December 18, 2009
Heroes in Jerusalem
I set my alarm to wake me up at 5:20 this morning, so I could catch a ride with a friend up to join Women of the Wall in prayer for Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the new month of Tevet.
We made our way to the Kotel in the pouring rain, and as we approached the plaza I could hear male voices shouting, but I couldn’t make out the words. I found out later that they were shouting, “Gevalt, gevalt!” at the women huddled under our umbrellas with our siddurim and our tallitot, trying to sing together over the noise of the rain.
While we were trying to pray, the guards around us kept entering the tight circle of space we made for ourselves to make sure that anyone wearing a visible tallit covered it up immediately. Some women who did not approve of our presence came to shout at us from closer range, and were greeted with a calm, “Chodesh Tov” by our organizers. I found myself, as I sang about our eyes being opened to Torah, about the oneness of the Divine, about calling to God from the narrow place, fighting back tears of sorrow and of anger.
We were not allowed to read from the Torah scroll on the Kotel plaza, so we walked the scroll over to Robinson’s Arch. Leaving the women’s section of the Kotel, walking towards this crowd of men screaming epithets at us, I felt physically afraid in a way I hadn’t expected. I am accustomed to feeling anger and sadness to some degree whenever I visit the Kotel, mixed in with the awe and appreciation, but I am not used to feeling threatened. I was grateful for our guards, and horrified that they were necessary.
The rain kept falling, and so we tried to read from the Torah scroll in an inside space at the archaeological park. We were informed that that was forbidden as well, so we went back outside. In the end, the rain was falling too hard to justify opening the Torah scrolls even under umbrellas, so the decision was made to read from the humash. My ride needed to head back to Tel Aviv at this point, so we made our way, still in the rain, back to the car.
I have complicated feelings about the Kotel, and about the centrality of the Temple Mount in Jewish prayer and Jewish thought. Those feelings are for another post. For now, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to pray at the Kotel with twenty times a minyan of women, and I will, sleep and work schedule permitting, get to do it again on Rosh Hodesh Adar.