2010-01-13 / Home

Wednesday mornings are a special time for women at Beth El

By DAVID PORTNOE Voice staff
Shirley Mangel has come to daily morning minyan at Cong. Beth El every day since her husband died nine years ago. Mangel, who is in her mid-80s, was often the only woman present. On other occasions, there might have been one or two other women.

Zoe Schlessel leads services on a recent Wednesday morning at Cong. Beth El in Voorhees. The synagogue has boosted Wednesday minyan attendance by women by adding a weekly study session led by Hazzan Alisa Pomerantz- Boro. Zoe Schlessel leads services on a recent Wednesday morning at Cong. Beth El in Voorhees. The synagogue has boosted Wednesday minyan attendance by women by adding a weekly study session led by Hazzan Alisa Pomerantz- Boro. Not anymore.

The participation of women in Beth El’s daily minyan has grown in the past several months, particularly on Wednesdays, as the Beth El Sisterhood has spearheaded an effort to get more women involved in the daily minyan. Every Wednesday, 10-15 women come to the 7:30 a.m. minyan. Men and women daven together. Then all are welcome to share in breakfast and a study session led by Hazzan Alisa Pomerantz-Boro.

“I feel good when I see more women,” said Mangel following a recent Wednesday minyan. She enjoys seeing the chapel filled. “I also want to see more men come too,” Mangel said with a smile.

Pomerantz- Boro said that the impetus behind the increased women’s participation was Rabbi Aaron Krupnick’s desire to have more congregants attend daily minyan. Last year, he charged the Sisterhood to boost participation, and the idea has met with great success.

“The breakfast and the study session encourage women to come on Wednesdays, but women are welcome every day,” said Pomerantz-Boro. She added that there has been no negative reaction. “The goal is to have everybody comfortable.”

Beth El, although officially egalitarian for a number of years, has in fact been transitioning to a fully egalitarian congregation over a period of time, according to Pomerantz- Boro, who arrived at the synagogue in 2004. She said that the synagogue did not give up its separate non-egalitarian Shabbat morning service until moving to Voorhees last year.

One of those who were initially uncomfortable was Sol Zytcer, a Holocaust survivor born and raised in an Orthodox family in Poland. He said that he was not comfortable with women being called to the Torah when Beth El changed that policy over a decade ago. He said, however, that he has not only gotten used to it, but that he enjoys seeing women participate. “I feel very, very good coming to daven,” said Zytcer.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Sandy Agus, who has cochaired the Wednesday effort with Illene Rubin. Agus said that attending daily minyan provides a sense of community for people who might not have felt it before.

Participation in the Wednesday morning minyans has been growing. “People are coming back,” said Renee Kessler, Sisterhood president. “It’s been really well received.”

“I always leave with a smile on my face. It’s fulfilling,” said Karen Schlessel. She said that she has made new friends and looks forward to the spiritual boost she gets from attending minyan.

Nancy Lubars comes to services every Saturday. Participation in the Wednesday morning minyan has brought her closer to the people she used to see only on Shabbat. “Attending daily minyan is a more intimate way to pray and know people,” she said.

Several of the women who came on a recent Wednesday said that it took them a little time to grow comfortable in the setting. The service moves quickly, and some of the women were not used to putting on tallit and tefillin. At a recent minyan, some women wore tefillin, but others did not. Beth El offers a basic Hebrew reading class for those whose Hebrew language skills need help.

Lubars said that when she first started coming, Rabbi Isaac Furman helped her with the tallit and tefillin. She said that she is growing more comfortable every time she comes.

Kim Feldbaum said that she often gets the chills when she puts on her tallit and tefillin. She said that she uses her father’s tallit, which was given to him by his bubbie, whom she is named after, and her son’s tefillin. “It’s so awesome that I’m wearing my father’s tallit, and that it’s OK,” said Feldbaum. She said that her participation in daily minyan has also given her an additional connection to her daughter, who prayed every day while at Camp Ramah.

Coming to the Wednesday minyan has had a positive impact on her life, according to Feldbaum. It has encouraged her to pray every day, even when not at minyan. “When I’m not here, I say the ‘Modeh Ani’ on a daily basis,” she said. “Every day, we need to realize that today is a gift. When you approach life that way, you look at things totally different,” said Feldbaum. .

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