Earlier this week, my friend Ruth posted a very powerful piece on Facebook about the end of her year of aveilut (mourning) that was so moving, I asked if I could share it with a wider audience on Times of Israel. It particularly struck home with me because my year of aveilut began less than two months ago. I have had ups and downs but everything she wrote strongly resonated with me. My own experience will be detailed in my next blog, because I don’t want to take away from anything Ruth has written. Please read her thoughts with an open mind, and give voice to a hushed part of our community.
Hear my Voice by Ruth Hyman
Before my bat mitzvah I would go to shul and take part in the children’s service. There the girls had a role, there were parts of the service that the girls said, we were involved. Separate but equal, it never occurred to me that it should be different.
After my bat mitzvah I went to the youth service, I sat behind the mechitza, davened and chatted with my friends. I was there, but no longer had a role in the service.
I moved on to the main shul at some point. I would sit upstairs, daven, observe — never quite part of what was going on.
I had no voice.
The years went by and in various different shuls and services I would attend but was never considered essential. The service would have been the same with or without me being there. I was welcome at shul, but the only person who it made any difference to was me.
I married and had children. Two things that I was an essential part of, but my voice was not heard. I stood silent during my chuppah, accepting that this was what was done. When my sons had their brit milah I was a silent observer to the ceremony. We named our daughters in shul on Shabbat when my husband was given an Aliya. When my second daughter was named, and no one stopped for me to say birkat hagomel, a friend went ’round to the men’s side to ask them to stop for me to say it.
My shul attendance, whilst still regular, became less about davening and more about trying to fit in whatever I could around the kids. Not arriving too early so they wouldn’t get bored, not arriving too late so that I would get to go into shul and hear some of the davening, knowing that any time in shul was dependent on whichever child was with me being quiet. This doesn’t bother me.
Almost eleven months ago things changed. My mum died.
Saying kaddish for my mum was something I knew I had to do. Something I wanted to do. After speaking to two rabbis and understanding exactly how the obligation worked for women, I began saying kaddish. I was told that my saying kaddish did not override my husband’s obligation to daven with a minyan, nor did I have to say kaddish every day (although I could) but simply whenever I was davening with a minyan.
I have, whenever possible, said kaddish this year. There were times when it was easy and times when I worried about it, times when people around me answered and times when I struggled to hear the men saying kaddish so that I could keep pace with them.
Today was different. Today my voice was heard. Today, for the second time, I went to a new minyan started up locally designed to be more inclusive of women and girls. Today, I said kaddish and my voice was heard.
Both times I have davened with this minyan there were only women saying kaddish. Both times everyone davening stopped and listened to my prayer. They answered my prayer. They helped me remember my mum. Women who I have never spoken to before came up to me afterwards and shared memories of when their parents died, expressed sympathy and extended condolences. The support and comfort was there.
Today, 25 years after I stopped going to the children’s service, my prayers were part of the community. I was relevant to the davening. My voice was heard in shul.