School upholds promise as two girls daven off campus
November 29, 2015
Three days a week before school, freshman Noa Kligfeld prays and puts on tefillin at the morning minyan in Pilch Hall of Temple Beth Am. Most days her friend Hannah Friedman, also a freshman, goes with her.
Afterwards, they are met by a car service in the mini-mall next door to the synagogue, and from there they take a short ride to class at 910 South Fairfax. Shalhevet not only allows them to come to class a few minutes late, but pays for their rides.
“It was important to demonstrate that we wanted to do everything we could to facilitate this happening on both our terms and on [her] terms,” said Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal.
“If we could make sure to facilitate those rides for her, it would send an
important message to her and also to us about the value we place on helping a student do this.”
Two years after a vigorous Town Hall debate and community discussion about the possibility of girls enrolling in Shalhevet who wanted to pray wearing tefillin, the hypothetical situation has now arisen.
Rabbi Segal ultimately decided against letting girls wear tefillin at school, explaining in November of 2013 that “in order to maintain [Shalhevet’s] diversity, there will be times when something might be technically permitted but not wise to allow.”
He also said that he would let such students skip davening at school and pray at a synagogue of their choice.
“[I would] offer her the opportunity to put them on at a nearby synagogue or to put them on at home and then come to school to receive the best Judaic education in Los Angeles,” said Rabbi Segal shortly after making his decision two years ago.
That’s what Noa expected when she applied, and that’s the policy that met her when she arrived. Both she and Hannah are graduates of Pressman Academy, which is Temple Beth Am’s K-8 day school. They were encouraged there to wear tallit and tefillin every day.
“I like being in an egalitarian place where men and women are considered equal, where if I wanted to lead I could, if I wanted to read Torah I could,” said Noa in an interview. “Where I am considered to count, where I matter, and where if there’s nine people and I’m the 10th, we have a minyan.”
The timing is tricky. Temple Beth Am’s egalitarian minyan begins at 7:30 a.m. and Shalhevet starts at 8, so the girls daven and dash to school, often arriving after their first-period classes have begun.
They use the car service HopSkipDrive which is a more expensive version of Uber, designed for kids. According to the company’s website, a single ride is $20, or $12 per ride if a 50-ride package is purchased.
“In terms of the background checks, it’s a bit more thorough,” Rabbi Segal said of HopSkipDrive. “It’s a little bit more expensive, but you know, if I can be safer and make sure the background checks are more thorough, I’d rather do that.”
Noa had always planned to wear tefillin when she became a bat mitzvah, and was encouraged to do so while attending middle school.
“The way I’ve always grown up thinking about Judaism is that there’s no difference between guys and girls when it comes to halacha and we’re totally equal,” Noa said in an interview.
Hannah went to Pressman too and has led davening and read from the Torah, although she does not wear tefillin.
“My whole life I grew up with that environment,” Hannah said. “I don’t put on tallis or tefillin, but I like to be in an egalitarian minyan.”
Since they do not want to miss too much class, Noa and Hannah attend Girls Singing Minyan at Shalhevet twice a week, where Noa does not wear tefillin.
“It’s too complicated,” Noa said. “I miss a few minutes of class in the mornings, and it’s annoying to do that and I don’t want to do that every day.
“I do wish there was a way for me to wear them everyday, but I’m also happy with the compromise that we made.”
Although it would be less expensive for Shalhevet and more convenient for the girls, Rabbi Segal said again that he would not allow an egalitarian minyan at Shalhevet.
“I wanted to find a way to accommodate and support [her] desire to put on tefillin while also honoring and respecting the Orthodox norms at Shalhevet,” said Rabbi Segal. “At this point I decided girls are not going to be wearing tefillin at the school.”
But Noa and Hannah may not be the last to ask to attend a minyan outside of Shalhevet. Sophomore Amin Lari has expressed interest in joining the Beth Am minyan, though he has not decided whether or not he will ask Rabbi Segal.
“I just like their way of prayer better,” said Amin. “From what I remember at Pressman, it was louder and everybody was involved.”
Rabbi Segal was not sure what he would do, though he was open to the idea.
“There’s no blanket answer,” Rabbi Segal said. “Do I imagine that there could be a boy who wants to go there that I would allow because he wants to be in an egalitarian minyan? Absolutely. If we had out of 220 students everyone going to their own minyanim, that wouldn’t work.”
Rabbi Segal also said that he might let a student go to a different type of minyan.
“If there was a good reason … it can be someone who really feels strongly that they want to go to a minyan that’s chassidish,” said Rabbi Segal. “I’d be happy to talk to them about it and then see if we can facilitate it.”
For now, though, it’s just Noa and Hannah. In spite of Rabbi Segal’s ruling out an egalitarian minyan at school, Noa said she appreciates what he is doing. She also seems to understand his reasoning exactly as he does.
“The school really wanted to let me be a Jew in the way I wanted to be a Jew while also staying true to the school’s Orthodox values,” she said.