Josephine Schizer, 18


What you do:

At my synagogue, Congregation Ramath Orah, I lead our women’s tefillah (prayer) group that meets monthly. At school, I’m the co-editor-in-chief of our school newspaper, The Rampage, where I’ve really enjoyed writing articles and interviewing students and faculty to hear varied perspectives about school policies. I’m also the co-captain of our Model Congress, Debate and Science Olympiad teams.

Unexpected fun fact:

I like my chocolate-chip cookies under-baked.

How you got here:

In past years, my synagogue’s women’s tefillah group only met twice a year: Simchat Torah and Purim. In ninth grade, I attended the Simchat Torah tefillah and became determined to start a more regular women’s tefillah group. After some planning, that December, we had our first service.

Ever since, the group has grown, with our monthly meetings attracting 30-35 women, including a few who started coming to Ramath Orah specifically for women’s tefillah. Each month, I find women to lead sections of the service and read the Torah (in addition to leading parts myself), coordinate dates and make sure all runs smoothly.

Seeing the women in our community — teenagers, mothers and grandmothers alike — come together and support each other inspires me. When women lead the service for the first time, supported by our community, I’m so proud and moved. 

Formative childhood moment:

I remember attending so many b’nai mitzvot and realizing the difference in the services at the bar and bat mitzvahs. The boys would usually read the entire parsha, often the haftorah as well, lead part of the davening and give a dvar Torah, whereas most of the girls just had a party and gave a dvar Torah. The few girls who did read the Torah read a much shorter section than the boys — this was true of my own bat mitzvah.

For my whole life, I’d been told that I was equal to the boys; we were in the same classes, learned the same things, took the same tests. So when it came to bar and bat mitzvahs, why were the expectations so different? I felt like the Modern Orthodox world was sending mixed messages: you are equal — except when it comes to the rituals in which you aren’t. That contradiction has influenced many of my Jewish decisions in the last six years, including leading me to start the women’s tefillah group at my synagogue.

Follow me @josephineschizer, @josephine_c_s