Ill be honest; I was lured by the words “mashed potato bar” to Saturday shabbat services this past weekend. I have looked upon my Saturday Shabbat service attendance as “optional” and have substituted text study and multiple naps in the comfort of my apartment instead. Being of the self aware ex-shiksa that I am, I know the real reasons behind my lack of attendance; fear of getting lost within the services and I really, really, really love sleeping in.
As I’ve been feeling a spiritual tug to at least discover what I’ve been missing out on, I accepted an invitation to attend a Modern Orthodox “beginners” service on the Upper West Side with a friend (and yes featuring a post service mashed potato bar). I have attended several other events (text studies and holidays) hosted by this congregation but had yet to attend services. I walked in at 9am Saturday morning and was immediately confronted with the presence of (please cue music from Psycho) a mechitza. I am mechitza phobic.
I think I understand its purpose; focus on G-d vs. Jewish man meat. A terrific concept in theory, however it does not take into consideration several factors.
1. As most mechitzot are not floor to ceiling partitions, I can still cast a lusty gaze. I’m a rebel.
2. Same sex attraction? What if I am thinking of the woman davening next to me?
3. Most importantly, I am at shul for G-d and to daven with my community…
Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of the mechitza (thus far in my limited experience) is that it segregates the joy of davening as part of a community. During Saturday’s service the men’s side was joyfully engaged complete with an a cappella type group while my side kept fairly silent throughout the three hour service. I had a very similar experience during Simchat Torah while attending another orthodox event. My side of the mechitza featured burned out- sheitel wearing-gossipy-Orthodox women —a stark contrast of the men dancing, drinking and celebrating the Torah on the other side of the partition.
This can’t be the intention of the mechitza…can it?
Faith is an ACTION word to me and I very much want to take a Jackie Chan role in it …particularly the more familiar I become with the prayers and customs. I often think about exploring a Modern Orthodox conversion however such experiences make me doubt that my feminist progressive ways can find my niche in this more observant world.
After emailing a draft of this post to a friend of mine, she suggested (via her mother) that I check out a congregation called Darkhei Noam. It is apparently a very inclusive observant community in Manhattan. I will report back with my findings.