Hear what previous Torah borrowers think about JOFA's Torah Lending Project:
"It has meant so much to me and the other women in our group to be able to have a Sefer Torah to lain from and have contact with several times each year. I feel like a more complete Jew."-Jennifer Seligman, Fair Lawn
"On the first day of Sukkot 5774, my wife Rona and I celebrated our daughter's bat mitzvah with a women's tefillah service in our home, using the Torah provided by the brand new JOFA Joan S. Meyers Torah Lending Program. We want to give a tremendous Yasher Ko'ach to Pam Greenwood, Pam Scheininger, Heather Stoltz and everyone at JOFA and to Leon Meyers and Shari & Nathan Lindenbaum for their very generous support.
Around 80 women and girls attended the service, many of whom had never heard a woman read from the Torah before. Katie not only read her Torah portion, Maftir and the Haftarah, but also led Hallel and Hoshanot.
Our story starts with our bat mitzvah, Katie. It was her idea all along. She didn't want to settle for anything but a full service on her Hebrew birthday. She said that she was born on the first day of Sukkot, and it's important to her that we celebrate her Bat Mitzvah on that day. I thought back to that first day of Sukkot 12 years ago, walking the five miles back from St. Barnabas Medical Center to my house on Yom Tov to tell my family about our new baby girl and her twin brother, and I had a hard time disagreeing.
The problem is that we belong to a fairly typical Modern Orthodox shul in a fairly typical suburban Modern Orthodox community. And there was no apparent way for us to get hold of a Torah without going outside of the Orthodox world, which we felt was exactly the wrong lesson to teach our young adult.
See, Katie attends a Modern Orthodox day school. She is in class with other boys and girls, studying the same subjects in the same classes and she understands that as she grows up, she will think about choosing a career path. She might want to become a lawyer, or open a business, or go into medicine or research. She might be a nurse like her mother. She might want to stay home for a time and raise a family. Some of these choices are not considered appropriate in the Haredi world. They take a strict approach to gender roles, while the Modern Orthodox world, at least on its face, does not.
Except when it comes to public ritual observance. For years, she watched as her twin sang Adon Olam at the end of Shabbat Mussaf, watched me act as Gabbai on the High Holidays and the like. She concluded, without quite articulating it, that her place was in the secular world, which was open to her, as opposed to the public sphere of her religious world. We are working hard to change that impression. Her school provides for some participation of women in tefillah, but overall, it's still a bit of a struggle.
A few years ago Rona, started a women's Kabbalat Shabbat that met periodically in people's homes in the community. And Katie realized that she could participate, and started asking about it. Wanting to encourage her, we told her that of course she could lead services and we'd figure out how to make it work. That's when she told us that she wanted a full service on the day of her Hebrew birthday, and she not only wanted to lein, she wanted to lead Hoshanot and Hallel too.
So we figured we could buy an extra sukkah. We could move furniture out of the house to make room for all the people. We could invite all of our family and all of her friends for a three-day Yom Tov. But we still didn't know where we could find a Torah.
In the meantime, we started teaching her to lein. She started on the trope and basic skills with our friend, neighbor and JOFA board member, Pam Greenwood. When it was time to start her portion, I began to teach her. Then my father, who teaches the bar mitzvah boys in his Haredi Brooklyn neighborhood, offered to teach her. He said that he thinks what she's doing is wonderful, and he doesn't want her to feel in any way less important than any of his grandsons who he teaches as a matter of course.
We raised our concerns about finding a Torah to Pam, who started looking into possibilities. A short time later, she came back to us with the incredible news about the proposed Torah Lending Program. On June 9, 2013, we went to the Hachnassat Sefer Torah at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck and Katie got to dance with "her" Torah!
On the big day, I sat with my father and a handful of other male relatives in the "ezrat nashim" behind our den, which was packed with women. We watched as they did Hoshanot with the sets of arbah minim that my father brought with him, so there would be enough to go around. We watched as my father kvelled listening to Katie lein: "She's a natural!" We watched adult women and young girls who had never seen a woman lead tefillah or read from a Torah, and we saw some of those girls ask their mothers if they could do the same for their bat mitzvahs.
I can't tell you how much the moment meant to me, to Rona, to Katie, to all of us. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart."