How Jewish Gender Equality Changed My Life11 October 2013
By Sara B. Leviten, October 2013
When Beth David Congregation, a Conservative shul in Miami, FL, voted to have equal rights for men and women, my connection to my Jewish heritage was strengthened. I was one of 18 women in an Adult Bat Mitzvah class in 1977. The six months of study for the ceremony and the ceremony itself were absolutely amazing! It was so exciting to be part of a group of women who read the Torah portion and our Haftorah. When I read The Prayer for Our Country, I changed the words so that it wasn't sexist!
Since then, I have been called to the Torah for aliyah many times. Twenty years later, I celebrated my 50th birthday at Temple Israel of Greater Miami by reading the Maftir and the Haftorah. That was exciting, also!
Sara B. Leviten is a lifelong resident of Miami-Dade County. Following a 31 ½ year career at Miami-Dade County Dept. of Planning and Zoning, Leviten retired in 2010. She is an activist at Temple Israel, the feminist movement, the Democratic Party, former literacy tutor at the public library, and former volunteer usher at Gusman Center. Leviten wrote a published an article about early Miami Jewish History.
An Eye Opening Shabbat11 October 2013
By Amiee C. Kushner, October 2013
As a young woman who grew up in the ’80s with a feminist mother in the Bay Area, discrimination was always something that was to be strived against, but rarely did I actually experience it. As an adult there was always an orange on my Seder plate, women on the bimas in my spiritual homes and a mechitza was something from old dusty books about sheltl life.
This past July I embarked on my long delayed first trip to Israel. Through my involvement in NIF I knew of the institutionalized gender discrimination that occurred in Israel, but I was thoroughly unprepared for the pain of experiencing it first-hand.
People talk of their “ah-ha” Israel moments and mine began the minute I stepped up to the entrance of the Kotel for Kabbalat Shabbat and saw the signs indicating separate entrances for women and men. The bold, black lettering over the gates began a profound, almost physical, shock at the realization that a significant portion of the Jewish men I was surrounded by saw me as lesser and unworthy of same level of spirituality connectedness to my faith as they.
Oddly our group was granted entrance through a third gate, not segregated by gender, or I doubt I would have been able to enter. I made it a few feet past the mechitza into the tiny women's’ section shrouded under a scaffold, before turning back and awaiting the rest of my group to finish their prayers, desperately wanting to flee. I was told by our tour Rabbi prior to walking to the Kotel that I would experience a deep spiritual connection to Judaism and my ancestors, but all I could feel was spiritual deflation.
Upon returning home my first act was a donation to Women of the Wall. I then reveled in rediscovering the joy of my home community where girls are called to the Torah alongside the boys, where women are rabbis and leaders, and the Sabbath bride is greeted is among equals.
Amiee C. Kushner is an active leader in San Francisco's Young Adult Jewish community, including as a New Gen Leadership Council Member for the New Israel Fund.
13 years old10 October 2013
By Barb Shulman, October 2013
As a Ramah-nick in the late 60s-early 70s, I was an impressionable adolescent right at the birth of the re-examination of our roles as women, Americans, and Jews. Thus, I was taught in Ramah to leyn (read) Torah, haftorah, achah, etc. but not allowed, at least initially, to actually use the skill. At home in my Conservative synagogue, the rabbi, an older but somewhat remote gentleman, wanted to allow me full participation for the purposes of my upcoming Bat Mitzvah. However the "ritual committee" (remember those days?) would have none of it. My parents, especially my mom, made a heartfelt plea -- and I gently recall them being "mad as hell" when the committee wouldn't move.
So they changed synagogues to one that would.
The fact that another synagogue, and then all Conservative synagogues and Ramah, ultimately promoted egalitarianism forged an unbreakable bond between me and Judaism, even through the years when I was too busy to attend services or otherwise participate.
And the fact that my parents changed synagogues, for me -- well, I considered that remarkable at the time, and 40+years later, I still consider that a bond between my late father and my more-feminist-than-ever mother and me that held through the adolescent angst years and the many moons since.
Barb Shulman is an attorney in NYC.
A Father Comes Around11 October 2013
By Charles Weiss, October 2013
My attitude about what Women of the Wall were trying to achieve was something very personal. You see, my daughter is Anat Hoffman (née Weiss), the leader of the movement.
At the outset, I confess, I was very ambivalent. Why go to all this trouble just to make it possible for women to read aloud from the Torah at the Kotel? Israeli women have more important battles to fight, I told her. Once, I was at the Kotel as a spectator when a policeman dragged Anat away by one leg, her skirt up around her waist.
But that was many years ago. Anat stuck it out. Braving the calumny of incensed Haradim, she and her little band were at the Kotel at 7 in the morning every Rosh Hodesh come rain or shine. It is thanks to their perseverance, with an assist from organizations like NIF, that their cause has been recognized and given a place at the Kotel.
But this only is partly a victory for Women of the Wall. The struggle that they fought and won was a victory for women's rights in every area in Israel. It has ramifications on the shameful practice of agunot, husbands who simply refuse to grant a divorce to a wife who wants out of the marriage. Essentially, it is a breach in the Haredi monopoly over what women can and cannot do.
Charles Weiss made aliya in 1949 and lived in Israel till 1991 working mostly as a journalist. His four children, of whom Anat is the oldest daughter, all live in Israel. He is retired and lives in New York.
The Transformative Nature of Literacy10 October 2013
By Linda Lippitt, October 2013
When I was 11 and in Hebrew school, I asked our teacher what the little lines above and below some letters were (the trope notes). The answer was "you don’t have to bother with those darling." Thirty years later, after the Bar Mitzvah of my youngest child, I decided I would have a Bat Mitzvah. The first time I opened the Torah and could read, and chant our ancient text, tears of joy ran down my face. It was really MY Torah now. Today, I regularly leyn (read), and whenever I prepare to read, I find a particular line I never noticed before, full of meaning for my life. I take great joy in teaching others too. Many children who find learning a challenge seem to feel less threatened by a warm sympathetic person, be it man or woman.
Linda is a developmental pediatrician who regularly chants and teaches at the 2 Conservative synagogues she attends.