by Randi Brenowitz
In 1988, a group of courageous women chose to start celebrating Rosh Chodesh (the new moon) at the Kotel (the Western Wall of the ancient Temple – considered the holiest site in Judaism). The past twenty-six years has seen them embroiled in legal battles with both the secular courts and the Orthodox religious establishment in Israel. They have been called horrible names, had chairs and trash thrown at them, been disrupted by both men and women protesting their “obscene” behavior, and last year several were arrested, strip searched, and humiliated by the local authorities. Their horrible crime? The desire to dress and pray as Jews at a Jewish holy site. This is not a new phenomenon in the world, but these local authorities are not the Romans, the Turks, the British, or the Jordanians. These Jews are being denied their rights by other Jews. The easy thing to do would be to bow to the religious authorities and go home, but these women have chosen the harder route and they come together every month to celebrate the beginning of the new month.
Today I had the privilege of standing with them as we davened Hallel and welcomed the Hebrew month of Iyar. I always love Hallel and to be standing in the beautiful sunshine with a group of women and looking straight at the wall was a moment I will never forget. It wasn’t until later that I knew I had helped do something historic… at that moment it was about the service and the transportive effect of the chant.
The women have had some successes during the last 26 years. This morning the guard at the gate only gave the woman with the siddurim a perfunctory hard time and although they had no idea that it was WOW who paved the way, there were several Orthodox girls singing and dancing when we got there. Although we were not allowed to bring an actual torah scroll into the women’s section and several people shouted at us, we were able to bring our tallitot right through the gate and we prayed without fear of arrest. It is small progress, but today I learned once again that history is sometimes made with the small victories and that each person working toward change can, in fact, make a difference. I won’t be so grandiose and inflate my small role in this, but every woman who goes (every month or once in her life) and participates in this act of religious civil disobedience is helping to create a holy site that is free for all forms of Jewish observance. I am proud and humbled to have done my part.