February 11, 2013
At 7AM hundreds of men and women flocked to the Western Wall to pray with Women of the Wall, including several Israeli paratroopers who liberated Jerusalem and the Western Wall in 1967 at the end of the Six Day War.
The women prayed, 200 strong, with at least fifty men in attendance for support. The prayer lasted for over an hour and the women were allowed to dance, sing and wear prayer shawls (tallitot), despite the police surrounding them on all sides. The prayer progressed peacefully, the only disturbance a few choice words yelled by ultra-Orthodox women passing by. Their rude comments were met by the confident, strong voices of the paratroopers who assured the women that, as they had liberated this place, all were welcome to prayer here. Michah Eshet, past Battalion Commander of the 66th paratroopers said, “I got involved and volunteers with Women of the Wall, the brave ‘paratroopers’ in the hope that they will succeed in their struggle to liberate the Kotel from grip of the ultra-Orthodox, for all of the Jewish nation.”
Only as the group filed out of the Western Wall plaza at the conclusion of the prayer service (once the paratroopers and most of the media had left the premises) did the police descend upon the women, in what seemed like a planned blitz arrest of as many women wearing tallitot as possible. Ten women were held for three hours of questioning. The detained group included Rabbi Susan Silverman, sister of American Comedian Sarah Silverman, and her underage daughter, Hallel, Women of the Wall chair, Anat Hoffman, director Lesley Sachs, board member Bonnie Ras, Reform rabbinical student Lior Nevo, Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin of Canada via Queens, NY, and Rabbi Debra Cantor of Connecticut. Anat Hoffman, said, “the prayer became history when the paratroopers who freed the Kotel, Israeli heroes, stood with us, and claimed the right of all Jews- men and women- to pray here, as they believe and see fit.”
The support of the paratroopers is a clear indication of the shift in changing attitudes towards pluralism and freedom of religion in Israel. The fact that the women prayed peacefully and joyfully without disturbance proves that women who pray with tallitot, or otherwise, are not to blame for conflict at the holy site. The arbitrary and misguided detention of ten women, after the completion of a peaceful prayer shows that the police and the authorities of the Western Wall, Rabbi Rabinowitz and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, are truly struggling to suppress growing popular demand for equal rights at the Kotel.