Sisters are Doing it For Themselves – but we can do better

Women, we need your voice and leadership in Judaism

To my dear readers,

This blog post focuses on synagogue life inside Conservative Judaism. If you follow a different faith and don’t wish to read on and get bogged down in all the Jewish lingo, I will completely understand. But, if you want to read on and offer your point of view on women participation in religious life, Jewish or not, read on and chime in with your comments.

Last Saturday afternoon, after many warm hugs and handshakes on a job well done, and a shot of chocolate schnapps over a Kiddush lunch with my volunteer co-chair, I finally breathed a sigh of relief.

I co-chaired Sisterhood Shabbat at my synagogue as part of a nationwide celebration of women and women participating in synagogue life. The service went splendidly with many firsts for our congregation: The first part of the service was led by our congregation’s first woman rabbi.  During the Torah service, the Torah was capably lifted by a woman who is a weightlifting fitness instructor.  My co-chair and I felt a great sense of accomplishment  that we had risen to the challenge to find a woman to lead every part of the service. Every woman who volunteered rose to the occasion as well and did their parts beautifully.  

What troubles me is who will lead in the years and decades to come.

My concern over the last few months as I helped put this service together was on two fronts:  

  1. The sparse feeling that I get when I see the increasingly empty blue seats week after week indicates the dwindling number of families who take the time to be with their community on Shabbat mornings. I get a little concerned about the future of my synagogue and the future of Conservative Judaism as a whole.
  2. I also was troubled by the number of women who I approached to participate who were not comfortable leading services or not comfortable with their knowledge of Hebrew. Among those who politely said no to participating were Jewish educators themselves.  This level of discomfort, the scarcity of women who are comfortable enough to lead services, comes after nearly two decades of the Conservative movement counting women in a minyan and allowing full participation in synagogue life.

Sisters, we have to do better. If we truly want to see egalitarian Judaism survive and flourish, if we have the privilege of being counted in a minyan, than we owe it to ourselves and our daughters to push out of our comfort levels and learn to lead.

Is this a challenge? Of course it is. But it is not impossible. Look how far women have come.

  • Don’t be afraid of not being comfortable leading services. We all need to start somewhere. Know that however you do, your community deeply appreciates that you participated in this mitzvah, or good deed, of leading your community.
  • There are so many resources available for learning. If enough people voice interest and commitment, synagogues will happily create classes or sessions with our clergy. I didn’t learn to read Torah until I was 38 years old. Why? Because when I was a kid, girls “didn’t have to” learn Torah. But I knew even as a child that I would someday learn.
  • If you are more comfortable learning at home and are tech savvy, there are online programs galore to help.  For example, Siddur Audio  walks you through nearly every page of the Siddur Sim Shalom prayerbook of the Conservative Judaism movement. You can even download mp3 clips and listen to them on your iPod to learn.

Lastly, don’t be afraid of making mistakes or screwing up. Or the butterflies in your stomach. I get nervous – complete with sweaty palms – nearly every time I read Torah. I often say to myself right before I read, why am I putting myself through this? But I know why I do it: it’s good for the community, and reading Torah is really good for your brain!

 But it is not an exercise in perfection, rather an act in participation, because if you falter, there are people right beside you who are there to help. That is why it is called a kehilah kedosha – a holy community.

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About stacylynngittleman

I have been a reporter and public relations professional for over 30 years, specializing in profile features and investigative longform writing. During my career I've profiled WWII Honor Flight Veterans, artists and musicians and have written on topics that range from environmental and gun control issues to Jewish culture. Click around on my writing samples plus read my blog on my personal life raising three kids over 27 years and three cities.

2 responses to “Sisters are Doing it For Themselves – but we can do better”

  1. munira's bubble says :

    Coming across this post is such an amazing coincidence for me, and the reason why I could read through it and understand what your’re talking about is because of the book I’m currently reading….’The Finkler Question’ by Howard Jacobson.
    I am in love with this book, and I think the reason why it’s taking me so long to read it is because I savour the writing. It’s witty, humorous, and very insightful, giving non-Jewish people an amazing and highly enjoyable glimpse of what it means to be Jewish.
    I keep coming across some real gems of sentences, or paragraphs in the book, which I quote as status updates on Facebook, and they have intrigued a lot of people enough to make them want to put this book in their must-read list.
    I’m not a very religious Muslim, living in Karachi, Pakistan, and I don’t think there is a single person of your faith in my entire country….which goes to show something I guess.
    But to get back to your post, I’m glad women can lead prayers in your community, and be an important part of religious life. It shows a degree of emancipation that Muslim women need to fight for in our patriarchal society, and I guess they have a long way to go…
    Traditional religions have so much in common, don’t they?


    • transplantednorth says :

      Good morning Munira from cold snowy Western New York. Thanks for your thoughful comment. Yes, sadly the only Jew I knew who was living in Pakistan was Danny Perla and we all know what happened to him. I can’t say I’m an observant Jew (I’m on the computer on Saturday, our Sabbath!) but I am deeply committed to my faith. In all of history, this is the easiest, happiest time for a Jew to practice Judaism and it troubles me that more Jews don’t take advantage of this time to learn, to study, to understand how much Jews throughout history have endured to reach this time.

      I feel very empowered when I participate in religious life. I can help my community celebrate and mourn. Yes, Judaism and Islam have so much in common, even moreso than Christianity and Judaism.

      Have a good, bat-free 🙂 Day! and I’m going to have to read the Finkler Question! Thanks for reading.


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