Sisterhood Blog

Separate-Gender Jewish Activities: It's Good To Have Rooms of Our Own

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

  • Print
  • Share Share

I have to disagree with Chanel Dubofsky’s Sisterhood post in which she contends that new interest in Jewish men’s clubs reflects male anxiety about a supposed women’s takeover of Jewish organizations and life. I think it’s great that a non-Orthodox Jewish organization is making progress in engaging Jewish men. The goal is to have everyone involved.

As far as I can tell, there hasn’t actually been a women’s takeover of Jewish organizations. As illustrated in this New York Times article a few years ago, and this more recent article in the Forward, it is true that, among teenagers, programming in the non-Orthodox community has attracted more female participation than male. And the Reform movement, for one, has been working to achieve more parity.

As important as egalitarian access to Judaism is to me, we also need separate-gender spaces (as the title and subject matter of this blog reflect). It is not anti-feminist to recognize that there are differences beyond the physical between men and women, and that we tend to develop most close friendships with those of the same gender. There is something to be said for the safer space of being with others of the same gender.

At the same time, of course, we must ensure that both women and men have access to leadership of every sort in Jewish groups. In this, as the Forward’s salary surveys illuminate, women continue to lag.

Some organizations, like the Conservative movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs and Moving Traditions are working hard to develop programming that will attract and engage Jewish men and boys. And more power to them. Moving Traditions developed a successful nationwide program for adolescent girls called “Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing!” and has, for the last few years, been developing a parallel curriculum for groups of adolescent guys dubbed “The Campaign for Jewish Boys”. Their report, “Teenage Boys: A Call to Action,” is full of fascinating data culled from studies about the differences in the ways boys and girls learn and engage with each other and with programs.

I’ve seen this learning first-hand with my kids. My 17-year-old son has remained very Jewishly engaged through his time in a large public high school and was known, even in a school with a large number of Jewish students, as “the Jewish kid.” He participated in a fantastic Hebrew high school program called Bogrim, run by two Conservative synagogues in Brownstone Brooklyn and has been involved in Jewish singing through HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir. But his is a rare experience. Most of the other guys who graduated with him from Jewish day school after 8th grade have not stayed very involved in Jewish life. As Boychik shortly heads off to college, I know that he will stay engaged in Jewish activities and networks.

I also see the challenges of achieving gender equality in leadership. At our family’s Conservative synagogue, both the rabbi and the cantor and, currently, the board president, are women (and more power to them). It is important that boys see models of male Jewish leadership as well, so I make a point of thanking our rabbi for making sure there are men as well on the bimah during High Holy Day services, for example, when there are lots of people taking turns leading readings and parts of the service.

My children live in a Jewish world where women are the most visible leaders: the head of their Jewish day school and the leaders at shul. It’s important to me for both my son’s and daughters’ sakes that they see both men and women in leadership roles.

And if part of their Jewish engagement means being involved with same-gender programs from time to time, that’s great. Do I want them in a single-gender school? No. I think that learning to work with people of both genders is an important life skill.

If guys feel attracted to the baseball games and steak dinners being offered by men’s clubs, so what? It’s no threat to me. In fact, the other Conservative synagogue in our area of Brooklyn (not the one we belong to) has a group of women who get together every couple of weeks. They call themselves shvesters (sisters) and get together to study, eat and socialize. I think it sounds great. Maybe I’ll start something like it at our shul.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Reform, Moving Traditions, Men's Clubs, Conservative, Egalitarianism

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.