“She wants to make the gan Reform,” she says to her assistant.
I feel my cheeks burn and I almost turn away.
But…I can’t leave my son this way…in a room where he is taught subtle discrimination and stereotypes.
So I speak up because this is where it starts…in this room with 3 and 4-year-olds running around an incompetent teacher who doesn’t understand me.
“That was not my intention,” I say loud enough to assert myself and so that my son can hear.
“I just don’t think the boys should always be the chazan [prayer leader]. There is nothing wrong with a chazanit.”
The assistant smiles.
“You know my sister-in-law was a gannenet in a Reform gan. I know what you’re talking about.”
I breathe deep and try to control the feelings rising up within me.
“No. You don’t understand. My son told me that only boys can be the chazan. And when I said a girl can be a chazanit, he laughed. This is not about religion. This is not even about prayer. This is about my son believing that girls can’t be a chazanit. This is about my son believing there are things girls cannot do just because they are girls.”
“Oh…I see. You know you really are a unique mother that you think about this.”
I almost lose it.
“I want you to know that if he were a girl…this conversation would have happened the first week of gan. I want you to know that I am angry at myself it took so long for me to speak to you about this. I want you to know that I believe in equality. I want you to know that as much as I aim to empower my daughter, I aim to teach my son what it means to be equal in a world that sees him as something more because of his gender. And it starts here.”
“You know, I heard a segment on the radio about discrimination in the workplace. They said that people are discriminated against all sorts of things. The color of their skin…where they come from…their religion. If I hadn’t heard that I wouldn’t understand you!”
“Yes, but here is where you start! Here is where you educate the children about equality! In this room!”
She has this blank look on her face and I know that she thinks I’m some sort of crazy feminist burning bras and damning the man.
I look around the room.
The boys and girls are all mixed up together…and they come from different parts of the world…and in so many shades of skin-color…and they speak different languages at home…and they pray differently…and they love like equals…and they fight like equals…and they feel like equals.
I tell my son there will be a chazanit because everyone can lead a prayer to a God Who sees them as equal. I say it loud enough to ensure that the gannenet and her assistant can hear me…and I walk out of the room, wondering who I was begging to be educated.