(Side Note: Yes, we hold auctions in our holiest sanctuaries on the holiest days of the year. If that sounds strange to you... Well, join the club. If it doesn't, can you explain it to me?)
The parts of the service that are up for auction are all parts that the men perform. Opening the ark, getting to say a blessing on the Torah when it is brought out, having the honor of lifting the Torah up in the air for everyone to see and make their own blessings on, etc.
I wasn't aware of it when I was a child, but apparently there are some serious politics that take place in the men's section of the shul over these bids. There are certain parts of the service that are favored more than others and the guy who gets them is considered pretty important.
One these parts in the Yom Kippur service is the act of opening the ark for the last prayer of the day - neilah. Even without being aware of men's-section politics, I always knew that this part of the service was considered important because it always sold for a lot more than other parts of the service. Getting "psicha d'neilah" is a big honor for whatever man wins it.
You can't imagine my delight when I was told by a friend last night that she, along with 19 other young women, got together in a shul in Brooklyn and outbid all the men for this part of the service. And not just any women. Single women, who weren't just out bidding for their husbands. They bought it for themselves.
It's an historical event. Unheard of, as far as I know. No, they weren't able to perform the actual service: they had to have a man stand in and open the ark for them. But he did it on their behalf, acting as a stand-in, and all the credit for this age-old honor went to them.
To those young women: I salute you. You are an inspiration to frum women everywhere. I thank you for creating an opening for the rest of us.