A Southern Simchat Torah

Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:05pm -- JOFA

[In Fall 2012, high school student Eden Farber took her Atlanta community by storm. What started with an effort to expand opportunities for women’s ritual inclusion turned into the first ever women’s Torah reading on Simchat Torah at the Young Israel of Toco Hills. This is Eden’s update one year later.]

By Eden Farber

The first thing that popped into my head when I thought about reflecting on last year’s Simchat Torah was the song from Aladdin “A Whole New World.

Last year—with much preparation, consideration, and reconsideration—the women of my community put together a class to teach women how to leyn (read Torah), all culminating with the big Simchat Torah women's Torah reading ceremony. I was privileged to read the first aliyah, and for a more lengthy piece about the experience, check out the Spring ’13 JOFA Journal.

This year—I get to walk into synagogue, make a right turn, go outside and hear women’s voices reading from the Torah. There’s no way to describe it. It’s not that I’ve never heard women’s voices before—or even women’s voices reading Torah—I’ve been involved in many programs and places where that is the norm. It’s even been my voice, plenty of the time. This is different, though.

Last year, it was a whole new, controversial endeavor. Now, we look at it as a Simchat Torah tradition. With the help of an accepting community and amazingly inspirational, hardworking women—change really can occur.

I am not one to ignore the power of a voice. I remember sitting with my mom creating a banner with the line from Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, “hashmini et kolech ki kolech arev. Let me hear your voice for your voice is sweet.” The power of a woman’s voice reading Torah is one of empowerment, one of ownership. The social action group Miss Representation has a famous slogan “You Can’t Be What You Can’t See,” commenting on the lack of empowered women in the media and the way that plays a role in our lives.

I think it’s very similar in this case. Hearing a voice that sounds like mine—that sounds like home—read from the Torah gives me a promise that this religion is mine as well. Having had experiences that shut me out from religious participation (due to my Orthodox background), this is one voice that says the opposite. It says, “See these women from all over your community? Professional women, teachers, doctors, people you babysit for? This is their history. And it’s yours, too. If you want it.”

Even though I had no role in planning this year’s service—a huge round of applause to those who did, especially the woman who generously taught leyning classes—it’s something I feel very much attached to. It wasn’t something I fought for—not this year, anyway—not something I had to defend. It’s something I can simply attend and cheer on—and for me, the fact that it’s simply happening in my community, no ifs, ands, or buts, is truly amazing.

Chag Sameach, may you all have a holiday of connection and meaning in celebration of our history.

About Eden: I'm 16, unschooled, living in Atlanta. I am a columnist for the Atlanta Jewish Times, published in the JOFA Journal, and have written for online sites such as Modern Hippie Magazine, the F Bomb, Fresh Ink for Teens, and the JOFA blog. I have learned at the Drisha Dr Beth Samuels High School program and study Daf Yomi independently.

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