When it comes to women’s religious expression, what is it that drives men to such distraction that they throw chairs, hurl insults, and resort to other forms of violence? Are we as women allowed to push the boundaries only so far?
On Sunday night, I went to hear Anat Hoffman—chairwoman of Women of the Wall and Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel—speak at Brandeis University’s Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.
Adults may scoff, and my friends may hypocritically mock me, but I can never deny that I would want to stand out in a crowd. Whether a college application, a creative thesis for school, or even the food that I bring for lunch, I want to discover a personal uniqueness that I carry so I can have some special pride in my stride. Luckily for me, I can already claim an artistic and spiritual individuality that I bring to the table as a female Jew.
For as long as I can remember, Rosa Parks has been the star of every social studies lesson. In third grade, we learned about the nice lady who worked as a seamstress and boarded a bus to go home from work. In eighth grade, she was the strong woman who stood up for herself and played a significant role in the civil rights movement. In eleventh grade, we learned that her historic refusal to give up her seat was not random, but planned by civil rights leaders.
But the message of Rosa Parks goes beyond the classroom.
Why do some women wear Tallit? Why shouldn’t women wear Tallit? What’s the big deal?
If you’re like me, you probably haven’t spent a lot of time pondering these questions. As someone who falls somewhere outside of regular observance, a tallit, or prayer shawl, isn’t usually on the forefront of my thoughts. (Even defining a tallit required a quick search of myjewishlearning.com.)
Last week I was lucky enough to join hundreds of Jewish educators at NewCAJE, a peer led conference that brings together educators from all walks of Jewish life. One of the highlights of my time at the conference was attending a session led by Ronni Ticker entitled “Women of the Wall- What’s the Big Deal?”
As a Reform Jew, I have long struggled with the meaning and ritual of Tisha B’Av. I have learned and studied over the years; this week at the Hartman Institute, we wrestled with the notions of and texts on communal mourning. I do not wish to see the Temple rebuilt speedily in my day, and so what do I do with this holiday?
Nearly 20 years ago I was living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a haven for observant Conservative Jews. I had my choice of multiple minyanim to attend; even the crowded weekend city streets had an air of the Sabbath, and kosher food abounded.
There were so many Conservative and egalitarian options that I rarely ventured into the neighborhood’s Orthodox community, and I certainly never attended an Orthodox synagogue.