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.