By Jamie Gorson '16
Sophomore Jamie Gorson's experience of what it's like to be a woman in a more traditional Israeli culture is the 4th in a series about her experiences abroad last summer. Feel free to check out My Summer In Israel, What Makes Me Smile, and Part III as featured over the past few months.
Last summer when I was in Israel, I had the opportunity to experience many religious events. I visited the Western wall, attended services a few times and talked to religious Israelis. Each experience has opened a new light to my opinion and perspective on women in Judaism and how I want to live my life.
For some background information, I was raised in a conservative synagogue where women have completely equal rights. We sit as we please, pray on the bimmah and could even be a rabbi. I have read Torah on high holidays and have even led a mariv service. I always knew that orthodox separated men and women, even experienced it a number of times, but not until this Israel trip did I discover how strong my feelings were about it.
Overlooking the Western Wall where there is a very uneven gender divide.
In my first experience at a synagogue in Israel this trip, I sat behind a screen as the men prayed and read Torah. I felt as if I was an outsider observing another culture, not a part of it at all. While at the Onward Shabbaton the following weekend, I went to a Moroccan synagogue. The women's section was in a balcony. We had to get out our own chairs and organize them ourselves. The thing that bothered me the most though, was that the wall separating the balcony from the men's section was so high that the women could only see the ceiling unless they were leaning over the walls.
These experiences made me appreciate the inclusiveness and equality I feel at my home synagogue. It is not that I believe that separation in Orthodox is wrong, I just feel it is done in an inappropriate and unfortunate way for women who want to be connected to their Judaism.
While on the Onward Israel Shabbaton, I went on the Women in the Desert field trip. I had the opportunity to meet two inspirational women. We first met Selima, a Bedouin woman who is going against the grain as a feminist. In Bedouin culture, women are meant to stay in the house and do as the men say. She is the first Bedouin woman to have a driver's license and run a business. She was incredibly inspirational and smart. I felt inspired by her dedication to doing what she believes, even though her entire community dislikes it.
Jamie and friends with Selima at her home in the Negev desert.
We also met Shira, a religious young lady who is balancing her religious values with the desire to live in the modern world and to find equality for herself. She said many things that made me think about my Judaism. For example, the way she talked about the role of head coverings. She is undecided about whether she will wear one when she gets married. She wants to be a woman in the modern world and her father said it is degrading, but it is a commandment in the bible, so being a religious Jew, she wants to follow it.
My experiences throughout the trip have led to many discussions with Israeli friends, religious mentors and counselors, and my co-participants. Although I might not like how Orthodox Judaism approaches women, it has made me think a lot about my religious life and religion in Israel.