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Spirituality and Religious Life

It Takes a Village

Over the years, I’ve been to countless bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies. While each one has been unique to the specific teen being honored, all of the services have been catered to the typical Jewish kid: one who can read English and some Hebrew, memorize prayers, and stand at the bimah and speak about about his or her Jewish education and life experiences. In February, I had the honor of being part of a bar mitzvah that was unlike any of the others I had previously attended. My family friend Max became a bar mitzvah without speaking a single word.

I'm Over It

I came to spend the rest of my afternoon hauling a case of cat food to the local housing project. I was glad to do it, though I didn’t know why the woman had reached out to our temple ... She was very happy to see me, but, in part due to the fact that I was wearing sneakers, I’m pretty sure she thought I was a well-meaning volunteer. When she did realize that I was, in fact, the rabbi, and not some emergency cat food delivery service, she got VERY EXCITED.

Blazing a Trail, One Note at a Time

I’ve always considered words to hold a certain power. As the old saying goes, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” So, when I was sitting in the front row as my little brother was called to the Torah for the first time as a bar mitzvah, something struck me about the language of the event. Usually, the English translation in the siddurim (prayer books) follows the literal Hebrew on the opposite page, reading “God” for “Adonai” and “He” for “Hu.” But in the readings that day, God was genderless. The biblical Hebrew that has been passed down for millennia wasn’t changed, but the English translation avoided the use of any pronouns that would invoke gender. 

A Fringe of Her Own: An Interview with Tamar Paley

If women had a say in the creation of these ritual objects, how would they look and feel? I began by trying to figure out how women around me today are experiencing their spirituality. And as a jewelry designer, I was also thinking about how this material feels on the body, where it is worn ...

A Woman’s Place is in the Cantorate

If you ask any member of Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts, they will tell you that Jodi Sufrin was made to be a cantor. Not only does she have a beautiful voice, but she radiates this soft warmth at all times—inviting everyone to take part in what she is saying or singing. From sing-alongs in Beth Elohim’s preschool to Friday night services, Cantor Sufrin has been a gentle, but nonetheless powerful female presence in my life. She is, and has always been, the type of person I (and every other young Jewish girl at my temple) aspire to be. And as I grew up and became the person I am today, I couldn’t have been luckier to have a role model like her, showing me what being a Jewish woman can mean.

Labels vs. Identity

Jewish. Feminist. Single. Religious. People are so multifaceted that labels often can’t capture the entirety of our experiences. I interviewed my great-aunt Esther about various elements of her complex identity and where they intersect; I mostly came away wondering if labels—namely “Jewish” and “feminist”—can really do our identities justice. As a Jewish, single, working woman in her 70s, I assumed my aunt would have a plethora of stories that fit a single narrative. But life is complex, and messy, and seldom fits into the boxes we create to try to make sense of it all.

Faith and Feminism

Last year I met Rabbi Jennifer Singer, and I immediately looked up to her. She’s a strong, spiritual, and independent woman who commands the room with her lively personality. She’s an excellent rabbi, and I always leave her sermons with new ideas and ways of thinking. 

My Jewish Role Model and her Humanist Role Models

You haven’t really lived until you’ve had a meal at my Aunt Roberta’s kitchen table. It’s small and made of light, grainy wood, and I really think it should be recognized as the capital of Jewish free thought. This, of course, has nothing to do with the make or model of the table, nor with the meals served on it, but has everything to do with the woman who owns it. I may be slightly biased, but Roberta Schiffer, my mother’s paternal aunt, is undoubtedly one of the most intelligent, introspective, and loving thinkers I have ever met.

Debbie Coltin: Now on Your Radar

When you google Debbie Coltin, not much comes up. If you ask her why, she’ll say it’s because she’s a private person; she’d much rather fly under the radar. But as a writer, a Jew, and a young woman, I feel that Debbie’s contributions to Massachusetts’s North Shore Jewish community are too valuable to simply “fly under the radar.” Luckily, since Debbie has given me permission to share her story, they no longer have to!

Rabbi Laura Geller: Torah of Jewish Feminism

I wasn’t always easily identifiable as the Jewish feminist activist I am today. In fact, I was a Hebrew school drop-out ... but then I discovered Rabbi Laura Geller.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Spirituality and Religious Life." (Viewed on December 19, 2018) <https://jwa.org/topics/spirituality-and-religious-life>.

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