Judaism belongs to every Jew25 October 2013
By Hallel Abramowitz-Silverman, October 2013
My connection to God was strengthened at a Women of the Wall support service in NY last March. There were over 300 people. Some didn't even personally understand women who chose to wear tallitot, but believed in religious freedom for all - not just those who agreed with them. Seeing all these people who didn't even know us personally, and some who have never been to the Kotel, care so much for this issue was incredible. I had an aliya that day, and when I called out Barchu et Adonai hamvorach, and the congregation responded, Baruch Adonai Hamvorach Leolam va'ed, my heart expanded. It was the most honest and vulnerable prayer of my life.
I am sad that I have not had this amazing kind of connection at the Kotel yet. When I am there my awe of God is clouded by my fear of violence. Israel needs to step up and stop enabling the Ultra-Orthodox. If one is not pushed to give back to its country, work for a living and think about anyone outside of his / her community, then how can we possibly expect s/he magically knows how to compromise? The Ultra-Orthodox are not the core problem of this issue. We are, the government is, and our country that has been enabling this kind of behaviors is. Like anyone who has been enabled, there is Haredi panic and anger, and in their case violence, at the prospect of losing the safety of their bubbled life. But Judaism belongs to every Jew, and every Jew must stand up and engage, despite threats from the entitled few.
In NY on Rosh Hodesh, surrounded by people who whole-heartedly supported what I have been fighting for month after month was an incredible feeling. One that I'm not used to on Rosh Chodesh. There was not one part of me that was scared, not a bone in me that wasn't connected to God. It will be a blessing when I can call out God's blessedness as openly and freely in Jerusalem as I can in New York.
Hallel Abramowitz-Silverman can be followed on twitter @purplelettuce95.
Judaism is not one-size-fits-all24 October 2013
By Dawn Rosen, October 2013
I believe that Judaism was never meant to be one-size-fits-all. And I believe Judaism was meant to evolve. As a Reconstructionist, I understand that being Jewish means much more than religion and rituals; its culture, music, history, our stories, our family, and how we work to enrich our communities and make the world a better place. In the modern world there is no rationale for women not to have the choice to be equal partners in all aspects of life. If I didn’t have the egalitarian options, I don’t know that I could have found the means to have meaningful engagement in a Jewish life.
Years ago I stopped visiting the Kotel as it was/is just a further reminder of the lack of tolerance for liberal, egalitarian Jewish life. In North America we have choices. I can wear my tallit, I’ve learned how to lead services and leyn (read) Torah. I have choices.
I was in just in Israel and when I realized I would be there for Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan, I immediately signed up to stand with Women of the Wall at the Kotel. It was my first opportunity to do so and I was so proud to be there with these women of all ages and backgrounds. My 81 year old mother, who was with me visiting Israel but not well enough to risk the crowd, asked me to wear her tallit so she would feel that she was also standing with WOW along with me.
In a few generations perhaps the children of our sons and daughters will ask why these women had to work so hard just for equal status. They will ask, hopefully, because it will be taken for granted by their generation. That’s my hope along with a strong Jewish diaspora in support of Israel being a light to all nations. Amen.
Dawn Rosen lives in Toronto and is an active member (for over 20 years) of Congregation Darchei Noam, Reconstructionist Synagogue of Toronto. She is a Certified Management Account working full time and is a wife, mother and grandmother.
Kaddish24 October 2013
By Emma, October 2013
I grew up as a Reform Jew in London. Until I went to university, I would go to synagogue every week because my father insisted that my sister and I should. My father himself rarely attended synagogue except at festivals. To get to synagogue we had to travel by bus quite far. I got used to the service and, of course, was accustomed to women and men sitting together.
Some years later I went to Israel where I met my husband who came from a much more Orthodox background. I rarely attended synagogue in Israel because it felt alien. However I learned Hebrew from being there and therefore found the Reform services, once I was back in London, less satisfying than I had done previously.
I did not have a bat mitzvah and never learned to read from the Torah. In fact while I speak and understand Hebrew, I find reading more difficult. I was relatively unconcerned about women's role in Judaism - apart from not appreciating being separated from the men. If women wanted to be rabbis, they should, I thought, but it was not a path I sought for myself.
Much later, one aspect of the service became important for me - the reciting of Kaddish, something that some Orthodox rabbis will not allow women to perform. I had occasionally tried to recite Kaddish at the yartzeit of my father - and later my mother - if my elder brother was unable to do so. But it became essential for me following his very untimely death. For eleven months I attended a Masorti (Conservative) synagogue virtually every Shabbat and recited Kaddish for him. Reciting Kaddish has now become something I find very important.
Keep Calm and Pray On14 March 2013
14 March 2013
"Keep Calm and Pray On." That was the motto this week as NIF-grantee Women of the Wall ushered in the Hebrew month of Nissan at the Western Wall with hundreds of supporters. Tamar Zandberg, Michal Rozin and Stav Shaffir, three newly elected members of Knesset, were right in front, leading the way for the entire group. Their presence helped keep the police at bay and, unlike in past months, no arrests occurred. The leadership displayed by these MKs was a true embodiment of the spirit of International Women's Day, celebrated just last week.
And while that was happening in Jerusalem, 400 people gathered (“in the rain!” one of our staffers told me) at a solidarity event in New York, which was co-sponsored by NIF. 200 more gathered an event outside of the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. This is a model of the spirit of the new Israeli-American partnership NIF and our allies are forging, one that recognizes that our struggles and our causes are connected. Activists in Israel know that their sisters and brothers in America have their back.
The momentum displayed at these events is part of what I hope is a new trend in progress for the rights of women in Israel. The 19th Knesset has an unprecedented number of women, and many of them are courageous champions of our values. As is the custom in Israel, new members of the Knesset give speeches. Some of the speeches were terrific (check out Ruth Calderon's Talmud lesson, now something of an internet sensation), but one in particular blew me away. New Labor MK Merav Michaeli talked about her vision for Israel, and how vital it is for those who have power to stand up for those who don't. After the past three-plus years we've spent fighting scores of antidemocratic bills coming out of that very chamber, it was a beautiful thing to hear those words from the rostrum of the Knesset:
Although our work is far from over, there has been significant progress in fighting for women’s rights. Our grantees are doing critical work, and not just on International Women’s Day. The new members of Knesset, coupled with the events of the past week, leave me feeling that maybe – just maybe - the tide on women’s rights in Israel is beginning to turn.
Leonard "Leibel" Fein, z"l15 August 2014
It is with deep sadness that I write to tell you that Leibel Fein – former NIF Board member, IC member, and champion of the Israel we believe in – died early this morning. A great light has gone out.
Letter from Yeruham Mayor11 July 2014
Today NIF received the following letter from Yeruham Mayor Michael Bitton. While his city is living under threat of rocket attack, he has found that the citizens are coming together to pitch in and help each other get through this crisis. He credits the Volunteer Center that NIF helped establish in his city for this spirit of solidarity.
Looking behind the curtain of ultra-nationalist zealotry15 July 2013
The bill seeking to defund NGOs that dare criticize Israeli policies has undergone a cunning transformation designed to mask its radically ultra-nationalist agenda; but don't be fooled, it is still a betrayal of Israel's founding principles.
Men and women together at the Kotel 196709 October 2013
By Andrew Kaplan, October 2013
I'm an American who served with the Israel Defense Force in the Golan Heights during the Six Day War. A few days after the war ended, I was in East Jerusalem, which at that time was still under martial law. I immediately went to the Western Wall, which of course, we Jews had not been able to go to since 1948. At that time, there was no big plaza like today. Only a narrow street. It was jammed with soldiers and people, men and women, boys and girls together, praying, singing, so happy together. That's right, men and women praying together at the Western Wall and you know what? It didn't fall down. I enclose a photo I took at the time to prove it.