The strangest part of Monday night’s panel discussion of my new book, “The Men’s Section,” about partnership synagogues, wasn’t that the four-person panel was made up of all men.
All-male panels are so common — to wit, I passed by a poster at Harvard this week announcing an economic conference with no female speakers at all — that Joanna Samuels of Advancing Women Professionals has been asking Jewish men to take a pledge not to sit on all-male panels. (Several of the men on my book panel said that they had taken the pledge and actually felt odd sitting on this all-male dais at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.)
The really unusual part for me was that, although all the speakers are accomplished men with very impressive resumes and professional and communal achievements, their speeches had nothing to do with their expertise. Rather, they each talked about their feelings about partnership synagogues and the discussion centered on their own journeys in Jewish communal and religious life. In fact, Marc Baker, of Minyan Kol Rinah in Brookline, Mass. opened by saying, “I’m not used to talking about myself in this kind of forum.”
The men were used to talking about ideas; they were not used to talking about themselves.
This is what I want to happen from the publication of my book. I want men to start exploring their journeys and experiences, and to start examining Jewish life — not from the perspective of halachic and cold, cerebral, detached analysis of rules and facts. I want to give men the language and framework to ask themselves what they feel, what they see, what they really want.