What My Rabbi Taught Me23 October 2013
By Naomi Rivkis, October 2013
When I think about equality in Judaism, the rabbi who comes to my mind first was male. His name was Arnold Jacob Wolf, and I'm told now that he was famous. All I knew was that he was my rabbi, my teacher; the person whom I turned to for advice and inspiration.
One of Rabbi Wolf's biggest themes was that Jews cannot stand idly by in the face of bigotry and injustice. Not among gentiles, and certainly not among our own people. He publicly upbraided other rabbis in the 1960s, suggesting that the place where they belonged was not at a rabbinical conference eating bagels and discussing Halakha, but out in the streets of Birmingham, helping to fight for racial equality in the United States. Because that's where the need was. Because he believed the place for every Jew was where the need was.
I never spoke with Rabbi Wolf about the Women of the Wall, but I don't have to in order to know what he would have thought. For they are standing in the place he wanted us to be -- on the front lines of the fight for equality. I honor them because he would have honored them, and I will do everything I can to support their cause, and the overall effort for gender equality in Israel. Because Rabbi Wolf would want me to; because he taught me to. Because Jews cannot stand idly by in the face of bigotry and injustice.
Naomi Rivkis is a licensed massage practitioner in Seattle, Washington. She attended college at the University of Chicago, and was fortunate enough to encounter Rabbi Wolf there. For ten years she attended his synagogue, KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation, in Hyde Park. She is now a member of Congregation Beth Shalom in Seattle.
Finally, My Bat Mitzvah23 October 2013
By Janet L. Falk, October 2013
I am 60 years old. No girls of my generation became Bat Mitzvahs. It wasn't done. We attended the Bar Mitzvah services and celebrations of our male siblings, cousins and classmates, and never asked "Why not me?" Our mothers did not question this inequality either.
About 30 years later, my two daughters each celebrated their Bat Mitzvah. They never asked "Why do I have to?," a very different question than the one my peers and I did not ask.
It was understood that my daughters would study, learn trope, chant the parsha and give a d'var torah.
Years later, following in their steps, I studied and became a Bat Mitzvah at age 54. It was a memorable process, one that strengthened and deepened my connection to our family's Jewish heritage.
Thanks to the shift in gender equity, we three became Bat Mitzvahs and proudly chanted from the Torah, as my mom/their bubbie, beamed with pride.
Janet L. Falk is a former Sisterhood President and served as an Area Director for the Northeast District of Women of Reform Judaism. She also served on the Board of Trustees of The Village Temple, Congregation B'nai Israel of New York City, where she is Co-Editor of Kesher, the monthly newsletter.
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.
Colorado girl's Kotel experience23 October 2013
By Melinda Robin, October 2013
When I was 17, I came to Israel as part of Young Judaea Year Course...the only kid from Colorado. We boarded the bus at the airport, exhausted from the long flight. First stop, prior to arriving at our dorms and getting settled - the Kotel. Imagine the power - our first Israel experience was approaching the Kotel, touching, leaving prayers between the stones, feeling deeply that we were a part of a larger Jewish history. That was 1971. Today's generation of young women - young women like my daughter - deserve the opportunity of this experience unmarred by religious or political overtones.
Melinda Robin: Grew up in BBYO and Young Judaea - Denver, Colorado. Young Judaea Year Course 1971-2. Kibbutz Ketura 1974-5. Revisit 1981. Life took me to Hawaii and to Montana where I have been practicing veterinary medicine for over 20 years. Haven't been back to Israel in way too long but longing to go. Goal - take my husband and children....first stop...Kotel.
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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