Author Event, February

September/October 2018 Bulletin

Lunch & Learn at the Y

Monday, February 18    @ 12:00 pm
YMCA -1 Pike Dr. Wayne, NJ

Rabbi/Cantor Meeka Simerly
Rabbi/Cantor Meeka Simerly

Unknown Treasures: Modern Poets, Authors, and Thinkers Hidden in the Reform Siddur

Beautiful liturgy has the power to inspire people and uplift prayers.

Join Rabbi Meeka as she shares some of the beautifully written works hidden throughout the Reform Siddur.


Town Menorah Lighting

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who donated to the Cranberry and Onion drive for the WIN food pantry’s Thanksgiving baskets!

 

We wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving!

 

Mitzvah Day 2018

TBT is collecting NEW winter gloves, hats & scarves for seniors & children.

Mitzvah Day_001

Regarding Today’s Shooting Tragedy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

We are saddened and horrified by the hate crime and act of terrorism that happened this Shabbat Morning at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Our thoughts go out to the families of the victims, the staff and members of the Tree of Life, the Jewish Community, and all who mourn.

We are grateful for the first responders and heroes whose actions saved lives and who do everything they can to protect and serve.

In light of this tragic event, rest assured that our leadership will be meeting to re-review our security plans to determine if any changes are necessary, as our security is of utmost and critical importance.

There is no place for hate in this world. Our wonderful teenager friends, DoNotHate.org who came to our congregation to dwell in our Sukkah and mingle with our teenagers, just sent me this beautifully articulated note, which I’d like to share with you:

“…those who destroy one life destroy an entire world”
Sanhedrin 4:5

 

Dear Rabbi Meeka,

 

Shalom.

As we continue to fight towards eradicating hate once and for all, we’d like to reemphasize our commitment to work together with the Jewish community. We condemn the despicable events that took place this morning at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Please accept our deepest condolences on behalf of the Jewish community and know that we stand by the Jewish community in Wayne, New Jersey, and all across the nation and especially our friends at TBT during these difficult times.

 

Please let us know if there is anything we can do on our end to ease the pain that you may be enduring.

 

This is not what America is. This is not what America stands for.

 

With deepest sympathies,

Tuana, Hayreddin, Muhammed, Yusuf, Izzet, and Esad

I will end with a prayer, written by Rabbi Edith Mencher. I think it addresses the feelings and pain we are feeling at the moment. It gives us the strength to know that we are not alone:

We stand in grief
With the devastated families in our community.

 

We weep
Over the incomprehensible loss of life.

 

We cry out
With shock, confusion, and pain.

 

We mourn together
Over this senseless act of violence and destruction.

 

Be with us, God, in this time of sorrow and fear.
Help us, God, to offer comfort
to those whose hearts are shattered.
Rekindle hope and trust and courage within us and them.
Help us, God, to sustain our belief in the promise
that even in the darkest times –
even when we feel most discourage –
there is reason to trust
that love is never extinguished
and that light and spirit will prevail.

 

Help us, God, to rededicate ourselves
to building a world that is safer for our children.
Help us, God, to rededicate ourselves
to building a world that is safer for all people.
During these difficult days and nights, God,
bring comfort and peace and hope and light
to broken hearts and a broken world.

 

May the one causes peace to reign in the high heavens, let peace descend on us, and on all Israel, and on all the world.

 

Together we say, amen.

 

Rabbi Meeka

Save the Date!

December 1, 2018

8 PM

Come to celebrate the holidays with your TBT family! 

More details to follow…

Yom Kippur: Ultimate Forgiveness

Rabbi/Cantor Meeka Simerly

“What would you do if you woke up one morning, to find a huge swastika spray-painted on your garage or front door? How would you react?”

That was a question posted in one of the rabbinic list-serve discussion boards to which I subscribe.

Some responses included:

“I would call the police and local authorities, and ask them to start an immediate investigation,”

Or:

“I wouldn’t want my children to see this, so I would spray paint and cover it completely as soon as I could get my hands on a spray can.”

Other comments included rage, deep sadness, concerns, and a call for immediate radical, national action.

But I found myself in deep thought.

How would I react if I woke up to find a huge swastika painted on my own garage door? After all, I am, as far as I know, the first Rabbi to live in Pines Lake, a community that up until the 60’s was completely closed to Jews and people of color. 

First, I would not panic. I would not panic or get too upset because to me, painting a swastika on someone’s garage door, in the middle of the night, is a cowardly act of sin’at chinam, unjustified hatred. 

As a rabbi, I would want to take this opportunity to teach our community, and whoever did this, that my husband and I are pretty nice and cool people. To do this I would invite everyone in our community to come and draw pictures of love, flowers, rainbows and peace signs around that horrible symbol, while incorporating it’s 4 broken branches into one complete painting of colors and messages of love to other human beings. 

I would invite the local newspapers to engage with us. To write a story on how a “whole community of people gathered together, and turned one act of cowardice and hatred, into a joyous opportunity for community building. Then, I would send a note via social media to invite those who drew the swastika on our garage door, to a visit for tea, cookies, and talk.

Recognizing that mostly, acts of hatred and intimidation stem from fear, ignorance, or both – I would want to give to whoever did this, an opportunity to get to know us, and get them to witness first hand that THIS is just another human being, who has no horns. I would invite them to sit with Dave and I, pet our dogs, and ask them where they learned to hate us?

I would want all the children of Wayne, of appropriate age of course, to learn and read about this incident. I would want them to engage in conversations, while I go from school to school, from class to class, and teach our children that “hate” has no place here. Only love, community building, and acceptance.    

Now…

The likelihood for this hypothetical scenario happening here in our town these days is pretty slim, although Wayne had its share of KKK and German-American Bund activity. For example, before WW II there were restrictive housing agreements that excluded non-whites and Jews from desirable lake communities like, Pacanack Lake and Pines Lake. 

But things have been pretty harmonious for decades now. No open intolerance has been recorded recently as far as I know, and nowadays, other than that Confederate Flag which was erected about a month ago at the Paris Inn, thankfully, we don’t really hear about or experience major hate crimes in our Town of Wayne.

But not all small towns across our country, unfortunately, get to enjoy this type of relatively peaceful coexistence. 

“250 white supremacists marched across the University of Virginia campus with tiki torches, deliberately evoking images of medieval mobs and Klan-cross burnings,” Joe Heim reported of the alarming Alt-right events that took place in Charlottesville Virginia, exactly one year ago. 

“Then,” he continues, “an even larger number rallied the next day. Decades ago” reported Heim, “[those supremacists] would have marched with hoods to hide their identity, but this time they showed their faces proudly, unafraid, yelling, ‘White Lives Matter, go the ….. [profanity word] back to Africa,’ ‘[profanity word] you [N word].’ ‘Our Blood, our Soil, The Jews Will Not replace Us.” 

The chants continued to echo, as the group paraded in circles, then climbed to the pavilion and joined together around the statue of Thomas Jefferson. Rally-attendees arrived in groups, waving nationalist banners and chanting catchphrases. Many carried shields and clubs, pistols, and long guns. 

Of course counter-protesters had also arrived: members of anti-fascist groups joined by local residents and church groups counter-yelled at the rally-people. Many of them also carried sticks and shields. At some point, a few dozen clergy members clasped arms, joining together in a march singing “This Little Light of Mine.” Yes, this happened in 2017, in the United States of our America.

But one former white supremacist, Frank Meeink, was not there.

As some of you may have heard in my short presentation during our incredibly powerful Slichot service on September 1st, I have talked about former skinhead Frank Meeink, whom I heard about quite some time ago. I bought his book, and sat for a few straight hours reading it, mesmerized, with my jaw dropped. Every now and then you could hear me saying out loud, to myself, “Oh My God. I just can’t believe this is for real.”

But it was real. 

For me, this book was the very first eye-opener; a deep-dive into the life of a truly reformed individual, who went from sheer hatred, to working with the Anti Defamation League. 

Before learning about Frank Meeink and his dark history, I had never really bothered to read or learn about the lives and background of former neo-Nazis. I didn’t care—I didn’t want to care. I was simply appalled and sickened by the very thought of “New Nazis.”  

Until about a decade ago, I couldn’t find the Jewish way within me to forgive those who have terrorized us, forced us to experience again and again the atrocities of the Holocaust, not allowing us to heal, to place our past in the past and lay it to rest. 

But as a Jew, especially as twice ordained clergywoman, I am required by our tradition to forgive when I am asked for forgiveness. It’s just what we do. And in this book, Frank Meeink has asked for forgiveness of his readers.

Which is why I decided to discuss the ultimate act of forgiveness as my last sermon, before we go our separate ways this evening, after Neila, the metaphorically spiritual closing of Sha’arei Shamayim; the gates of heavens. 

I wanted to have the chance to share with you my view on true forgiveness; even for those who are considered the lowly scum of the Earth. Everyone deserves “mechila,” true and deep forgiveness, including those who hated me, my people, and “the other” they never had the chance to really get to know.

I wanted to give all of us here the tools to answer a question we may be asked one day, by our children, students, or people we know. I wanted each of us to think about it, and understand that as Jews, we simply must forgive when we are asked to do so. THAT is the main message of our High Holidays each and every year: to heal ourselves by asking for forgiveness, and grant forgiveness even to those who did the unimaginable horrific things to us individually, communally, or even nationally.

Frank Meeink chose pretty early in life to be one of the most well-known skinhead gang members in our country. But after getting to know an African American, as well as a kind, Jewish man who gave him a second chance at pushing the “reset button,” Frank started his own journey of choosing a different life. 

At only 18 years old, Frank Meeink went to prison for several years for kidnapping a man he suspected was gay, and for beating senseless another man, an African American, for several hours.  

Yes, he was THAT bad. 

But while serving time in prison, Frank Meeink was exposed to people from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds and started 

reevaluating his own racist beliefs. His transformation solidified after 

the Oklahoma City bombing, when he saw the iconic photo of a firefighter cradling a lifeless girl in his arms.

Over a period of a few years, utilizing the leadership skills God had blessed him with, Frank Meeink became a spokesman for the Anti Defamation League, regularly lecturing to students about racial diversity and acceptance. He also now works with the Philadelphia Flyers on an anti-hate program called Harmony Through Hockey, where he shows students how to create inclusive, compassionate, and nonviolent climates in their schools and communities. 

For me, the story of Frank Meeink opened a door to the realization that God is really good, because God gives us the tools to make choices in our lives. All we have to do is make the decision, then work with it, each to the best of our abilities. But the choices are always ours to make.

Frank Meeink made a conscious choice to separate and free himself from the claws of bigotry. He opened his heart and soul while going through the process of Teshuva (repenting), Charata (regret), and asking for Slicha (forgiveness). 

And Frank Meeink is not the only former Nazi who is speaking up about getting out of these hate groups these days. Last month I watched a documentary about former neo Nazi Christian Picciolini who became a mentor to young teenagers trapped in hatred circles. And this week People Magazine featured the story of Reformed white supremacist Derek Black, who became the heir of his father’s Neo Nazi’s Internet’s first and largest white nationalist site.

With the rise of racism and so much hatred in our country these days, you must agree that we all so need to hear such stories about remorse and redemption of these individuals whose souls were corrupted at early age by hatred and prejudice. 

Rabbi David Blumenthal said that Forgiveness isn’t easy to ask for, and it isn’t easy to provide. But the message of Yom Kippur is that it is something that we, all of us here, should strive for. 

Forgiveness requested and forgiveness given is in our power to both offer and accept. We do not need to wait until next year. It is a gift that will bring healing to those seeking forgiveness. It is a gift that will bring us healing too. 

Yom Kippur’s message suggests to us that no matter how terrible the offense, we should strive to acknowledge our wrongs, and make them right. From the Talmud we learn that one who harms another human being must not only apologize, but do everything possible to make that person “whole” again. 

Frank Meeink and other former Neo-Nazis I’ve learned about since, have done that. Their actions provided those whom they harmed an opportunity to heal, and these former bullies also gave THEMSELVES an opportunity to make a 180-degree turn, heal their own wounds, and redeem themselves.

Upon witnessing true repentance on the part of someone who injured us with his or her words or actions, we have to try to let go of the pain in order to set ourselves free.

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote: “Forgiving is not something we do for another person.  Forgiveness is something that happens inside us. It represents a letting go of the sense of grievance, and perhaps, most importantly a letting go of the role of being a victim.”

Yom Kippur comes to teach us that without the ability to forgive, we lose the ability to move forward. We maintain our own sense of victimhood, and we live trapped by the past, rather than freed to move forward as a whole human being.

And in our own lives, our own relationships, surely we all have had hurts and disappointments. Our hurts ultimately can’t be mended by granting forgiveness to someone else, or even by their accepting responsibility. 

Forgiveness is something that we do to define ourselves. It’s a rejection of victimhood in favor of a self-image of wholeness.

Forgiveness isn’t easy to ask for, and it often isn’t easy to provide. But the message of Yom Kippur is that it is definitely something for which we should strive.

So what would I do, and how would I react if I woke up one morning, to find a huge swastika paint-sprayed on my garage or front door? 

I would first think about granting an opportunity for the offender to perform a Teshuvah, and for myself to escape the role of a victim. 

And then, using the story of Frank Meeink and others like him, I would teach all children, of all ages, the essence of Yom Kippur; to turn evil into a tool for growth.

Later on this afternoon, we will engage in a Yizkor service. A time when we remember all our loved ones, among them people who died in the Holocaust, family members who died defending freedom, fighting to free those enslaved by the machinery of Nazism and hatred.

And then, at the sound of the last Shofar blast, the Tekiah Gedolah during Neila, may we all be inspired to continue to grapple with even the hardest of tasks in repairing our own relationships. 

May we be blessed with the capacity to free ourselves by internalizing the essence of spiritual healing and true forgiveness, even towards those whose actions were so violent and harmful, like the actions of former white supremacist, Frank Meeink.

As we reflect on our lives and actions this Yom Kippur, may we each experience the binding up of old wounds, so that we may become instruments of tikkun, mending our families, our congregation, our society, but mostly – ourselves. 

In this Shanah Chadasha ha’ba’ah aleinu le’Tovah, in this new and good upcoming year, may we be blessed with the ability to continue to live a life of inner peace, understanding, tolerance and forgiveness. 

Baruch Ata Adonai, Praised are You Adonai our God, who inspires us to create a year of renewed spiritual existence, full of sweetness and a positive outlook on life.

Gmar Chatimah Tovah everyone, May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for all that is Good, wholesome and peaceful.

Your Loving Rabbi Meeka

Erev Yom Kippur: #MeToo

Rabbi/Cantor Meeka Simerly

In the more traditional and Orthodox prayer books, there is a paragraph that Jewish men are supposed to recite every morning. It declares the following: 

“Baruch atah Adonai E.M.Ha.O she’lo asani eesha,”

“Blessed are you, Adonai our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.” 

These difficult words are one part of a series of otherwise beautiful prayers called, Nissim be’chol yom, Every Day Miracles. For when we thank God for the gifts of sight, for waking up, our freedom, the functions of our body, and so on.

Then, in the midst of these beautiful blessings we also find “Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.” I can’t think of more controversial and frankly, nasty words, in all of our Jewish tradition. OUR OWN Jewish tradition!

And I can’t help but wonder: what do female teachers, mothers, and female mentors in the Orthodox world teach the girls in their own sector? What could they possibly say to their female students, that will eliminate the venom from this unhealthy set of words? 

“Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe” – is a beautiful and positive opening for a blessing, where we express our gratitude to God, right? But then, men continue on with reciting the negative and demeaning message of “who has not made me a woman.” And I’m asking: isn’t THIS combination of foul words, one reflection on wrongdoing that’s happened to women for the last few millennia? 

As students at the AJRCA, we were required to use an Artscroll Siddur, THE most comprehensive source for all Jewish liturgy which contains the full historical spectrum of our worship language. 

Since these controversial words appear in this Siddur (show), most of us made copies of the Reform Siddur’s morning blessings, then cut and glued it tightly onto that page, in order to cover these poisonous words (show).

Personally I find this verse deeply offensive, simply because I can’t imagine being anything BUT a woman. And no, there is no corresponding verse in any siddur that teaches women to respond, “and thank you God for not making me a man.” Instead, women are to thank God, King of the universe for having made us, women, according to “His,” God’s will.”

But let’s face it, being a woman—yes, even in today’s progressive 21st century—is indeed difficult. While opportunities for women have expanded, many women are still earning less than their male counterparts. Sexual harassments still flourish in the workforce, and on the streets. Many working women still perform most of the household chores, and biases against women are still, unfortunately, widespread.

Sadly, I will admit that there are some very compelling reasons to be grateful for not being a woman in this world. Here are just a few examples:

  • Other than possibly in jail, men, usually, are not raped. 
  • If men do happen to be raped, they probably won’t be told that they were, “asking for it.”
  • In most prayer books and Bibles, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, “God” and “men” share the same gender.
  • Men can be ambitious professionally, and no one will question their gender, or refer to them as “emasculating,” “too assertive,” or “too aggressive.”

And of course, the list goes on and on.

Written by male rabbis nearly 1,000 years ago, the words from this Siddur evoke for many of us anger towards sexism, which is so dominant in the traditional world, Jewish or not. These words come out of the religious haters of women: those who throw chairs at women for holding the Torah at the Western Wall; those who force their women to cover themselves head to toe, even when it’s 100 degrees outside; or those who force women to sit in the back of Israeli buses in some areas of the country. 

Such “blessings” thanking God for not making them a woman, enable religious sexism to silence female voices, keeping them from positions of communal leadership, and denying them the study and teaching of Torah and our sacred texts. This “blessing” is no different from other poisonous words of religious theologies that promote separation, cause pain to someone else, and claim superiority over others who are regarded as “less than.” This “blessing” exists in some form or another within orthodoxy of all traditions and religions. 

Yes, and ani ma’ashi’ma, I am blaming Religion, all religions that caused this despicable mistreatment of women, these religions that put us in a subservient place to men, our fellow human beings. 

I was asked recently why I have been speaking about many recent events happening in our country and around the world this past year, yet I haven’t really communicated anything concerning the #MeToo movement? Why haven’t I, like many other religious leaders in our country and around the world, condemned celebrities like Louis CK, Harvey Weintstein, Roman Polansky, Bill Cosby, and all the other famously infamous men who were finally brought to media-justice?

I didn’t say anything because I needed time to think.

And I have been thinking. Thinking hard as a matter of fact. About all the despicable abuse and repression many women have suffered in our world for thousands of years. So from this Bimah this evening, I will share that like many other women, I was addressed, and even touched inappropriately on a few occasions. But unlike so many women, I was never forced into doing anything I didn’t want to, or, thank you God, I have not been raped.  But I am, conflicted. 

I am conflicted because on the one hand, it is wrong wrong wrong! for anyone to think that they can uninvitingly touch, caress, suggest, drug, and enforce—especially when they hear the word “no.” It is wrong to touch without permission, period.

On the other hand, I am a clergy woman, a Rabbi, a Jewish teacher in Yisrael, and I am supposed to give honor to our Torah and its teachings; I’m supposed to address, with reverence and admiration the words of our Sages, and quote them often. 

But then, those “admired Sages” come up with “Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.”

How can this type of written statement be anything but an embarrassment to any Jewish clergy—woman or man? What shall I tell our children? My students? How can I justify and refer to myself as a teacher of Talmud or Torah that puts me at the same level as someone’s cattle or slave?

Let me give you one such Talmudic example:

“An affluent matriarch asked Rah-bee Eliezer a very wise, text related question: ‘Why is it that there was one sin committed with the golden calf, and yet three punishments were inflicted on the Israelites?’

Refusing to answer her question, Rah-bee Eliezer responded: ‘There is no wisdom in women other than the spinning wheel, as it is written: And all the women who were wise in heart spun with their hands (Exodus 35).’

Rah-bee Eliezer’s son, Yochanan, said to him, ‘Why could you not answer her with some words of Torah? This woman was insulted! And because she was insulted, I will now lose 300 shekelsin donations from her every year!’

Rah-bee Eliezer then replied to his son: ‘The words of Torah should burn rather than be taught to women.’”

This story was quoted from the, Bavli Talmud, in tractate, Yoma 66b.

So the point here is that Rabbi Eliezer was upset not because the question was rude or unsophisticated. On the contrary, the narrative ends as his students approach him saying, “Now that this woman is gone, will you please answer her question for us? We want to know!” The point here is that the only thing prompting Rabbi Eliezer’s angry response, was the fact that a woman had the Chutzpah to ask it! Had a male student asked such a question, Rah-bee Eliezer might have been offered a Yahser Koach (attaboy) and a pat on his shoulder. 

But wait! It gets even worse. The Rambam, also known as Maimonides, THE greatest rabbi of all time, was quoted saying, “Women, slaves, and children are exempt from the obligation to study Torah.”  You’ll find this quote in chapter 1 of, Hilkhot Talmud Torah.

As we can see, an important component of studying Torah is being aware of, “who is excluded from studying it.” 

Many verses in our Torah, our Tree of Life, include the phrase Nashim va’avadim, women and slaves,” who are often also grouped with tzon u’vakar, cattle. What a demeaning reflection of our social status, in Our Sacred Texts. To add more gasoline to the fire, Rambam stated in Hilchot Talmud Torah that, “most women simply do not have the mental capacity to learn.” 

Are you listening to this, women who are present here this evening? In our Torah, our Sacred Text, as well as our Talmud and Gemara, we are considered, for the lack of better words, “simple and stupid.”

What makes Rambam’s passage even more jarring is its historical context. We know that the Romans had destroyed the 2nd Temple, great Sages were brutally tortured and murdered, Torah scrolls were destroyed and burned, and our people were divided, enslaved or exiled. 

And yet, the idea of “a woman asking a clever Torah question” was so scandalous that Rah-bee Eliezer declared that “he’d rather see the Torah burned – than taught to a woman.”

Modern day Rabbi Sharon Brous asks, “So how do we approach texts whose content periodically exposes serious distrust and even hatred of women?”

She answers her own question by saying that, “[one] option, is simply to walk away. This does not necessarily mean to leave Judaism entirely, but rather, to develop a distant relationship to the text and its Rabbis. Advocates of this approach pull the Gemarah off the shelf when they need a nice story, but are not flustered by painful passages because they read with the understanding that the text, patriarchal and ancient, is essentially irrelevant in our modern world.”

In other words, some choose to treat Rabbinic literature the way we’d treat an aging racist great-uncle or aunt. We feel some familial connection to them, but they never ceases to embarrass all of us at dinners and social events with their sexist and racist humor.

But for me, as an assertive Israeli-American woman who has been studying our Torah for many, many years, I really don’t want to “simply walk away” or “remain silent.” Yes, I am conflicted and embarrassed by some of our ancient texts; they put me and other clergywomen in a “lesser than,” extremely uncomfortable position, especially when we are trying to hail and promote the study of Torah, the genius of Maimonides and our Talmud.

Which is why I consider the #MeToo movement so remarkable. 

A new reality has risen: women around the world, not only rise up to higher, more powerful positions in politics and the corporate world, they are also being empowered by social media to speak out, to demand equality and appropriate behavior at all times, everywhere. 

TIME Magazine, for example, named the silence-breakers its Person of the Year in 2017. Prominent men are losing their jobs for behavior once considered acceptable.

And the #MeToo movement has brought to light just how widespread and systemic sexual misconduct has been for women, not only today but throughout history— including within our own Jewish tradition. 

And here are some more disturbing facts: In this country, our United States of America, not until the mid 19th century did a majority of states pass laws granting married women the right to own property. Women could not vote until 1919. It wasn’t until 1957 that women could serve on a jury—yes, in our country, in MY and your lifetime. 

I still cringe when I get mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. David Simerly. 

Ok, let me be even more specific:

Look at our own directory here at TBT: unless a woman is single or widowed, her name appears as, “Mr. & Mrs. Shlomo Cohen,” and the woman’s name, Shoshana, appears in parenthesis. 

Parenthesis! What kind of a message does this “seemingly harmless reference” send to our daughters, if our names appear in parenthesis, especially at a congregation that chose a female to be your Rabbi?!  

Our country is being pulled, kicking and screaming into the 21st century; let’s embrace at least this one little change more gracefully at Temple Beth Tikvah shall we?

Indeed, the fight for equality has been a long, uphill battle, and today’s women still struggle to have their voices heard and respected. And unlike the society of our ancestors, which valued the viewpoints and pledges of fathers and husbands over those of daughters and wives, today, thankfully, our parent movement, Reform Judaism, holds women fully equal to men, honoring and respecting in all ways our goals, achievements, commitments, and responsibilities. 

The good news is that “change” is taking place.

I am sure that if it were possible – those men who wrote the Torah and the Talmud, for sure, would have been brought to justice sooner or later. We would have chosen to ban their books, like we do with Bill Cosby’s old shows. We don’t watch those anymore. 

But unlike the men of today, Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, and other men who were exposed and brought to justice, our ancient texts are here to remind us how NOT to place on pedestals any of the so-called “sages,” our Torah, and old teachings. 

Of course there is value in all of that material as well: it teaches us how to not repeat history, and that our ancient teachers were humans too. 

And I would say to all our students: this Torah and our ancient texts were not written by God. Our ancient texts were written by other human beings, like you and me, reflecting the times in which they were written. 

My advice? Take our ancient teachings in their historical context, and make an educated choice on which rules to live by. Adopt the good, like “honor your mother and father,” and leave out the negative: “thank you God for not making me a woman.” Teach about the wrong message that’s communicated in this kind of ancient text.

There is absolutely nothing in the 10 Commandments, for example, that places “women” in a lesser, or lower stature. Our Torah gives us great examples of what it means to be “menches” and “wemanches,” decent human beings, and Ve’ahavta le’re’acha kamocha, you shall love your fellow human being like yourself. It was written in male form simply because our ancient language was limited to gender classification.

Making educated choices: that’s what it means to study Torah in modern times. And the word “Torah” itself, by the way, is in female form.

Baruch atah Adonai, EMHO, she’asani eesha, Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Sovereign of our universe, for making me a woman, for creating me in the image of goodness and kindness, and for giving me the wisdom and strength, to choose the path that is right for me. A path that honors and dignifies every human being, regardless of gender, race, or religion. Now THAT is a blessing I would teach each and every one of my students 

And for that, Modah ani I am so humbly and utterly grateful, In female form. Shanah Tovah (also in female form)

And for crying out loud Temple Beth Tikvah, please take us, women, out of those parenthesis, will you, please?

Your Loving Rabbi Meeka