Yom Kippur this year was not the YK I had envisioned, nor even typical of YK for me at all. Typically, I spend the entire day in shul, davening, emoting, feeling, singing, crying, and I feel good doing it and I feel good about it.
This year two things happened: the first and most devastating was that I woke up with a headache. This is truly unusual as I tend to be a good fast-er. I have always controlled my intake of substances that can cause headaches during a fast prior to the fast but I no longer have to do that since I hardly ever eat/drink those things anymore anyway. But I got up, got dressed in my all white outfit for YK, and went to shul. I was quite early, but 15 minutes late, as per the printed schedule, but it did not matter. Davening did NOT begin on time. There were so few people in attendance, we did not have a minyan. In fact, I was in shul a good 20 minutes before davening started. This NEVER happened in Ch"L. It was fine, just a point of reference for me.
The second thing that happened was that I COULD NOT HEAR the Ba'al Koreh (cantor) -- either for Pesukei D'Zimra (preliminary prayers) or for Shacharit. So, there I was with a HEADACHE and I was STRAINING to hear so I could follow along. There were pitiful few women in attendance, as the bulk did not, would not arrive until well into Chazarat HaShatz (repetition of Shemoneh Esrei aka Amidah). By the time we reached the end of the Chazarat HaShatz my head was pounding. I left shul and went home.
I did not know what I was going to do. My daughter was home with Gavriel. I lay down for a bit on the sofa in the salon -- which was where she was sitting and Gavriel was playing. He came over to kiss my keppy (forehead) and he played by me for a while too. It was fine, he was not so noisy, just happy. After a while, I decided to lie down in my bed, where I drew the shades, closed the door, and the overhead fan was on too. I did fall asleep, but when I woke up, I still had the headeache. It has been a fact for me that if I fall asleep with a headache I will wake up with one. After an hour or so, I finally agreed to take a shiur (a small measurement) of electrolyte infused lemonade with 2 headache pills. It took a couple of hours but it did help quiet the headache for me. By now, though, I felt distinctly uncomfortable about returning to shul and having to struggle to find where in the davening we are, and to try and make what was left meaningful to me. So I decided to daven at home. My head was not pounding and I felt able to do so. And so, I found myself davening in the middle of my salon. It was nice on the one hand to know I had as much time as I needed to daven, I had plenty of space to move around and I could actually think about what I was saying. And this I did. G-d knows, literally, that I asked for so much, and yet so little.
I had agreed, before YK, that I would babysit my grandson for Neilah to enable my daughter to attend. She is able to attend so little, being pregnant and having Gavriel. She and Jonathan try to take turns but it can still be quite difficult for them. Neither they, nor I, can afford to hire someone to care for him. Unlike in the US, Beit Rimon, where we were davening, does not offer child care services for his age. So I stayed with Gavriel and we only went to shul together toward the end so we could hear the Shofar. We arrived as they were doing Avinu Malkenu. I was gratified to be able to hear that, even from the back where we were hanging out because it was easier with Gavriel.
I just read a post by a friend (http://bataliyah.blogspot.com/2011/10/what-would-happen-if-woman-told-truth.html) in which she describes her angst at being relegated to sitting where she cannot hear the davening well, where she is essentially unable to fully participate in the davening, sitting amongst women who are mostly silent as they daven, or daven distractedly, while being able to understand that the men are davening aloud, in unison, and swaying, dancing, stamping feet, and are fully participating in the experience. This is a woman who does NOT have a hearing problem, as I do. And, her issues mimic mine. I, too, feel somewhat resentful of not being able to fully participate. I love to sing, I love to dance, and I too, find, my soul yearns to express itself in this manner. I have long thought that not only should be there be a mechitza separating men from women, but that WOMEN SHOULD HAVE THEIR OWN MINYAN. And yes, I know it is done in some places. But this should be COMMONPLACE. It should be a communal effort (kehillati) to create a space for the children to be cared for and to hire people to care for them and there should be two minyanim: one for men and one for women. The only time we would be together would be for the Torah reading, which would be done as a precise time and would be planned for togetherness. I do not advocate a separate minyan ALL THE TIME. Just for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. That's it.
And women should be encouraged to learn to sing, to dance and to be able to let THEIR souls express themselves in the same way that men do -- and to develop their own womanly ways of expressing themselves. I do not understand why this has not developed. I totally empathize with Rivkah in what she expressed in her post. I know my suggestion will be considered controversial. But why? Why should it be? Why shouldn't it simply be looked at as a solution to providing a nice environment for women to daven in? Today's women, while still usually the primary caregiver for the children, and still the primary household organizers, generally have so much more "free time" on their hands than their predecessors, thanks to all the modern conveniences of life. Providing women with their own space to daven will not cause them to suddenly stop doing all those tasks (mitzvot, actually) to which they accustomed to doing.
Rivkah, you are not alone. There ARE other women who feel as you do. I too, find myself wondering why sections are being skipped, or struggle with alternating nusach in a mixed shul, and struggle, even more so than you, with hearing the davening. I too, long to be surrounded by women SINGING so I can sing along and not feel too inhibited to sing aloud because if I did everyone would hear only me...(and I have the world's worst singing voice!).
Perhaps we will make this happen for us, somehow.
And now, with a smile, I face the year to come. I pray, and have prayed, that it will be a good year, for ALL of Klal Yisrael, men and women and children.