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  • Exceptions and Expectations

    24 October 2013

    By Ruth Wilson, October 2013

    I grew up knowing that my life was an exception to the rules.

    My friends prayed on Sunday, in churches that were landmarks in my small country town. My family prayed, on Saturday, at home. We had different rules for eating. In my friends’ homes, they shared ghost stories and English classics; in ours we entered the world of the shtetl and the ghetto, our stories about dreamers of the Jewish world.

    My early experience bred the expectation that the Jewish world was itself different, exceptional. It did not occur to me that it, just like any other of my time, would be beset by gender and power games. My personal experience of service to the community in the 80s and 90s was mixed. As a provider of educational services I was fulfilled and rewarded; but I found it hard to accept that the synagogue Board on which I served regarded the issue of whether women in the Gallery could hear the sermons as an irrelevance.

    I dream that the relevance of gender as an issue will evaporate in the next 25 years. When the nature of gender equality is transformed from struggle to expectation, and the gender of human beings becomes as unimportant as the colour of their eyes, my dream will be reality.

    Ruth Wilson (b.1932)


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  • Fault Lines

    29 May 2014

    The fault-line that is shaking Israel runs deep under the ocean, and it is contributing to the tectonic shifts that are now rattling the landscape of the American Jewish community.


  • Finally, My Bat Mitzvah

    23 October 2013

    By Janet L. Falk, October 2013

    I am 60 years old. No girls of my generation became Bat Mitzvahs. It wasn't done. We attended the Bar Mitzvah services and celebrations of our male siblings, cousins and classmates, and never asked "Why not me?" Our mothers did not question this inequality either.

    About 30 years later, my two daughters each celebrated their Bat Mitzvah. They never asked "Why do I have to?," a very different question than the one my peers and I did not ask.

    It was understood that my daughters would study, learn trope, chant the parsha and give a d'var torah.

    Years later, following in their steps, I studied and became a Bat Mitzvah at age 54. It was a memorable process, one that strengthened and deepened my connection to our family's Jewish heritage.

    Thanks to the shift in gender equity, we three became Bat Mitzvahs and proudly chanted from the Torah, as my mom/their bubbie, beamed with pride.

    Janet L. Falk is a former Sisterhood President and served as an Area Director for the Northeast District of Women of Reform Judaism. She also served on the Board of Trustees of The Village Temple, Congregation B'nai Israel of New York City, where she is Co-Editor of Kesher, the monthly newsletter.


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  • Fish and Bicycles

    17 October 2013

    October 17, 2013

    If you've started reading a NIF News column with that title, you might just be A Certain Age.

    The feminist slogan from the 1970s isn't too familiar these days, and that has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, we know that men are worth much more than a pedaling halibut. On the other, the loss of the vociferous feminism of the '70s makes it hard to convince people that the struggle for women's rights is still real, still ongoing, and particularly in Israel, very much opposed by powerful leaders.

    That's one of the reasons we ask you to tell us your stories for the Taking Our Place campaign. We want to honor our grantee Women of the Wall on their 25th anniversary, at a time when their struggle for freedom of religion and conscience in Israel remains complicated and difficult. But we also want you to think about the evolution of women in the American Jewish community, on the bimah and behind the podium and at the table – and not just the kitchen table. So many of you have become leaders in your communities and have given voice to the struggle for an equal place -- and in the past few days, many of you have already told us beautiful and intimate stories. Women and men of all ages are making the case that when women take our place as equals, it strengthens Israel, the Jewish tradition and our vibrancy and strength as a people.

    As we told you, we will publish these stories as a supplement in Ha'aretz and the International New York Times in Israel next month. We will present some in a compilation to Women of the Wall Chair Anat Hoffman at their Rosh Hodesh celebration at the Kotel on November 4. Together, we will remind the religious authorities and the leaders of Israel that we in the American Jewish community have thrived through a growing ethos of partnership and equality, and that Israeli society stands to gain, not lose, by continuing on its own process of securing full participation by women in social, political, cultural and religious life.

    In the social change business, progress is hard and slow. NIF supporters understand that we have been working for women's rights in every sphere in Israel since our inception in 1979, and that in the face of growing religious extremism, we must continue. Please join with us in supporting our sisters in Israel, and click here to contribute to our campaign.

    Naomi Paiss

  • Free to Be

    10 October 2013

    By Dove Weissman, October 2013

    Born in the early 70s, I am a product of the women's liberation movement. I was dressed in baby bell-bottom blue jeans, if anything, and I was always told that I can be and do anything. The lyrics of Harry Belafonte and Marlo Thomas on "Free to be You and Me" informed my perspective of what it is to be a woman, (mother or not).

    "Some mommies are ranchers, or poetry makers
    Or doctors or teachers, or cleaners or bakers
    Some mommies drive taxis, or sing on TV
    Yeah, mommies can be almost anything they want to be."

    You get the point. As a 3rd generation American Jew, the commitment to Jewish values such as tzedakah and acts of kindness were strongly encouraged, but religious practice was more a byproduct of belonging to a Reform congregation where Jewish community was strengthened.

    I recently participated in a service at the Kotel with Women of the Wall. In addition to the WOW activists, religious women praying nearby, police, and onlookers, was my 13 year old daughter, my mother, her women's lib activist friends, and my soon to be in-laws, who are secular Israeli kibbutzniks. Standing there, I felt the complexity and immensity of the moment, all the struggles that made it possible for us to be there, together. Such places of power and spiritual significance usually help us transcend our human divisions. Yet in Israel, the transcendent and mundane are continually engaged in a magnetic dance of duality.

    There is still much work to be done to overcome the inequities of gender, class and race, yet I feel hopeful that my daughter's generation will evolve society to be even more just. After all, they are standing on the shoulders of some mighty strong giants.

    Dove is a citizen of the earth, mother, friend, sister, daughter, lover, artist, health and wellness enthusiast, and occasional writer.


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  • Freedom

    08 May 2013

    On Monday, May 6, 2013, nine Eritrean female asylum seekers and their 10 children were released from a detention center in Israel. The asylum seekers had not committed any crime, but were facing indefinite detention for entering Israel without proper documentation.


  • From Boston to Jerusalem

    25 April 2013

    From Boston to Jerusalem

    As everyone the world over knows, last week was a very hard week for the Boston region where we are quite unaccustomed to suffering from acts of terror. I live in Watertown, MA, ground zero for the final manhunt for the perpetrators of the bombing and other crimes. The last gun battle, essentially on Kabbalat Shabbat, was minutes from my home. The silver lining to the senseless violence and suffering is the feeling of solidarity and support Bostonians felt. We all used social media to react in real time to updates on the investigation and manhunt. I was personally touched by the outpouring from friends, family, and colleagues from around the world, including from so many of my co-workers, both Jewish and Arab, in Israel.

    However, the aftermath has left us with some issues to ponder that will not resolve quickly.

    First, our cousins in Israel, sadly, have much more experience with this sort of trauma than we do. We got a hint of this as we made the transition from the Boston Marathon bombings, which coincidentally took place on Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, to Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, the following day. Annually, Israelis make the shift between solemnity and joy, shared sacrifice and national liberation. With last Monday’s events still fresh, the shift to Yom Ha’atzmaut was particularly hard this year for Boston Jews. Will this added dimension better help us understand the Israeli experience? What will Yom Ha’atzmaut feel like next year for us?

    Second, people are beginning to question whether locking down much of the region was necessary. I personally don’t quibble with the decision. I was glad to have my family close at hand last Friday. And as one NIF board member suggested recently, Boston is really a small town. We all know each other, so it made sense that we would all, in unison, obey the call to stay out of the way as if part of a small town. However, another Watertown family interviewed in Ha’aretz suggested that they could not imagine Israel shutting down a major city to hunt down one nineteen-year-old kid. What is the right balance? Hopefully, we will not have to learn the right answer for ourselves the hard way in the future.

    Lastly, the region felt relief and joy when the surviving brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured. The accolades heaped on our first responders were gratifying and touching to listen to. A friend of mine brought his kindergarten twins to the Watertown police station to thank the police in person. A marathoner walked in at that moment to deliver her medal to show her appreciation. Now that the euphoria is dying down, what implications will last week’s events have on social policy? Will it harden our hearts or open them? Will immigration reform suffer? Will civil rights be curtailed in the name of security? Will we act in kinship with those who endure terror daily around the world?

    All of us in Boston are grateful that chapter one of this nightmare has concluded. The healing process is only beginning. As we look to move forward, it helps me to think of Rabbi Ronne Friedman of Temple Israel’s words at the Boston interfaith service attended by President Obama. Ronne quoted Rabbi Nachman of Breslav who said, “The entire world is a narrow bridge, but the important principle is to transcend, somehow, your fear.”

    Stephane Acel-Green
    New England Regional Director

  • From Exclusion to Community

    10 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.


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