A Debt of Gratitude for the Women Who Opened the Doors24 October 2013
By Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, October 2013
When I was ordained in 1985, women rabbis were still rather rare. I was the first woman rabbi in every congregation I served in the 1980s, and in most cases I was the first and only woman rabbi in that city. I looked to the women who preceded me as my role models and gave them credit for opening the doors to full equality in congregational life through which I was honored to enter.
Now that I am working with Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), the affiliate of lay-women of the Reform Movement, I realize that much of that credit was misplaced. To be sure, the women who were ordained in the 70s crossed that rabbinic threshold with a great deal of difficulty and, in doing so, they made it easier for me to succeed. But long before there were women rabbis, there were women in congregational life who unlocked the doors and opened them just wide enough for us to walk through.
For a hundred years, WRJ women have worked to bring women fully and equally into religious life. Each ‘first’ cracked that door open a little wider: the first woman to step onto her congregation’s bima, the first woman to lead worship in her community, the first to chant from the Torah, the first to create liturgy with a woman’s voice. They bravely ‘leaned in’ and secured a place for women in congregational life that would eventually lead to my ordination. They were stalwart advocates for women’s ordination and they did not relent until women had full access to every aspect of congregational life and leadership. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.
It is no surprise that WRJ continues its efforts to bring about full equality for women in religious life by supporting Women of the Wall, worshipping with them, advocating for their cause, and joining with WOW and others to seek a robust pluralistic Israeli society. Just as Women of Reform Judaism did not relent until women could be ordained, we will not cease our efforts until women achieve full equality in Israeli society, on and off the bima.
Rabbi Marla J. Feldman is the Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism.
Praying for True Befuddlement24 October 2013
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 .
The B’nai Mitzvah of Two Generations as a Metaphor for Equality24 October 2013
By Sandra Cuttler, October 2013
When my children were growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, we belonged to a “traditional” synagogue, which some people would call “Conservadox.” During the many years that we were members, the synagogue did not allow females to read from the Torah during services.
It was important to me that my daughter Jessica read from the Torah on her bat mitzvah. At her b’nai mitzvah in Israel, both Jessica and her cousin Aaron read from the Torah and participated equally in leading the service.
Eleven years ago we started a new Conservative equalitarian synagogue, Or Hadash, in our suburb with two Rabbis who are married to each other, Rabbi Doctor Analia Bortz and Rabbi Mario Karpuj. The Rabbis conduct the service equally and smoothly – sometimes one of them leads a particular prayer and next week the other one might lead that prayer. The Rabbis are full partners and equal leaders as they lead and teach the congregation. They symbolize how men and women can both participate equally in Judaism on every level. Women at Or Hadash read from the Torah during services, wear tallitot and attend Torah and Talmud classes where they hold their own in arguments in interpretations of the texts.
Now I have two grandchildren, Bella and Jacob, who are “daveners” at Tot Shabbat at Or Hadash. Bella and Jacob are only fourteen months apart and will celebrate their B’nai Mitzvah in ten years at Or Hadash. We will no longer have to “escape” from our synagogue so that the boys and girls can participate equally in their B’nai Mitzvah service.
I am fortunate to live in a community of committed Jews that created the “new light” of equalitarianism that I can proudly pass on to Bella and Jacob.
Technology Attorney with EarthLink in Atlanta, Georgia
Board of Directors of the American Jewish Committee, Atlanta Chapter
Member of Or Hadash
Proud Savta of Bella and Jacob
Two Halves, One Whole24 October 2013
By Shelly F. Cohen, October 2013
The first time I stood on the bima was when I became bat mitzvah in a Conservative shul. At that time, 40-some years ago, it seemed likely that would be the last time I'd be on the bima as well - there were no women clergy (that I knew of) and few lay leaders outside the Sisterhood. And surely I would never be permitted to wear a tallit.
When I came out as a lesbian a few years later, I could only feel that Judaism had no place for me. I wandered in my own personal desert for a long time before venturing back into a synagogue, this time Reform. In the Reform synagogues of my youth, no one wore a kippa or a tallit. (In our Conservative neck of the woods, we considered that a shonde.) Imagine my surprise to find that as the pendulum of Reform observance swung back toward tradition, it picked up women as well as men. Women were wearing tallitot, women were leyning (reading) Torah, women were leading services! I not only had a place, I had a home.
Putting on a tallit for the first time was a powerful experience, a tangible expression of belonging. And yet, there was still something missing. Finally I realized what I needed was a tallit that spoke to both halves of my identity - Jewish and lesbian. I recently had a tallit made for me with the rainbow stripes of the Pride Flag, and pink and yellow triangles forming a magen david at each corner. Now when I stand on the bima several times a year to leyn Torah, I am also sending a message to LGBT Jews that they will always have a home in our congregation.
Shelly F. Cohen is a member of Temple Beth Am in Seattle, and part of the Welcoming Synagogue Committee, which works to foster the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people at TBA and in the larger community.
Up and Down, No and Yes24 October 2013
By Dr. Judith B. Tischler, October 2013
I recently turned 80 (gvurot). I grew up in a traditional Orthodox home, rebelled, and became a member of Hashomer Hatzair (Youth Guard). My first real taste of women's equality was in that youth movement.
At the time, the dream was life in a kibbutz with a lifestyle that would enable women to work side-by-side with men while their children were cared for by others. We all know now that the dream didn't materialize as we had hoped. I moved on to become a professional French Horn Player with the then Israel Radio Orchestra. I was refused a scholarship with the Israeli Philharmonic because I was a woman. I returned to the U.S. to complete music studies through a PhD. I became an assistant professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary and along with that, the director of Music Publications for the Reform Movement (Transcontinental Music Publications). There was no gender discrimination in either of those places.
After I retired, I returned to Israel with the illusion that I would find it somehow the place I had left. Instead, I came to a near theocracy with a government that has little interest in protecting women's rights. I salute the women who are fighting for them.
Born in the United States in 1933. Attended the High School of Music and Art. Joined Hashomer Hatzair. I came to Israel in 1952 to Kibbutz GalOn. I married in 1957 and was widowed soon after, gave birth to twins, both who live in Israel. I remarried, gave birth to a son, studied and pursued an academic career in music. I retired to Israel and have lived here since 2000. I continued to teach in Jerusalem until 2009. Currently, studying Hebrew literature.