Last Saturday evening, twenty-eight women gathered together in “The Womb” to begin a conversation about faith, appearance, and identity.  Rabbinical students across a denominational spectrum, future ministers, social workers, educators of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and multifaith backgrounds came together in a spirit of listening to each other and giving voice to our own stories. 

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It’s hard for me to describe the feeling that got created in the room.  I had a sense that something special was happening, but it wasn’t until the end of the conversation, when we sang together, that the energy was able to take a tangible form. 

Here’s the song:

Deep inside my heart I’ve got this

Everlasting light

It’s shining like the sun

It radiates on everyone

And the more that I give

The more I’ve got to give

It’s the way that I live

It’s what I’m living for.

Before the conversation, I had been thinking a lot about this video, posted a few weeks ago on Upworthy.  In it, a young woman speaks powerfully about the way her family and her culture had taught her to take up as little space as possible – both physically and in conversations.  She had been taught to apologize before speaking, to think her words weren’t worthy. One of the most powerful and memorable lines in her poem is something like “I spoke five times in genetics class today, and every time began with, ‘I’m sorry.’”

I’ve heard many women rabbinical students express the frustration of feeling like they can’t speak up in class or share their voices in the community.  Part of the responsibility for fixing this balance lies on those who frequently take up too much space to step back and give others a chance to speak up.  But the rest of the responsibility rests with those of us who hold ourselves back to step up.  To share our voices unapologetically.  To venture a thought, an opinion, or a question, even if it’s not fully formed or flawlessly articulated.

It’s my deep hope that this space, this incredible, energetic, safe space for women of faith, broadly conceived, can also be a space where we practice stepping up and stepping back, cultivating our strong voices, and making space for new voices to be heard.  Sharing our light, giving what we’ve got to give.  

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Shabbat shalom!

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