Jessica Kate Meyer is a Wexner Graduate Fellowship Alumna of Class XX.  She can be reached at

In January I was offered the opportunity to perform in “Divine Sparks”—an evening of sacred Jewish music and improvisation with two of the most exciting musicians making noise in the Jewish and jazz music worlds.  But there was a catch: the singer headlining the evening observes ‘kol isha’ (a prohibition against listening to a woman sing), and would not appear on stage with me.  As the only woman involved in an evening of collaborative music, it would become glaringly obvious that collaboration sometimes excluded the female voice.

Before Wexner, I had never heard the term kol isha, and probably would have walked away, insulted, from this opportunity.  Wexner changed my perspective…

Four years ago, a few days before class XX would gather for the first time and present each other with 4-minute teachings from our interviews, the director of the WGF, Or Mars, called with a ‘pluralistic challenge.’  How could I keep the nigun (wordless melody) in my teaching without alienating fellow fellows who observe kol isha?   Learning of this concept for the first time and feeling somewhat baffled, I offered to take the music out of my presentation.  Thankfully, Or advised me otherwise, and I devised an introduction to my teaching that both respected the practice of my colleagues and upheld the power of my own voice.

Over the next four years, I engaged my kol isha-observing colleagues in discussion on this topic, keen to understand their perspective.  My comrades never placed the onus of their observance on me—I never felt that they wanted me to inhibit my voice, and I, in turn, respected their practice.   (Since Wexner, I have been in situations where the onus was placed on me, where I was expected to be quiet.  This, naturally, inspired me to sing louder).

Because of Wexner, I understood the evening of Divine Sparks as one of opportunity and mutual respect.  And while the Chabad-affiliated chazzan and the non-denominational rabbinical student never appeared on stage at the same time, we connected and spoke as colleagues, honoring each other’s chosen paths and soulful pursuits.