Hearing women’s voices

Hearing women’s voices

I read Dr. Zvi Zohar’s op-ed, “On the question of hearing women’s voices” (June 7) with great interest. This has been an issue that I have confronted personally over the past several years. As a non-affiliated “cultural” Jew and the son of Holocaust survivors, I grew up in a community steeped in Jewish culture and Yiddish culture. We listened to beautiful Yiddish and sometimes Hebrew music, often sung by women. We attended Yiddish theater and watched Yiddish films in which female actors sang Yiddish songs. I belonged to a Yiddish youth theater group in which boys and girls participated. We put on full-length Yiddish plays at Camp Hemshekh, where campers were immersed in Yiddish culture and yes, we all sang.

The notion that a man cannot listen to a woman sing was unheard of in the very Jewish community in which I grew up.

I now live in Teaneck with my wife and our three children. My daughters both sing, one of them professionally. So when I first attended the Holocaust commemoration at Teaneck High School I offered to contribute to the program by presenting Yiddish songs of the Holocaust, was graciously invited to participate, and did so for many years. One day my older daughter suggested that she and I both sing while her zayde played the mandolin. That’s three generations of a Jewish family, here only because two people manage to survive the horrors of the Holocaust. The organizing committee, chaired by two women who were members of Congregation Beth Shalom, an egalitarian Conservative synagogue, declined the offer, saying that the Orthodox rabbis rejected it and would advise their congregants to boycott the commemoration were my daughter to sing. Needless to say, my family was distressed. We met with Rabbi David Feldman of the Teaneck Jewish Center, who held the position that there is no basis for the belief that a man is forbidden to hear a woman sing. The denial was upheld nonetheless.

My daughter, my father, and I were invited to a different commemoration at the Workmen’s Circle in New York, where we shared this gift with those who could appreciate how significant it was.

I did not sing at the Holocaust commemoration the year they denied my daughter the opportunity to sing with her father and zayde and have not been back since. The Teaneck Holocaust commemoration is a community event at a public high school for all people who wish to attend to remember those who were persecuted and who perished. This program is not about religion. It is about humanity, tolerance, and respect for all people. It is about the passing on of these values to future generations so that we never forget.