A Dream Fulfilled23 October 2013
By Rabbi Marion Shulevitz, October 2013
As a very little girl, I loved going with my father to our Conservative synagogue in Detroit. I loved sitting next to him, pretending I could read the Siddur, and when I got old enough, reading with him. In the children’s service, I was thrilled to be called up for an "aliyah," and to read the brachot. However, even then I noticed that the boys were called up alone, while the girls could only go up to the bimah along with a boy. I dreamed of being a rabbi—but first, I wanted a Bar Mitzvah (the term Bat Mitzvah had not been coined yet).
Since this was the 1930s/40s, my dreams remained just that—dreams. I went to Hebrew school, a Hebrew High School, and a few years of what was called Hebrew College. I spent three summers at a Hebrew-speaking camp and one summer in Israel, coming home fluent in Hebrew and versed in Bible, Hebrew Literature, and Jewish history. I could lead services, give a "drosh," teach Hebrew school—but I could NOT have a Bat Mitzvah or even think of studying in Rabbinical School.
Fast forward to the early 50s to 1976. My family and I, husband and three children, are living in Miami, members of Beth David Congregation. Rabbi Landau has just taken the shul egalitarian, although neither he nor we knew exactly what that meant. He also instituted Bat Mitzvah ceremonies for all the women who had been denied a Bat Mitzvah as girls—quite a large number at that time. So, on the Shabbat of Hol HaMoed Pesach my first dream came true—I had a Bat Mitzvah! I read from the Torah and delivered a very short D’var Torah. There was no party, since it was Pesach, but that was the least of my concerns.
Over the next few years, I read fairly often from the Torah—both for Beth David, and occasionally in other synagogues, Conservative and Reform, and I led weekday services on a regular basis. I began studying Talmud –that had not been taught in my Hebrew school. I began to dream again that perhaps I could become a rabbi; I knew there were women Reform rabbis. But that is a story for another day.
Rabbi Marion Shulevitz was ordained by the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1989 and has served as a hospice, hospital and nursing home chaplain since then. She is currently the Jewish chaplain at the Amsterdam Nursing Home in Manhattan.
Fish and Bicycles17 October 2013
October 17, 2013
If you've started reading a NIF News column with that title, you might just be A Certain Age.
The feminist slogan from the 1970s isn't too familiar these days, and that has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, we know that men are worth much more than a pedaling halibut. On the other, the loss of the vociferous feminism of the '70s makes it hard to convince people that the struggle for women's rights is still real, still ongoing, and particularly in Israel, very much opposed by powerful leaders.
That's one of the reasons we ask you to tell us your stories for the Taking Our Place campaign. We want to honor our grantee Women of the Wall on their 25th anniversary, at a time when their struggle for freedom of religion and conscience in Israel remains complicated and difficult. But we also want you to think about the evolution of women in the American Jewish community, on the bimah and behind the podium and at the table – and not just the kitchen table. So many of you have become leaders in your communities and have given voice to the struggle for an equal place -- and in the past few days, many of you have already told us beautiful and intimate stories. Women and men of all ages are making the case that when women take our place as equals, it strengthens Israel, the Jewish tradition and our vibrancy and strength as a people.
As we told you, we will publish these stories as a supplement in Ha'aretz and the International New York Times in Israel next month. We will present some in a compilation to Women of the Wall Chair Anat Hoffman at their Rosh Hodesh celebration at the Kotel on November 4. Together, we will remind the religious authorities and the leaders of Israel that we in the American Jewish community have thrived through a growing ethos of partnership and equality, and that Israeli society stands to gain, not lose, by continuing on its own process of securing full participation by women in social, political, cultural and religious life.
In the social change business, progress is hard and slow. NIF supporters understand that we have been working for women's rights in every sphere in Israel since our inception in 1979, and that in the face of growing religious extremism, we must continue. Please join with us in supporting our sisters in Israel, and click here to contribute to our campaign.
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Belonging: A Transformative Journey14 October 2013
By Paula Jacobs, October 2013
As I write these words, I’ve just returned from Jerusalem where I prayed with Women of the Wall for Rosh Chodesh Heshvan. With this experience still fresh on my mind, it's an inspiration for personal reflection.
Growing up in Boston in the 1960's, I was privileged to receive an intensive Jewish education. Yet by age 12, I already felt excluded from Jewish life even though my family's Conservative congregation was one of the most progressive in the U.S.
For my Friday night bat mitzvah, I memorized a haftarah portion. I envied the bar mitzvah students who learned to read Torah and lead prayers in their exclusive male-only "tallis and tefillin" club.
In the late 1960's, when I graduated from Hebrew College, the only career path open to me in the Jewish community was Hebrew teaching. The concept of a female rabbi, Jewish communal leader, or even a Hebrew school principal was inconceivable.
Fast forward twenty years later. At her bat mitzvah, my daughter, wrapped in her tallit, led morning Shabbat prayers, chanted from the Torah, and delivered a d’var Torah. Now she is a Conservative rabbi and executive director of a human rights organization.
By the close of the 20th century, I finally became a full participant in Jewish life. I learned to chant Torah, began attending daily minyan, learned the morning service, and started wearing a tallit. The defining moment occurred when I was invited to lead an all-male minyan. That’s when I knew I truly belonged.
Today I gaze at a favorite family photo of my then three-month old granddaughter wearing a sign, "Ha-Kotel l’Kulanu," "The Kotel belongs to us all." It's now four years later and I fervently hope that she and her baby sister will soon realize this dream.
Paula Jacobs is a writer in the Boston area. Her articles have appeared in digital and print media, including The Jewish Week, The Jerusalem Post, Moment, ritualwell.com, and myjewishlearning.com.
Cracks In The Walls of Jewish Patriarchy16 October 2013
By Letty Cottin Pogrebin, October 2013
When my mother died in 1955, I was 15, and though I had been educated "like a boy," and was a pious little synagogue rug rat and one of the first girls to become a bat mitzvah in Conservative Judaism, I was not permitted to count in the shiva minyan saying kaddish for my own mother in my own house. If my tradition won't count me in, I reasoned, I will count myself out -- and I did. For many years, I maintained the home-based rituals I learned from my mom but I felt estranged from synagogue life and the Jewish "we." If not for the immense strides made by Jewish feminists fighting to advance women's equality, I probably would have remained permanently disconnected from the Jewish community. The key events that turned the tide for me were the early Jewish feminist milestones of the Second Wave: Rabbi Sally Preisand became the first woman ordained in Reform Judaism; women won the right to be counted in the minyan and to have aliyot, and girls were liberated from the Friday night bat mtzvah ghetto and accorded equal status with boys on Shabbat mornings. Once these cracks appeared in the walls of Jewish patriarchy, and females began to count as full and authentic Jews, I felt able to re-affiliate with the tradition in which I was raised and the heritage that I revere and love.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin is the author of Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America and co-founding editor of Ms. magazine.
Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution14 October 2013
By Rabbi David Rosenn, October 2013
My wife and I signed up for the requisite natural birthing classes when we were about to have our first child, and it made me curious about my own mother's experience giving birth. "Are you kidding?" she said to me. "I was out cold during the whole thing. That's just how they did it back then." It shocked me to find out that the medical establishment treated women this way just a few decades ago – as passive actors in one of the most significant moments of their lives, knocked out so things would be easier for the (male) doctors. A lot has changed since then. Thank God, women are active full participants is modern life and in many aspects of modern Jewish religious life. The 25-year struggle of Women at the Wall stands out as a powerful, determined rejection of the idea that women can or should be knocked out from participating in life's most significant moments. Here's to the inspiring exa mple they provide to all of us – men and women, religious and secular – of the importance of (in the words of one of the Rev. Martin Luther King's great speeches) "remaining awake during a great revolution".
Rabbi David Rosenn is the Chief Operating Officer at the New Israel Fund.