Out Loud

  • An Eye Opening Shabbat

    11 October 2013

    By Amiee C. Kushner, October 2013

    As a young woman who grew up in the ’80s with a feminist mother in the Bay Area, discrimination was always something that was to be strived against, but rarely did I actually experience it. As an adult there was always an orange on my Seder plate, women on the bimas in my spiritual homes and a mechitza was something from old dusty books about sheltl life.

    This past July I embarked on my long delayed first trip to Israel. Through my involvement in NIF I knew of the institutionalized gender discrimination that occurred in Israel, but I was thoroughly unprepared for the pain of experiencing it first-hand.

    People talk of their “ah-ha” Israel moments and mine began the minute I stepped up to the entrance of the Kotel for Kabbalat Shabbat and saw the signs indicating separate entrances for women and men. The bold, black lettering over the gates began a profound, almost physical, shock at the realization that a significant portion of the Jewish men I was surrounded by saw me as lesser and unworthy of same level of spirituality connectedness to my faith as they.

    Oddly our group was granted entrance through a third gate, not segregated by gender, or I doubt I would have been able to enter. I made it a few feet past the mechitza into the tiny women's’ section shrouded under a scaffold, before turning back and awaiting the rest of my group to finish their prayers, desperately wanting to flee. I was told by our tour Rabbi prior to walking to the Kotel that I would experience a deep spiritual connection to Judaism and my ancestors, but all I could feel was spiritual deflation.

    Upon returning home my first act was a donation to Women of the Wall. I then reveled in rediscovering the joy of my home community where girls are called to the Torah alongside the boys, where women are rabbis and leaders, and the Sabbath bride is greeted is among equals.

    Amiee C. Kushner is an active leader in San Francisco's Young Adult Jewish community, including as a New Gen Leadership Council Member for the New Israel Fund.


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  • A Father Comes Around

    11 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.


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  • The Transformative Nature of Literacy

    10 October 2013

    By Linda Lippitt, October 2013

    When I was 11 and in Hebrew school, I asked our teacher what the little lines above and below some letters were (the trope notes). The answer was "you don’t have to bother with those darling." Thirty years later, after the Bar Mitzvah of my youngest child, I decided I would have a Bat Mitzvah. The first time I opened the Torah and could read, and chant our ancient text, tears of joy ran down my face. It was really MY Torah now. Today, I regularly leyn (read), and whenever I prepare to read, I find a particular line I never noticed before, full of meaning for my life. I take great joy in teaching others too. Many children who find learning a challenge seem to feel less threatened by a warm sympathetic person, be it man or woman.

    Linda is a developmental pediatrician who regularly chants and teaches at the 2 Conservative synagogues she attends.


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  • 13 years old

    10 October 2013

    By Barb Shulman, October 2013

    As a Ramah-nick in the late 60s-early 70s, I was an impressionable adolescent right at the birth of the re-examination of our roles as women, Americans, and Jews. Thus, I was taught in Ramah to leyn (read) Torah, haftorah, achah, etc. but not allowed, at least initially, to actually use the skill. At home in my Conservative synagogue, the rabbi, an older but somewhat remote gentleman, wanted to allow me full participation for the purposes of my upcoming Bat Mitzvah. However the "ritual committee" (remember those days?) would have none of it. My parents, especially my mom, made a heartfelt plea -- and I gently recall them being "mad as hell" when the committee wouldn't move.

    So they changed synagogues to one that would.

    The fact that another synagogue, and then all Conservative synagogues and Ramah, ultimately promoted egalitarianism forged an unbreakable bond between me and Judaism, even through the years when I was too busy to attend services or otherwise participate.

    And the fact that my parents changed synagogues, for me -- well, I considered that remarkable at the time, and 40+years later, I still consider that a bond between my late father and my more-feminist-than-ever mother and me that held through the adolescent angst years and the many moons since.

    Barb Shulman is an attorney in NYC.


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  • The day I Became a Woman (of the Wall)

    10 October 2013

    By Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, October 2013

    I’ve been living in the Jerusalem area for over 20 years. I grew up Orthodox and, being so busy with studies, work, and children, I never thought much about religion and my part in it.

    And then I chanced upon a Facebook post about Anat Hoffman’s arrest for carrying a Torah at the Kotel. When I read that I felt terribly ashamed; ashamed of my country but mostly ashamed of myself for not knowing about this group before, for not being with these people all these years, for ignoring a cause so blindingly right and just. There and then, I swore to myself that I would join these women for the next Rosh Hodesh service.

    And so I did. At the service there was a policeman who kept telling us to “lower the volume”. Did I have to listen to him? I stopped singing every time he said that. I didn’t want to get arrested for singing too loudly.

    There was shouting coming from the left. I was so scared I didn’t dare look around. Next to me there was a woman who must be a regular; her tallit was wrapped comfortably around her and from time to time she told the policeman in charge something which made him back off for a few minutes. I started to concentrate on the tefilah. And it was beautiful.

    Hallel over, we sang our way to Robinson’s arch for the Torah service. By this time I had a bit of a stomach ache so I found a rock to sit on and tried to calm down. You obviously need to be made of strong stuff to be a Woman of the Wall! Then I heard someone asking if anyone wanted to read from the Torah. I volunteered to read the 2nd aliyah. My stomachache miraculously gone, I read the three psukim. Only after, I started to notice things: The guy with the "This is a Jerusalem Feminist" t-shirt, the woman with a baby snuggled in a carrier, the blue sky and warm sun. I can do this again, I thought to myself and vowed, G-d willing, to come back next Rosh Hodesh.

    Postscript: I came back the next month, and the next, and the next. I joined the Women of the Wall board soon after. It's been a privilege and a learning experience - especially learning what the inside of the Jerusalem old city police stations are like (dull!) and most recently, the art of negotiation and leadership (fascinating!).

    Rachel Yeshurun is a software developer in Jerusalem and is on the board of directors of Women of the Wall.


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Israel's dilemma: Who can be an Israeli?

By Daniel Sokatch and David N. Myers

13 January 2014