Being Invisible

This morning- I got to minyan early. I’m standing in the synagogue, reconnecting with someone I haven’t seen in years when three others walk into the room. One of them says, “great we have four people.”

To be honest I don’t remember his exact words, but I do remember math. When does 2+3=4? When one has the xx character trait thereby making her ineligible to count in an Orthodox minyan and apparently rendering her invisible and not a person.

This experience has happened to me before- Unfortunately, I have been relegated to non-person status in cities all over the world, almost always by  men, who, I hope, don’t realize the pain that they have caused . What makes this time different is that I’m at the Siach conference- an environmental and social justice conversation. More info here.

It is certainly a great group of very talented people. Most of the conversations that I’ve had have been with fascinating people, presenting the challenge of not wanting to extract myself from intense and good discussions. I was having a great time until this moment, and I’m not sure what to do with it. Perhaps I was tired because this morning I just stood there in silence (usually i have use some snarky reply to the effect of “no you need one more man, i’m a person too”). I expected that I might not count in the minyan. But I didn’t expect to be rendered invisible.

How can we talk about social justice when we can’t even acknowledge the personhood of those standing right in front of us?

Clearly we have work to do.

5 thoughts on “Being Invisible

  1. I had the same thing happen to me. I walked into shul on a Friday evening when there were only seven men gathered. Without so much as a shabbat shalom one of the men said to me, “You don’t count, but you’re welcome to join us.”

    I knew it was an Orthodox minyan and didn’t expect to be included, but I wish we could educate Orthodox men about how those statements come across and how to more tactfully welcome a woman who *wants* to daven.

  2. As one who is more or less post-denominational, i attend services of all flavors. I am a man, but I want to say that I stopped attending a shabbat hashkamah service [Orthodox] near our home in Manhattan when, after 5 or 6 years, no one asked my name. As a man, I don’t want to put my personal experience in the same category as the wholesale dismissal of women as persons this story tells, but it did give me a taste. I can also add that, as a Conservative rabbi, i have been publicly snubbed – purposely – at synagogues in the UK because I am “illegitimately” ordained. That comes closer since I was dismissed categorically, not just because of inhospitably.

  3. This makes me _really_ depressed.
    Yes: if/when there’s a next Siach, I think we need to put gender explicitly on the agenda. (I was also pretty embarrassed that there was a plenary with four men and one woman; that’s not going to happen again.) N

  4. Thanks for your messages of hizuk and support. I really hoped that these sorts of experiences were rare, but I’ve heard from a number of people who have similar run ins at one time or another, and it is painful and depressing.

    I’m sure in most cases, it isn’t deliberate. I hope/don’t think that anyone at siach wouldn’t have purposefully said such a thing if they thought about what they were saying.

    I just want to be clear that even though it was painful, I find it an exciting endeavor to figure out how to be part of a community in complex circumstances. Much more interesting than only hanging out with people like me.

    So Nigel, it didn’t ruin the conference for me, but it was a reminder that I am fortunate to live in a world where this happens rarely- and was a push to help bring into being a world where everyone’s person-hood is acknowledged.

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