Naomi Paiss

Naomi Paiss

Naomi Paiss is the Vice President of Public Affairs at the New Israel Fund.

How and when NIF decides to take a stand on an issue is rarely a simple process. But no matter what, NIF always stands for democratic debate and dissent. Let us know your thoughts on the issues that matter to you and to NIF, and be assured – we’re listening.

As more and more attention is being given to the American Studies Association decision to boycott Israel, I want to share with you NIF's approach to the issue.

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

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

When I was Bat-Mitzvahed in a Conservative synagogue a long time ago, girls did not read from the Torah. Bat Mitzvahs took place on Friday night, not Saturday morning. Girls did not wear a tallit, and their speeches about the meaning of the Haftorah portion they read were truncated.

As a Hebrew Day school student, I knew very well the difference between a Torah and Haftorah reading. In my 13-year-old mind, I was being asked to do half-a-service, half-a-Torah reading, although I knew that I was twisting the meaning of “Haftorah” to serve my own rebellious, proto-feminist instincts.

Fast forward 31 years, and my daughter Molly is Bat-Mitzvahed at a Reform synagogue. On a Saturday morning, wearing a tallit, reading from the Torah, speaking about her Torah parsha. She did well and I was proud of her, and pleased at the difference between our two celebrations, a generation apart.

To cap things off, the rabbi of the synagogue told Molly after her service that she should consider becoming a rabbi. She told me this incredulously, rather proud of herself. And I thought, hey wait a minute. I was just as articulate as Molly at that age, just as interested in arguing about the meaning of the Tanach in my classes, a good writer and a decent leader. How come nobody ever told ME I could go to rabbinical school?

Because I couldn’t. Girls in my observant milieu didn’t become rabbis back then. And although both Molly and I would have been sadly miscast as rabbis, the fact that she could qualify, that she could consider, that it was within the realm of possibility that she could run a congregation as a spiritual leader….that went a long way towards reconciling me to my own place in the Jewish community.

Naomi Paiss has served as Vice President of Public Affairs for NIF since 2005, and has 27 years of experience in public affairs and issues management. Naomi is a graduate of Akiba Hebrew Academy (now Barrack Academy) in Merion, PA and of Sarah Lawrence College.

 

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