Sunday, May 22, 2005

79. Women

The service was all in Hebrew, except for the announcements of page numbers. I tried to follow along but it was completely unfamiliar, and very fast; even as sixth grade valedictorian, my reading never exceeded the speed of tiptoeing through glass. And it was in Sephardic pronunciation rather than my old-fashioned Ashkenazic; I was an Elizabethan lost in the future. Most of the prayers were sung and people joined in, loudly and remarkably in tune. Clearly these were repeat customers, and they smiled and clapped along with the music as if we were at a religious hoedown. No conversations hummed in the background; everyone was focused on the bima, where a man and woman led the service together. I had never before seen such a thing, and it made me uncomfortable. I had always preferred listening to men's voices rather than women's; I mostly judged ours as too florid or shrill, even when emanating from myself. The woman at the bima was a soprano, and I hoped she would leave. Prayer seemed to require a much weightier sound.

And I--independent, entrepreneur, management, and daughter of same--suddenly understood that I was profoundly unsettled by the idea of a woman as a religious leader and role model. Women could be CEOs and prime ministers, but that was all. Rabbis were men. Taking charge of the spiritual realm was not our job. I hated myself for thinking this, as it ran counter to how I lived my life and to everything I believed and respected, but I thought it just the same, from somewhere in my bones where it had been etched and concealed since childhood.

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