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Taking Our Place

Taking Our Place

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Published by WeAreNIF
In honor of the 25th anniversary of Women of the Wall, which was seed-funded by the New Israel Fund in 1988 and which is spearheading the fight for equal rights for women at the Kotel, NIF is sponsoring the "Taking Our Place" campaign.
In honor of the 25th anniversary of Women of the Wall, which was seed-funded by the New Israel Fund in 1988 and which is spearheading the fight for equal rights for women at the Kotel, NIF is sponsoring the "Taking Our Place" campaign.

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Published by: WeAreNIF on Nov 06, 2013
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08/14/2014

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 WWW.NIF.ORG
JEWISH WOMEN HAVE COME A LONG WAY IN TAKING OUR PLACE
 
alongside men as equalson the bema and as leaders of Jewish life, culture and community. In honor of the 25th anniversary of Women of the Wall, which was seed-funded by the New IsraelFund in 1988 and which is spearheading the fight for equal rights for women at the Kotel, NIF is sponsoring the “Taking Our Place” campaign.We invited you to tell us how your connection to Jewish heritage has been strengthened by the Jewishcommunity's move to more gender equality. We also asked you what needs to be done in the next 25 years to ensure that Jewish and Israeli women continue to rise as spiritual, political and culturalleaders and that the impetus for equal rights succeeds.The following essays are a selection of the intimate, thoughtful, honest outpouring of responses we received.
 
 WWW.NIF.ORG
DAVENING IN MONSEY 
By Michal Boyarsky 
AS A CHILD, I ATTENDED A SHUL IN ULTRA-ORTHODOX MONSEY, NEW YORK. OURS WAS THE ODD ONE OUT INTHAT NEIGHBORHOOD: OTHER FAMILIES WALKED TO SHUL, THE MEN DRESSED IN BLACK-AND-WHITE SUITSAND BLACK HATS, THE WOMEN WEARING DARK DRESSES AND THICK STOCKINGS. OUR FAMILY DROVE FIFTEEN
minutes to get to our shul, which my parents affectionately called Conservadox. The congregation was a mix of modern Orthodoxfamilies and Conservative families. My father used to joke that everyone walked to our shul—some walked from home, and otherswalked from the parking lot.There was no mehitzah (gender division) at our shul, so I could sit next to my father and play with the fringes on his tallis even afterI had my bat mitzvah. But women “weren’t allowed on the bima”—that’s the language that was used to describe gender at our synagogue.For my bat mitzvah, I read Haftorah on a Sunday. Afterwards, during our monthly Teen Shabbatot, the teenageboys would lead services, and I was occasionally asked to give a d’var Torah—once the ark was firmly closed.Today, I can leyn (read) Torah, and I’ve played a large part in getting an independent minyan startedin Seattle, WA where I live now. The daveners at our minyan are often strong, independent women withmuch more clarity on gender and Judaism than I had as a kid davening in Monsey, New York.A few months ago, a good friend of mine gave me a gift: a tallis, my first one. When I wrap myselfinside it on Shabbat mornings, it feels wonderful—and complicated. Growing up, women never woretallitot. The tallit still feels forbidden, bewildering in a way. Like draping myself in a flag that announcesto the congregation that I am a Jewish adult, a full and important member of the community.And I am.
MEN AND WOMEN TOGETHER AT THE KOTEL 1967
By Andrew Kaplan
I’M AN AMERICAN WHO SERVED WITH THE ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCE IN THEGOLAN HEIGHTS DURING THE SIX DAY WAR. A FEW DAYS AFTER THE WARENDED, I WAS IN EAST JERUSALEM, WHICH AT THAT TIME WAS STILL UNDER
martial law. I immediately went to the Western Wall, which of course, we Jews had not beenable to go to since 1948. At that time, there was no big plaza like today. Only a narrow street.It was jammed with soldiers and people, men and women, boys and girls together, praying,singing, so happy together. That’s right, men and women praying together at the WesternWall and you know what? It didn’t fall down. I enclose a photo I took at the time to prove it.
IT’S A NEW WORLD
By Marcia Cohn Spiegel 
I GREW UP IN THE 1930S WHEN I WAS ONE OF THE RARE GIRLS ALLOWED TO STUDY HEBREW, KNOWING THATI WOULD NEVER READ FROM THE TORAH OR BE ON THE BIMA OF MY SHUL.
As a grown woman in the 1970s and beyond, I became a member of various groups of women who struggled with the languageof liturgy and the role of women in the synagogue. We were part of the changing society that redefined the role of women. We taught, organized, and created new ways for women to be. We wrote songs and wrote articles. We gave sermons. It wasexciting not only for us but for our daughters and granddaughters.When I visit Israel, I want to be able to function as I do at home. I do not want to be deprived of the status it took so many of usso long to achieve. There are a few places around Jerusalem where I am comfortable, but not yet at the Kotel. While I will not livelong enough to see a great-granddaughter’s bat mitzveh at the Kotel, I hope my granddaughter will be able to join her daughter there.
Marcia Cohn Spiegel is a graduate of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion School of Jewish Communal Service.Her expertise is in addressing stigmatized behaviors in the Jewish community, i.e. addiction, physical, sexual and domestic violence.
The tallit still feelsforbidden, bewildering in a way.Like draping myself in a flag thatannounces to the congregationthat I am a Jewish adult, a full andimportant member of thecommunity.
 
 WWW.NIF.ORG
SUMMER OF ’89
By Ruti Kadish 
IN THE SUMMER OF 1989, AT THE AGE OF 25, I CELE-BRATED MY BAT MITZVAH AT JEWISH SUMMER CAMP.
Growing up in Israel, reaching the age of mitzvot was marked by a meal with extended family in our home. In my secularAshkenazi home, heavily informed by my mother’s kibbutz roots, religiosity was non-existent and any Jewish symbolism was limitedto cultural holiday celebrations. Nevertheless, living in the States in the mid 80’s I reveled in my new ‘discovery’ of feminist Judaism,and let the deluge of Jewish feminist writing and creativity wash over me and carry me with it.In 1989 I decided to have a Bat Mitzvah. As I stood before the camp ‘congregation’ on the Shabbat morning of my Bat Mitzvah,in our rustic amphitheater/synagogue in the Santa Cruz mountains surrounded by Redwoods, I marveled out loud at the privilegeof standing before them as the shlichat tsibbur, donning tallit and kippa, and leyning (reading) Torah. This was not a given; Idescribed how only a week before women attempting to pray at the Wall in Jerusalem were accosted by ultra-Orthodox men. Onewoman had been injured by a chair hurtled at her from across the gender barrier.Later that evening, after havdallah, the camp director called me down to a meeting with the shlicha (Israeli emissary to thecommunity). The camp director was ill at ease but the shlicha didn’t hesitate: what I had done was anti-Zionist and anti—educational;I had jeopardized the entire mission of the camp. Blindsided, it took me several moments to understand her contention: I had daredto criticize Israel in public; by speaking in favor of Jewish pluralism (Women of theWall), and criticizing the ultra-Orthodox I had undermined the mission of thispluralistic Zionist summer camp.Blinded by my tears and overwhelmed by a sense of injustice, I didn’t have thepresence of mind to point out the irony—the shlicha, who self-defined asideologically secular and couldn’t fathom why I would even bother to have a BatMitzvah, was defending the ultra-Orthodox. Conversely, I was labeled an anti-Zionist.A year later, I stood for the first time with Women of the Wall at the Kotel for a RoshChodesh service. Serendipitously, I will be there again next month for the rosh chodeshservice celebrating WOW’s 25th anniversary, humbly and proudly joining those who forthe last twenty five years have stood without fail for equality and justice. They were andremain the true Zionists.
MIXED MESSAGES
By Rachel Mann
I GREW UP WITH MIXED MESSAGES. MY PARENTS ENCOURAGED ME TO SUCCEED ACADEMICALLY, AND I ALWAYSFELT 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 athoroughly modern household.As a young adult, I had to find a way to reconcile my Jewish identity and my progressive feminist identity. Forsaking either onewas 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 partof; how lucky for me to live in New York City, where we joined a thriving intellectual, egalitarian, andsocially progressive synagogue. Every time I listened to our talented woman cantor beautifully lead thetefilot, my Jewish identity and feminist identities were affirmed.I have three young daughters, and already their education has been different from mine. They expectequal opportunities for men and women, in both the religious and secular spheres. I look forward tocelebrating my oldest’s bat mitzvah and watching her proudly read the Torah and don a talit. And I dreamof 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.
Rachel Mann is a blogger at No Turning Back:
http://becomingajewishparent.blogspot.com
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.

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