Millions of babies, the Holocaust, and gender segregation. It’s the weekend!

I spent this Saturday morning being told I was the byproduct of a silent Holocaust, so my weekend went really well.

It started when our friends had a baby, which, amongst other things, caused my mom to shift into overdrive:

Our friends just had a very cute baby girl and they invited us to the Hebrew naming ceremony at an Orthodox-ish synagogue.  I immediately sensed that this would be a bad experience from the minute we walked in and I was separated from Mr. B and told to go to the right-hand side with all of the other confused and equally Godless Russian women from our friends’ families.

In Orthodox synagogues, women are separated from men by a mechitza, which is,

the physical divider placed between the men’s and women’s sections in Orthodox synagogues and at religious celebrations. The idea behind this is twofold. First, mingling of the genders is generally frowned upon, as this leads to frivolity, which itself may lead to promiscuity. Secondly, even if the sexes are separated, they should not be able to interact to a high degree during a religious service, lest this lead to gazing and impure thoughts. Due to these restrictions, mechitzot are usually opaque (at least looking from the men’s side to the women’s side).

Who am I to criticize this practice? Obviously it works for some people and the way they celebrate God.  People who think that it’s the woman’s fault if a man gets distracted during services.   If only us women were less sexxxy during services.

I don’t have a problem with the separation, per se.  If it’s equal.  Separate, but equal.  Like, if the male rabbi preaches to the males and a female rabbi preaches to females. Or at least if there is as much seating on the women’s side as there is on the men’s. Obviously, this did not happen, and I spent the whole service straining a bit to hear what the rabbi was saying during the parsha before the naming ceremony was underway because he wasn’t really intent on talking to us wymyn as he was on telling the men that there is a second Holocaust going on, and that that particular Holocaust is intermarriage.

I’ve heard this kind of rhetoric in the Jewish community tons of times before and it wasn’t really new to me, but I could hear Mr. B raising his eyebrows all the way on the other side of the men’s section.    I just  couldn’t wait to text my mom and dad and tell them they were the next Hitler and Goebbels.

The service went on for maybe an hour, during which my friend came with her daughter  and all the women, bored senseless by the service which wasn’t explained to them and which was going on forever, crowded around and started fussing with her, and as a result, were thoroughly shushed like kindergartners by the rabbi.   Then,the rabbi stopped and asked if the mother was present, and our friend said she was. Obviously the mom couldn’t go on the men’s side during the ceremony, so he asked her to come up to the mechitza and say the baby’s name over the mechitza so that the men (not womenz!) could bless the baby.  Then, the men on the other side, from what I could see, started performing the hora and through a slit in the mechitzah glanced at the baby, blessing her. It looked something like this:

It’s one of the most bizarre things I’ve experienced in my life, aside from that time Mr. B and I were in Jerusalem and we thought an Arab was trying to shank us but all he really wanted were some cigarettes. That a mother and father are not allowed to be present together and the mother, the one that gave life to the baby was sidelined and portrayed simply as a vessel for more Jews to come through the chute as opposed to a human being, bummed me out worse than that time I wrote about depressing Russian baby songs.  At the end of the dancing, the rabbi asked the mom to hold the baby up to his ear to hear what she was telling him, and what it turned out that she was telling him was for her mom and dad to bring her to services every week from now on.  What an astute baby.

After the dancing subsided and we wimminz were settled down, the prayers continued.  And continued.  For another hour, with the rabbi breaking off to entice us areligious Russian Jews to come to services to “find out what being a Jew is” and to really, really stop mixing meat and milk or we would all go to a hell that would probably include, amongst other things, mechitzot for all.  I’m guessing he didn’t know that I already know what “being a Jew is” for me and- pro tip – it doesn’t include being treated like a baby machine (which actually would be a pretty cool idea to patent.)

After the second hour was over, I stood outside with some other girls as we waited for our husbands to come out.  Unfortunately,  the congregation’s men had jumped on them like white on rice and were proselytizing in full force.   Obviously, we weren’t even good enough to be proselytized at, which is kind of sad, because I was kind of looking forward to discussing the merits of separate-but-equal hell in Hebrew with them.

As we sat down in the car, Mr. B and I looked at each other, and neither of us said anything.  On the way to the restaurant, we got into a huge fight, the tension from the synagogue escalating the initial small problem.  All of the stress and anger we’d both experienced at the synagogue came out, and at the end we realized it, apologized, and relaxed.

I looked at Mr. B.  “Let’s have kids just so they don’t go to that synagogue, ”  I said.  “I’m with you, half-breed,” said Mr. B, and we walked, hand-in-hand to the restaurant.




15 thoughts on “Millions of babies, the Holocaust, and gender segregation. It’s the weekend!

  1. “Let’s have kids just so they don’t go to that synagogue…” If that’s not a Jewish attitude I don’t know what is. Yasher Koach, as they say on the other side of the mechitza.

  2. Ugh! is all I have to say to this experience … exactly why I don’t go to Orthodox shuls. I was at an Orthodox wedding once, and the bride’s name wasn’t even mentioned ONCE in the ceremony! She just stood there and was ignored under her own chuppah. It made me so angry.

    Also, you do know the joke about the Jew stranded on a deserted island who builds two synagogues, right?

    1. Ughhh. Glad to hear I’m not the only one with similar experiences. In this case I had no choice but generally I avoid them.

      Also, yes :)

  3. Well, we’re pretty far away, but if you’re ever in Oregon come on by for a very un-Orthodox service. You’ll even get to sit next to your spouse! (the shanda!)

  4. Vicki,

    I’m not a Jew, but the Rabbi seems to have a point. Massive intermarriage, if sustained in time, leads to extinction. And I can be sympathetic to a Rabbi that doesn’t see it as the happiest of outcomes.

    1. Javier,

      Theoretically, yes. Although maybe not. My parents intermarried, but I chose to marry Jewish. But why demonize people that intermarry?

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