The following proposal is an attempt to reach for a larger consensus while trying to incorporate the ideologies dreams and needs of as large a majority of the community as possible.
I propose that WLKS remain an alternate minyan that meets once or twice a month downstairs only effective immediately. I believe that it is important that this fight be put to bed and that pushing off any decision will just magnify the conflict that has been plaguing the kehilla of late.
The reasoning behind this proposal is as follows –
1. The proposal addresses the needs of the not insignificant minority that opposes WLKS, in particular upstairs on the Bima. We need to be sensitive to the pain that has been expressed by this minority. In particular we need to listen to "the small still voice" of those who feel that this issue excludes them from the community. It needs to be clear that the way to come to community decisions is through discussions and not bullying or threatening.
2. The proposal preserves the use of the upstairs hall which ought not to be abandoned on Shabbat on a consistent basis.
3. The proposal addresses the needs of the WLKS. Over the past half a year WLKS has met downstairs and has been a wonderful experience. The room is full. The atmosphere is intimate and spiritual. The singing is uplifting and the feeling of togetherness has been strong. This has been consistent regardless of who the chaazzanit was. Some chazzaniyot have been and will be stronger. While others may be weaker, downstairs this seems to matters less. The space itself helps. While the acoustics downstairs are less than optimal, when we sit next to each other and the room is full we can hear each other and sing and daven as a cohesive group.
4. The proposal addresses the need to further religious feminism albeit not in an expected fashion. On one hand, moving WLKS upstairs led from the Bima is clearly an ideological statement that furthers religious feminism and leading from the Bima is the ideological dream of a significant portion of our community and for some a personal dream. On the other hand, only a handful of women in my experience can easily lead upstairs. This is especially true for the less experienced chazzaniyot. This is despite the better acoustics upstairs for the following reasons: Leading from any place other than the Bima makes the acoustics untenable or the experience of leading difficult. The sthender upfront is better acoustically than any of the other spots but there the chazzan is entirely disconnected from the community. On the Bima, the acoustics are better, but I believe that for the acoustics to help the chazzan/chazzanit he/she must first achieve a minimum of projection that many women will struggle with. Lastly, standing on the Bima is a lonely place to be. The Gabbait is far away and cannot help. Spontaneous changes such as a mother or daughter joining during KS are precluded. Staying downstairs will widen the pool of chazzaniyot significantly in particular to younger and less experienced chazzaniyot. I would suggest that religious feminism is about accessibility, opportunity, and education as much as it is about equality or parity.
The weaknesses of this proposal which need to be addressed are both technical and ideological:
1. The technical issues of staying downstairs are primarily but not only acoustic. The noise from the ramp and the playroom and that the two minyanim hear each other are issues. This proposal hinges on the willingness of the VM to bring in an acoustic engineer to offer suggestions of how to improve the acoustics downstairs especially when the partition is open. This will serve the needs of WLKS but also, the women's kriyat hatorah, the hashkama minyan, the alternate minyanim on the yamim noraim etc. This of course needs to keep in mind the aesthetics and multiple uses of the room. In the meantime, and possibly indefinitely I suggest a Toranut on the ramps that will respond to the noise from both children and adults. This worked well on the yamim noraim and if done with sensitivity could make a significant difference. The plastic chairs make noise and should not be used. The kehilla would need to buy more of the black chairs. The air conditioning must be fixed. More siddurim need to be bought so that the siddurim will not need to be schlepped up and down all of the time. I suggest having KS and Arvit for Shabbat printed in small booklets as this will also make storing them easier.
2. The space may not always be large enough. The space holds 160 seats on the yamim noraim not including the amphitheater or people who choose to stand in the back. WLKS has already hit these numbers. It has been the experience at WLKS that even at full capacity, the tefilot are very nice. In this proposal there is always an alternative MLKS upstairs. Most groups can be scheduled for non-WLKS shabbatot and we can agree that if the room hits capacity that late comers will join the MLKS upstairs.
3. There are a number of ideological issues which need to be addressed. Firstly, it is important that it be clear that WLKS will remain downstairs by choice and not because it is prohibited for WLKS to be led upstairs from the BIma. I would suggest a moratorium of a few years during which this discussion will be off the table but after that its being raised again ought not to be precluded. WLKS and the majority of the community that is in favor can choose to remain downstairs. Religious change in an established community and those changes that have already occurred in our kehilla over the years are more evolutionary than revolutionary. And that is as it should be in order to preserve the community. If WLKS goes upstairs for the planned trial period then by the end of the process the community will both continue to experience the ongoing conflict that may tear us apart and those who oppose will no longer be in the room to be a part of the discussion. We will have lost both our diversity and pluralism that I think enriches this community but we will have not been true to the ideology of the shul which calls for chesed and social justice. The shul stands for promoting a culture of discussion which is respectful and inclusive. If we only wanted feminism we would daven elsewhere and if we only wanted traditional Orthodoxy there are other shuls that we could have joined. Yedidya is about people, and, in my opinion that is why we are here. It is important to me that we continue to pray together and so any proposal that is accepted ought to further community building and not result in us praying as two camps.
4. It is important that downstairs not be viewed as "second class." Those who pray downstairs during the week and those who go to the hashkama minyan do not feel that the entrance hall is second class, for them it is the main space that they pray in. It feels like home. However, to those who come primarily on Shabbat and chagim, upstairs is the real space. It has been pointed out that many minyanim in the neighborhood would "plotz" for this space and that would be true of Yedidya before we built the building. Only in comparison to the beauty of the upstairs hall, does downstairs seem second class. I suggest that the furniture downstairs be rethought in a way that will upgrade the downstairs space. We should have a central space for the chazzan/chazzanit that is nice while being movable. I suggest something similar to the Bima that Hebrew Institute of Riverdale has which has the mechiza going around it with entrances from both sides. I probably could not be raised and it would need to be movable/modular. I believe that would answer the needs of those chazzaniyot for whom the Bima is important without raising opposition as it would not be a standard raised Bima. Upgrading the Aron can be considered. And the addition of more black chairs has already been noted.
5. I suggest that the implementation committee be expanded to include members of the design committee and the building committee as well as possibly others to work on the issues raised by any of the compromises being proposed.
Let us hope that the process that we are going through will build community and not tear it apart and that it will be an opportunity for community growth.