An open letter to the Berman Hebrew Academy Torah activists from a 1990 grad:
Dear Lea and Yakira,
What a thrill it is to read of your courage. Yes, you do deserve the full education promised by your school in it’s mission statement: “[Berman Hebrew Academy] provides opportunities for each student to achieve the maximum of his or her potential, engaged with, and contributing to both the Jewish community and the society at large.” It is my hope the administration will soon come to understand that by limiting your access to Torah, the central book of the Jewish people, it hinders achievement of its very own goals. In the meantime, please do not give up.
The first time I sat in the girl’s section of the Beit Midrash at your school, then known as the Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, was over thirty years ago, in August 1985. I remember watching over the mechitzah as the boys put on their tefillin and then opened their prayer books. I recall listening as the chazan began to chant the prayers. Then I remember hearing the sound of chuckling. I scanned my side of the room. While most of the girls were holding prayer books, they were not looking at them.
Instead, they whispered and giggled with one another. A few girls faced towards the windows with hollow stares. There was one girl, a fellow blonde with owl-like glasses, standing as close to the mechitzah as she could, her head down, her eyes laser-focused in her prayer book. She was swaying back and forth so hard it seemed she might be hoping to propel herself over to the other side. Suddenly, the principal advanced through the door of the Beit Midrash and glared in the general direction of the girls’ section. “Davening, we’re davening, there’s no talking,” he admonished. Then he remained on guard, commanding silence until the service was over.
I’d just moved to Kemp Mill’s Orthodox community from Newport News, Virginia and from a Jewish school where I’d recited the morning prayers from my desk, together with the boys. So I wondered: what did the principal expect the girls to do when everything related to the service was located on the side of the room with the boys?
Yesterday, my seven-year old daughter Adina gave me a preview of the songs she will soon sing at Denver Jewish Day School’s Chagigat Chumash, a celebration where each child in her class will receive his or her very own bible. I can not imagine telling Adina in five years, when she reaches the age of bat mitzvah, that as a woman, she is no longer allowed to hold a scroll that contains the very same stories as her beautiful second grade book– because she is a girl. More than twenty-five years since I graduated from the Hebrew Academy in Silver Spring, Maryland, I commend you and I thank you for using your voices for tikkun olam.