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  • Belonging: A Transformative Journey

    14 October 2013

    By Paula Jacobs, October 2013

    As I write these words, I’ve just returned from Jerusalem where I prayed with Women of the Wall for Rosh Chodesh Heshvan. With this experience still fresh on my mind, it's an inspiration for personal reflection.

    Growing up in Boston in the 1960's, I was privileged to receive an intensive Jewish education. Yet by age 12, I already felt excluded from Jewish life even though my family's Conservative congregation was one of the most progressive in the U.S.

    For my Friday night bat mitzvah, I memorized a haftarah portion. I envied the bar mitzvah students who learned to read Torah and lead prayers in their exclusive male-only "tallis and tefillin" club.

    In the late 1960's, when I graduated from Hebrew College, the only career path open to me in the Jewish community was Hebrew teaching. The concept of a female rabbi, Jewish communal leader, or even a Hebrew school principal was inconceivable.

    Fast forward twenty years later. At her bat mitzvah, my daughter, wrapped in her tallit, led morning Shabbat prayers, chanted from the Torah, and delivered a d’var Torah. Now she is a Conservative rabbi and executive director of a human rights organization.

    By the close of the 20th century, I finally became a full participant in Jewish life. I learned to chant Torah, began attending daily minyan, learned the morning service, and started wearing a tallit. The defining moment occurred when I was invited to lead an all-male minyan. That’s when I knew I truly belonged.

    Today I gaze at a favorite family photo of my then three-month old granddaughter wearing a sign, "Ha-Kotel l’Kulanu," "The Kotel belongs to us all." It's now four years later and I fervently hope that she and her baby sister will soon realize this dream.

    Paula Jacobs is a writer in the Boston area. Her articles have appeared in digital and print media, including The Jewish Week, The Jerusalem Post, Moment, ritualwell.com, and myjewishlearning.com.

     

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  • Bigger than Feminism, Better with Feminism

    29 October 2013

    By Susan Silverman, October 2013

    When I became a Woman of the Wall, I became more fully Jewish.

    I had been a rabbi for almost 20 years the day I was rounded up, with nine other women – including my seventeen-year-old daughter – by police for wearing a tallis and praying out loud at the kotel. That day was followed by a lot of forced introspection – the media requests for interviews came flooding in.

    I knew in my heart why I was there. My Jewish practice called me to it, the desire to join the historic flow of Jews at that place called me to it, feminism called me to it.

    But over the weeks of forced introspection, I realized something much deeper and more existential. Judaism was at stake for women and men. For all our children. For the Jewish future. I had always felt that the centuries of missing women’s voices had created a skewed Judaism – like a tree that had been deprived the right balance of sustenance. Now a narrow, idolatrous view of God and covenant was being codified in civil law! Mitzvot were more and more the jurisdiction of Hareidi Jews, becoming ends in themselves, not building blocks for a society in which the prophets could rejoice.

    With WoW, I realized that my feminist, progressive fight was for the deepest purposes of our nation.

    Rabbi Susan Silvermanis a writer and activist. She and her husband, Yosef Abramowitz have five children and live in Jerusalem.

     

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  • Boston's Iftar Break-Fast on the 17th of Tammuz

    17 July 2014

    If more of us could step out of our regular routines in similar ways -- and in baby steps -- I can't help but wonder what might eventually be accomplished.

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  • Briefing on Israeli High Court ruling on Asylum Seekers

    02 October 2013

    In September, Israel's High Court struck down a law that imprisoned asylum seekers for years without trial. The ruling was a big win for Israeli democracy.

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  • Building a More Inclusive Israel

    12 February 2014

    Israel, founded as the Jewish state, was never meant to be a theocracy...

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  • Building Civic Power

    23 May 2013

    Any activity that reflects the interests of citizens is a strength. This is what at the end of the day creates power instead of leaving it in the hands of decision-makers who tend to see numbers and not people.

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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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  • Coalition Tag Meir

    20 June 2012

    June 18, 2012

    Tag Meir -- a coalition of Israeli organizations convened by NIF -- sent the following letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.



    The Prime Minister
    MK Benjamin Netanyahu
    Jerusalem

    Dear Mr. Netanyahu,

    Re: Price Tag – A Strategic Threat

    We -- the members of the Coalition Tag Meir (Bright Tag) comprising non-profit organizations from all sections of Israeli society working to counter Jewish terrorism and violence against Palestinians, Israelis working for human rights and even IDF officers -- turn to you concerning the Price Tag attacks that have, to our distress, been continuing for over two years.

    Following the decisions of the Government, the Knesset and the High Court concerning Givat Ha'Ulpana, we believe that there is a serious threat of Price Tag attacks erupting in the West Bank and within Israel itself. Warnings of such attacks have been received in the last few days in the Jewish-Arab settlement of Neve Shalom and in the Arab neighborhood of Shuafat in Jerusalem.

    During the past two years, a dozen mosques have been desecrated, hundreds of car tires have been punctured, olive trees uprooted, shops and bazaars vandalized, threatening graffiti daubed on the homes of high ranking IDF personnel and IDF bases have even been penetrated and attacked.

    Mr. Prime Minister: Past experience has proven that Price Tag activists, bolstered by "Halachic" manuals and "learned" articles, will continue to attack innocent victims to revenge the withdrawal from settlements and homes. Warning of Price Tag attacks has been given: the writing is on the wall.

    Sir, we urge you now, not to surrender to these threats and to Jewish terror and vandalism. We are horrified at the ease at which these attacks have taken place in the past and we urge you to order increased security around the Palestinian settlements most at risk, to guard the mosques in these settlements, to increase the number of police and border police patrols in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the inter-denominational institutions. We ask you to increase the security surrounding officials of the Chief Public Prosecutor and high ranking IDF officers who will bear the responsibility for evacuating Givat Ha'Ulpana and the IDF bases in the vicinity.

    We believe that the actions of "Tag Machir" present a strategic threat to the moral fiber of the State of Israel to its Jewish character, to its security and its social complexity and it is your responsibility to act with determination to remove this threat from our midst.

    Sincerely,

    The Action Committee of the Kibbutz Movement, Bina – The Secular Yeshiva, Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, The Masorti Movement, Yeshivat Talpiot, Elijah Interfaith Institute, The Shittim Institute, Oz VeShalom Netivot Shalom, Realistic Zionist Movement, One Voice, Rabbis for Human Rights, Shatil, Combatants for Peace, Yod Bet B'Heshvan

    c.c.: Minster for Defense, MK Ehud Barak
    Minster for Internal Affairs, MK Yitzhak Aharonovitz
    Police Commissioner, Yohanan Danino
    Attorney General, Adv. Yehuda Weinstein
    State Attorney, Adv. Moshe Lador