My thanks to all who took part in a wonderful Shavuot celebration. Moving onwards ...
New London is a Synagogue held in a tension between tradition and modernity. It has always been thus. Perhaps the issue that most marks this tension is the respective roles of men and women in public prayer. For those newer to this saga, it goes something like this. Before I arrived at New London, as Rabbi, a decision was made to count women in the Minyan and offer English language prayers to women. As a Rabbinical student I would fly in from New York to lead a parallel egalitarian service – the Minyan Hadash, but the main service remains led only by men with Torah reading and Aliyot performed only by men – and separate seating.
Seven years ago there was a General Meeting held to discuss the possibility of changing this balance. It split slightly in favour of making no change. Four years ago at another General Meeting, the Synagogue tweaked a couple of roles – Gelilah and Anim Zemirot are now open to both genders – and made a decision that in certain circumstances boys and girls celebrating a Bar or Bat Mitzvah could do so in the sanctuary in an egalitarian service, with the Synagogue running a parallel non-egalitarian service in the Kiddush Hall. I believed, at the time, that we would have three or four of these services a year. In the first year we had two, then none. And now there are several. We will be celebrating an upcoming Bat Mitzvah on the 21st June with an egalitarian service in the sanctuary – and a non-egalitarian service in the Kiddush Hall, and similarly we will be celebrating egalitarian services six further times in the coming year (other dates listed below).
For those interested in the Halachic underpinnings of these positions, please click [here - http://www.scribd.com/doc/114687369/Responsa-Women-Receiving-Aliyot-and-Reading-Torah] for a piece on women reading the Torah and [here - http://www.scribd.com/doc/114687181/Responsa-Women-Leading-Prayers] for a piece on women leading services.
To those of you who want to see more egalitarian participation in the main service, please do come to these egalitarian services. To those of you who want to see the non-egalitarian tradition of the New London preserved, please do come to the non-egalitarian services to be held on these days. And to those of you who feel that this careful balancing of hopes, fears and aspirations represents something which you cannot support, I urge you to appreciate the single greatest truth of what this community represents. New London is a Synagogue held in a tension between tradition and modernity. It has always been thus.
(Dates of upcoming egalitarian main service Bnei Mitzvah celebrations:
17th January 2015
7th March 2015
28th May 2015
30th May 2015)