Sheps. “That everyone wrestles with something challenging in their life because we are put on this earth to grow, and growth often begins with struggle.”

“I hope that readers will see that ordinary women can live extraordinary lives through their ability to live through pain and love through heartbreak,” said Lankin Sheps.

Lankin Sheps is from the United States; she made aliyah in 2018. The electronic version of Layers Project Magazine shows women from all around the world, but the book is focused on women in Israel because she’s a new immigrant.

“I was commissioned to start writing the book the month after I made aliyah, three years ago,” she said. “It was a really beautiful opportunity to meet the immigrant women of this land.”

While all types of readers will be able to connect with these autobiographical stories, Lankin Sheps emphasized that women in particular can truly benefit from them.

“When Jewish women tell their personal stories of challenge and triumph, they build a community of healing,” she said. “As Jewish women navigate our many roles at home, work and even our roles in our own societies we can lean on the support of connecting with other women. Traditionally and even biblically, Jewish women create strong communities to be there for each other, to advocate for each other. We are simply re-engaging in communal growth through the prism of the pillars of our community: our women.”


Kylie Ora Lobell is a writer for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, The Forward, Tablet Magazine, Aish, and Chabad.org and the author of the first children’s book for the children of Jewish converts, “Jewish Just Like You.”

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