A reflection by Sherry Gutes. Character Trait of Perseverance
Our Makom trip has been fabulous. Frankly, every time in Israel is special, fabulous, unique.
There are so many places, players, conversations and experiences to share with you. Today, I share my experience as part of Women of the Wall (WOW). If you are not yet familiar with this group, please click HERE. (www.womenofthewall.org.il/
WOW is an organization that, for more than 25 years, has advocated – actually ‘fought for’ is a better description - for women’s right to pray together, sing together and read Torah together on Rosh Chodesh at the Kotel (the Western Wall)
Why would this be controversial?
Wednesday was Rosh Chodesh Elul, which ushers in a month of introspection and reflection that leads to the High Holy Days. Each Rosh Chodesh hundreds of men and women gather (separately) at the Kotel, the Western Wall, for special morning prayers.
On Wednesday morning five Makom women - Rabbi Bravo and I, Rachel, Carol and Arlene, joined Women of the Wall for Rosh Chodesh. We arrived at the Kotel plaza before 7 am. I was excited to once again join in solidarity with WOW. We followed a group of women to the back right corner of the women’s side, behind security barricades. We were greeted warmly and given WOW siddurim (prayer books). There was a small table in the front, covered by a tallit.
About 100 women participated, and the diversity among the group was obvious. Some women wore kippot; some not. Some with t’fillin and/or tallit, some not. Some were religious; some not. I saw just as many long skirts as I did T-shirts and jeans.
The t’fillah began. A young woman with a strong and melodic voice led the prayers, and as I looked around at the hundreds of other women on the plaza and in front of the Kotel, I was both humbled and filled with pride that, as a Jewish woman, I am able to stand up and fully participate to support other Jewish women in their struggle to pray.
Shortly into our prayers, the taunts and harassment that come each month, and that are sanctioned and encouraged by the ultra-orthodox organization that ‘controls’ The Kotel, began. Two women stood with placards that contained the Shema/V’ahavtah prayers and screamed continually at us while we sang and davened. All I kept thinking was that they were disturbing everyone who was at the Kotel, not only our group. Where was the outrage?? They kept up their high-pitched screaming for the entire hour plus that we were there. Yet they were ‘easy’ to ignore.
More disturbing was the group of young girls aged 10 - 16. Just a few feet away from us, they screamed and used blaring whistles to disrupt our prayers. No adults were with them. Security kept them at bay so they could not get any closer to us, yet nobody tried to intervene to address or stop their disgusting behavior. Their heads and faces were covered with long scarves so as not to be identified. Remind you of another group of hate mongers in America??
And then a very small Torah appeared. Someone was able to smuggle one in – I have no idea how. How many times in our shared history have we learned about Jews having to hide that they are reading Torah, or smuggle in a Torah to be used??? Yet this is the Modern State of Israel and it is 2017 and, according to the words of Hatikvah, we are to be a free people in our land….
The taunts, screams and whistles intensified. I walked over to where the young girls were, and just stared in disbelief at the hatred that they have been taught. It brought me to tears. No other reaction but tears.
I then chose to focus on the beautiful Torah reading. It was so sweet to see Rabbi Bravo as one of four women holding the corners of a large tallit in order to create a chuppah, a canopy, over the Torah. Beautiful. And Rachel was honored with carrying the Torah through the crowd. Her face glowed with gratitude and joy, and it’s a moment I will long remember. (Rabbi Bravo streamed it live on Facebook!)
Our t’fillah ended with singing and dancing Oseh Shalom Bimromav (“make peace among us) – how appropriate. And then we sang Hatikvah - together. It is traditional to sound the shofar every day during the month of Elul; Rabbi Bravo was one of women who blew shofar. The voice of these multiple shofarot energized me – to action.
T’fillah was over, and the group quickly dispersed. The five Makom women got into cabs to make our way to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. For the next few hours I thought about the senseless and vicious hatred that Jews endured before and during the Holocaust, and tried very,very hard not to equate any of it with what I witnessed that morning. Because doing so would diminish the Shoah (the Holocaust) and its millions of victims. (I will write more about the experience at Yad Vashem…..)
I found out yesterday, from an article written by Leslie Sachs, WOW’s Executive Director, that WOW board members and supporters were patted down by security, and some women’s clothing was lifted up, to see if anyone was attempting to smuggle in a Torah. Another example of attempts at humiliation and degradation. Even typing these words infuriates me.
This was the 2nd time that I was privileged to be with Women of the Wall. The Kotel belongs to all Jews. I will not allow a fringe group to tell me or anyone else when and how to pray. I will stand proudly and humbly with other Jewish women in advocating for equal rights. WOW represents Jewish rights - the right to pray together, to sing together, to read Torah together.
The Kotel belongs to all Jews. Period.