A Long Way To Go24 October 2013
By Ilona Lee AM, October 2013
Thirty years ago when I became president of my WIZO group. there were no female rabbis and no females presidents of mainstream Jewish organisations in Sydney.
There have been marked changes since in both the general and the Jewish community. A woman was elected for the first time as Prime Minister of Australia and, in Sydney, we now have three female rabbis attached to reform and Masorti (Conservative) synagogues. Over the years, I have been president of one of our major communal organisations and have been on the executive of four others including the roof body of the New South Wales community and the major fund-raising organisation.
Surveying the Australian scene today, however, we still have a long way to go. Our first female Prime Minister was poorly treated and driven from office (many would say, because she is a woman) and, in the Sydney Jewish community, there is currently only one female president of any major communal organisation, including our day schools and synagogues.
Why is this so? It is true that the way is open to women. But, most Jewish women in Sydney still shoulder the major roles of house management and child care whilst also holding down responsible jobs. Being a communal leader here is usually at least a half-time occupation, often more, but with no remuneration. Thus it is almost impossible for a woman to put her hand up for a leadership position until her children have grown and professional responsibilities decrease or she is wealthy enough to have paid assistance. So, until we make further strides forward in the general community and the tasks of managing home and family are more equally shared, women will continue to be underrepresented in Jewish communal leadership roles.
Ilona Lee AM
NIF Au Board Member
I dream…24 October 2013
By Barbara Ford, October 2013
Born in Sydney Australia I have always been a member of a Liberal/Progressive congregation. There have been many changes since I did my Bat Mitzvah with a group of 10-12 girls all dressed in white. Rabbis were male only wearing ceremonial gowns.
I have been privileged to be on a Synagogue Board and be Vice President for a short time at my congregation. Now as President of ARZA I am able to tell the story of the WOW. I have been at the Kotel with the WOW when a lady was detained for wearing a ‘mans’ tallis. Many find it hard to believe the struggles that have taken place over the past 25 years. We salute WOW on the amazing milestones that they have achieved.
I dream that Israel will fulfil its promise as stated in the Declaration of Independence and that this will ensure that Israel becomes a truly democratic and inclusive society.
I dream that Israel will respect the way I want to be Jewish and will allow me to be legally married by a Pluralistic Rabbi; that either all or no Rabbis will be paid by the state; and that land will be given to the Reform movement to build its synagogues as it does to other groups.
I dream that I can go to the Kotel with my family and be able to wear a tallit, if I choose, and to pray as a family at the Wall together.
I dream that Israel will acknowledge and embrace the fact that there is more than one way to be Jewish.
Judaism is not one-size-fits-all24 October 2013
By Dawn Rosen, October 2013
I believe that Judaism was never meant to be one-size-fits-all. And I believe Judaism was meant to evolve. As a Reconstructionist, I understand that being Jewish means much more than religion and rituals; its culture, music, history, our stories, our family, and how we work to enrich our communities and make the world a better place. In the modern world there is no rationale for women not to have the choice to be equal partners in all aspects of life. If I didn’t have the egalitarian options, I don’t know that I could have found the means to have meaningful engagement in a Jewish life.
Years ago I stopped visiting the Kotel as it was/is just a further reminder of the lack of tolerance for liberal, egalitarian Jewish life. In North America we have choices. I can wear my tallit, I’ve learned how to lead services and leyn (read) Torah. I have choices.
I was in just in Israel and when I realized I would be there for Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan, I immediately signed up to stand with Women of the Wall at the Kotel. It was my first opportunity to do so and I was so proud to be there with these women of all ages and backgrounds. My 81 year old mother, who was with me visiting Israel but not well enough to risk the crowd, asked me to wear her tallit so she would feel that she was also standing with WOW along with me.
In a few generations perhaps the children of our sons and daughters will ask why these women had to work so hard just for equal status. They will ask, hopefully, because it will be taken for granted by their generation. That’s my hope along with a strong Jewish diaspora in support of Israel being a light to all nations. Amen.
Dawn Rosen lives in Toronto and is an active member (for over 20 years) of Congregation Darchei Noam, Reconstructionist Synagogue of Toronto. She is a Certified Management Account working full time and is a wife, mother and grandmother.
Exceptions and Expectations24 October 2013
By Ruth Wilson, October 2013
I grew up knowing that my life was an exception to the rules.
My friends prayed on Sunday, in churches that were landmarks in my small country town. My family prayed, on Saturday, at home. We had different rules for eating. In my friends’ homes, they shared ghost stories and English classics; in ours we entered the world of the shtetl and the ghetto, our stories about dreamers of the Jewish world.
My early experience bred the expectation that the Jewish world was itself different, exceptional. It did not occur to me that it, just like any other of my time, would be beset by gender and power games. My personal experience of service to the community in the 80s and 90s was mixed. As a provider of educational services I was fulfilled and rewarded; but I found it hard to accept that the synagogue Board on which I served regarded the issue of whether women in the Gallery could hear the sermons as an irrelevance.
I dream that the relevance of gender as an issue will evaporate in the next 25 years. When the nature of gender equality is transformed from struggle to expectation, and the gender of human beings becomes as unimportant as the colour of their eyes, my dream will be reality.
Ruth Wilson (b.1932)
I Want To Sit Downstairs24 October 2013
By Ilona Shechter, October 2013
"Granny, why can't I sit downstairs?" I always asked my Grandmother as we sat upstairs in the women's section in the shul in Muizenberg, the seaside suburb of Cape Town. Her answer was always unsatisfactory, as was the answer that my Grandpa gave me when I asked him why I couldn't have a Bar Mitzvah like my cousin Stanley, who got to chant from the Torah, sing Haftarah and lead the service. I was so jealous. All that awaited me, was a group of girls sharing a Haftarah on a Sunday night and a party afterwards! After driving my Grandparents crazy with questions, it was suggested that my parents join the burgeoning Progressive movement where I would be treated with much greater equality. And it certainly happened, with the exception of Bnei Mitzvah. Girls still didn't have that opportunity and it upset me and took me until I was 49 to attain that moment in my life, my rite of passage.
It was in California, where we now live, that I finally put on a tallit for the first time. It was one of my Grandpa's and as the garment fell about my shoulders, I felt the embrace of not just my grandfather but my Jewish heritage, culture and faith, and it was such a warm embrace and I felt as though I had earned this right to put on this garment along with every other Jew. I could never understand the restrictive stranglehold that the ultra-Orthodox held in Israel, during my year that I spent there - I still don't. I do know that as a Reform Jew, I need to fight it. With all of the strength I have as a woman, as a teacher, as a proud, passionate Jew. Judaism is my heritage and right as much as it is any man's and I deserve every privilege that this incredible faith offers, as does every Jewish woman, Orthodox, Conservative or Reform or any other stream of Judaism.
I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and am married to an Israeli and we have 1 son. I am a teacher in a Jewish Day School where I teach Jewish Studies, Israel and Holocaust to 6th and 8th graders. I am a Museum Fellow of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, a winner of the Grinspoon Steinhardt award for Excellence in Jewish Education and I am really proud of this and very humble, as I love what I do. I am also an Alum of the Yad Vashem International School of Holocaust Studies.