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.
Coming of Age, Again09 October 2013
By Cathy Swerdlow, October 2013
I became a Bat Mitzvah at a Conservative synagogue in New York State in 1965, but it took me years to realize that my ceremony and that of the boys in my class were not equal. You see, I conducted the Friday evening service only. And, after reciting the Kiddush, I chanted the Haftorah portion for the week. But it was chanted "for real" the following day by the boy who had his Bar Mitzvah on Shabbat morning. I was not called to Torah, he was. At the time, I accepted that this was the way it was done.
As Judaism in America responded to the societal changes of feminism, the Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative movements became egalitarian. Rabbis and cantors, religious school principals and teachers could be male or female. Women are now counted in the minyan. And I have found myself more involved in Judaism as a full participant, more than I could have imagined as a young girl.
I wear a tallilt and kippah, don tefillin on weekdays at our community minyan and read Torah on a regular basis in my Conservative synagogue.
Davening in Monsey09 October 2013
By Michal Boyarsky, October 2013
As a child, I attended a shul in ultra-Orthodox Monsey, New York. Ours was the odd one out in that neighborhood: other families walked to shul, the men dressed in black-and-white suits and black hats, the women wearing dark dresses and thick stockings. Our family drove fifteen minutes to get to our shul, which my parents affectionately called Conservadox. The congregation was a mix of modern Orthodox families and Conservative families. My father used to joke that everyone walked to our shul—some walked from home, and others walked from the parking lot.
There was no mehitzah (gender division) at our shul, so I could sit next to my father and play with the fringes on his tallis even after I had my bat mitzvah. But women “weren’t allowed on the bima”—that’s the language that was used to describe gender at our synagogue. For my bat mitzvah, I read Haftorah on a Sunday. Afterwards, during our monthly Teen Shabbatot, the teenage boys would lead services, and I was occasionally asked to give a d’var Torah—once the ark was firmly closed.
Today, I can leyn Torah, and I’ve played a large part in getting an independent minyan started in Seattle, WA where I live now. The daveners at our minyan are often strong, independent women with much more clarity on gender and Judaism than I had as a kid davening in Monsey, New York.
A few months ago, a good friend of mine gave me a gift: a tallis, my first one. When I wrap myself inside it on Shabbat mornings, it feels wonderful--and complicated. Growing up, women never wore tallitot. The tallit still feels forbidden, bewildering in a way. Like draping myself in a flag that announces to the congregation that I am a Jewish adult, a full and important member of the community.
And I am.
Men and women together at the Kotel 196709 October 2013
By Andrew Kaplan, October 2013
I'm an American who served with the Israel Defense Force in the Golan Heights during the Six Day War. A few days after the war ended, I was in East Jerusalem, which at that time was still under martial law. I immediately went to the Western Wall, which of course, we Jews had not been able to go to since 1948. At that time, there was no big plaza like today. Only a narrow street. It was jammed with soldiers and people, men and women, boys and girls together, praying, singing, so happy together. That's right, men and women praying together at the Western Wall and you know what? It didn't fall down. I enclose a photo I took at the time to prove it.
Summer of '8909 October 2013
By Ruti Kadish, October 2013
In the summer of 1989, at the age of 25, I celebrated my bat mitzvah at Jewish summer camp.
Growing up in Israel, reaching the age of mitzvot was marked by a meal with extended family in our home. In my secular Ashkenazi home, heavily informed by my mother’s kibbutz roots, religiosity was non-existent and any Jewish symbolism was limited to cultural holiday celebrations. Nevertheless, living in the States in the mid 80’s I reveled in my new 'discovery' of feminist Judaism, and let the deluge of Jewish feminist writing and creativity wash over me and carry me with it.
In 1989 I decided to have a Bat Mitzvah. As I stood before the camp ‘congregation ’ on the Shabbat morning of my Bat Mitzvah, in our rustic amphitheater/synagogue in the Santa Cruz mountains surrounded by Redwoods, I marveled out loud at the privilege of standing before them as the shlichat tsibbur, donning tallit and kippa, and leining Torah. This was not a given; I described how only a week before women attempting to pray at the Wall in Jerusalem were accosted by ultra-Orthodox men. One woman had been injured by a chair hurtled at her from across the gender barrier.
Later that evening, after havdallah, the camp director called me down to a meeting with the shlicha (Israeli emissary to the community). The camp director was ill at ease but the shlicha didn’t hesitate: what I had done was anti-Zionist and anti—educational; I had jeopardized the entire mission of the camp. Blindsided, it took me several moments to understand her contention: I had dared to criticize Israel in public; by speaking in favor of Jewish pluralism (Women of the Wall), and criticizing the ultra-Orthodox I had undermined the mission of this pluralistic Zionist summer camp.
Blinded by my tears and overwhelmed by a sense of injustice, I didn’t have the presence of mind to point out the irony—the shlicha, who self-defined as ideologically secular and couldn’t fathom why I would even bother to have a Bat Mitzvah, was defending the ultra-Orthodox. Conversely, I was labeled an anti-Zionist.
A year later, I stood for the first time with Women of the Wall at the Kotel for a Rosh Chodesh service. Serendipitously, I will there again next month for the rosh chodesh service celebrating WOW’s 25th anniversary, humbly and proudly joining those who for the last twenty five years have stood without fail for equality and justice. They were and remain the true Zionists.