Sunday, 3 November 2013

Women Of The Wall at 25

I am conflicted.

It isn't all that unusual.

When it comes to the state of Israel, conflicted is a kind expression of my emotions.

Don't get me wrong. I believe strongly in the existence of the state and in its unique position as a haven for Jewish life, thought, education, culture, prayer, and growth. Israel is and always should be.

But, I am also a realist and a progressive. As a Jewish woman and citizen of the Jewish diaspora, I feel it is imperative to challenge some of Israel's more disturbing and misogynistic policies. The fact of the matter is that there are still many ideas and regulations within the state that are anathema to me. It is amazing that for many, these abhorrent laws have crystallized around the Kotel (The Western Wall) and the fight for equal recognition of women's tefillah (prayer) by the advocacy group Women of the Wall.

For twenty-five years this dedicated group, encompassing religiously diverse women and many men who support them, have been gathering at the Wall every month to celebrate Rosh Chodesh, the new month. They come to the women's side of the mechitzah in order to pray their way; draped in tallitot (prayer shawls), covered in kippot, and ready to sing the prayers of Hallel. They read from the Torah and they celebrate as Miriam and the women did at the Sea. But, the orthodox rabbinate that controls the Wall and its plaza has become increasingly threatened by these women. They see them as an affront to all that they hold sacred, and have unleashed a torrent of hateful rhetoric upon them. These brave women have been catcalled. Epithets have been hurled in their direction while chairs, eggs and other projectiles thrown at them from the men's side. And when the abuse was at its very worst, they have been arrested, searched, relieved of their precious religious items, and held without charge. All because they wished to pray at Judaism's holiest site.

And through it all they have persisted. They have shown up every month, rain or shine, to daven. Lately, however their persistence has shown moderate signs of progress. The Knesset has been attempting to work out a compromise between WoW and the rabbis who oppose them. The battle is not yet over, but it does finally seem to be moving in a positive direction.

Today, as we prepare to welcome the new month of Kislev, the Women of the Wall are getting ready to celebrate their 25th anniversary. They will be commemorating this occasion in much the same way as they have every previous Rosh Chodesh over the past quarter of a century, with prayer and reverence at the Wall. I wish that I could be there to join them, but I hope that they take this meagre offering as a sign of my unwavering support and solidarity.

This prayer was written by Rabbi Sue Mauer Morningstar of Ashland Oregon.

To my dear Kotel sisters, on Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5774,

Although I cannot be with you to celebrate our 25th anniversary, I send out this prayer and my love to you:

May the Holy One who blessed our ancestors Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, Yaakov and Leah, Rachael, Bilhah and Zilpah, bless all of the Nashot Hakotel and our supporters with strength, courage, perseverance and divine grace.  In the merit of our ancestors who sang out to God with their full beings in a strong voice, Miriam, Channah, Devorah, Serach bat Asher, the Shulamite and the women who came out to greet King David,  in the name of Michal, Bruriah and Rashi’s daughters,  in the memory of our Bubbies, many of whom were kept behind the mechitzah and out of cheders and yeshivot and colleges, and in humble recognition of our sisters in repressive religious regimes around the world today who are not free to sing out and to worship God in joy, may all women be free to worship God, each in her own way, because the time for silencing women is over!  “Shiru l’Adonai shir chadash!”, sing out to God a new song!

Amen, may it be so.

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