I flew back to New York on Sunday aboard United #85 and am relieved to share that I suffered no humiliation due to my seat assignment. To my right were two older grey-haired Christian women returning from a church trip to the Holy Land. To my left, across the aisle, was a young Dati Leumi type Orthodox couple with a three-year-old daughter. This well behaved little girl reminded me of my two-year-old granddaughter Shira, who I had just said goodbye to that morning. In front of me was my personal entertainment screen. Within me was the awe that once again, through the sacred web of my life experiences, I find myself at the forefront of a Jewish spiritual civil rights battle.
This time the issue is whether it is wrong to give more weight to Orthodox notions of gender separation in situations involving seating assignments on public airplanes. As readers to my blog know, I think imposing Orthodox interpretations in public space creates unjust and immoral situations for those Jews who are Other than Orthodox. Now, we get to see what the judges of the modern Jewish state have to say about this issue.
As soon as the articles about Renee Rabinowitz appeared last week, I began receiving e-mails, each with a link to the story that the Israel Religious Action Center was bringing Renee’s case against El Al, Israel’s national airline, to court in Tel Aviv. Like me, Renee suffered the humiliation of changing her seat due to her gender, in the name of Jewish law. Once again, Anat Hoffman, this time in her professional role, finds the right set of facts to show that there is an imbalance in what elements of Jewish law are being imposed on the public sphere. And there I was, once again in Jerusalem, when the news broke that IRAC was taking the case of Renee Rabinowitz to civil court.
How delighted I was to learn that Renee and I are both connected to Machon Pardes, the well-established pluralistic yeshivah located in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem! To have such a strong, intelligent and wise woman be the one who is literally taking a stand for a woman’s right to sit, and sharing a connection to Pardes, is one of those moments of sacred validation that an artist/activist like me appreciates. Taking a stand as a social activist often requires taking a leap of faith that your position is right, even if others think differently. That is the essence of leadership — having the courage to see the situation not just as it is, but also how it could be different and to work to make that difference.
Speaking of leaps of faith, I wonder how often it is that a Jewish leap year and the secular leap year coincide? Having an extra day and an extra month in the same yearly cycle must have some type of spiritual significance somewhere. Acknowledging just that type of diversity of spiritual/religious belief and behavior is at the core of what I call the modern Jewish democracy movement. Reflecting on my past week in Israel, I remember how how green it is the up north in Beit Shean Region and the pride I felt celebrating 20 years of Partnership with Cleveland, the pure delight of spending time with my daughter and her beautiful daughters and devoted husband, the pleasure of reconnecting with old friends who continue to find joy in Jerusalem despite the unending anxiety of low-level terror at every turn.
I smile once again as I recall the glorious moon above Nir David and the power of the sacred synchronicity of a double leap year. It is those types of Jewish experiences, along with the countless other threads of Jewish memory that weave the web of my life, beginning with the story of my Pop the sabra, that allow me, this Leap Year, to take those leaps of faith! And while my mother Arlene of blessed memory cannot validate that I am on the right track, my new friend Renee Rabinowitz, most certainly has!