Reports from the Moving On Conference Workshops
In the four workshops - Social Welfare & Community, Jewish Identity and Education, Religious Issues, Divorce, Get & Agunah - women made valuable contributions on what is currently available and made suggestions on how to improve practice. Below you will find a summary of the comments
The Board of Deputies Enquiry desk was praised as a positive service and it was pointed out that the Board has information on its internet web-site but that this is not sufficiently well publicised. A regularly updated Yellow Pages as well as information on the internet is required. There was a need to set up a Standing Committee on Women to address non religious issues and move them forward. An interdenominational Jewish community centre was required which could provide information and support as well as a meeting place.
The work of the Jewish Marriage Council should be expanded so that it could reach out to all sections of the community. The plight of women alone and their experience of alienation and isolation emerged as a cause of concern both for now and in the future as the community ages. Other important issues discussed included special needs and the lack of facilities for the disabled in synagogue and communal buildings. Inter-community training was needed for Rabbis and Rebbetzin being offered more training in listening skills, training was also required for volunteers who should be given greater opportunities to improve and increase their skills. Approaches to training and support should be rethought, for example carers might need training in their own homes.
How do we reach out to the non-affiliated? There needs to be positive initiatives to retain all young people within Judaism. Jewish schools and trips to Israel do not impact on this (but it was noted that they sometimes helped uncommitted parents to become more aware of their Jewish identity). Support groups needed for parents of children who become Ba,al Teshuva and for those whose children adopt an ultra-orthodox lifestyle. London community should be more hospitable to youngsters - A Masorti woman said her synagogue was the only one prepared to offer AJ6 out-of-towners a welcome overnight stay on a Friday. Much discussion on where young women can find potential life partners, especially after university/further education. The 25-40 age group were a particular cause for concern. Jewish education should be a life-long commitment. The Limmud style community-in-gathering of diverse people was praised as a model for co-operation as well as demonstrating a great appetite for learning.
Dating was still a problem. Strike a Match (SAM) is a new dating agency. Jewish Marriage Council offers introductions (policy is inclusive, doors open to all, but bound by Halachah. Unfortunately, women said the perception is not so positive. The name was also said to be off-putting/threatening (in this respect it was noted that the National Marriage Guidance Council changed its name to RELATE to overcome image problems). Women wanted to know if it helped people with second marriages, and would those in partnerships be welcome? It was thought that because of its name many might not consider approaching them.
University Jewish societies were perceived by some to be too exclusive - it was suggested that a non-affiliated group might be more inviting e.g., there was one at Cambridge. It was said that the Reform and Liberal synagogues should 'get their act together' and have more provision for singles, at university. Offering Friday night dinners in homes, in addition to synagogues, was suggested.
Courses and support for interpersonal relationships should be on the agenda generally, and in particular, in Jewish schools. There is a need to find a way to keep young people involved when they leave Hebrew classes and youth clubs. Learning needs to be perceived as a life long process. Family education was much needed for parents in order to support them in respect of issues surrounding every aspect of family life and children's development. There was a need for a Central Register of Women educators plus those willing to travel. It was suggested that women form groups independently and 'doing it for themselves' learning. There is a need to make courses user-friendly, non-threatening City/lunch learning courses were applauded as were the Hebrew reading courses.
In the special needs sector it was acknowledged that League Tables create problems for schools, Jewish schools and teachers should try to integrate and address the needs of those not severe enough to be taken out of the system e.g., help with home reading. There was a call for rabbis to do more and to make special provisions for bar/bat mitzvah and preteen training courses as well as a desperate need for more teachers. It was noted that there was a lack of support for existing teachers/governors by parents and that parents feel isolated, and that their point of view is not heard. Courses are need for dyslexic adults and possibly a Braille siddur.
It was suggested that all pre-marriage courses should include such topics as family life and relationships, the Pre-Nuptial Agreement, Get, mamzerim and prohibitions against remarriage to a Cohen. It was important that the experience of Mikveh be user-friendly and non-judgmental (women wearing jeans should be acceptable). It was noted with approval that the new Sephardi mikveh in Maida Vale is staffed by young married women The subject of Mikveh should be on the agenda for Bat Mitzvah girls.
Concern about Jews being lost to the community through intermarriage was a recurrent theme and the United Synagogue was urged to begin outreach to its former members. In respect of inter-marriage it was suggested that it is a myth that the Jewish partner wants to abandon identity, instances were given of those who have in fact become more involved in the Jewish community. A more unified world-wide approach was called for in respect of conversion requirements.
There was a call for
prayers to be written to enable women to celebrate life-cycle events.
Other issues raised included the mother's name being included in her daughter's ketubah, the mother's name being on the headstone of a child who had died, the saying of Kaddish and the procedure to be followed in a house of mourning. Women wanted to participate more meaningfully in Simchat Torah celebrations. There was a disparity between communities, and there was a feeling that some structure was needed to standardise it. However, it was recognised that this should not be at the expense of stifling innovation. There was overwhelming support for the setting up of a liaison committee between women and the Chief Rabbi, but it should be emphasised that the things women were asking for was as a result of a spiritual need rather than a political agenda. It was acknowledged that education gives women power and that with it they would be able to argue from a position of knowledge.
There was unanimous support for the Divorce Reform Members Bill, which if passed by the Lords, will be helpful in the future but it will not act retrospectively, and therefore, existing problems will not be solved by this legislation.
Some painful memories were shared by women of going to the Beth Din. It was felt that mediation and counselling should be an inclusive, cross community service, to enable the resolution of existing problems. Although the Pre-Nuptial agreement is a useful tool in that it raises awareness, it should remain optional and people should be given information before signing it.
At present women can
be accompanied to the proceedings by specially trained women who
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