Rosh Hashanah from the Other Side

How would I have experienced Rosh Hashanah if I were sitting on the men’s side of the mechitza?
Would it have mattered?
Would I have paid more attention?
Would I have paid attention to who was receiving aliyot?
Would I have had the honor of receiving an aliya?
Who would I have included in my mishebeirach?
Would I have listened more intently to the shofar?
Would I have blown the shofar?
Would I have made more of an effort to participate and sing along?
Would I have chosen tunes that brought the community into our prayers with a kol tefillah (sound of prayer) of the community as the person leading prayers?
Would I have cared more?
Would I have cared less?

If the rabbi who spoke eloquently the past two days had been born a woman, what would he have been doing the past two days?
What of the gabbai?
The shaliach tzibbur?
Would they have showed up on time?
Would they have been equally focused and intent in their prayers?
Would they have brought reading materials?
Would they have sat in the front row?
A back corner?
Would babysitting have begun when services started?

What would Rosh Hashanah have felt like?
Would I be holier?
Would I have been better transformed?
Would I be the same?

These were some of the questions that were circulating in my brain during Rosh Hashanah. While I should have been focused on the prayers, it was simply too hard. I shed tears like the women in the narratives that we read on Rosh Hashanah, but I’m fairly certain that was not what I was supposed to be doing. The problem is not a technical easy fix, it is ingrained in most Orthodox shuls across the globe. There are times that I wished that I cared a little less. I wonder what our shuls would look like, for men and women, if we all cared a little more.

How many people are in the beit knesset (shul) because they are moved to do so?
How many are there out of obligation?
How many are there because of social pressures?
How many are meaningfully engaged?
How do any of the responses fare when comparing the sentiment of one side of the mechitza with the other?
Will my side always be considered The Other Side?

While this is a time for self reflection, it is also an opportunity for communal reflection. The reason that we pray as a tzibur, as a community, is because we see the value in it. Positive viable outcomes could include increased kavanah (concentration), thinking about the needs of others and not only our own, building social bonds, thinking about our small role in the bigger picture, etc. Is the communal prayer experience speaking to women? Is it speaking to men? What can we do differently to prevent all of us from counting pages and looking at our watches? I wonder what our shuls would look like, for men and women, if we all cared a little more.

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