In Which My Daughter and I Are Happy

First grade Breslov dance

Glad Not to Have a Boy in This Dance

On the day before my first-grader’s siddur party to celebrate receiving her first prayer-book, she brought a note home from school. The teacher had written the following for my daughter to memorize: “I am honored to invite Mr. RH, head of the local education ministry, to say a few words.”  I asked her if she was happy to be chosen. “Why should I be happy?” she said. “YOU should be happy.”

My daughter really was excited about the party. Two years ago, my son got so fed up with rehearsals that he watched the performance with us, in the audience. At his party, they showed film clips of first-grade boys praying in the synagogue. The girls were filmed cleaning the house for Shabbat.

So I got nevous a few weeks before this year’s party when the boys in my daughter’s class were instructed to dress up as different occupations. The girls had to come as mommies, with scarves, hats and “elegant purses.” When my husband complained, the senior first-grade teacher didn’t understand. She asked if my daughter was upset.

In this year’s clip, the boys were carpenters, plumbers, doctors and businessmen while the girls taught, ironed and went to the grocery. At least they had a few businesswomen. The children did their tasks, looked at their watches, and stopped. Afterward the clip showed all the children in shul saying mincha (the afternoon prayer).  Having the girls say mincha in shul was rather progessive.

I took loads of pictures to practice, so I could get a a good shot of my daughter introducing the official. But she never got her chance, or I never got mine, because the official never showed up.

At least I was smart enough not to ask whether she was disappointed.


  1. hannah, interesting post! i’m curious about those gender roles, though! how do you feel about them? what about your kids? do you think its reflective of israel’s views “as a whole?” so many questions, i know! thanks, as always.

    • MM, Thanks for visiting. My teen son and daughter discuss these issues constantly. Yes, it does reflect Israeli culture although it’s more pronounced in the religious system. On the other hand, there are advantages to separate classes (in our elementary school, starting in 3rd grade). In general girls are taught that they can choose any career etc., but issues of feminism and respect for women’s aspirations are rarely discussed with the boys, as far as I have seen.
      How do I feel about the whole thing? I haven’t yet clarified my thoughts on the topic.

  2. I once saw Ehud Olmert at a school here in Yerushalaim, showed on time and the kids sang keili ata. In general these officials show up.Nothing happened here. life goes on.

  3. Abe, no one missed the official. Did it sound like I was complaining that he didn’t come?

  4. Oy, our first siddur party was quite a production, in the literal and figurative senses. Rav Lau came, in addition to two other officials, so we had to endure 3 speeches, on top of the 4 production numbers, one for each class.

    I actually really didn’t have a problem with the productions, because 3/4 were actually abstract dance numbers, all involving a lot of glitter and fancy lighting and props, even for the boys (boys and girls’ classes are separate in my daughter’s school). The only number that was more literal was one of the boys classes and they actually re-enacted Jewish history from Yitziat Mizrayim through the 67 war, with a few kids in the background davening at the kotel. It was actually a little tear jerking (i was tearing up practically the whole show) and there were no gender role issues at all in any of the numbers.

    The biggest problem I had was with the speeches. R’ Lau brought up of a number of connections between his childhood experiences and davening/ the siddur. A few were quite graphic actually (i thought, at least for 6 year olds). So of course, everyone after that had to talk about the shoah as well. Basically, I felt like i was at a Yom Hashoah tekes and not a siddur party. 🙁 No one else was bothered by it like me.

  5. Years ago, at a gan graduation, a certain official showed up and went on and on about how moved and grateful she was that the kids had “invited” her to their party.

    Meanwhile, the kids were sitting there with confused looks on their faces. They had absolutely no idea who this lady was, and of course, none of them could remember having “invited” her.

    It was very, very funny! 🙂

    P.S. Mazal tov on the siddur party!

  6. We had our siddur party last week too. It’s a girls only school, so they played out the story of Chana, with a couple of other dances about the meaning of prayer. The speeches were short, the numbers were stunning, so it was very moving.

  7. From my experience, the gender stereotyping is mainly an issue in religious schools.
    Certain things annoy me in religious schools. Like the fact that in elementary, boys learn gemarah while girls learn mishnah or folk dancing. For a few hours a week, boys and girls in mixed classes are split for this express purpose. Not that I have anything against mishnah or folk dancing – I think more dancing for everyone would be great – but what kind of message does this send the kids? That the heavy learning is for boys only?

    Or the fact that during the great Purim gala, girls compete to be the rabbanit (while in boys’ yeshivot, the star of the show is the rav). Sending the message that a girl’s greatest hope should be to marry well.
    I have nothing against encouraging women to be wives and mothers. I am just very uncomfortable when that is all they are encouraged to be from a young age. It actually sits very strangely with the fact that most religious women are expected to ultimately work and provide another income.

  8. hmm, i don’t know. it’s hard to have a strong opinion from way over here without coming across as judgmental, you know? i will say that *i* personally ended up in a very gender stereotypical life, but totally and completely out of choice. one thing that strikes me as ironic (perhaps) is how many responsibilities and strengths israeli women are expected to have (the army, for instance) and the image they (we?) have of being pretty kick butt. that doesn’t seem to jive with some of the school lessons mentioned above.

  9. M. Mamaleh – there’s a big difference between secular and religious education in Israel. I’ve taught for years in both systems. Dati high schools place major emphasis on preparing girls to be wives and mothers (halachically, emotionally, etc).

    Secular schools do not look at girls as wives-in-the-making. They are treated exactly the same as boys, expected to be as assertive, etc.

    • Shira, I think that’s a bit of a stereotype, at least about secular women being taught to be more assertive. I don’t see that in real life among adult women. I know plenty of assertive, ambitious religious women and vice versa.

  10. shira, thanks for the explanation. i think all of this is completely fascinating! i imagine the same is basically true here in the states– very religious school systems looking at gender lines differently than the secular system. i have taught in the secular system and sunday school in a somewhat religious system but haven’t observed this firsthand (yet?)

  11. I think I may not have expressed myself as clearly as I could have. I don’t think secular schools exactly encourage girls to be more assertive than religious schools. I just think there’s MUCH less emphasis on gender differences.
    Many (not all) religious high schools strongly encourage girls to think about their future roles as wives and mothers. At least in the school where I worked, lessons were devoted to how to choose a shidduch, how to properly treat and pamper a husband, how to avoid marital fights, etc. I believe there was actually an entire curriculum labelled ‘shlom bait’ or something of the sort, to be taught by the homeroom teacher/mechanechet.
    In contrast, the secular high school where I teach has not mentioned marriage once. There were a few seminars/lectures given on how to decide when it’s right for you to become sexually active, on how to avoid violent boyfriends, and on how to stand up for yourself.
    So from my (limited) experience, religious schools are heavier on having girls internalize traditional roles. But I must agree with mother in Israel that ultimately, dati women are pretty much as assertive as their secular sisters, and some of them develop impressive careers.


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