JOFA Treasurer and Board Member Allie Alperovich received the honor of being “Kallat Bereishit” this year at her synagogue, Darkhei Noam,www.dnoam.org, on the holiday of Simchat Torah. Ms. Alperovich, 36, is an attorney at Ropes and Gray and mother of two who was named one of "36 under 36" Jewish leaders by the Jewish Week in 2011. She is an integral part of the JOFA lay leadership, with a strong vision for women’s inclusion in Orthodox Jewish life.
JOFA Interim Director Elana Sztokman interviewed Ms. Alperovich following her Kallat Bereishit honor: Allie Alperovich
How did you get involved with JOFA?
I got involved with JOFA prior to the 2007 conference when JOFA put out a call for volunteers to work on programming. I volunteered for the conference and really enjoyed it, and got very involved first in the conference and then in other aspects of the organization. And then I eventually asked to be on the board, and I’ve been here ever since.
Why is JOFA so important to you?
JOFA’s mission speaks to me and has spoken to me for a long time because I care deeply about issues of access and equality. Even when I was in my early teens, this was an issue that concerned me greatly. As I get older, I feel like I have been able to achieve a good balance so I feel that my participation in Jewish life is something I’m comfortable with, that I don’t feel like I have to struggle to reconcile my commitment to halakha and my commitment to inclusiveness and feminism. I’m lucky that I’ve often lived in communities where women’s participation is welcomed. But I know it hasn’t always been possible in the Orthodox world.
What has been the most gratifying in your work with JOFA?
For me, the most gratifying part of working with JOFA has been the real change in communal expectations. There was a time when women and men who expressed feminist values in the community felt very marginalized. I think we’ve made JOFA and the values we stand for part of the Orthodox conversation. Now modern orthodox institutions will openly make clear that they value including women and that’s a step forward. Our job at JOFA is to help these institutions actualize this ideal and to take positive steps.
How did you become an Orthodox feminist?
I don’t remember becoming an Orthodox feminist. I think it was just part and parcel of who I was early on. My mother and grandmothers (and even, through family stories, my great-grandmothers) were all models of women excelling professionally, so a lot of the values of women’s participation had been part of me as a young child. Those kinds of role models make you imagine the world a certain way. I can’t say there was a moment when I realized there was a conflict between the two issues. As a member of the Orthodox community, it just became obvious to me that in order to be fulfilled and satisfied in the community, I would need increased women’s participation.
Tell me about your involvement with Darkhei Noam.
Darkhei Noam is a “partnership minyan” that is about ten years old. We were originally a minyan that met every month, and gradually we have grown to become a shul that meets every Shabbat morning and even Friday night. On Shabbat morning, we have over two hundred people and we have a very diverse community, from babies to retirees. I became more involved when my oldest daughter was at an age when I wanted more than babysitting. So I got involved in youth programming, and then became co-chair of the shul from 2010-2012.
Why is it important to you to go to a partnership shul?
At this point, this is my community in the broadest way, and the place where I feel comfortable. The whole experience of being in the women’s section at Darkhei Noam is just very different from other places, not just because women participate in Torah reading and leading other portions of the tefillah, but because you actually hear women davening out loud and participating. It’s also about providing an environment for my children where they feel that they can participate. My daughters are three and eight and they grew up with Darkhei Noam. When they go to non-partnership synagogues, they are always taken aback by the absence of women’s activity. I really wanted to find a Jewish community that I could wholeheartedly support and have my daughters engaged in.
How was the experience of being Kallat Bereishit?
It was a wonderful experience. It was very joyous and spirited, as Darkhei Noam always is on Simchat Torah. It was a great honor for me to be given that role.
On the night of Simchat Torah someone asked me to hold the Torah, and my three-year-old started crying, “Mommy don’t hold the Torah, hold me.” And so when we got to the dancing, I gave someone else the Torah for a moment, and held her while she calmed down. When she was better, she said to me, “Mommy now you can go back and hold the Torah” – and then she thought that I should continue holding the Torah (and being in the middle of the dancing with her) for all the hakafot. That was very poignant for me because the challenges of raising children while being an active participant is not one that easily goes away, but it’s also such a privilege for my daughters to view shul as such a comfortable place, where they are fully embraced. When a person is honored as kallat torah, there is a poem read about both honorees that is ornate and long. I remember hearing it being chanted every Simchat Torah when I was younger and thinking “Wow, what kind of person is worthy of such accolades?” At the moment when I was called up, I wasn’t thinking that I fulfill all those qualities, but it was nice to think that women in our community are worthy of that honor and acknowledgment. Being able to use that traditionalkavodand framing it that way felt very moving.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing Orthodox feminism today?
I think that the thing that is most challenging for Orthodox feminism is being flexible enough to attract a younger generation in a way that allows individuals to engage with Orthodoxy without feeling like Orthodoxy leaves them as partial participants. That to me is the thing we have to aspire to.
What is your Jewish dream for your daughters?
My dream is for them to not have to go through being 15 year olds for whom reconciling Orthodoxy and feminism is such a struggle. I hope that we have set a path for them that feels natural and that they feel they are full participants in and contributors to the Jewish community.