From exclusion to inclusion09 October 2013
By Helen Stein, October 2013
In 1995, I traveled to Israel with my (male) research assistant. Our first stop, after we got off the plane and through customs, was the Kotel. We approached the Wall naively, without noticing that my kind was not welcome everywhere. Suddenly I was surrounded by 5 or 6 screaming young Orthodox vigilantes, who made my transgression clear. This was a very bitter moment for me. In my homeland, about which I already had some ambivalence, I was being scolded and castigated for being a woman.
In June 2013, six years after joining a Reconstructionist synagogue, I made my Bat Mitzvah with a group of other women. We all composed creative liturgy for our service -- poetry, art work, music, guided meditations. All of us were called up to the Bima and all of us chanted Torah. I was wearing a tallit that I had made out of fabric my mother gave me 40 years ago. I felt so proud of my congregation and denomination for its equal treatment of women and for my right to be a full participant in the Jewish religion. I was doing what my mother, raised in Reform Judaism a hundred years ago, never would have dreamed of.
Helen Stein is a 67-year-old New Yorker and clinical psychologist, who is a proud member of a Reconstructionist synagogue.
Women in Zionist Pioneering History09 October 2013
By Nachum Meyers, October 2013
When Aryeh Malkin left the Bronx, Lisa Engels took over our Hashomer Hatzair (youth guard) education. She too lived on Kibbutz Ein Dor.
Our separate groups of boys and girls were joined and we had discussions on gender equality that led us young male chauvinists to appreciate the role of women in the new world we were going to create in Palestine. Lisa was probably physically stronger than any six of us scrawny kids put together and that made for gender equality too.
Women’s role in Jewish life, however unequal it might appear from the practices of the religion, was far more emancipated than in most other religions and societies. Our discussions in Hashomer Hatzair on feminism, the role of women in kibbutz and in politics, and on their capability in the variety of human endeavors, led to a keen appreciation of the difficulties that women faced in achieving equality in the world.
Even in the supposedly emancipated kibbutzim, women worked in the laundries, the kitchens, and the children's nurseries just as in bourgeois society. Interestingly, they themselves hooted men out of their "women's" domain when some brave male attempted to integrate himself into the laundry work force or the children's houses. The dam of tradition held strong against the currents of gender equality.
Lisa led her newly post-pubescent charges with aplomb and high intelligence through the intellectual exercises of Marx, Engels, and Freud. We read, discussed, and argued into the nights. We all fell in love with her, boys and girls. She did set our Jewish consciousness straight on so many aspects of what was expected of us in the new society we were creating.
The real outcome of all this was that being Jewish meant relating to women with a sense of equality rather than with a Victorian sense of respect.
Nachum Meyers: My life is a Jewish life of equality. Being Jewish, and educating my children as Jews, has been an integral part of my existence as a Jewish man. In Hashomer Hatzair from 1937 to 1948 and living in Israel from 1948 to 1960, and now back in the United States, my life and work, with women in marriage and at my side in equality as I have built many businesses, has made my years full as I celebrate my 87th year.
The Day the Bat Mitzvah Marched with the Torah09 October 2013
By Rabbi Ralph P. Kingsley, October 2013
One of the memorable moments of my thirty-one year rabbinate at Temple Sinai of North Dade was the day that a Bat Mitzvah carried the Torah during the Hakafah on Shabbat morning for the first time. Not only was her face aglow, but so were the faces of the other young women who were at services that day. They understood that a new custom had been established and that they too would be permitted to carry the Torah from that day on. And so it has been. Today no one thinks twice about it. One wonders why anyone ever did. It is so natural and so wonderful.
Mixed Messages09 October 2013
By Rachel Mann, October 2013
I grew up with mixed messages. My parents encouraged me to succeed academically, and I always felt my prospects were limitless; when I grew up, I could be anything my brothers could be. With one exception. In our Conservative non-egalitarian synagogue, my brothers, once of age, could read Torah and lead tefilot and count in the minyan, and I could not. It was a jarring inconsistency in what was otherwise a thoroughly modern household.
As a young adult, I had to find a way to reconcile my Jewish identity and my progressive feminist identity. Forsaking either one was never an option. For a time, I infrequently visited a synagogue. When my first child was born, it felt natural and necessary to join a spiritual community. It was finally my chance to choose the community that I wanted to be a part of; how lucky for me to live in New York City, where we joined a thriving intellectual, egalitarian, and socially progressive synagogue. Every time I listened to our talented woman cantor beautifully lead the tefilot, my Jewish identity and feminist identities were affirmed.
I have three young daughters, and already their education has been different from mine. They expect equal opportunities for men and women, in both the religious and secular spheres. I look forward to celebrating my oldest’s bat mitzvah and watching her proudly read the Torah and don a talit. And I dream of a day when she will be able to practice Judaism as she sees fit, no matter where she is in the world; even at the Kotel.
Rachel Mann is a blogger at No Turning Back: http://becomingajewishparent.blogspot.com
Reading Torah09 October 2013
By Judy Roitman, October 2013
I am the daughter and granddaughter of cantors (my grandfather was the great David Roitman). I was raised in a Conservative-leading-towards-Orthodox home, with many Orthodox relatives. When, as an adult living in Lawrence, KS, I first witnessed a woman reading the Torah during services, I began to cry. Something integral to my life that I had not even known was missing was suddenly restored. Suddenly I understood what it was to be fully a Jew, and realized that I was indeed fully Jewish. Something wonderful happens when women fully participate, and it is the community at large which receives the benefits.