A Dream Fulfilled23 October 2013
By Rabbi Marion Shulevitz, October 2013
As a very little girl, I loved going with my father to our Conservative synagogue in Detroit. I loved sitting next to him, pretending I could read the Siddur, and when I got old enough, reading with him. In the children’s service, I was thrilled to be called up for an "aliyah," and to read the brachot. However, even then I noticed that the boys were called up alone, while the girls could only go up to the bimah along with a boy. I dreamed of being a rabbi—but first, I wanted a Bar Mitzvah (the term Bat Mitzvah had not been coined yet).
Since this was the 1930s/40s, my dreams remained just that—dreams. I went to Hebrew school, a Hebrew High School, and a few years of what was called Hebrew College. I spent three summers at a Hebrew-speaking camp and one summer in Israel, coming home fluent in Hebrew and versed in Bible, Hebrew Literature, and Jewish history. I could lead services, give a "drosh," teach Hebrew school—but I could NOT have a Bat Mitzvah or even think of studying in Rabbinical School.
Fast forward to the early 50s to 1976. My family and I, husband and three children, are living in Miami, members of Beth David Congregation. Rabbi Landau has just taken the shul egalitarian, although neither he nor we knew exactly what that meant. He also instituted Bat Mitzvah ceremonies for all the women who had been denied a Bat Mitzvah as girls—quite a large number at that time. So, on the Shabbat of Hol HaMoed Pesach my first dream came true—I had a Bat Mitzvah! I read from the Torah and delivered a very short D’var Torah. There was no party, since it was Pesach, but that was the least of my concerns.
Over the next few years, I read fairly often from the Torah—both for Beth David, and occasionally in other synagogues, Conservative and Reform, and I led weekday services on a regular basis. I began studying Talmud –that had not been taught in my Hebrew school. I began to dream again that perhaps I could become a rabbi; I knew there were women Reform rabbis. But that is a story for another day.
Rabbi Marion Shulevitz was ordained by the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1989 and has served as a hospice, hospital and nursing home chaplain since then. She is currently the Jewish chaplain at the Amsterdam Nursing Home in Manhattan.
A Father Comes Around11 October 2013
By Charles Weiss, October 2013
My attitude about what Women of the Wall were trying to achieve was something very personal. You see, my daughter is Anat Hoffman (née Weiss), the leader of the movement.
At the outset, I confess, I was very ambivalent. Why go to all this trouble just to make it possible for women to read aloud from the Torah at the Kotel? Israeli women have more important battles to fight, I told her. Once, I was at the Kotel as a spectator when a policeman dragged Anat away by one leg, her skirt up around her waist.
But that was many years ago. Anat stuck it out. Braving the calumny of incensed Haradim, she and her little band were at the Kotel at 7 in the morning every Rosh Hodesh come rain or shine. It is thanks to their perseverance, with an assist from organizations like NIF, that their cause has been recognized and given a place at the Kotel.
But this only is partly a victory for Women of the Wall. The struggle that they fought and won was a victory for women's rights in every area in Israel. It has ramifications on the shameful practice of agunot, husbands who simply refuse to grant a divorce to a wife who wants out of the marriage. Essentially, it is a breach in the Haredi monopoly over what women can and cannot do.
Charles Weiss made aliya in 1949 and lived in Israel till 1991 working mostly as a journalist. His four children, of whom Anat is the oldest daughter, all live in Israel. He is retired and lives in New York.
A Light in the Darkness24 July 2014
For me, right now, the best antidote to despair are the thousands of Israelis who, even as the fighting rages, are working to push back against the forces of racism, incitement and intolerance.
A Long Way To Go24 October 2013
By Ilona Lee AM, October 2013
Thirty years ago when I became president of my WIZO group. there were no female rabbis and no females presidents of mainstream Jewish organisations in Sydney.
There have been marked changes since in both the general and the Jewish community. A woman was elected for the first time as Prime Minister of Australia and, in Sydney, we now have three female rabbis attached to reform and Masorti (Conservative) synagogues. Over the years, I have been president of one of our major communal organisations and have been on the executive of four others including the roof body of the New South Wales community and the major fund-raising organisation.
Surveying the Australian scene today, however, we still have a long way to go. Our first female Prime Minister was poorly treated and driven from office (many would say, because she is a woman) and, in the Sydney Jewish community, there is currently only one female president of any major communal organisation, including our day schools and synagogues.
Why is this so? It is true that the way is open to women. But, most Jewish women in Sydney still shoulder the major roles of house management and child care whilst also holding down responsible jobs. Being a communal leader here is usually at least a half-time occupation, often more, but with no remuneration. Thus it is almost impossible for a woman to put her hand up for a leadership position until her children have grown and professional responsibilities decrease or she is wealthy enough to have paid assistance. So, until we make further strides forward in the general community and the tasks of managing home and family are more equally shared, women will continue to be underrepresented in Jewish communal leadership roles.
Ilona Lee AM
NIF Au Board Member
A Member of the Israeli Women’s Movement11 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.
A Sea of Blue T-Shirts06 April 2011
On the same day a couple of weeks ago, NIF supporters in Washington, DC and Tel Aviv participated in two enormous rallies. On the one hand, the two events were very different: In Washington, hundreds of thousands gathered for satirist Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.” In Tel Aviv, the occasion was far more sombre: the commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. At their core, though, both rallies were animated by a growing concern over the rising rhetoric of political extremism that increasingly characterizes the public conversation in both the US and Israel. Here, it’s the Tea Party; there, it’s the Loyalty Oath and the Conversion Bill. In both cases, extremism threatens the liberal democratic values we hold dear.
A Touch of Patriarchy14 October 2013
By Leanne Gale, October 2013
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.
A View from the New Knesset27 February 2013
A View from the New Knesset
(Tamar Zandberg, a new Member of Knesset from the Meretz party, is our guest columnist this week.)
What a couple of years we had! In the summer of 2011, I was marching in the streets, together with hundreds of thousands of Israelis, calling for a more just and equal society, one which cares for the weak and celebrates freedom and democracy. This was the most inspiring political moment Israel had in decades.
Soon after, we were told that the protest has died. Crushed under the daily banalities of the Knesset and manipulated by "King Bibi," as some reporters began calling Prime Minister Netanyahu. The government seemed determined to hold on to the status quo on every front, isolating itself from the world and sowing fear and resentment among its own citizens.
Then came the elections, with a result that could only signify a turning point. An unprecedented number of new members of Knesset, a record breaking representation of women (despite still being outrageously low) and a decreasing average age of MKs – all demonstrate the desire for a new era in Israeli politics.
Make no mistake. There are more progressives in this Knesset, but also more members that support the settlements and still many that have little patience for the democratic principles on which Israel was founded. The clouds which have gathered over Israel in recent years are still there, but for the first time in a while, we also see hope. We see an opportunity. And that’s all we could have asked for.
During the last Knesset term, we focused on blocking initiatives which threatened the most basic freedoms in Israel. We fought against the confrontational attitude our government has presented to the world, and against the moral corruption that the occupation has brought at home. Many of you have stood by us on those battles, and I can assure you that your voice was heard in Israel, loud and clear. Our success in the last elections is also your success.
We could do even more now. We could answer the public call for change with a progressive vision of Israel: A country which provides for all its citizens, a place which views cultural variety and difference of opinions not as a threat but as its source of strength; A state which promotes tolerance and treat all people and religious with respect – including all members of the Jewish people; a nation which can replace the urge to conquer with a desire to care. And most urgent of all: A country which doesn’t deprive the freedom of another people.
It won’t be easy. We are still faced with many – including some members of the future government – who do not share our values. Even among those who believe in change, some view this change in a very different way that we do. We need all the help we can get. I am sure that we will find you continuing your support for a democratic and caring Israel, because you know that Israel deserves better than what the last four years have offered. As the last elections have showed, Israelis know that too.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz)