Tonight's blog, in solidarity with Women of the Wall, is written by Barbara Levine:
Most of my life I was religiously non-observant. Born Jewish, growing up in
I was connected Jewishly in my heart, but not ritualistically. After marriage and children, we moved to Brooklyn NY and
eventually joined B’nai Israel. I almost never went to services – not even on
the High Holy days. My children grew up at B’nai Israel since we wanted them to
have the Jewish education I never had. Each had a Bar or Bat mitzvah. I was then, and
remain to this day, very spiritual in my
After Rabbi Prosnit became our Rabbi, I began to study with him and questioned ‘why should I be Jewish’ as a faith. I already believed strongly in God and prayer. But I hadn’t felt a comfortable fit within any worship community. I felt challenged by Rabbi and committed myself to attend Friday night services every week for a year, no matter what.
I remember feeling uncomfortable and afraid, thinking people would notice and question, ‘why is this woman coming here all of a sudden?’ I thought they knew each other and would see me as the outsider – the interloper. Instead, after less than a month, I realized that I was a regular and loved services. The clergy and others saw me as one who could be counted on to be there. For over 10 years morning or evening I rarely missed a service or weekly torah study. I belonged and people knew me. It was a good fit!
After much time and study, I decided I would attempt to have a Bat Mitzvah. Cantor Gilbert believed I could do it even though my paralyzed vocal cord inhibits my ability to speak loudly, much less chant. My portion in Vayetze – Jacob’s dream meant a lot to me.
Before the Friday evening group Bat Mitzvah service, I went to the local mikvah for the ritual of purification by immersion in water. I had wondered what the mikvah experience felt like. This was a perfect time to do it. Basya, a very pregnant busy mother with many children, was the mikvah attendant. I was overwhelmed (in a good way) by the loving, caring attention I received from her. We spoke about my expecting a miracle that my paralyzed vocal cord would be healed, in front of the congregation, when I got to chant my Torah portion. I believed God might heal my voice from weak and gravelly to strong and melodic thus inspiring whoever was there. She disavowed me of that belief in a very loving way and showed me that just because I thought God would want to use me for a miracle, that might not be God’s plan. Her words of wisdom astounded me.
The Bat Mitzvah was wonderful and many of my loved ones – family and friends were there. My voice remained the same. But I was overjoyed and uplifted, not disappointed. Over time I recognized the many real blessings I received. I had my miracle.
Later, I wrote about the mikvah experience and my Bat mitzvah for the Jewish Ledger and Reform Judaism magazine. Still later (perhaps 2 or 3 years on), I was at a lecture sponsored by Ahavas Achim (the local Orthodox synagogue). I got to talk with the guest speaker and somehow she heard that I had written the article about the mikvah experience. I was really surprised she was so excited to meet me. She then shared that she and others had read my article about the kindness and wisdom of the mikvah attendant and the Many Blessings of my experience. She used my article to convince many Orthodox, and other women, to go to the mikvah. And she thanked me!