Archive for March, 2011

Every post I write is about something that happened a week or two before. This one (it’ll be brief) is about attending Shabbat services at Shira Hadashah, a self-proclaimed “Orthodox, feminist congregation in Jerusalem.” I had a great experience there–out of all the Orthodox services I have attended, it was by far the one I found to be most meaningful.

What makes Shira Hadashah special (in addition to the fact that so many people there seemed to have amazing voices) is the way that they incorporate women into the service. Women and men pray on separate sides of a mechitza, with the bima in the center of two equally sized prayer spaces–allowing both men and women access to the bima. Women lead “optional” parts of the service, like Kabbalat and Pesukei Dezimra, which are parts that Orthodox Judaism halachically permits them to lead. In addition, women say Kaddish, are called to the Torah, read Torah, and say Kiddush.

Shira Hadashah is not a place I’d want to pray every day–I want to pray in a place where women can lead everything, and are seen as having equal obligations as men. However, my views will never line up with those of Orthodox Judaism, and I don’t think that they need to–there’s room for many different strains of Judaism out there. Because of this, I very much appreciate and admire the way that Shira Hadashah blends peoples’ desires both to observe Orthodox Halacha and create a community based on principles of gender equality and inclusion. Praying at Shira Hadashah, I felt like I was surrounded by a group of thinking and caring people who are trying to create a Judaism that blends tradition with their modern values.


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A law signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Tuesday makes the state the first to require women who are seeking abortions to first attend a consultation at such “pregnancy help centers,” to learn what assistance is available “to help the mother keep and care for her child.”

The legislation, which passed easily in a state Legislature where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 3 to 1, also establishes the nation’s longest waiting period — three days — after an initial visit with an abortion provider before the procedure can be done. It makes exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest.

Many states require counseling from doctors or other clinic staff members before an abortion to cover topics like health risks. What makes the new South Dakota law different is that the mandated counseling will come from people whose central qualification is that they are opposed to abortions.

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Short update from Israel.

Last Friday my group went to the Kotel to daven Friday evening services. Immediately upon arriving, our leaders told us that the boys would go to the male side, and that the girls would go to the female side. I was not surprised–I have prayed at the Kotel many times before, and have unhappily become used to being forced to pray separately from men there. However, being used to it did not make it any less frustrating.

A group of friends and mine decided to lead our own Kabbalat Shabbat services separate from the boys, and it ended up being really nice; we stood in a circle behind the lines of women praying silently to themselves and, amidst many slightly dismayed looks from onlookers, sung aloud together. The sense of community we created was great, but what made it even more beautiful was the fact that a couple strangers decided to join in and pray with us.

However, after finishing the first part of the Friday evening services, we arrived at Ma’ariv, something that according to Orthodox Judaism, women are not supposed to lead. (Women are allowed to lead the first part, excepting a few things.) Because the girl who led the first part of our services is Orthodox, she did not want to lead the second part, and so she, as well as a few other girls decided to pray on their own. Our group quickly dismantled, and I ended up praying Ma’ariv on my own. It was nice to pray at the Western Wall, but it was basically almost that; all of the spirituality that otherwise would have been inspired by the sense of human longing and desire and hope was diminished by the feeling that I was missing out on the amazing communal prayer that I was hearing from the male side.

Walking away from the Wall, all I could think about was how their should be three areas there: one for men, one for women, and one for men and women to pray together. Israel should not be a state only for Orthodox people–it should be a state where all Jews (and non-Jews, but that’s a different topic) feel comfortable, that accommodates all of our needs. Women of the Wall serve as an inspiration for all women who feel frustrated with the limitations imposed on them at the Wall, but the fact that women have been arrested for reading Torah at the Wall is simply depressing. Something needs to change.

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My group arrived in Israel yesterday, and now that I’ve rested up I want to write a quick post about my experiences in Poland. Well, not all of them, or even most, because I’m still digesting most of it, but I wanted to write about one experience in particular my friends and I had while in Warsaw.

My group woke up on our first day there and went to pray at the Nozyk synagogue. It’s a beautiful synagogue–the only synagogue in Warsaw that survived world War II. It was used during the war as a stable, but has since been refurbished and is now back to its beautiful origins.
Even so, I wasn’t able to appreciate praying in such a historically significant and meaningful place because I was praying from a floor above the bimah with what a hotel would call an “obstructed view,” to say the least. I felt like all of the praying was going on below me instead of around me, and many of my friends felt the same.

After our experience, we discussed the setting and the isolation and distance it made us feel—we had all struggled with our desire to enjoy the synagogue and appreciate its history. A friend of mine brought up the idea that perhaps because women who lived at the time when the synagogue was constructed a few hundred years ago wanted to pray in such a setting, we should too. However, I struggled with that idea because society has changed significantly since then, and modern feminism has changed the way we look at women’s place in the world–and we can expect a lot more involvement and inclusion. Even so, when she said that I began to feel like I should make a more concerted effort to get past my modern qualms, at least for a short period of time, in order to allow myself to truly become immersed in the synagogue.

The next day, instead of complaining about my lack of view, I tried to picture the synagogue full of men, women, and children celebrating life moments; I still felt that I would not be comfortable praying at the synagogue permanently, but that it was a worthwile place to visit and pray inside.

So, that was one of a million experiences in Poland. More to come from Poland, maybe, or more from Israel.

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