Author Archives: Nathalie Michelle Gorman

The Lilith Blog

July 11, 2013 by

My Forbidden (Mechitza) Love Story

image via meaduva

I grew up Reform in a synagogue that “sat mixed.” In fact, many of the members of my community wouldn’t have immediately understood the phrase “sitting mixed,” because as far as we were concerned, that’s how normal, modern people sat in synagogue—men and women together. Anything else would have been considered at best exotically retrograde and at worst outright oppressive. So it came as something of a surprise to me when, as a college student, I started davening in an Orthodox minyan and fell in love—with the mechitza.

It happened like this: I was interested in learning more about traditional Judaism, and I liked the students in the Orthodox minyan a lot, so I started going to their services on Fridays. And going to their services meant a mechitza.

I thought that sitting in the women’s section would require me to be really brave, because I was convinced doing so would evoke acute discomfort and a sense of horrible degradation. Instead, from the first moment I took my place on the left side of that wood and plexiglass screen in the fluorescent-lit basement room where we met every week, I felt something completely unexpected: Peace.


The Lilith Blog

June 18, 2013 by

Take Off That Hat:
A Message to My Subway Harasser

large_238854221In the span of two weeks a few months ago, I was sexually harassed twice on the subway. The first time, an older, white-bearded Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] man drove his thumb straight into my right butt cheek. The second time, a secular-looking fellow with a mop of brown curls and a computer bag over his trench-coated shoulder flashed me, gently tossing his penis from hand to hand a few feet from me while I waited for the train.

Both these experiences were upsetting and degrading. But I found myself more upset by the Haredi man groping me than I was by the religiously-not-identifiable schlub who decided that I absolutely must see his member. And since then, I’ve been wondering: Why do I care so much more about the Haredi guy?

Was it the fact that the first experience involved physical contact, while the second was only a visual assault? That said, both the old man copping a very emphatic and unwanted feel and the middle-aged man deciding I absolutely needed to see his member registered as such profound violations that I would be hard-pressed to call one worse than the other.

Was it because one guy was a Jew while the other one wasn’t, at least, not as far as I know? That explanation definitely doesn’t do it for me. I’ve never been comfortable holding Jews to a higher level of moral accountability than I do others just because we happen to be co-religionists. For me, a person who did a bad thing is just that: a person who did a bad thing. Whether he’s Jewish or not is beside the point.