JEWISH FEMALE MP, RABBIS, CHAZANIYOT AND SCHOLARS DEBATE WOMEN AND POWER IN THE ERA OF #METOO

Fourth Annual Masorti Women’s Forum celebrates the power of women’s voices

Hard on the heels of International Women’s Day, women from Masorti Synagogues in and around London gathered at Belsize Square Synagogue on Sunday to study the issue of Women and Power in the context of the pertinent lines from Song of Songs ‘Let Me Hear your Voice.’ (2:14)

The Fourth Annual Masorti Women’s Forum brought together a diverse assembly of female Jewish voices, headed by keynote speaker Luciana Berger, Labour & Cooperative MP for Liverpool, Wavertree and Parliamentary Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement. A survivor of vitriolic misogynist and anti-Semitic abuse, Luciana stressed her determination to call out abusers and hate-speakers, whether within political parties – she spearheaded the campaign to ensure Labour continues its investigation of Ken Livingstone – and in the wider world of social media and the courts. Taking as her theme ‘How can we support more women in politics,’ she made the point that only by increasing representation of both Jews and women can their voices be heard in the corridors of power.

‘The Masorti Women’s Forum is a once-a-year opportunity for women to have a space where their voices can be heard, celebrated and their ideas honestly challenged in a mutually supportive environment,’ said Rabbi Daniella Kolodny, Rabbinic Development Consultant for Masorti Judaism, who has worked with event founder and chair Raya Even-David since 2015 to create the programmes for these annual events. ‘Though I am strongly committed to egalitarianism, in the era of #MeToo, I am becoming more persuaded that women need occasional separate spaces that nurture their ideas, their voices and their leadership.’

Rabbi Daniella led a study session on ‘Power, Silence and #MeToo,’ which explored traditional and contemporary Jewish responses to sexual harassment, particularly in the workplace. While traditional texts focussed on the duty of an employer to treat employees with respect, in the age of Harvey Weinstein even Jewish women have found it difficult to respond meaningfully to this type of abuse. Several delegates stressed the importance of ensuring that women are not doubly victimised by being blamed for inciting their abusers, and how today’s young people are adopting a zero tolerance approach to touching and unwanted sexual advances, both in and out of the working environment.

Music has always played an important part in these study days, and this year was no exception, with delegates as usual taking the opportunity to lift up their voices in song. Chazan Jaclyn Chernett explored the origins of the prohibition against women’s voices, what it means and is it still relevant, with musical accompaniment, while Chazan Rebecca (Bex) Blumenfeld invited participants to explore how and why they should ‘sing with vigour before the Almighty Divine One.’ Delegates shared experiences of being shushed as a woman in the past, before joining together in song. ‘Singing in the round demonstrates how each voice is important individually and even more powerful as a group,’ said Chazan Bex, summing up the symbolic importance of gathering and singing together.

Student Rabbi Zahavit Shalev took a role play approach to the topic of women and power, using a feminist reading of Menachot 44a – the story of the ‘Tzitzit Guy’ and the Prostitute – to discuss which participant had the power, who got the reward, and what this farcical story really means in the context of power relationships and the meaning of mitzvot. Dr Lisa Kogen, a former National Director of Education for the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism in the USA, led an interactive study session on how the biblical account of Eve became a foundational text for western attitudes about women. Finally, Quest editor Chloe Julius led a distinguished panel of artists and editors who discussed whether there is a continued need for women only spaces in publishing and art.

The Masorti Women’s Forum was an initiative of Raya Even David, Director of Education at Edgware Masorti Synagogue, who celebrated the fact that 100 years after the first women were granted the vote in the UK, today’s Forum was honoured by the presence of a Jewish female MP, a female Rabbi and student Rabbi, two chazaniyot and a profusion of female Jewish scholars, educators and artists. ‘We have such a rich history of powerful Jewish women, from Dvorah to Bruriah,’ said Raya, ‘and on Mother’s Day, I was thinking a lot about my daughter Hallel, and how I’d like her to grow up in a world where it’s not unique for women to be in positions of Jewish leadership. Occasions like the Forum provide women with the opportunity to strengthen their voices so that they can go out and become leaders.’

12 March 2018

Contact: Andrea Morgale

Email: andrea.morgale@andreamarks.co.uk

Phone: 07860 385880

 

The Masorti Women’s Forum is administered by the Masorti Association.

Andrea Morgale is a member of Edgware Masorti Synagogue and a member of the Steering Committee for the Masorti Women’s forum