The participants of the WRJ Convention and three Ministers of the Knesset joined the Woman of the Wall for the Rosh Chodesh service this morning. The number of women wearing tallitot seemed to have quadrupled since last month. There were also at least two women wearing tefillin.
The vibe, starting from the approach to the Wall, was very different from last month. There were four soldiers standing on the plaza in front of the women's side. When we (my mom and I; my dad stayed in the plaza and peered over the back wall with the other male supporters) joined the group, it looked like the police, who were warning people that they would be arrested last month, had gathered in a protective circle around the women. I looked over the machitza (the separator between the men's and women's sections) and saw soldiers lined up along the barrier facing the men on the men's side. Last month, there was a feeling of being vulnerable. This time, I felt very protected.
And yet, there was far more protest this time. There was a woman who was yelling almost throughout the entire service, reading passages from her prayerbook as evidence that we were doing something wrong. Another woman yelled that we should be ashamed of ourselves. Another, I imagine at a loss for words in her discomfort, just yelled.
The men's side had even more "excitement." There was a man blowing shofar to drown out the sounds of the women (and men who were with us) praying. Others were shouting that we weren't really Jewish. Others who said that we didn't know what we were doing and should have the men teach us the real way to pray. At one point, a number of older haredi men joined hands and together tried to approach the mechitza and were stopped from getting too close by the soldiers and police.
It was during Hallel, the special prayers in praise of God that you say on Rosh Chodesh (as well as other holidays), that the biggest group of men seemed to join together to sing as loudly as possible in an attempt to overpower the singing from the women's side.
But, none of the protesters could stop us from praying in the way we wanted.
I found I was less distracted today and was more able to actually pray. The service was very moving. And so, I sang my heart out. I sang my heart out to proclaim my legitimacy as a human being and as a Jew. I sang my heart out in support of all people who feel oppressed and constrained by others who wish to impose a particular lifestyle on them. I sang my heart out today because it felt so good, and I am positive that the universe was affected by the sounds of our prayer.
And, in all honesty, I sang my heart out to sing louder than the Jews on the other side. Jews who live differently, but who cherish our tradition as much as I do. It was us against them. All of us using the sacred words of our people as weapons of our protest.
Singing Oseh Shalom this morning was a new experience for me. The words of the song are magnificent (May the one who makes peace above, make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say: Amen) but I admit that I have wished at times that our ancestors were a bit more inclusive and added the whole world into this prayer for peace. But, today, looking at everything that was happening, I understood why the prayer is written the way that it is. Within our people, we need a prayer that urges us recognize each other, understand each other and accept each other.
Please, please God, make peace within Israel.
There were no arrests made today. We were told that the morning started as it usually does, with tallitot being confiscated and people being warned that they are breaking the law of holy sites and they could be arrested and serve up to six months in prison. However, then one of the officers got a call from the chief of police who said no arrests today. Why? The group suggested that maybe it was because of Obama's visit. Anat Hoffman fantasized that Michael Oren called the chief and asked him, as a favor, not to arrest anyone because he's had it with all the irate American Jews on his back for this. Someone else thought maybe it was because the government is trying desperately to build its coalition. Others suggested it might have because of the three MKs (members of the Knesset), all of whom were wearing tallitot, who could not be arrested. Ultimately, we don't know why. But, it meant that we had a lovely Torah service near Robinson's Arch (the Southern Wall). My mom even had an aliyah. Everyone departed feeling good.
Me and Anat Hoffman after the Torah service near Robinson's Arch
I will remember this morning, from now on, every time I sing Oseh Shalom. It expresses for me two truths. The first is the uplifting power and thrill of praying with the Women of the Wall. The second, is the heartache of praying with the Women of the Wall, for its monthly service highlights the ongoing strife Jews have with each other. Those truths must be held together. On the one hand, I am so grateful to Anat Hoffman and all those who, for over twenty years, have led this struggle on my behalf and on the behalf of all Jews around the world who live and pray in ways that are not respected by other Jews. I am grateful to the Women of the Wall for allowing me to be a part of one of the most moving services in which I have ever participated. And, I am desperately grieved by the fact that the Women of the Wall needs to exist to fight for my rights against other Jews who would deny them.
And so, for all people, for my people and for myself, I pray for peace. May the ordering principle of the universe, the One that guides the very flow of existence that extends far beyond us on earth, help us find peace; peace within us, peace between us and peace in the world around us.
Kein yihi ratzon, may this be God's will.