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Miriam's Thoughts From New York

Last week I had the good fortune to be in New York for the graduation of my 4th year colleagues - 6 newly minted women Rabbis! The Maharat graduation is a phenomenal occasion - the emotion of seeing women achieve this moment in their lives, and smashing the "stained glass ceiling" cannot be understated. Maharat runs a beautiful ceremony which feels quite wedding-like. Everything starts with the "klaf signing" which I like to think of as the bedeken before the chuppah - it's an intimate ceremony with lots of hugs, tears, personalised music and blessings as the parchment klaf certificate of semicha are signed by the Roshei Yeshiva. Then a couple of hours later, there's a huge buffet dinner for about 400 guests, followed by a big public ceremony, complete with music, emotive speeches (regularly sprinkled with standing ovations as is the American way) and the presentation of each parchment klaf to the musmachtot (women receiving semicha ordination), their own opportunity to teach Torah, more hugs, celebratory dancing, and a dessert buffet to end the night. As soon as videos are available, I'll be sure to share them here.

I spent last Shabbat in New York too, which was an opportunity to see how the huge Hebrew Institute of Riverdale shul - something of a mothership to our Open Orthodox world - works. The shul focuses hugely on inclusivity - I noticed the trays of ear defenders and fidget toys, large print siddurim, reading glasses and tissues in the atrium to help shul-goers feel comfortable. There were several wheelchair users and the shul space - including the bimah - was fully accessible. Even though the HIR isn't a partnership minyan, it was refreshing to see women front and centre - announcing page numbers, giving the drasha, and helping other women say kaddish. Among the shul's clergy team, two of the four Rabbis are women. Everyone I met from the shul was delightful, welcoming and happy to share their thoughts in service of developing our own community. Take a look at the shul's rabbis and whole enterprise here:

In other ways though, the HIR shul felt like a very different enterprise to our own - it is huge with around 300 adults on a Shabbat morning. The space was so large that there were two or three different choruses for kaddish and kiddush was an enormous operation on a different floor of the building. In some ways it made me grateful for our own cosy community. I also slipped out for a couple of hours to visit a local partnership minyan, which also has a woman as their "Rosh Kehillah" - R.Dina Najman. Rabbi Dina was away that morning but I still felt welcomed into the space and was happy to accept an aliya.

I've come back on a high, full of inspiration and ideas for our own community, and tentatively excited for my own graduation, which please God will be next year!


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