I woke up early for Religious Tolerance

I woke up early for Religious Tolerance

March 13, 2013

Yesterday, I joined in solidarity with Women of the Wall at the “Wake up for Religious Tolerance” Service in NYC. Women of the Wall began in Jerusalem, 24 ½ years ago, when I was a first year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR. As the 20th anniversary of Ordination approaches, my classmates and I recently reflected on our experiences with WOW in the year 1988-1989. Many of us were at the service in March 1989 when chairs were thrown and at least one woman was injured. The police tried to protect the women by releasing a tear gas canister on the men’s side. How disgusted we were when a haredi man took his tallis to protect his face and redirected the tear gas to the women’s side. This harsh memory has faded but the scars are still there. Each month the challenges faced by Women of the Wall evokes this memory. I never imagined that nearly 25 years later women would still be immersed in this Civil Rights issue.

 

 The exciting news from Jerusalem for this Rosh Hodesh is that there were NO arrests at the Kotel for the first time in 22 months. Joined by three female Members of Knesset, Stav Shaffir, Michal Rozin and Tamar Zandberg, the Women of the Wall were bolstered in their support. When security questioned the MKs and told them they were not allowed to wear tallit at the Kotel, they invoked diplomatic immunity.

 

We in NY/NJ were concerned for our sisters in Jerusalem. Posters in recent days in the ultra-orthodox communities in Jerusalem urged haredim to protest against the “desecration at the Western Wall” by Women of the Wall. Fortunately, many supporters in Israel thwarted what could have been an unpleasant morning. Of course, President Obama’s forthcoming visit may also have helped matters. It is important to keep the spotlight on as we all work for justice.

 

In NYC, though rain changed the outdoor location of Union Square to a warm welcome at Town and Village synagogue, there was a wonderful feeling of unity. I wore my Women of the Wall (and favorite) tallis. No one stopped me on my way into the synagogue to check my prayer ritual garb. Many women and men wore tefillin. Kol Yisrael aravain zeh bazeh. All Israel is responsible for one another. We prayed together, men, women and yes, children. It was moving when students from Hannah Sennesh and Solomon Schechter (NYC) Day Schools led the Aleinu.

 

The service began with Rabbi Iris Richman, organizer of the event, speaking to us. It gave a sense of a rally but soon the music led us into prayer. The power of lifting our voices together in prayer was palpable. Ozi v’zimrat Yah-vay’hi li yeshua. God is my strength and my song; God is my deliverance. The melody has become an anthem for WOW and we sang it again during the Hallel prayers for Rosh Hodesh.

 

As we enter this new month of Nisan, it is especially appropriate to raise our voices high for freedom. I am grateful that I am free to pray with Jews across the religious spectrum and join together in support of women’s rights to pray at the Kotel.  I pray that one day soon, women and men will be able to lift their voices in prayer without needing any diplomatic immunity to bring a tallis.

 

Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz serves Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, NJ. She and her husband, David, are the proud parents of Ezra, Benjamin, Samuel and Daniel. For many years she focused on the four daughters of the Passover Haggadah but the reality in her house is the four sons.

Women space: A seat on the bus and a place at the table.

Women space: A seat on the bus, a place at the table

by Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz

July 13, 2012

I’m feeling many connections to women colleagues while studying at the Hartman Institute’s Rabbinic Seminar this July in Israel. It started at Newark airport when I found myself on the same flight as some women colleagues, Hartman regulars, and has grown ever since. I’m being hosted by my colleague and good friend, Julie Gordon who was my chevruta  (study partner) when we were in the 4th Rabbinic Cohort of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality a few years ago.

Each day, I’ve made more connections during the Hartman Seminar. It’s been an incredible opportunity to be immersed in rich text-based learning and collegiality. My chevruta at Hartman was five women colleagues, Miri Gold, Dana Serokan, Elaine Glickman and Marion Lev-Cohen.

Rabbis Dana Serokan, Faith Joy Dantowitz, Elaine Glickman, Marion Lev-Cohen and Miri Gold

Miri is the rabbi who made history a several weeks ago when the government ruled that she would be the first non-orthodox rabbi to get a salary from the state. This is not a reality yet but an important decision.

Prior to the Hartman Seminar, I participated in a Freedom Ride organized by IRAC.

IRAC (Israel Religious Action Center) was also a strong force supporting Rabbi Miri Gold’s court case. The mission of IRAC is to make religion accessible to all Jews. Extremism in Israel and control of the rabbanut has made the vast majority of Israeli Jews alienated from religion. In 1999 there were two segregated buses and by 2010 there were 98! IRAC finally got courts to state that segregated buses are illegal. Though illegal to have separate seating, there are some bus lines that often do this. I sat down opposite a Haredi man (who immediately stood up). A couple of traditional women sat down across from me soon after.

Freedom Riders

Before the bus tour, Noa Satatz, assistant director at IRAC and HUC-JIR Israeli rabbinical student, gave us a brief introduction explaining the 5 main areas of justice IRAC is working on: 1] equal rights of marriage 2] conversion in Israel. 3] Racism. Some rabbis, unfortunately, are the inciters of racism and hatred. IRAC works to hold these rabbis accountable. 4] Equality of Progressive Streams of Judaism in Israel. In May there was a victory (Rabbi Miri Gold) after 7 years in Supreme Court, one of longest cases in Israel’s history. Now there are 4001 rabbis who should be paid by the State. It will probably take at least 7 more years of work for the rest of the rabbis to get paid and Miri is not getting paid by the government yet. 5] Gender Segregation in the Public Sphere—hence, the bus ride.

Noa also showed us ads from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The contrast was stark with women’s images disappearing from the public eye. Billboards in Jerusalem do not include the women’s faces.Women’s and men’s voices need to be lifted up to promote equality for all. This is an issue of concern in Israel and America.

Fortunately, there are also moments to celebrate. Shabbbat services on the port in Tel Aviv at Beit Tefilah Israeli

Welcoming Shabbat with Beit Tefilah Israeli on the Port in Tel Aviv

was full of joy and heartfelt prayer. The liberal service drew hundreds of people, many secular Israelis, to welcome Shabbat. And an opportunity for additional sisterhood was an event organized by Miri Gold of Israeli and non-Israeli female rabbis.

Women Rabbis from Israel and Abroad

This was a group who will not passively sit in the back of bus but is holding some of the keys to the future. It is imperative that fundamentalism is not the only voice heard.

There is a place and space for men and women at the front of the bus, in the beit midrash and leading inspiring Shabbat services.

Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz is part of the clergy team at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, NJ. She lives with her husband David, their four sons and new puppy in Millburn, NJ.