Out Loud

  • A Touch of Patriarchy

    14 October 2013

    By Leanne Gale, October 2013

    [image - Leanne Gale]

    I still remember the first time I prayed with Women of the Wall. I wasn't particularly afraid to go: after all, I was simply returning to a place I had been countless times before, to offer prayers I had memorized for as long as I could remember. As a young American Jew studying abroad at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I was excited to wake up early in the morning in time to make it to the Kotel and celebrate Rosh Hodesh with a friendly group of inspiring women.

    But that morning was scarier than I thought. As we prayed, donning prayer shawls and harmonizing our melodies, police snapped pictures of us from up close. More than once, a particularly aggressive officer approached our shlichat tzibbur (the woman leading services)and demanded that she remove her tallit. Other women, opposed to our prayers, screamed in our direction and spat on our shoes. In the end, four women were detained, and we all finished our Rosh Hodesh "celebration" outside of a local prison.

    It wasn't until I arrived home that I realized the enormity of my experience. On my first Shabbat back at Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania, I rejoined my beloved Reform Jewish community for Kabbalat Shabbat. My dear friend, Rachel donned a prayer-shawl as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, and effortlessly rose before the mixed gender congregation to lead us in song. But as I looked around me, my mind flashed to the image of the Israeli police officer reaching out to touch the woman who had led us in prayer at the Western Wall. To the screaming. To the prison. I slowly leaned back in my seat, feeling relieved to back in Philadelphia rather than Jerusalem. I felt safe and loved in the American Jewish community.

    Before Women of the Wall, I had never realized how vulnerable women can be to the patriarchal practices of many religious authorities. The experience jolted me to examine the religious experiences of other women, Jewish and otherwise, and to more deeply explore the implications of feminist thinking for all of our immediate lives. Today, despite the rapid changes that have taken place, I still feel unsafe as a Reform Jewish woman at the Kotel. I sincerely hope that I can live out my Judaism in Israel just as intentionally and fully as I can in the United States. But even more importantly, I hope that more of us can open our eyes to the patriarchal legacies that remain alive and well today in our tradition. We must all work towards a future in which a woman need never fear a strange man touching her body as she attempts to offer her prayers to God.

    Leanne Gale is currently living in Jerusalem as a NIF-SHATIL Social Justice Fellow.


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  • Women of the Wall, Judaism, and you!

    14 October 2013

    By Naomi Paiss, posted October 9, 2013

    I want your help to bolster Israel's women's rights movement.

    25 years ago a group of activists committed to the principle of women's equality joined together to pursue a simple goal: that women should be allowed to pray at the Kotel according to the dictates of their consciences.

    Today, their efforts are at the center of two parallel debates about gender equality within Judaism and about the rights of women in Israel to be a part of the public square.

    NIF is committed to winning these debates. That's why we seed-funded Women of the Wall 25 years ago. That's why we support dozens of Israeli NGOs committed to women's rights. And that's why we convene these organizations, and others, to press forward for our shared vision of equality.

    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.

    Here's what I need from you: Write a short personal statement. Tell us about a moment in your life when your connection to Judaism was strengthened by the shift to the greater gender equality we’ve witnessed here in America. Or speak out on what needs to be done in the next 25 years to ensure that Jewish and Israeli women continue to rise as spiritual, political, and cultural leaders.

    Click here to see other contributions and to submit your statement.

    We're going to take a selection of the statements we receive and publish them online and in the mainstream Israeli press. To make sure we get attention, we'll be printing the stories of grassroots activists, intellectual elites, and political leaders side by side. (We've already reserved space in the Haaretz.)

    The world has changed dramatically in the past 25 years since Women of the Wall was founded. Here in America, women have been taking our place as leaders on the bima, at the board room, and in the struggle to build a better Israel.

    But in Israel, ultra-Orthodox extremists have increasingly sought to block women from participating in nearly every aspect of Jewish religious life -- from singing prayers in public to offering the eulogy at their parents’ funerals. And their ambitions extend to the secular realm: They believe that women must be hidden. It’s part of a radical worldview that strips women of any meaningful role outside of the home.

    NIF and our organizations have taken on this extremism with great success: It is now illegal for women to be forced to sit at the back of the bus. The attorney general has ordered all government agencies to stop any government-sponsored exclusion of women. Billboards with women's faces can now, once again, be seen in the streets of Jerusalem.

    Now you can help reinforce these policy victories with outreach to more of the Israeli public. For too long ultra-Orthodox extremists have dominated the discussion about our Jewish heritage. As a result, too many in Israel believe that Judaism is inherently about keeping women down.

    Help broaden the discussion. Demonstrate the depth of support for the notion that women are full partners in modern Judaism.

    This is your opportunity to be a part of the movement pressing for women's rights at the Kotel, within Judaism, and in every other aspect of life.

    You and I know that when women take our place as equals, it strengthens Israel, the Jewish tradition and our strength as a people. Help us to show that modern Judaism is about equality. Help us strengthen the movement for equality within Israel.

    Thanks for your partnership in the push for a better Israel!

    Naomi Paiss
    Vice President of Public Affairs
    New Israel Fund

    P.S. -- As a tribute to all that Women of the Wall has achieved, we will be presenting them with a book of the statements we receive at the commemoration of their 25 year anniversary on November 4th. Add your story now!

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  • Cheering Vashti

    11 October 2013

    By Alexandra Stein, October 2013

    I grew up in a Reform congregation in Washington, DC that fully embraced the feminist movement. Our Cantor and one of our Rabbis were women, and on Purim, we not only booed Haman, we also cheered Vashti - because she knew that her body was her own and she did not let a man (even her husband) force her to do something with it that she did not want to do.

    As a girl, it was empowering for me to see women on the Bima reading Torah and leading prayers and sharing learning. I knew that I could grow up to be a Rabbi if I wanted, and I also knew that when I was thirteen, I would read Torah and Haftarah and be received by my congregation as a full adult member, able to help make a minyan. Receiving my tallit just before my Bat Mitzvah was very exciting. Putting it on then, and most subsequent Shabbatot, focused my mind on prayer and on G-d.

    Gender equality is not just about individual empowerment (important though that is). When I think of the impact that gender equality in American Progressive Judaism has had on my community, I mostly think of people - my childhood Rabbi and Cantor, another female Cantorial Soloist, and many lay leaders in the congregation - who quite simply would not have been there in another generation. These women had a profound impact on my life, shaping how I think and how I pray and how I live, and I know that many others in my congregation, men and women, feel the same way. Our Jewish experiences would have been deeply impoverished had they not been ordained, or allowed on the Bima.


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  • That Was Then, This Is Now

    11 October 2013

    By Norma Kipnis Wilson, October 2013

    As a little girl I believed that I could do anything that the boys could do, and I did. Particularly in sports. As I grew up I realized the limitations for girls were not self inflicted, but were very real in everyday life in society. Change was necessary. What could I do?

    A wife and mother of five, it became important that my participation in what was called "women's lib" was something I would do from home. My children marched with me on important women's issues and we have come a long way.

    As an adult I have been very active in Jewish life and particularly in Greater Miami Jewish Federation and support of Israel. I have been distressed over Israel's treatment of women. It is high time that the women of Israel take their place among the men and not allow the ultra-Orthodox community to hold them hostage.

    Perhaps we need to do a better job of informing American women of the status of women in Israel. I never knew that they had to sit in the back of the bus until recently. As the cofounder of the Lion of Judah Society which has 17,500 members from all over the world, I would like to suggest that in some way women's rights becomes a project for ALL women through all women's philanthropies.

    Norma Kipnis Wilson, co founder of the Lion of Judah Society, Board member Greater Miami Jewish Federation (life member), Board member Americans for Immigrant Justice, Board member(retired) University of Miami, Board Member (retired) Jackson Hospital Foundation.


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  • A Member of the Israeli Women’s Movement

    11 October 2013

    By Annice M. Benamy, October 2013

    My connection to my Jewish heritage was strengthened when my husband David (z'l') and I visited Israel in 2008 and 2013. Because of gender equality in American Judaism, David and I shared a love for Judaism that eventually became spiritual. Our involvement in synagogue life grew because we were able to participate together in many activities. I want to see Jewish and Israeli women continue to rise as leaders of equal rights. On our last visit to Israel, we spent 2 weeks touring schools and organizations we are involved with in the US. One of the organizations we visited was Women of the Wall. We spoke with Lesley Sacks and Shira Pruce to see how we could bring their message back to our community. I was able to witness firsthand the energy at the Kotel on Shushan Purim when Megillat Esther was read. My husband watched from the plaza taking pictures and videos of my participation. I am now a member of the Women of the Wall Speakers Bureau so I can encourage groups to help Israel's women's rights movement. Just as the feminist movement in the US was successful, so too will the women's rights movement be in Israel.

    Annice Benamy lives in Teaneck, NJ. She is a member of Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenafly, NJ.


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Israel's dilemma: Who can be an Israeli?

By Daniel Sokatch and David N. Myers

13 January 2014