Tag Archives: mechitza

It Happened in Venice

by Janice L. Booker (Malibu, CA)

Ahh…Venice.  Canals.  Cobbled streets.  St. Marks Square.  Gondolas with gondoliers rowing and singing “O Solo Mia.”  I had dreamed of this trip and here I was, climbing out of the speedboat that had taken my husband and me from the airport to the foot of our hotel.

The only nagging regret I had was by circumstances of work and schedules we could only make the trip at the beginning of Yom Kippur, and we arrived on the day of Kol Nidrei, causing nagging spurts of guilt I tried to suppress.  I knew there was a historical old ghetto synagogue in Venice, the first ever ghetto, so famous it was almost folklore.  I decided that was where I would hear Kol Nidrei.

A friend who spoke fluent Italian made many phone calls and finally was able to contact the synagogue and arrange for tickets.  I doubted it would work out but when we registered at the hotel we were handed an envelope with two tickets for that evening’s services.  Could it really be that I would be in Venice, Italy, hearing Kol Nidrei?  I was ecstatic with anticipation.  My husband had tripped coming out of the speedboat and was in too much pain to go, but insisted I go alone.

I boarded a vaporetto at the base of our hotel, with not a clue of where to disembark.  A vaporetto stops at the equivalent of every watery corner.  With relief I spotted someone reading the same guide book we had and she helped me find the right stop.

I was the only person who got off at that stop with no idea which street to follow.  By this time dusk had descended and a light rain begun.  Few people passed and none understood me.  Suddenly, pay dirt!  Coming toward me was clearly a family: man, wife, child, older woman, all dressed in holiday clothes.  I approached them and said, already knowing the answer, “Can you direct me to the ghetto synagogue?”  The male responded, in barely accented English, “Please come with us.  That’s where we are going.”  On the short walk, he told me he was a lawyer and his family had lived in Venice for 500 years.  He had visited the States many times,

When I entered the synagogue a guard took my purse and umbrella but left me with the siddur I had brought along, assuming the Hebrew translation would be in Italian.  It was.

I was ushered up a flight of steps and to my surprise the men and women were on the same floor, separated by a mechitza with many openings so nothing of the service was hidden.  Three seats just behind the mechitza were marked “Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia” for their American guests.  Apparently my idea was not so original.  Directly in front of these seats, on the other side of the mechitza, were three marked seats for the husbands of the American women.

I looked around the synagogue.  It was very grand, yet reminded me of the old fashioned shul my grandfather had helped found when he came to America in 1913. He and his fellow emigrants started the Zhitomir Shul at 6th and Dickinson streets in South Philadelphia. Having their own place of worship gave them some sense of familiarity in this new and strange land.

The ghetto synagogue was noisy, children rushing through the aisles to greet the men in the family, going in the back to see their mothers and grandmothers,  The bimah was crowded:  men talking, gesturing, praying.  And then there was a sudden stillness.  The cantor’s voice rang out with the haunting first sounds of Kol Nidrei.  A chill ran through me as I realized, throughout the world, Jews were hearing the same strains of the somber sounds of Kil Nidrei, with me. I felt tied with a rope to Jews throughout the world, a connection that was strong and tight.

Janice L. Booker is a journalist, author of four books, including The Jewish American Princess and Other Myths, an instructor in creative non-fiction writing at the University of Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia radio talk show host, and a free-lance writer for national publications.

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Filed under American Jewry, European Jewry, Jewish, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, Judaism

Mechitza: The Partition

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

Some call me a wall of division;
some call me a wall of unity.
It depends on your point of view,
literally, from where you sit.
But I have no use for labels,
no use for whether you dress me
in wood, cloth, or glass,
no use for whether you decorate me
in rich curlicue and seraphim,
for I have stood proudly for many a millennium,
holding together the traditions of the Jewish people.
I help keep worshipers focused,
with no distractions, on the eyes of God.
Now, here in the 21st century,
people have begun to question my role –
whether it is right or not to separate the sexes.
Let the two people below debate this question.
Let each give his and her reasons.
I take no sides.
I only answer to God.


Now don’t get me wrong –
I love all women, any size or shape.
I can’t tell you how many times
I dream of them, day and night.
I’m a man, what do you think.
But when it comes between me and God,
I don’t want to have visions of
silky bodies in my head, distracting me.
I mean how right would that be?
When you’re praying, nothing else
can get in the way, know what I mean?
It would not be proper to think of
bright lips, smooth thighs, big breasts.
I mean I just can’t turn these thoughts on and off.
You think I’m a sex maniac obsessing about women?
Oh, no, not when I’m conversing with God.
I just need a bit of help; the wall needn’t be too high.


We deserve to be up in the balcony,
or at the least separated by
wood, cloth, glass, whatever.
Having to pray with the men
would be too much a disturbance for them.
God knows, they wouldn’t be able
to keep their thoughts on their prayers.
Worshiping with us is preposterous, I know,
and flies in the face of Orthodox tradition.
They have every right to exclude us
from leading them in service.
We are meant to be not seen, not heard,
and the further we are away,
the less seen and heard we will be.
So I propose we sit in a different building altogether.
Only the men deserve to be physically closer to God.
Obviously, we continue to be unworthy,
only valuable enough to stay home with the children
and to be happy to serve our husbands dinner
when they come home tired after a long day at the temple.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years.  Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy,  edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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Filed under American Jewry, poetry