Be the Change24 October 2013
By Cantor Linda Shivers, October 2013
I have lived through a lot of change. I have felt a lot of the growing pains through the changes, but I am proud of all that has been accomplished for Jewish women in the majority of American synagogues. I have seen changes in the treatment and attitudes toward women in my family, my shuls, my seminary, and in me.
When I was at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the women were barely tolerated. We had women's services just once a week in the basement. No professors, not even female professors, ever came that I can remember. Now there are egalitarian services that draw the largest numbers of worshipers. Now synagogues require tallit and kippot for the girls at their bat mitzvahs, and every girl wants a beautiful tallit. More women than not have their own tallit that they wear proudly. After 30 year of role modeling, I seem women in my synagogues trying out new roles - shilchot tzibor and ba'alot kriah. Their experiences bring the holy closer to them and become renewed in their Judaism. They are awestruck with the power of Jewish ritual.
I have been saddened by the lack of opportunities and appreciation for women's spirituality in Israel. I have been ridiculed for wearing a tallit and have had dirty water thrown at me. People have assumed motives and intentions that I don't have and have been unwilling to engage with me with an open mind. I know that many of my sisters and brothers in Israel are working hard to change this and I am trying to support them any way I can.
Cantor Linda Shivers has been a congregational leader for 30 years.
What full partnership in Judaism means in Israel24 October 2013
By Ilan Chaim, October 2013
The goal of furthering women's rights in the secular realm is not the same goal as women becoming full partners in modern Judaism. Eliminating various glass ceilings and ensuring equal pay for equal work is attainable through legislation. But for a woman to become a full partner in the modern Judaism of Israel means only one thing: she must belong to an egalitarian form of Judaism. Only by strengthening Israel's Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist communities will truly modern Judaism ever evolve in Israel.
Ilan Chaim is a former chief copy editor of The Jerusalem Post and information consultant to Israel's Foreign Ministry. He belongs to egalitarian congregation Mevakshei Derech in Jerusalem.
The Voices of God23 October 2013
By Mike Rahimi, October 2013
I was raised in an Orthodox Shul in Queens. I thought nothing of the separation of men and women, that's how it always was. I left Synagogue at 13, when I was told I became a man and could make my own decisions. It was WRT in Scarsdale and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Ken Chasen, Angela Warnick-Buchdahl and Cantor Stephen Merkel who brought me back. Praying in a language my kids could understand, having a woman Rabbi/Cantor, accepting of all, straight, gay, Jew and Gentile. Love of our people and religion is predicated on being open to all people. Men are no better than women, gays are no better than straight, we should all be equal, that is what Westchester Reform Temple meant then and means now even with all different clergy carrying on the tradition. The late Cantor Merkel having a voice that could place him at the Metropolitan Opera also helped.
Being the First Bat Mitzvah at Shaare Zion Synagogue24 October 2013
By Marion L. Usher, October 2013
I grew up In Montreal, Quebec in a mostly Jewish neighborhood. I say mostly, since we had no contact with the families of other faiths. My father helped build the first Conservative congregation in our new neighborhood. Both parents were totally immersed in synagogue life. Our parents kept us close to them with weekly Shabbat celebrations, and inviting our friends over after dinner to play ping pong or watch a movie. Our friends enjoyed good food and fun times at our house.
When I turned 13, my father turned to me and asked me what I thought about having a Bat Mitzvah. I was totally surprised since there had never been one in our synagogue. Our Rabbi, Maurice Cohen, had approached my father to see if I might be interested. I was totally delighted. The event was celebrated on a Friday night. At that time, 1955, we still had separate seating and women were not able to have allyiot. A Friday night service was the compromise solution.
I did my Haftorah, a D'var Torah, sang some of the liturgy, and ended with Adon Olam. It was one of the most important experiences in my life. I felt empowered, something I have held onto always. What a gift Rabbi Cohen gave me when he suggested that I become the first Bat Mitzvah in our congregation, actually in Montreal!
Marion L. Usher, Ph.D, Clinical Professor, Dept. of Psychiatry, George Washington University School of Medicine, Creator of "Love and Religion: An Interfaith Workshop for Jews and Their Partners."
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Our Cantor Is Pregnant23 October 2013
By Laura Diamond, October 2013
Growing up, my family belonged to a Reconstructionist synagogue, Kehillat Israel. Beginning in pre-school, I learned that one of Reconstructionism's hallmarks is the equality of women and men, including the first Bat Mitzvah. This was my proud inheritance, and my lived experience of Judaism was blissfully removed from the inequalities suffered by other American Jewish women and girls. I belonged as much as the next kid. And why wouldn't I? This fit with what my parents taught me at home, where my bookshelf held "Free to Be You and Me."
The Cantor who helped me learn to read Torah for my Bat Mitzvah was a woman. Almost a year after my Bat Mitzvah, she asked if I would like to help her lead the morning service when my Torah portion would be read again. The reason? She was eight months pregnant, and needed to sit.
I still belong to Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, and my sons are learning that Judaism is inclusive. I study Torah with our female Rabbi, who will next year become Senior Rabbi. I am grateful that my sons (and nieces) are being raised in a community where Judaism includes us all, where boys and girls and men and women feel that we all matter, and where the work of Tikkun Olam is the responsibility of us all.
Part of that work must be for a world where all Jews can grow up with the same expectation of equality as birthright.
Laura Diamond is a writer and lawyer in Los Angeles, California. She is the Editor of "Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood." Her website is www.confessionsofmotherhood.com.