Out Loud

  • Davening in Monsey

    09 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.


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  • Summer of '89

    09 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.


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  • Torah and Half-a-Torah

    08 October 2013

    When I was Bat-Mitzvahed in a Conservative synagogue a long time ago, girls did not read from the Torah. Bat Mitzvahs took place on Friday night, not Saturday morning. Girls did not wear a tallit, and their speeches about the meaning of the Haftorah portion they read were truncated.

    As a Hebrew Day school student, I knew very well the difference between a Torah and Haftorah reading. In my 13-year-old mind, I was being asked to do half-a-service, half-a-Torah reading, although I knew that I was twisting the meaning of “Haftorah” to serve my own rebellious, proto-feminist instincts.

    Fast forward 31 years, and my daughter Molly is Bat-Mitzvahed at a Reform synagogue. On a Saturday morning, wearing a tallit, reading from the Torah, speaking about her Torah parsha. She did well and I was proud of her, and pleased at the difference between our two celebrations, a generation apart.

    To cap things off, the rabbi of the synagogue told Molly after her service that she should consider becoming a rabbi. She told me this incredulously, rather proud of herself. And I thought, hey wait a minute. I was just as articulate as Molly at that age, just as interested in arguing about the meaning of the Tanach in my classes, a good writer and a decent leader. How come nobody ever told ME I could go to rabbinical school?

    Because I couldn’t. Girls in my observant milieu didn’t become rabbis back then. And although both Molly and I would have been sadly miscast as rabbis, the fact that she could qualify, that she could consider, that it was within the realm of possibility that she could run a congregation as a spiritual leader….that went a long way towards reconciling me to my own place in the Jewish community.

    Naomi Paiss has served as Vice President of Public Affairs for NIF since 2005, and has 27 years of experience in public affairs and issues management. Naomi is a graduate of Akiba Hebrew Academy (now Barrack Academy) in Merion, PA and of Sarah Lawrence College.


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  • Women of the Wall, Judaism, and you!

    09 October 2013

    I want your help to bolster Israel's women's rights movement. You can bolster this front-line work by demonstrating the depth of support for the notion that women should be full partners in modern Jewish life.

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  • Taking Our Place: Faye Moskowitz

    08 October 2013

    October 2013

    I can still picture myself, a little girl, sitting among my aunts, my bubbie, and my mother in the balcony of the small Detroit schul where from time to time we looked down to pick out our family's men as they prayed. I have earlier impressions of a time when I was still so small I could sneak onto the bench where my father sat and snuggle into the V of his knees. Later I was told my feminine presence near the bema, young as I was, caused consternation among the men.

    It took me a while to understand that my gender "sat in the back of the bus" in Orthodox Judaism, and I rebelled. I joined the Labor Zionist Movement in my teens and reveled in their philosophy of a single standard. In the movement it was possible to be a Jewish woman and not feel part of an underclass.

    Much later my daughter and I trained for our b'nai mitzvot under Rabbi Avis Miller, a rite my Orthodox background would have deemed unacceptable. Think of it! A woman rabbi and a bat mitzvah for me, the little girl in the balcony.

    Of course I have supported Women of the Wall. Perhaps one day all Jewish women regardless of affiliation will be granted first class citizenship.

    Faye Moskowitz, a professor of English and Creative Writing at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., is author of the memoirs, A Leak in the Heart (1985), And the Bridge is Love (1991), and Peace in the House (2002), as well as the short story collection Whoever Finds This: I Love You (1988). She was twice recipient of the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, and is presently she is poetry editor of Moment Magazine.


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Israel's dilemma: Who can be an Israeli?

By Daniel Sokatch and David N. Myers

13 January 2014