Women win right to sing at Jewish ceremony

Next years’s Kol Isha at Yom Hashoah ceremony at Number 2 Jewish Cemetery in Pinelands will be conducted in two parts, following a settlement between the Cape Council of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and two activists, Gilad Stern and Pinelands resident Sarah Goldstein, on the right of solo female singers to perform at the annual Holocaust memorial ceremony.

Solo female performers were excluded from the ceremony and other events after an orthodox chief rabbi walked off a stage in 2005 protesting the performance of a young girl. The two activists had taken the matter to the Equality Court before the agreement was reached.

In a statement, the Cape Council of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies said: “In terms of this settlement, the board shall restructure future ceremonies so as not to exclude a woman singing solo, while still ensuring that the event is inclusive for the entire community, including those observing Kol Isha.

“The forthcoming Yom Hash-oah ceremony, unlike previous ceremonies, will be conducted in two parts, the one following the other, and separated by an event, such as candle lighting, the time of which will be publicised.

“The first part will be a musical/cultural/educational part, including a woman singing solo, while the second part will follow the traditional ceremony including at least the speakers and a choir. For so long as the board arranges the ceremony, it will determine the programme and content thereof.”

Mr Stern and Ms Goldstein were delighted with the outcome.

“The Jewish community has aligned itself with the values of equality and non-discrimination. I think it’s better to resolve these matters internally, with respect and dignity for all, rather than litigate,” Mr Stern said.

“The mechanism which the ceremony will include, so as to satisfy the needs of those orthodox males in the community who find the ceremony’s content to be problematic, is an obvious one. Those who choose not to hear a woman singing, can simply arrive late at the ceremony, after the halfway mark, by which time a woman, or women, will have sung.”

He said he had always maintained that it was more appropriate for men to regulate their attendance or participation, “rather than to muzzle and silence all women”.

“I’m thrilled that the board has reached the same justified stance. In the same way that an orthodox Jew has to wait a while after eating meat, before having milk, in that same spirit, the affected individuals can wait until woman or women have finished singing, and then enter. It’s a matter of self-regulation, rather than regulating all females.”

Ms Goldstein was “relieved and grateful” that the board had “finally come to its senses”.

“In a world where woman are leaders, healers, inventors scientists and pillars of strength in communities, this seems like such an obvious step. As a mother of girl children I say, please, God, may generations of woman to come not need to threaten court action in order to be heard. Women are equal: equally valuable, equally accountable, equally responsible, and 50 percent of the world.”