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.
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.
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.
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.