By Virginia Avniel Spatz, October 2013
"Do you have to be a mommy to lead services?" my son asked me when he was very young. His question was undoubtedly motivated by the fact that I was active in an egalitarian worship community while his father, a non-Jew, was not. And, now 20, my son is weary of having this one innocent query repeated. But I continue to marvel at the worldview it limns.
What is it like to grow up knowing that gender need not determine participation in public worship or in learning? How is it to take for granted that Jews, regardless of gender, regularly approach the bima, lead services, read from the Torah? How is my son's idea of "Jew," of "woman," of "man" influenced by the egalitarian world in which he was raised? How did an egalitarian environment affect his sister's views?
Perhaps social science research will have some answers for us someday. Meanwhile, I rejoice in the generations of Jews who are living in a universe of religious participation that once seemed unimaginable, or a kind of pipe dream, to many of us.
In my youth there was a riddle involving a surgeon who stated, "I am not this boy's father, but I unable to operate on him, because he is my son." This was truly puzzling in its day. I have tried to explain this to my children and their friends. But their instant response was always: "You mean she's the mom, right?"
May Israel move -- in 25 years, if not sooner and in our day -- to a society where any suggestion of limiting women's roles is greeted with the same befuddled expression that my kids gave that riddle.
Virginia Avniel Spatz is a writer and activist living in Washington DC. She advocates for public education, promotes interdenominational and interfaith understanding, and blogs on Jewish topics at Songeveryday.wordpress.com .