The mechitza – mea culpa
Stephen M.R. Covey wrote, “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.”
With the absolute best of intentions, we planned for a special and festive evening service at our Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration on Wednesday. We recognized the spectrum of Jewish thought in our community, and our desire was to be as inclusive as possible for our pluralistic constituency. Our Orthodox require a mechitza (partition) between men and women. Our non-Orthodox not only do not require a mechitza, but usually prefer not to have one, and may even find the separation of men and women to be insulting.
Our intention was to use two mechitzas to divide our group into three sections–one for men, one for women, and a co-ed section–in an attempt to try to please everyone. We discussed using a side-by-side-by-side format rather than a front-back format so as not to give the appearance of priority.
Well, the whole plan fell apart–both figuratively and literally. Figuratively, because we ended up with only one mechitza, and literally, because the mechitza itself actually fell down. In our attempt to please everyone, we pleased no one. In fact, many people left at the first mention of where men and women were to sit. Then others followed, thinking that the celebration was over, which, unfortunately, for many it was.
For months I have kept us updated on the Kotel situation vis-a-vis the egalitarian section. We have prided ourselves in our community as being above this denominational power struggle, and yet, on Wednesday night, when we had the opportunity to shine, we simply did not.
While I feel very good about our intentions, I accept all criticism for the way that we executed. I am sorry for our lack of sensitivity, and I apologize to all of our friends who walked away offended and to everyone whose celebratory feelings were lessened.
Looking forward, we are already planning how to proceed differently in the future. I have received some excellent feedback from community members, and everyone should know that our incredibly collegial community rabbis are fully engaged as well.
I underestimated the difficulty of this pluralistic work. I am, however, confident that we are up for the challenge.