My 15-month-old daughter has a game she likes to play. She enjoys walking up to my husband while he is sitting on the floor, grabbing his kippah off his head, putting it on her own head, and then running away saying “hat, hat, hat.” It should be noted that she likes to play this game with colanders, books, shoes, and anything else that she can lift on top of her head. But, as a feminist and a first-time parent, I turn her excitement with wearing her daddy’s “hat” into a larger question of how I, along with my husband, will raise our daughter.
On Shabbat Noach (the Shabbat when Parshat Noah was read) I marked my 70th birthday by reciting haftarah at the Hendon Partnership Minyan in Northwest London. This was not something I had ever thought of doing, nor had I ever wondered whether I would be capable of doing it. The experience was even better than I had expected, and so was the journey.
This past Sukkot, I was on a spiritual high after Yom Kippur. The sanctuary had swelled with voices of prayer and I felt exuberant with communal connection. The rabbi invited me into the sukkah to shake the lulav and etrog. He made sure to remove the temporary mechitza (the divider separating men and women) whenever prayer services weren’t under way. My sense of religious belonging was strengthened by the rabbi’s inclusive and respectful actions. Then, as the second day of Sukkot came to a close and I was once again the only woman awaiting the start of the evening services in the women’s section, my soul came plummeting back to earth.
Please dress appropriately and modestly at all times. Modesty is the mark of a man – your beauty is within. You are like a prince, a jewel, a diamond, and just like a precious gem, we want to protect you and keep you safe.
When I was 17, as part of my high school matriculation requirements, I wrote a paper on the subject of Women in Politics in Israel. The paper was built upon tens of hours of interviews with Members of Parliament, wide halakhic (Jewish law)research on the subject of women in leadership roles, and a review of the historic roots of the feminist movement here, in Israel, and around the world.
“Some people will do anything to get out of synagogue on Simchat Torah” said my husband as we headed off to the hospital on Simchat Torah morning, anticipating the imminent arrival of our firstborn child.
That night, a video changed my life. It was just over six minutes long, yet its message touched me profoundly and spurred me to take action. It was a Sunday evening in November 2011, in an elegant setting in South Street Seaport, overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. I was a guest of Belda Lindenbaum, zt”l, at JOFA’s first Tribute Dinner, celebrating the organization’s achievements since its founding in 1997 and the advances of the Orthodox feminist movement. The story of JOFA was told through women’s voices in a short video. Women spoke of having no voice, of the loneliness they endured as mourners attempting to recite kaddish from the women’s section. They spoke of the alienating language of the traditional liturgy and of feeling like spectators in the synagogue when seated in the balcony. They admitted to the wounding experience of being adults, yet not “counting” in a minyan, the injury of being part of 51% of the population who remain invisible in many aspects of communal life, whose spiritual potential is not fully actualized.
I hate Jewish holidays.
When I got married, there were a million things on my to-do list. There was one thing, one pretty important thing, which fell through the cracks. Or more honestly, I dropped it through the cracks. I was so uncomfortable with this task, that I was too paralyzed to deal with it. Six months after our wedding, my husband turned to me and asked that fateful question: Did we ever get an exemption, a heter, from a rabbi to use birth control? No. We had not.
Being a woman on Simchat Torah is hard for me, but not for the reasons you might think.