- Interfaith meeting with Amal
- Open meeting, 12 March 2013
JOFA participants enjoyed hearing from a range of different educators, exploring what it meant for women to be truly present at the Seder. At a busy time of the year, when all of us are caught up with the logistical preparations involved with Pesach, it is important that we have time to reflect to ensure our Pesach will truly be a meaningful one. For women especially, the necessary activities of cleaning and cooking involved in the preparation of Pesach, can often prevent active participation in the ritual and spiritual nature of the festival. Together, through a diverse range of sessions, we explored the processes of what it meant to be free, reflecting on Chassidic interpretations of the Exodus as being about personal freedom, examining the need for physical rejuvenation through Yoga and Mindfulness and through sharing tangible ideas on how we all can be fully present at our Seders.
Dina Brawer represented JOFA UK at the WOW (Women of the World) Festival this year on International Women's Day 2014. She was invited by Dame Jude Kelley to participate in the WOW 'ThinkIn' to help plan the 5 day festival which took place at London's Southbank Centre. On Sunday 9th March Dina took part in an inter-faith panel on the theme of 'Women and Faith'. The Panel was chaired by Catriona Roberts and included representatives from the Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Jewish faiths. In a lively interactive session that included questions and comments from the audience the panel considered issues such as gender in theology, the effects of exclusive male mediation of sacred texts, women's spirituality and the challenge of change in traditional communities.
Reflecting on the event Dina said "It is very encouraging to meet thoughtful and deeply spiritual women of other faiths and to discover that we are wrestling with similar issues in our respective communities. Feminism has certainly entered the mainstream of religion and it's here to stay. It should be positively embraced by faith leaders rather than resisted because it has the potential of renewing and reinvigorating religion."
UK JOFA Ambassador Dina Brawer visited South Manchester as scholar-in-residence at the Yeshurun Synagogue together with her husband Rabbi Naftali Brawer and then at Manchester Day Limmud. The invitation was initiated by the Yeshurun Synagogues' Women in Judaism Group, a pioneering women's tefillah group where women pray, leyn and celebrate Jewish Festivals.
The group in conjunction with the Ladies' Guild organised a community Shabbat Lunch which was oversubscribed. Dina addressed the community over lunch and spoke about the need for attitudinal change in respect to women's participation in community and synagogue ritual. This led to a wider conversation over seudah shlishit. The topic clearly struck a nerve as Dina fielded Q&A for almost an hour. The response was very positive and the community was left with much to think about and consider as they move forward.
At Manchester Limmud, Dina participated in a panel chaired by Sally Halon where she shared her personal story entitled, 'The Journey of an Unlikely Feminist', and then presented a session entitled 'Who is afraid of the F word?' on how Orthodox Judaism has nothing to fear from Feminism and that on the contrary Feminism can help to re-energise Orthodoxy by bringing women's fresh perspectives and enthusiasm. The session was packed and as on Shabbat there was extensive Q&A interest.
In preparation for Purim, JOFA UK held a Megillah-thon. The half-day seminar offered a variety of bite-sized sessions aimed at dispelling myths about women's readings and supporting those wishing to start a new reading in their own community.
The morning began with an overview of the Halacha (laws) of women's obligation in Megillah reading, and offered the opportunity to learn the trope (notes) with experienced and musical teacher Lindsey Taylor Guthartz. Megillah Practical saw gabbaiot Ayala Hirst and Miriam Lorie sharing their practical tips and positive experiences. In the Megillah Insights session the audience explored the theme of ‘Partnership in the Megillah Narrative’ led by Lindsay Simmonds. Megillah Plus, invited women to consider learning the notes for the Megillot Ruth, Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs), and Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). These are more accessible as they are generally read from a printed book with vowels and notes and the notes learned can be used at Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.
As a finale, everyone had the opportunity to get close up with the Megillah. Experienced Sofer (scribe) Bernard Bennarock explained the process of writing a Megillah and reminded the audience that a Megillah written by a woman is kosher.
At the beginning of January Gila Fine, editor-in-chief at Maggid books, spoke to a packed mixed JOFA UK audience on ‘Unmasking the Women of the Talmud: The case of Heruta’.
Over a plate of sushi and a glass of wine, Gila facilitated a fascinating intellectual discussion, vital to the JOFA UK conversation. The central theme centered on the Madonna – Whore Paradigm and how a close contextual reading of the Aggadah text Kiddushin 81b, broke down this common feminine dichotomy. It was enthralling to grapple with such a text and to establish how the Talmud blurs such a common distinction propagated by popular and contemporary narratives.
Acknowledging that a deeper learning of our Jewish scripture may actually reconcile so many of our Jewish – Feminist concerns was deeply gratifying and provided additional motivation for many of JOFA UK’s members to think about the further learning they wish to do over the next year.
A special thanks to Suzanne Weiniger and family for hosting such a wonderful evening.
As part of a special JOFA track at 2013's Limmud conference, JOFA's Executive Director, Elana Sztokman presented four sessions. Click here for more information about these.
Seminar: ‘Admitted or Invited’ with Rabbi Dr Elie Holzer
In December, Rabbi Dr Elie Holzer addressed JOFA UK speaking on the blessings and challenges of feminism for traditional Judaism. His talk was extremely valuable in reframing our discussions surrounding feminist ideology, ensuring that ideological values are at the heart of our call to widen participation within our communities.
Critically, our ideological stance should stretch us further than solely advocating for women’s participation within our communities, it crucially obligates us to ensure that all members of our synagogues are being seen and included. This extends beyond ritual and prayer; members must be actively welcomed into communal life. Additionally, we discussed how synagogues striving to include women, must ensure that all members feel as if the synagogue is their natural home.
These ideas provided a useful starting point for a lively discussion, especially relevant considering the new Minyanim that are starting up in the UK.
A group of British women headed out to New York in December for the ‘Voices of Change’ JOFA’s 8th global conference. JOFA UK ambassador, Dina Brawer, lead the group, and participated in a panel about orthodox feminism and Anglo-Jewry. She appeared alongside educator Lindsay Simmonds and journalist Miriam Shaviv. The conference attracted around 800 people from around the world and the UK delegation spent time networking, learning, sharing ideas and bringing new programming back with them from across the pond. Funding for some of the British delegates to attend the 8th JOFA Conference was made possible thanks to JHub microgrants.
Two of the participants, Lindsay Simmons and Miriam Shaviv, were given a grant by JHub to attend the conference, and wrote about their experiences on the site. Click on their names to read their entries.
JOFA's first UK Conference, 'Inspired Women, Inspiring Communities', took place in London on Sunday 9th June 2013, with more than 200 people attending and contributing to the fascinating and eye-opening discussions. Our distinguished keynote speakers brought a sense of clarity to the subjects of Orthodoxy and feminism, yet at the same time raised many questions which we must together, as a community, address.