I grew up Reform in a synagogue that “sat mixed.” In fact, many of the members of my community wouldn’t have immediately understood the phrase “sitting mixed,” because as far as we were concerned, that’s how normal, modern people sat in synagogue—men and women together. Anything else would have been considered at best exotically retrograde and at worst outright oppressive. So it came as something of a surprise to me when, as a college student, I started davening in an Orthodox minyan and fell in love—with the mechitza.
It happened like this: I was interested in learning more about traditional Judaism, and I liked the students in the Orthodox minyan a lot, so I started going to their services on Fridays. And going to their services meant a mechitza.
I thought that sitting in the women’s section would require me to be really brave, because I was convinced doing so would evoke acute discomfort and a sense of horrible degradation. Instead, from the first moment I took my place on the left side of that wood and plexiglass screen in the fluorescent-lit basement room where we met every week, I felt something completely unexpected: Peace.