It may or may not surprise you that during my later years in the Jewish day school system, my classmates and I were pushed to embrace our Jewish identities and strengthen them in light of the unknown that was to come: college. College presents students with choice; it is often the first time they have a sense of autonomy, and with that comes the realization that they can decide how to live their lives. This can pose a challenge to religious identity, and our community looks for ways to ensure that Jewish students retain their religious character in the new world that is college.
For me, being Jewish in college was easy. I attended a college with a thriving Jewish community, one supported by a Hillel that hosted multiple religious and social events on a daily basis. I never had to worry about celebrating shabbos or finding a hot kosher meal on campus. Hillel provided me with a comfortable space to be Jewish on campus, and for that I will always be grateful.
But now that I have graduated, I’m left wondering where I can find my Jewish community. How do we ensure that the students who maintained their Jewish identities throughout college and actively engaged in their Jewish communities on campus can still do so beyond college? Where does that supportive structure come from when you enter the working world? How do you find a Jewish community like a Hillel or Chabad when you’re no longer on a college campus?
To many, a Jewish community is framed by a shul; a shul serves as a point for Jews to gather to daven, and from there a community grows. When I was in college, I made a point of davening mincha every day, just as I had done throughout my Jewish day school education. I tried my best to daven mincha with a minyan every day because doing so allowed me to engage with my community.
There was always at least one Orthodox mincha minyan daily in Hillel, and the presence of a mechitzah was a given. Of course women have a space to pray in Hillel. Why wouldn’t women, members of the community, have a place to stand and daven shmoneh esrei with the same amount of kavanah as their male counterparts?
This is where the schism occurs. At some point between college and the working world, we have to give up on the assumption that every minyan in our community will have a mechitzah and a designated space where women can daven.
In my few months in this new world, I have located one minyan with a mechitzah near my Midtown office. I’ve called up the contacts for minyanim near my office, only to be laughed at when I asked if there was space for women at their minyanim. In my previous office, located outside of Manhattan, the one mincha minyan in my neighborhood turned me down. As a result, when I would still be at work past shkiyah, I would sneak into conference rooms and daven mincha in a rush, hoping that no one had reserved them.
I realize that I am not as easily identifiable as a religious man; whereas a man who wears a kippa to work will inevitably be approached to join a minyan either in or near his office, no one will know to call me up and do the same. I am not surprised that I only learned about the daily mincha minyan in the conference center in my office building in passing. It’s a shame that I am also not surprised that this minyan has no space for me because I am a woman.
Part of my struggle with finding my Jewish community in the workforce has evidently been framed by my difficulty with finding a minyan. After all, how can I be a part of a community that has no space for me? I may not count as part of a minyan, but that does not lessen my obligation to daven.
I don’t believe that a portable mechitzah is the response to my mincha minyan struggles. I am not looking to make others uncomfortable by my presence; rather, I am hoping to find a space where I can grasp onto my Jewish identity in this new world.
With this in mind, I am looking to build a database with the locations of mincha minyanim with spaces for women. Until now, it has been a hunt for women to find minyanim to daven with during the workday in major metropolitan areas; a woman must be “in the know” to know where she can comfortably daven mincha during her day at work. The database which I am building will serve as a resource for women like myself who would like to attend minyan during their busy days. It will prevent the awkward “conference room for one” minchas that my female colleagues and I have gotten ourselves into at one point or another and provide a new sense of community in the working world for men and women alike. Though it is a need right now, I hope that this database becomes obsolete one day as a result of our community working together to make spaces for women at all minyanim the norm rather than the exception.
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