Speaking up for ourselves

Two weeks ago, Moshe was seen arguing with Hashem about not being worthy to be His voice. Moshe continued to argue–with G-d!– even after being reassured that others would speak for him. This comes to teach us several lessons. One, as scary as it may be, and no matter who you are up against–the entire world, G-d, or just the status quo–it is okay to speak up for yourself. You may not win in the end, or you may find a compromise and get at least some of what you want (as Moshe repeatedly said he was not the one to speak for Hashem, and Hashem had others be His voice). Next, that you are probably worth more than you think you are, and you may have more support than you realized.

As a nation, the Jewish people have constantly been looked down on and trodden upon, and yet we are still here. The world doesn’t like what we are doing–not our problem. Because what we are doing, now that we have a land and an army, is standing up for ourselves. And as people who have been abused may learn, when you change the dynamic, the abusers don’t like it. What? You won’t lie down and take it anymore? But that’s not fair! Well, we are only doing what should have been done a long time ago. The world wants to tell us that we cannot defend ourselves? Guess what, we’re not asking you. Yeah, we may need better PR, or we may *never* get to the point where the world agrees that we have a basic right to live and to put our lives ahead of our enemies.

Through the next parsha we see Moshe, who has now stood up to G-d, stand up to someone less important but also someone who he sees as above him; Pharaoh, the leader of Egypt. Moshe continues to stand up for himself, but now is also able to stand up for his people. The plagues start, raining terror down on those who had been hurting the Jewish people for years. And yet, despite the horrors, Pharaoh continues to go against G-d’s will, hardening his heart and keeping the Jews from going out of Egypt. At the start of this week’s parsha, the eighth plague is about to be sent. Hashem warns that we should believe, including and Jews who were not yet there. At this point, Pharaoh and his servants finally open a debate on whether they should just let the Jews go out–although only temporarily–to worship their god. However, at first Pharaoh will only let the men go, keeping the women and children as hostages. By now, though, Moshe is ready, having built up his self-confidence and having seen that he is strong enough to fight back, and he tells Pharaoh, no, we will all go. Moshe is saying that every part of the Jewish nation counts, men and women, boys and girls.

On that note, I am going to discuss my ongoing struggle which I started to talk about in a previous article. Last week, I contacted the Rav of my shul because yet again, I came to shul to find men in the women’s section. The Rav responded by both posting a letter on our shul’s email and bulletin board, and also speaking about the issue in his shabbat drasha. As I was sick this week, I can’t yet tell you whether it worked except to say that today when I went there were no men in the women’s section. On the other hand, the mechitza was not completely set up, again. Earlier this week, after the Rav spoke about men staying on their side, I had a different disheartening experience. This was that at maariv, it happened that although I was there to say kadesh, none of the men were. So come the end of davening, I started saying it, then looked up and realized that since no one on the other side was saying it, everyone was leaving. There was nothing I could do but leave. However, I posted about my feeling of invisibility, and this got back to the Rav, who tried to meet with me. We finally met this morning, and I can only say I wish all rabbeim were like him. We talked about all of the obstacles I have been experiencing in what is already a difficult time, and he is going to do his best to work on the different issues. However, I wanted to take this to a wider audience, because I think this whole issue needs to be heard by many. Like Moshe rabenu taught us in these parshiyot, as a people, I think we need to remember to speak up for ourselves, and that we can and should defend ourselves, no matter how we see our opposition. At times it may be that the whole world is against us, but that doesn’t mean that we should then quietly give in. By the end of this Parsha, we get all that we wanted and more–the Jews go free from Egypt, able to become a nation in their own right.

In light of this, I can not stay quiet, and am fighting for a change. Among the issues I discussed with the rabbi was the fact that women are not alone in this problem of when/where to say kadesh, to honor our loved ones. I believe that there are also men who are ashamed or embarrassed that they don’t know when it’s the right time, especially here where some days it’s Ashkenaz, some days Sfard, and some days you daven in a minyan which just says the prayers in a different order. So lets’ try something new, because getting out is sometimes hard enough for a mourner. Announce kadesh, or at least indicate that it’s time by looking around, and quiet down so mourners can be heard. Next stop, kavod for the whole tefilla, but that’s another fight.

Now for the end: I am speaking up as part of Am Yisrael that is often told not to speak, and despite my appreciation for the rabbeim in my town, I feel there are more worldwide changes that need some work. So here is my letter to those who are willing to work with me and make some of these changes.

Dear Rabbeim,

You have the care of Am Yisrael in your hands. It is on your shoulders whether Jewish people want to follow their religion or turn away in disgust. Yet there is an entire half of the populace that is made to feel degraded and less than full members of the community just for how they were born. I am talking about Jewish women. To start with, men make the blessing every morning that they are thankful not to have been born a woman. This is just after having been thankful that they are not slaves or non-Jews. What does this say to women? You are lower, not worthy of the same status as us holy people. If that is the case, why do you trust the running of your homes to us, from carefully keeping all the kashrut laws to being the final say on taharat mishpacha? If you don’t see us as equal, why trust us in the kitchen and the bedroom? Aren’t these areas of utmost importance in Judaism, just as important as davening with a minyan?

On the one hand, as I do both have children to take care of and a job to get to, I appreciate not being required to daven with a minyan, which takes time out of childcare and house care, and I respect men for taking this time out of their day. On the other, there is no reason that women should be made to feel so unwelcome on OUR own side of the mechitza, especially when we have a specific reason to be there! All over the world, men seem to think it is okay to daven on the women’s side, leaving no place for us if we don’t get there exactly on time. There is absolutely no reason for this, as there is ample space on the men’s side, yet it happens constantly. This leaves women with the option of going upstairs to a darkened balcony  (because why put the lights on up there for no one) [if there even is that option], or going in to our section and waiting for the men to notice us and move. Should we instead go in to the men’s side?? I can only imagine the reaction that would garner.

It is up to us women not to stay quiet about these things, and it is up to the men, especially our respected rabbeim, to help bring these things to light. Sometimes all it takes is a willingness to listen. It is my hope that there are more than just a few out there who do, who can be an example to all of Klal Yisrael by including the whole kehilla, and helping us all feel like an important part of the community.

Back to the earlier thoughts of us versus the world: we have a lot to live up to as a nation, but we have lights to follow. Don’t stay quiet while our nationhood is at risk.

About the Author
Mori Sokal is a FIFTEEN year veteran of Aliyah, mother of three wonderful children (with her wonderful husband) and is an English teacher in both elementary and high school in the Gush Etzion-Jerusalem area. She has a Masters’ degree in teaching, is a copy editor, and has published articles in Building Blocks, the Jewish Press magazine.
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