April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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No Longer Only in the Audience

Over the past 50 years, most of the world has witnessed the evolution of women’s roles in secular society, resulting in remarkable growth and transformation. Women have entered previously male-dominated fields, such as medicine, ascended to leadership positions in law and business, and continue to advocate for equal opportunities in other areas. Social attitudes have shifted, as people have begun recognizing the multifaceted contributions of women beyond and in addition to their traditional roles, such as that of the homemaker. These changes have extended into family dynamics, with adjustments in household responsibilities; 16% of women are now the primary breadwinner at home, while approximately 29% earn roughly the same amount as their spouse. Of course, there continues to be some persistent challenges, such as the gender pay gap and under-representation in certain professions. Nonetheless, women have made significant progress in many realms as they actively contribute to a more diverse and inclusive society.

Alongside these strides in secular society, Orthodox Jewish women have also experienced a notable evolution in terms of their roles within the community. Traditionally confined to more limited spheres, Orthodox women are now assuming positions of authority and expertise, at least in some circles. Not that long ago, it would have been unheard of for even a Modern Orthodox synagogue to invite a woman to be the scholar-in-residence or to deliver a community-wide lecture; in many places, these are now more common and generally well received occurrences. We have women who are Talmud teachers, others who teach Torah and Tanach at the highest of levels, and still others who are yoatzot halacha, women who have engaged in intensive study of the complex laws of taharat hamishpacha and are employed by synagogues and communities to serve as sensitive, knowledgeable resources for women. Locally, hard-working, dedicated, and accomplished women are among the founders and leaders of many of the very important political advocacy groups like the Bergen County Jewish Action Committee and Bergen County Supports Israel, educating the community about matters relating to the current situation in Israel, and TeachNJ, striving to help alleviate the yeshiva tuition crisis.  

But outside these intellectual, religious and political spheres, and beyond the world of chesed activities, where women typically have played and continue to play a major role, are there spaces for Orthodox women to share their artistic and creative skills? Can Orthodox women who value the concepts of modesty find a place to express and showcase these talents?

When I was a young girl, my sister and I would put on small musical productions for my parents and for anyone else around who had the patience and kindness to listen. We would belt out Barbara Streisand songs from shows like “Funny Girl” and “Hello Dolly,” and we knew the musical scores of certain movies and Broadway productions. Aside from this, the only outlet I had for my young creative self was through participating in my school play at Breuer’s—a Bais Yaakov-like school. Our school productions there were small, not very professional and put together by the students. I directed and choreographed the play in my junior and senior years, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but it was without any adult oversight or advice. 

A few weeks ago, Meorot, a local organization affiliated with NCSY, put on an all-female production for women called “Redemption,” starring 240 young ladies from 20 area yeshiva day schools and high schools. I had promised two of my granddaughters that I would take them to see the show, but due to a scheduling conflict, one of them could not make it. In all honesty, I was not looking forward to sitting through a two-hour production by a group of young women, none of whom I was related to! To my great surprise, however, I loved every minute of the show! I saw young women of all ages in a variety of fabulous costumes, some singing solos and others in the choir, and still others dancing with rhythm and soul. The entire production was professional, with magical lighting and great music.  

While watching the production, I got teary eyed (fahklempt!) seeing the young women on the stage. What I saw was young Orthodox women with self-pride and talent given a safe place to present and share their songs and dances with other women. I am sure that many of the young women in the show hope to grow up and one day sing on a stage like their musical directors Naomi Schiff and Sorah Shaffren, noted female vocalists who often perform for other women, and their dreams could indeed come true. Witnessing these young women confidently express themselves through song and dance in a professional setting was not only inspiring but also a testament to the evolving landscape of opportunities available to Orthodox women. Such initiatives provide invaluable platforms for young women to pursue their passions and dreams within the framework of Orthodoxy and modesty, thereby ultimately enriching the community as a whole. I am so glad to have attended; I look forward to taking my daughter and granddaughters next year!

Beth S. (Bassie) Taubes, RN, Certified Health, Wellness, Fitness, Tai Chi & Yoga Coach/Teacher, is the owner of Wellness Motivations LLC in Teaneck, NJ. For over 30 years, she was a highly successful health care professional. In her current capacity, she  motivates clients of all backgrounds, ages, and health conditions to engage in improved self-care through nutritional counseling, personal fitness training, yoga practice, tai chi, and stress reduction techniques. She is also the Rebbetzin of Congregation Zichron Mordechai in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected] or wellnessmotivationsbt.com

 

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