Out Loud

Belonging: A Transformative Journey

14 October 2013 By Paula Jacobs

By Paula Jacobs, October 2013

As I write these words, I’ve just returned from Jerusalem where I prayed with Women of the Wall for Rosh Chodesh Heshvan. With this experience still fresh on my mind, it's an inspiration for personal reflection.

Growing up in Boston in the 1960's, I was privileged to receive an intensive Jewish education. Yet by age 12, I already felt excluded from Jewish life even though my family's Conservative congregation was one of the most progressive in the U.S.

For my Friday night bat mitzvah, I memorized a haftarah portion. I envied the bar mitzvah students who learned to read Torah and lead prayers in their exclusive male-only "tallis and tefillin" club.

In the late 1960's, when I graduated from Hebrew College, the only career path open to me in the Jewish community was Hebrew teaching. The concept of a female rabbi, Jewish communal leader, or even a Hebrew school principal was inconceivable.

Fast forward twenty years later. At her bat mitzvah, my daughter, wrapped in her tallit, led morning Shabbat prayers, chanted from the Torah, and delivered a d’var Torah. Now she is a Conservative rabbi and executive director of a human rights organization.

By the close of the 20th century, I finally became a full participant in Jewish life. I learned to chant Torah, began attending daily minyan, learned the morning service, and started wearing a tallit. The defining moment occurred when I was invited to lead an all-male minyan. That’s when I knew I truly belonged.

Today I gaze at a favorite family photo of my then three-month old granddaughter wearing a sign, "Ha-Kotel l’Kulanu," "The Kotel belongs to us all." It's now four years later and I fervently hope that she and her baby sister will soon realize this dream.

Paula Jacobs is a writer in the Boston area. Her articles have appeared in digital and print media, including The Jewish Week, The Jerusalem Post, Moment, ritualwell.com, and myjewishlearning.com.

 

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