More Than Just A Shul For Women’s Issues


The following was a speech delivered by Shana Sultanik Fishman at the B’nai David-Judea 19th Annual Dinner on February 26, 2017. It has been modified from its original format to fit this blog post. 

“As an Archaeology major in college – with a concentration in Biblical Archaeology – I gained tremendous appreciation for how dynamic Judaism is. We may be thousands of years removed from our ancient ancestors, but linked by faith, tradition, and community, the evolution and adaptations of our religion over time are astoundingly beautiful. We’ve survived and thrived by constantly adapting to the changing world around us.

Judaism is a dynamic religion, and because of that, I think it’s critically important to belong to a dynamic shul. That’s why Mordechai and I joined B’nai David-Judea 12 years ago, and ultimately, it’s why I’m President.

People mistakenly think that we’re just the shul that ‘pushes the envelope’ on women’s issues, but that’s reductionist. We are a shul that recognizes that Modern Orthodox Judaism is an ongoing conversation between the framework of halacha and the modern world in which we live. Led by Rav Yosef, we have a genuine willingness to partake in thoughtful discussions, with an open mind and without fear of progress, while remaining true to our halachic principles and religious ethics.

This dynamic approach colors everything we do. When the board recently discussed the appropriate shul response to a measles outbreak here in LA, the process began by speaking about the moral responsibility of the community to reach herd immunity. When the security committee wanted to make certain changes, the knowledge that ‘other shuls are doing it’ wasn’t enough. Instead Rav Yosef and Rabbanit Alissa challenged the committee to ask specific questions of a professional security person to ascertain whether the change was halachically permissible.

If so much thought and respect for halacha is deployed for even routine administrative policies, then kal va’chomer, when Rabbanit Alissa stood up before us this summer to recite kiddush, you can rest assured it was done with even more thoughtful halachic study and communal education.

So then who are we? Our mission statement says that we’re a warm Modern Orthodox community where we share a deep love for Israel and include ALL in prayer, Torah study and the sacred work of being a Jew.

Include ALL? How is this possible in an Orthodox environment?

Well, we’re working on it. For example, at a recent Seder Nashim program there was a discussion of the inclusion of adults and children with disabilities within our community. It rapidly became clear that a shabbat elevator leading to the social hall and a ramp leading to the bima were not nearly enough. A committee was formed and ideas were solidified. B’nai David now has better accessibility signage, page-size magnifying glasses, a much deeper awareness of what still needs to be done, and the newly-introduced Janet Wolf Inclusion Fund to help us get there.

So when I read the words “include ALL”, I am speaking directly to friends who feel marginalized within our community. I am speaking to single men and women who don’t always feel like they are valued; or older members who sometimes feel forgotten. I am speaking to children and adults with physical or psychological disabilities, who sometimes feel we are moving forward without them; and I am speaking to the people whom I love, whose world views I simply cannot agree with. All of you are integral parts of our B’nai David family, and ALL of you are included in OUR prayer, and OUR Torah study, and OUR sacred work of being Jews.

That’s the type of dynamic community you are here tonight to support. With the largest attendance numbers in recent memory, we are showing tonight that B’nai David-Judea is poised for growth, and everyone here is an ambassador for that growth.”

Shana Sultanik Fishman is Director of Development at Gindi Maimonides Academy in Los Angeles. She is currently serving as President of Congregation B’nai David-Judea. 

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