From Exclusion to Community10 October 2013
By Charlotte Glazer Baer, October 2013
In my big Atlanta Conservative shul, I was the best student in my Hebrew class. I had a good, strong voice, knew all the prayers and chants and led Junior Congregation services every Saturday – until I became Bat Mitzvah. After that, I was no longer allowed on the bima. Boys who barely could recite a prayer became the leaders. My father said, "What does it matter? Keep studying the language." He hired Israelis to read Bialik with me. But the exclusion burned in my gut.
Years later, in Kentucky, my egalitarian havurah changed everything. I was able to take my turn in leading services and in helping others learn. One Shabbat we honored 3 recent bar mitzvahs, and all 6 parents were on the bima. I said as a joke, “Because we’re all up here, you will have to wait a few minutes until we can get the food from the kitchen.” Without a murmur, several men stood up and went into the kitchen to help.
We all need to make community together.
After growing up in Atlanta, Charlotte Baer spent time in Lexington, KY and Boston, Mass. She and her husband now live in Washington, DC.
Do Not Treat Women as Lesser Human Beings09 October 2013
By Morton Deutsch, October 2013
Throughout my personal life and my professional career, I have worked to support equality and justice in the relations between men and women as well as among the difference racial, ethnic, and religious groups. As a Jew, I have felt the hurts and humiliations that can be experienced when one is treated as a lesser human being and denied dignity, equality, and justice. As a Jew, I believe it is my moral obligation to support all those who seek dignity, equality, and justice. I also believe it is the moral obligation of a Jewish state to do this. It must do this by supporting equal rights for women in all areas of life despite the objections of those who benefit from the subordination of women. When Israel as a state does not do this, it weakens its claim to represent basic Jewish values.
Morton Deutsch is a WW2 veteran, E.L. Thorndike Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Director Emeritus of Morton Deutsch International Center for Conflict Resolution at Teachers College, Columbia University.
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.
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.
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