My Scrapbook Resume

Sunday, October 6, 2013

On Voices Big and Small

I am going to veer from my usual topics of scrapbooking and family for this post, and talk a little about Jewish stuff. And, it's going to be wordy.

Here goes.

First, by way of introduction:

A while ago, I made this layout. (See, still some scrapbooking.)

I made it as my own little response to something someone said to me at work, but really it reflects a big part of me. I have always been quiet and shy. For a good long while, (through childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood) I thought this was something that needed to be fixed. But one of the beautiful things about being an adult for a while, is that you (hopefully) realize you are just fine the way you are. Not perfect, but good enough. And while being shy can hold me back, it is also, perhaps, the source of some of my strengths.

So, it was with this feeling of contentment and self confidence that I went to shul (synagogue) this Simchat Torah. It's a joyful holiday with singing and dancing and praying with the Torah. Now, for the last few years, I have been going to the Stanton Street Shul. I go there (though the rest of my family attends elsewhere) because I enjoy the Rabbi,  the services, and though it's small, and the building is falling apart, it is a happy place.

And, I go to the Stanton Street Shul because they find places within the confines of Jewish law to include women in the services as much as possible. This is most important to me on Simchat Torah, where this is the one shul in my neighborhood where women can dance with the Torah. And more than that, women are called upon to recite some of the prayers out loud (or even sing) during the hakafot. And this is the point of my story.

The Story:

This year, I believe, was the first where my name was called from the bima, to recite a line from the "Ata Hareita." My heart stopped, my hands shook, and my voice cracked like a pubescent male as I said my verse out loud. And when I was done, I whispered to the women next to me how terrifying that was for me to do. After all, I am quiet (see above). And she said something to the point of, "It's because you were taught not to use your voice in shul." And, I responded, "No. It's not like that. I'm just a shy person. It's okay." I, and many Orthodox women I know, do not feel like a victim in  the male dominated synagogue. 

But, I thought about it more, and I watched other as other women looked and sounded nervous as they recited their lines aloud.  It's true, I'm quiet and shy. But, I suppose that if over the years, I had been expected to occasionally lead the prayers, or read the Torah, I would have a stronger voice while praying in shul. I would not feel suddenly terrified to read Hebrew words that are so familiar to me, aloud. 

Over the course of the holiday, I watched as some women sang loud and clear; and I admired them.  And, I was most moved by watching women look a little nervous and a little shy, (some asked for help from the women around them), as they found their voices and prayed out loud. 

The Message:

Do I feel like Orthodoxy is a patriarchal system, trying to keep our women quiet and submissive. Nope. I think that for a variety of reasons, both religious and historical, this is the way our traditions have developed.

Does that need to change?
Many will say, quite adamantly, that it CAN'T and it shouldn't. I totally get that. Personally, I am perfectly happy to sit quietly at the back of the shul, and watch the men do all the work. Really. I never once sat in shul and thought, "I wish I could be up there, on that side of the mechitzah."

Not once.

But, even if I haven't, some girls and women out there have. Some will in the future. And for them, there needs to be a place within Orthodoxy for them to feel heard and understood. There need to be opportunities for them to be involved in services to the extent that halacha allows. 

For that reason, I will attend women's prayer groups in my neighborhood. I will volunteer to help make them successful. And even though I really want to stay in shul with my mouth closed, maybe sometimes, even a comfortably quiet person has to be a little louder.

Which is a shame for the rest of you, because my singing voice is not that hot.


  1. A very powerful post, Aliza:) It's an interesting debate. I've never really likes the women's prayer groups I've participated in (they usually pushed me to do more than I felt comfortable with, and seemed to be "making a point" more than connecting to the experience), but I do really love dancing on Simchas Torah, and wish more shuls provided that for women. I like going to my hometown shul in Ohio for Simchas Torah for that reason!

  2. Beautiful post, Aliza. Thank you for your quiet, important voice.