I'm still transitioning back to life in the States after having had the privilege of leading 20 of our congregants on an incredible journey to Cuba. If you're interested, you can find some of my reflections written during the trip itself on my blog.
One of the lingering observations that I've found myself returning to in the days since we returned has been the two separate meetings that our group had with the presidents of the two largest synagogues on the island (and in Havana): Beth Shalom (aka the Patronato), the Conservative-affiliated synagogue of Havana; and the Sephardic synagogue of Havana.
As it happens, the presidents of both of these institutions were women (Adela Dworin of the Patronato and Dr. Mayra Levy of the Sephardic synagogue).
Given the central role that gender played in the discourse of the now-ended presidential campaign here, and the long-established values of egalitarianism that are enshrined within Progressive Judaism, I was heartened to know that - at least within these two sectors of Cuban Jewish life today - women's empowered leadership is something that is valued, honored, and respected. And Ms. Dworin and Dr. Levy deserve our respect: they were incredibly articulate and passionate about the histories and future trajectories of their community. Their humor (and comfort in terms of asking for our partnership and support) made it very easy for us to want to engage - on a long term basis - in the work of strengthening their communities.
As a proud feminist and the father of a ten year old daughter, I know that the results of a presidential election aren't going to stop me from working to continue to build a world in which women are never seen as objects, and are always deserving of the same rights and benefits as men. And I gain strength from knowing that Ms. Dworin and Dr. Levy are only the most recent role models that my daughter and I can draw on for inspiration as she and I - and all of us - do this sacred work together.
With kindest regards,
Rabbi Jeffrey Brown
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION:
Get inspired by the work of Jewish Women's International (JWI) by visiting www.jwi.org. They are the leading Jewish organization devoted to empowering women and girls in this country and around the world. They are particularly interested in promoting Jewish women's leadership both inside and outside the Jewish community.
In many of our homes, the burden of Thanksgiving cooking still falls to women exclusively. Beyond making it a point of thanking whoever prepares your Thanksgiving meal this week (view some humorous expressions of thanks), you might use the holiday gathering to reflect with friends and family about the relationship between our cultural/religious identities and the food we eat (and how we pass recipes down from one generation to the next). Check out this conversation guide prepared by the Jewish Women's Archive.
Cantor Becker, Rabbi Glickman, and I are always standing by to recommend books or study Jewish text with you - particularly when it comes to the questions of Judaism and gender, and Judaism and feminism. I'm a particular fan of Engendering Judaism by our teacher, Rabbi Rachel Adler.