A little over a week ago, I was asked by a friend to do the d’var Torah (literally word of Torah, generally what we’d call in English a short sermon) at the women’s mincha being held at the synagogue on Saturday afternoon. Having never been, even though it was right up my alley, I was very curious about going and this seemed like a great excuse. Plus, since it was my bat mitzvah parasha, I actually had a reasonable idea of what I wanted to say.
Aside from that though, I had no idea what to expect from the experience. It was totally different from anything I’d been to previously. The only thing I had to possibly compare it to was the women’s megillah reading on Purim, and I knew it would be different from that. I arrived a little early, as requested by the organizer, and helped set up the little beit midrash so it could be used for praying. Women trickled in as the time neared, and I started to relax. Almost everyone there were not only people I knew, but friends. When we started the service, one of the organizers got up and explained a little bit about what they would and wouldn’t do. They would read from the Torah, without the Torah blessings, although it would be broken up into the three aliyot (sections) and there would also be no repetition of the main prayer out loud. Otherwise, it would be your pretty average gathering.
I was surprised. I think that might be the best way to describe it. As my friend got up to lead the davening, and the women responded, it was the most amazing sound. Twenty or so women, singing the davening (prayers). It gave me the most amazing shiver down my spine of joy. This was why this moment was different. Praying with men and women is beautiful. I especially like it when you can hear both groups equally, making a joyful noise. I’m not sure I had ever heard a roomful of only women praying. It was almost overwhelmingly powerful and beautiful. I did my dvar Torah, two women read from the Torah, and I enjoyed the entire service, especially hearing some of the children who had come to the service singing loudly as well. All of that put together made for a really fulfilling experience for me.
Is it a perfect answer for women looking to participate in prayer? Of course not. However, it definitely fulfill some of the needs. It allows women an opportunity to do things like read Torah, lead a group in prayer, talk seriously about Torah, in a smaller, welcoming environment. It truly was a beautiful service and helped me connect to prayer in a way that I hadn’t in a long time.
All in all? I keep thinking to myself, “self, why didn’t I go earlier this year?!?” and also that I am truly glad that these groups exist. I don’t think I understood before at all. Poor mans substitutes. Turns out, it’s something beautiful, all by itself.