I just finished reading a memoir of a woman who came from a very distant place to join the Jewish people in Israel. She describes watching her newly Jewish sons and her born-Jewish grandsons participating in an array of Jewish celebrations with both reverence and pride. In 320 pages, she never once indicates that anything about the role of women, as passive observers of male Jewish observance, troubles her.
After closing the book, I thought, for the 10 thousandth time, how I will never be able to comfortably accept the role of passive observer in Judaism, though I know it would go far to assuage my spiritual restlessness.
Not restlessness. Something darker.
In Medzibuz Ukraine last November, I experienced something extraordinary. It was early morning as I walked into the tziun of the Baal Shem Tov. I had unknowingly stepped into the power of communal prayer.
There were 100 women packed into the tziun. Twenty four times, led by a woman standing on a large stone, each time with increasing power, they sang together: Hoshiya et amecha, uvarech et nachlatecha, ur’em v’nas’em ad haolom. It’s a verse from Tehillim (28:9) that’s part of Pesukei d’Zimra. The verse means, “Save Your people and bless Your inheritance and tend them and elevate them forever.” These women were on fire!
It’s not the meaning of the verse that meant so much to me. It was the power, the energy, the life force, the strength, the potency of being surrounded by a group of Jewish women who were all calling out to Gd. Forcefully. Vigorously. With their full, Gd-given voices.
How many thousands of Jewish experiences have I been required to watch from the sidelines? I’m beyond weary of being expected to be content as a passive member of the audience. I can’t do it anymore.
I now know, viscerally, the power of participating, with my full voice, with my heart and soul, along with a group of other Jews, in communal worship – in song, in dance, in communal observance.This, then, is what is missing in my Jewish spiritual practice: the chance to be a full participant.
I want more opportunities to be a player, not a passive observer who is expected to contain myself and my voice. I’m happy to reserve my spiritual expression for all-female environments. If only there were more such opportunities available.
I want what Jewish men have always had. I want the freedom to join in, to be a part of, and to be uplifted by, the spiritual energy output of others.
Put me in Coach. I’m ready to play.