I have been in Colombia now for two days. I ended up being the scholar in residence here, mostly by chance. I said I was free, and my school said “Hey, would you like to go to Colombia?” I said sure, just know I don’t speak any Spanish. And the Rabbi they spoke to said that would not be a problem.
For the past 25 hours I was spending Shabbat with a Sephardi convert community, and the majority did not speak any English or Hebrew. There was so much I wanted to say, but was just unable to because I did not have the words. And there was so much that others wanted to say to me, and I just couldn’t get it. When people were speaking, either to myself or to the group, it took all of my energy to concentrate on what was being said, hoping that I would catch just a bit of it. I was tired just from sitting and trying to listen.
On Friday night, I sat quietly and almost no one spoke to me. I was already in a lonely mood before I got to shul. I had a lot of time to just be on my own and started freaking out about the future (but that is neither here nor there). But today, people went out of their way to speak to me. Trying to use English or speak very slowly in Spanish. During lunch I sat with the women. I had already checked out of my hotel so I had to stay there all afternoon, and it was really great that I did. For the entire afternoon the women were asking me questions and talking about Torah. I felt bad that I was unable to give them answers they could understand, but I was very thankful to one of the woman who acted as my translator. I didn’t get all of the conversation, but each woman was able to ask her question and get an answer. There are apparently more that will be emailed to me.
These women have never had a woman to ask questions to. And the way the community works, the men are the one’s who learn Torah. Women were at the Talmud shiur this afternoon, but were never given a book to look at. It seems like the women are just told what they are supposed to do, and then do it. There is no questioning, there is no thinking, and there is nothing that comes outside the box. And if they do have personal questions, there is not someone they feel comfortable speaking to. And so it was me, and I got so many questions (I’ll list them at the end), and many were very personal. I hope that I was able to answer them correctly.
I spoke three times to the entire community. Two were planned, and one was because the women wanted me to say allowed to everyone, including the men, the importance of woman in Jewish history and how they too should be able to learn and be part of the community. So I asked the rabbi at the last minute if I could speak, even though we were running late- and so I did. I was also very thankful to the impromptu translators that helped me give my sermons. It is a different type of speaking when you need each line to be translated.
Shul was a fascinating experience, that I have not had in any orthodox minyan that I have been to. Everyone sat in shul davening, there was virtually no talking. Everyone answered loudly Amen, and to Kedusha, and Kadish. Everyone sang out whenever something was sung. Shma was full of kavana, it felt like Yom Kippor.
Shabbat ended with hugs. Men and women alike were coming over to me asking me when I was coming back, telling me how special it was that I was there for Shabbat, telling me how much they appreciated what I said. It really was a special community- I hope that they will find the communities they need and want, and find ones that will accept them for who they are.
Questions from Shabbat:
- Can women wear pants?
- How much hair does a woman need to cover?
- What happens if my cold meat plate goes on my cold dairy plate?
- Why can’t we have fish and meat together?
- Can you have painted nails and say the bracha “boreh meorei ha’esh”?
- I know you are not allowed to put makeup on Shabbat, but my husband likes me with makeup. What can I do?
- Can men have a second wife? Or is that only for religious men? I heard that somewhere?
- If I am separated from my husband for a number of years. Even though then I decided that I would be celibate, sometimes I want to be with a man, can I?
- Is it ok if I use a dildo? (x2)
- If a woman wants a divorce, but her husband doesn’t- what can she do?
- What bracha do you make on rice? Vegetables?
- If I want more brachot, what can I do after birkat hamazon?
- Can women sing out loud in shul?
- When a man is talking in shul, can the women look at him?
- If I don’t want to have any more kids, what type of birth control can I use?
- If I can’t daven shacharit, do I say two minchas?
- My husband won’t let me learn Torah when he is learning with my son, what do I do?
- If one has their period, can they bring a tampon/pad with them to shul?