Rabbis Without Borders
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Like many rabbis across the country, this past month I had the privilege of leading a group from our community to Israel. While we were in Jerusalem it was Rosh Chodesh, the celebration of the new month, and whenever I am in Jerusalem and it is Rosh Chodesh, I join with WOW, Women of the Wall, women of varying religious and political backgrounds who pray together monthly at the Kotel, the Western Wall, to share in prayer, community, and hope. I have been doing this over the past 25 years, and though there was hatred and fear in the early days toward a group of women praying together in tallit and with a Torah, it seems that this hatred has escalated in recent days.
Two weeks ago, on Rosh Chodesh Elul, the month that is meant to be a month of reflection, introspection and spiritual searching, I brought four women from our group to pray at the Kotel with WOW. For the first time ever, we entered through a separate section to the women’s section, and then to the designated area where the WOW group would be, which was separated by police barricades, with the purpose of protecting us. Why did we need protection? Because the demonstrated and public hatred against the Women of the Wall has escalated beyond recognition. Still, on this morning, we felt the incredible pride of sharing in beautiful prayer, song, and community; we danced and we celebrated and we had such spirit – it is truly like no other prayer experience. I had the honor of holding the tallit over the Torah reading with three other women, and I could truly see and feel the energy, the spirit, and the power.
And yet, on the other side of the barricades, there were ultra-Orthodox women and young girls screaming at us, throwing things, blowing noisemakers and so much more. In the middle of the service, the police actually added an extra layer of barricades to protect us. The hatred was palpable – hard to believe that we all read the same Torah. When we blew the shofarot (plural of shofar) at the end of the service, and I was fortunate enough to join in the blasts of the shofar; it was our way to announce to the world that we are proud, we are strong, and our courage will continue from month to month.
But what was most unusual about this particular experience was that our group had a reservation to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, immediately following this Rosh Chodesh experience. I have walked the galleries of Yad Vashem many times, but never following a Rosh Chodesh experience at the Kotel. I was struck, almost immediately, by the parallels of hatred that Jews felt in the 1930s in Europe and the hatred Women of the Wall feel every month, standing at a holy site in Israel. The difference was obvious, however: that morning we experienced hatred from other Jews, not from Nazis.
Intellectually, I am shocked that other Jews can show such hatred and disgust toward their fellow Jews, but then I realize that hatred is hatred, and courage is courage. I am reminded that once again, our role in this world is to find the good and to do what we are able to make this world a better place. I am also reminded that leaders and parents have an obligation to teach our followers and our children right from wrong and to be good role models for future generations.
As a side note, I returned to the Kotel one week after Rosh Chodesh, with my 11-year-old daughter and her Israeli friend. We descended the steps from the Jewish Quarter to enter the Kotel Plaza, our hands full of shopping bags, including a shofar we had just purchased to bring back home. As we went through security, I heard one soldier say (in Hebrew) that we had a shofar, and we couldn’t bring a shofar into the Kotel area, as women. Not realizing the connection to Women of the Wall, I quickly explained to them that I was just coming from shopping and was not planning to blow the shofar. Then I realized why they were stopping me, and I was angered once again. I know they were just following orders, and the second soldier reminded the first one that it wasn’t Rosh Chodesh, so it ‘didn’t matter’, but it mattered to me. I hope and pray that soon, right will win over wrong, good over evil and that the courage of the Women of the Wall will inspire each of us to find the courage within to speak out against hatred.