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.

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