I was spending the weekend at a friend’s house. As I sipped my coffee Saturday morning, my friend rushed inside from her garden, “Come quick! You’ve got to see this.” She pulled me to the edge of her garden which overlooked the neighboring courtyard. The family next door had set up rows of folding chairs and were in the middle of a bar mitzvah service for their 13-year-old boy. Considering the current situation, they held the service in their backyard, guests wearing masks, and family members had roles in the service.
The young man’s father stood beside him as he read from the Torah, and his aunt acted as chazanit (cantor). Male and female family members alike wore varying styles of tallitot, prayer shawls, and all joyfully participated in the service. “Check out her pashmina,” my friend whispered as we watched from afar, meaning the shawl a woman wore over her shoulders. “That’s not a pashmina, that’s a tallit!” I whispered back enthusiastically. And so ensued a conversation, in which my friend explained her surprise to witness women participating in the service, and how meaningful it was for the celebrant.
Once the bar mitzvah boy completed his Torah reading, we happily threw candy down into the courtyard, our way of saying “Mazal Tov!” I just couldn’t keep my mind from our conversation. It irked me that it was still a shock for some – the sight of women participating in a Shabbat service, donning tallitot. To add, I was taken aback by her shock that they were participating so completely and without reservation or ritual-based gender prohibitions.
We tend to view change-makers as loud, bold, and even obnoxious at times. When envisioning women who demand religious equality, so often the image of an audacious, red-faced radical comes to mind. What about the women who simply practice as they feel, enjoying rituals that best suit them in a content and confident manner that elevates their prayer experience? I admire the woman who directs her nephew’s bar mitzvah service because this is how she contributes to family events. I respect the girl who wears a tallit when she prays because it fills her with a sense of warmth and connection.
We at Women of the Wall know that some people who do not understand us view our community as brash envelope-pushers. The act of going to the Kotel as a group creates a stir. But, when one looks closer, as my friend did at her garden wall, one can see that we are women of all streams of Judaism and all walks of life. WOW encourages girls and women to reclaim Jewish ritual and enhance the beauty of Jewish tradition by opening the door to everyone and the beauty that each brings to the Jewish table. The beauty of this story is that while we may be used to seeing things done one way, there are in fact many other ways that are just as beautiful.