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I'm bringing Orthodox feminism to college

    My batmitzvah was unconventional. Instead of just reading a dvar torah in shul, or having a big party, I leyned in a women's teffilah service on Rosh Chodesh Kislev. From a chumash.

    I was extremely lucky to have been able to do so in my own community, making me, apparently, the first girl to leyn in a United Synagogue building.

    In January this year, I sat in the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, New York, an Orthodox community, and watched a batmitzvah girl leyn her entire portion from a Torah as well as the whole haftorah in a women's teffilah service, heard by her family and friends (male and female), something, I couldn't do. The experience was clearly significant for her and strengthened her connection to Judaism.

    As I listened, I reflected on why I became an Orthodox feminist and on my new role as the only representative of the Jewish Feminist Orthodox Alliance at a British university campus.

    The reason why I was in New York, not Bristol, where I'm a first-year history student, was because I was attending a training weekend for my JOFA job. Sessions included a panel on navigating community politics, the problems faced on campuses, and talks led by female Orthodox rabbinic students.

    The experience of being surrounded by like-minded people was reassuring, but also demonstrated to me how far behind the UK is compared to the US.

    But what could I take back to Bristol, a community that barely scrapes together a minyan on Shabbat, where many students don't necessarily come here for its religious opportunities?

    I realised that I have to start simple. I have observed when talking to people about JOFA that there is a lack of understanding surrounding Orthodox feminism. We must begin by teaching those who are concerned for the safety of our traditions that what they should be truly fearful of is a generation of disillusioned women who will move away from Judaism to find fulfilment elsewhere.

    The Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, coincidentally visited Bristol's student community the week after the JOFA conference and spoke of how women have the "ultimate compliment" of raising a new generation of Jewish children, and that many women feel satisfied with the level of religious engagement currently offered by Orthodoxy.

    Of course there are many women who have no issue with the current position, but there is a generation of educated young women who are forced to choose between leading an empowered secular life and a limited religious life, who are becoming increasingly disengaged from Judaism.

    We should not be compromising in this respect - the integration of women in Judaism will enhance the richness of the religion and religious experience.

    At Bristol I look forward to the time when women will be able to say kiddush at our JSoc Friday night dinners without anyone thinking twice
    about it.

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