Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gender Equality in Judaism, at Home and in Israel

It continues to amaze me, when I think about it, that we are living in a moment in history when social change in Judaism, and in the world, is actively happening every day. Women are still gaining ground as equal members of society; feminism has not finished its business.

When I heard Anat Hoffman speak last spring, the part of her message that most resonated with me was this: many חִלּוֹנִי Israelis don't know that Judaism can be anything but ultra-Orthodoxy. As such, they are automatically excluded, and exclude themselves, from religious life. Imagine a world where Israelis of all stripes felt free to lay claim to their own religious heritage, the way we can and do here in the US. I've heard Israelis say "We [Israelis] don't go to shul". Well, no wonder. I might not go to shul either, if I felt that my beliefs were dismissed as deviant by the sole official religious governing body of the nation.

As part of the New Israel Fund's Taking Our Place campaign in honor of the 25th anniversary of Women of the Wall, they asked for submissions of personal stories that explain "how YOUR connection to your Jewish heritage has been strengthened by the Jewish community's move to more gender equality." 

Given that gender equality in Judaism (and in life) is something that I care deeply about (plus, let's face it, I can't resist a good writing assignment), I jotted down the story below, which can also be found on the NIF website, here.

I grew up with mixed messages. My parents encouraged me to succeed academically, and I always felt my prospects were limitless; when I grew up, I could be anything my brothers could be. With one exception. In our Conservative non-egalitarian synagogue, my brothers, once of age, could read Torah and lead tefilot and count in the minyan, and I could not. It was a jarring inconsistency in what was otherwise a thoroughly modern household.
As a young adult, I had to find a way to reconcile my Jewish identity and my progressive feminist identity. Forsaking either one was never an option. For a time, I infrequently visited a synagogue. When my first child was born, it felt natural and necessary to join a spiritual community. It was finally my chance to choose the community that I wanted to be a part of; how lucky for me to live in New York City, where we joined a thriving intellectual, egalitarian, and socially progressive synagogue. Every time I listened to our talented woman cantor beautifully lead the tefilot, my Jewish identity and feminist identities were affirmed.
I have three young daughters, and already their education has been different from mine. They expect equal opportunities for men and women, in both the religious and secular spheres. I look forward to celebrating my oldest’s bat mitzvah and watching her proudly read the Torah and don a talit. And I dream of a day when she will be able to practice Judaism as she sees fit, no matter where she is in the world; even at the Kotel.

I encourage you to share your story with the NIF as well. If you do, please send it to me, too, so I can share it here.

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