Out Loud

  • Singing my Way through the Sacred '70s

    10 October 2013

    By Fran Gordon, October 2013

    As a ten year old girl in my Conservative synagogue in Akron, Ohio, I was introduced to singing liturgical text in a children's choir and I haven't stopped singing since. The prayers and stories of Our People form the core of my repertoire. I delight in sharing the pure joy of Jewish singing with many others who form the Jewish choral movement. Of course, I chant Haftarah often in my kehillah in Beachwood, OH, will also read Torah on occasion and will lead Tefillah on a moment's notice. In other words, singing is a core component not just of my Jewish identity, but of my soul.

    In 1975, I was the second woman to serve as President of CRUSY (Conservative movement youth group’s central region). Although I was the "leader," under our Jewish law at the time, women were not allowed to read from our text or lead tefillah. Since my graduation from high school, the Masorti/Middle movement embraced feminism, opening the doors to full female participation in public ritual life. Fortunately, I live in a community that allowed me to develop all of the skills denied me as a youth.

    Armed with my adult Jewish literacy and the seeds of my early feminism from the "secular '70s," I blossomed into full-blown activism on Rosh Chodesh Av 5770, the beginning of the "sacred '70's." On that historic day, an Israeli policeman told me to sing softer at the Kotel; that same policeman arrested Anat Hoffman for carrying a Torah away from the Kotel. As I witnessed this blatant violation of religious rights I found my voice and reclaimed my role as a Jewish leader. As in my youth AND just as the Levites during the Days of Old, I rely on music to help express myself as I advocate for religious freedom and gender equality in the State of Israel. I thank Women of the Wall for claiming that certain time and that certain place, allowing us to raise our voice in prayer as we simultaneously support the modern Jewish democracy movement.

    Fran Gordon is an artist/activist with homes in Beachwood, OH and Jerusalem. In collaboration with a group of noted composers, Fran has written "Sacred Rights, Sacred Song" and through the non-profit SRSS Project, works with Jewish communities to produce Concerts of Concern. Fran is a graduate of the University of Michigan where she majored in political science and has a law degree from Boston University. Fran's Israel activism is rooted in her UJA Cabinet experiences, her Wexner Heritage Foundation experiences and most especially her Partnership 2000 experiences. Fran thanks her friends and family in Israel for teaching her so much about Israel's civil society.


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  • From Exclusion to Community

    10 October 2013

    By Charlotte Glazer Baer, October 2013

    In my big Atlanta Conservative shul, I was the best student in my Hebrew class. I had a good, strong voice, knew all the prayers and chants and led Junior Congregation services every Saturday – until I became Bat Mitzvah. After that, I was no longer allowed on the bima. Boys who barely could recite a prayer became the leaders. My father said, "What does it matter? Keep studying the language." He hired Israelis to read Bialik with me. But the exclusion burned in my gut.

    Years later, in Kentucky, my egalitarian havurah changed everything. I was able to take my turn in leading services and in helping others learn. One Shabbat we honored 3 recent bar mitzvahs, and all 6 parents were on the bima. I said as a joke, “Because we’re all up here, you will have to wait a few minutes until we can get the food from the kitchen.” Without a murmur, several men stood up and went into the kitchen to help.

    We all need to make community together.

    After growing up in Atlanta, Charlotte Baer spent time in Lexington, KY and Boston, Mass. She and her husband now live in Washington, DC.


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  • From exclusion to inclusion

    09 October 2013

    By Helen Stein, October 2013

    In 1995, I traveled to Israel with my (male) research assistant. Our first stop, after we got off the plane and through customs, was the Kotel. We approached the Wall naively, without noticing that my kind was not welcome everywhere. Suddenly I was surrounded by 5 or 6 screaming young Orthodox vigilantes, who made my transgression clear. This was a very bitter moment for me. In my homeland, about which I already had some ambivalence, I was being scolded and castigated for being a woman.

    In June 2013, six years after joining a Reconstructionist synagogue, I made my Bat Mitzvah with a group of other women. We all composed creative liturgy for our service -- poetry, art work, music, guided meditations. All of us were called up to the Bima and all of us chanted Torah. I was wearing a tallit that I had made out of fabric my mother gave me 40 years ago. I felt so proud of my congregation and denomination for its equal treatment of women and for my right to be a full participant in the Jewish religion. I was doing what my mother, raised in Reform Judaism a hundred years ago, never would have dreamed of.

    Helen Stein is a 67-year-old New Yorker and clinical psychologist, who is a proud member of a Reconstructionist synagogue.


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  • Do Not Treat Women as Lesser Human Beings

    09 October 2013

    By Morton Deutsch, October 2013

    Throughout my personal life and my professional career, I have worked to support equality and justice in the relations between men and women as well as among the difference racial, ethnic, and religious groups. As a Jew, I have felt the hurts and humiliations that can be experienced when one is treated as a lesser human being and denied dignity, equality, and justice. As a Jew, I believe it is my moral obligation to support all those who seek dignity, equality, and justice. I also believe it is the moral obligation of a Jewish state to do this. It must do this by supporting equal rights for women in all areas of life despite the objections of those who benefit from the subordination of women. When Israel as a state does not do this, it weakens its claim to represent basic Jewish values.

    Morton Deutsch is a WW2 veteran, E.L. Thorndike Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Director Emeritus of Morton Deutsch International Center for Conflict Resolution at Teachers College, Columbia University.


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  • Women in Zionist Pioneering History

    09 October 2013

    By Nachum Meyers, October 2013

    When Aryeh Malkin left the Bronx, Lisa Engels took over our Hashomer Hatzair (youth guard) education. She too lived on Kibbutz Ein Dor.

    Our separate groups of boys and girls were joined and we had discussions on gender equality that led us young male chauvinists to appreciate the role of women in the new world we were going to create in Palestine. Lisa was probably physically stronger than any six of us scrawny kids put together and that made for gender equality too.

    Women’s role in Jewish life, however unequal it might appear from the practices of the religion, was far more emancipated than in most other religions and societies. Our discussions in Hashomer Hatzair on feminism, the role of women in kibbutz and in politics, and on their capability in the variety of human endeavors, led to a keen appreciation of the difficulties that women faced in achieving equality in the world.

    Even in the supposedly emancipated kibbutzim, women worked in the laundries, the kitchens, and the children's nurseries just as in bourgeois society. Interestingly, they themselves hooted men out of their "women's" domain when some brave male attempted to integrate himself into the laundry work force or the children's houses. The dam of tradition held strong against the currents of gender equality.

    Lisa led her newly post-pubescent charges with aplomb and high intelligence through the intellectual exercises of Marx, Engels, and Freud. We read, discussed, and argued into the nights. We all fell in love with her, boys and girls. She did set our Jewish consciousness straight on so many aspects of what was expected of us in the new society we were creating.

    The real outcome of all this was that being Jewish meant relating to women with a sense of equality rather than with a Victorian sense of respect.

    Nachum Meyers: My life is a Jewish life of equality. Being Jewish, and educating my children as Jews, has been an integral part of my existence as a Jewish man. In Hashomer Hatzair from 1937 to 1948 and living in Israel from 1948 to 1960, and now back in the United States, my life and work, with women in marriage and at my side in equality as I have built many businesses, has made my years full as I celebrate my 87th year.


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Israel's dilemma: Who can be an Israeli?

By Daniel Sokatch and David N. Myers

13 January 2014