Finally bringing gender equality to a long-neglected focus of synagogue life, suburban Chicago’s Congregation Invei Hagefen has become the first shul to introduce a women’s kiddush club.
“Reading the Torah from the bimah is nice, but it’s not where the real action is,” explains congregant and JIFA board member Brandy Weinberg. “Everyone knows the real power center in the synagogue is the unofficial kiddush club.”
Traditionally, the kiddush club, whose participants sneak out of shul during the haftara to consume excessive amounts of alcohol and herring smuggled from home, has been the sole territory of the men. “It’s not right that only the men should be able to skip out of davening to talk about sports and the stock market,” she said.
No longer content to watch from the women’s balcony while the men take their liquor break, Weinberg decided to take action. She brought a stash of kiddush supplies in a reusable Whole Foods bag, hidden under a layer of hard candies. “If anyone asked, I’d say I thought there was a bar mitzvah.”
Then, during the haftara, she went out to the corridor behind the women’s section and set out the spread. “The men never come up there,” she noted. “You could have a whole women’s prayer group in that corridor and the rabbi would never know.”
She had tipped off some friends of her plans in advance and was looking forward to socializing with them. Things didn’t go entirely as planned, however.
“I had made an extra effort to get to shul in time for the haftara so I could launch the kiddush club. Turns out I was the only woman who did.”
Rather than let the supplies go to waste, Weinberg says, she consumed as much as she could herself. When her friends finally arrived towards the end of the Musaf service, they found her passed out next to a half-empty bottle of Johnnie Walker. “The ambulance crew was very helpful,” she recalls. “In gratitude, I offered them a box of Stella D’Oro cookies.”