I had the incredible privilege of praying with the Women of the Wall for their Rosh Chodesh Tamuz service this past week. What an experience to usher in my year of cantorial study in Israel!
The morning started out peacefully. We watched the sun rise over the Kotel as we prayed. I was touched that some men stood behind the divider in the back and prayed with us. A few dirty looks were sent our way and a couple of people plugged their ears as they passed to keep from hearing our singing. Despite this, for the first time, I was able to pray at the Kotel with my tallit wrapping my shoulders. I was able to add my voice to the prayers of my heart in this place that is so holy to my people.It was not until we began making our way toward the arch to read Torah that trouble started. I was walking behind a woman whose lovely voice I had noticed during the service when she was stopped by a police officer. I watched with anger and disappointment as he took her arm and led her away, saying something about her tallit.
I have always been disturbed by stories of the lack of religious freedom for women at these important Jewish sites. I felt my anger, confusion, and hurt viscerally as I experienced these things personally for the first time. Why are the religious freedoms of many being oppressed for the comfort of a few? It was the first time in my life that my singing could be considered an act of civil disobedience. While I was glad to be there doing it, I also felt incredibly sad that I, as a liberal Jewish woman, am not free to pray in the way that connects me to God in the place that is my homeland.
Our friend, along with another man who was also detained while supporting us, was transferred to another site. The group took the Torah to the place where they were being held and continued our service there. I was given the honor of an aliyah. As I stood there, reading Torah along with the woman who chanted so beautifully, I felt profound peace settle over me. It was the peace of knowing that, by lending my voice to this group of incredible women, I am doing right by my people. By shining light on these issues in a way that is respectful, peaceful, and visible, the mission of the Women of the Wall is slowly seeping into the collective consciousness of Israel. I have faith that, in time, our people will do what is right as long as there are courageous people like the Women of the Wall who are willing to risk themselves to lead the way. Ken yehi ratzon.