Cracks In The Walls of Jewish Patriarchy16 October 2013
By Letty Cottin Pogrebin, October 2013
When my mother died in 1955, I was 15, and though I had been educated "like a boy," and was a pious little synagogue rug rat and one of the first girls to become a bat mitzvah in Conservative Judaism, I was not permitted to count in the shiva minyan saying kaddish for my own mother in my own house. If my tradition won't count me in, I reasoned, I will count myself out -- and I did. For many years, I maintained the home-based rituals I learned from my mom but I felt estranged from synagogue life and the Jewish "we." If not for the immense strides made by Jewish feminists fighting to advance women's equality, I probably would have remained permanently disconnected from the Jewish community. The key events that turned the tide for me were the early Jewish feminist milestones of the Second Wave: Rabbi Sally Preisand became the first woman ordained in Reform Judaism; women won the right to be counted in the minyan and to have aliyot, and girls were liberated from the Friday night bat mtzvah ghetto and accorded equal status with boys on Shabbat mornings. Once these cracks appeared in the walls of Jewish patriarchy, and females began to count as full and authentic Jews, I felt able to re-affiliate with the tradition in which I was raised and the heritage that I revere and love.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin is the author of Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America and co-founding editor of Ms. magazine.
Belonging: A Transformative Journey14 October 2013
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.
The World Must Change14 October 2013
By Rabbi Menachem Creditor, October 2013
On March 16, 2010, extremists threw chairs at my sister and my life as a Jew, as a Rabbi, as a person changed forever. Judaism is much, much better than that. Thanks to NIF's support of Women of the Wall, the world is changing again, and for the better. We dare not allow fundamentalists to destroy Judaism, and to infect Israel with hatred. Today, Women of the Wall, born of a diverse group of women without ideological conformity and evolved into an Orthodox women's group, has now reclaimed its role as a group of powerful women who represent the vibrancy of the entire Jewish world. For this we all should be very grateful. New Israel Fund reminds me to champion the beauty of Judaism's roots in today's Jewish world.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor (menachemcreditor.org) serves as the spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, CA and was cofounder of Rabbis for Women of the Wall. Named by Newsweek as one of the 50 most influential rabbis in America (2013), he is a published author, musician, teacher and activist who has spent time working in Ghana with American Jewish World Service and in the White House with the PICO Network to amplify the prophetic Jewish voice in the world.
Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution14 October 2013
By Rabbi David Rosenn, October 2013
My wife and I signed up for the requisite natural birthing classes when we were about to have our first child, and it made me curious about my own mother's experience giving birth. "Are you kidding?" she said to me. "I was out cold during the whole thing. That's just how they did it back then." It shocked me to find out that the medical establishment treated women this way just a few decades ago – as passive actors in one of the most significant moments of their lives, knocked out so things would be easier for the (male) doctors. A lot has changed since then. Thank God, women are active full participants is modern life and in many aspects of modern Jewish religious life. The 25-year struggle of Women at the Wall stands out as a powerful, determined rejection of the idea that women can or should be knocked out from participating in life's most significant moments. Here's to the inspiring exa mple they provide to all of us – men and women, religious and secular – of the importance of (in the words of one of the Rev. Martin Luther King's great speeches) "remaining awake during a great revolution".
Rabbi David Rosenn is the Chief Operating Officer at the New Israel Fund.
A Touch of Patriarchy14 October 2013
By Leanne Gale, October 2013
I still remember the first time I prayed with Women of the Wall. I wasn't particularly afraid to go: after all, I was simply returning to a place I had been countless times before, to offer prayers I had memorized for as long as I could remember. As a young American Jew studying abroad at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I was excited to wake up early in the morning in time to make it to the Kotel and celebrate Rosh Hodesh with a friendly group of inspiring women.
But that morning was scarier than I thought. As we prayed, donning prayer shawls and harmonizing our melodies, police snapped pictures of us from up close. More than once, a particularly aggressive officer approached our shlichat tzibbur (the woman leading services)and demanded that she remove her tallit. Other women, opposed to our prayers, screamed in our direction and spat on our shoes. In the end, four women were detained, and we all finished our Rosh Hodesh "celebration" outside of a local prison.
It wasn't until I arrived home that I realized the enormity of my experience. On my first Shabbat back at Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania, I rejoined my beloved Reform Jewish community for Kabbalat Shabbat. My dear friend, Rachel donned a prayer-shawl as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, and effortlessly rose before the mixed gender congregation to lead us in song. But as I looked around me, my mind flashed to the image of the Israeli police officer reaching out to touch the woman who had led us in prayer at the Western Wall. To the screaming. To the prison. I slowly leaned back in my seat, feeling relieved to back in Philadelphia rather than Jerusalem. I felt safe and loved in the American Jewish community.
Before Women of the Wall, I had never realized how vulnerable women can be to the patriarchal practices of many religious authorities. The experience jolted me to examine the religious experiences of other women, Jewish and otherwise, and to more deeply explore the implications of feminist thinking for all of our immediate lives. Today, despite the rapid changes that have taken place, I still feel unsafe as a Reform Jewish woman at the Kotel. I sincerely hope that I can live out my Judaism in Israel just as intentionally and fully as I can in the United States. But even more importantly, I hope that more of us can open our eyes to the patriarchal legacies that remain alive and well today in our tradition. We must all work towards a future in which a woman need never fear a strange man touching her body as she attempts to offer her prayers to God.
Leanne Gale is currently living in Jerusalem as a NIF-SHATIL Social Justice Fellow.