Rosh Hodesh Elul by Bonnie Ras
Today is my two year aliyah anniversary. It is also Rosh Hodesh which means that I am at the Kotel by 7 am to daven with Nashot HaKotel (Women of the Wall). I have not missed a Rosh Hodesh in the two years I have lived in Jerusalem.
This month, my good friend Lorraine Skupsky joined me. Lorraine davens every morning at Moreshet Yisrael; she is a very dedicated observant Conservative/Masorti Jew and she wears a very traditional tallit.
We should have known that this Rosh Hodesh was going to be different by the way the guards greeted us at the entrance to the plaza. Instead of slowly, very slowly, unzipping every pocket and even inspecting out tallitot and siddurim, the guards said, “Nashot HaKotel, go right in, have a great day.” And then they took our pictures.
At the Kotel, right at the beginning of the morning prayers, a policeman interrupted Lorraine’s davening and told her that she was wearing her tallit like a man and she had to wrap it like a scarf or she would be detained. Lorraine said she was wearing her tallit the way she always has and she was not going to change it. She was led away.
A few minutes later, they took another Woman of the Wall away. And a few minutes after that, they detained our shlichat tzibur.
Somehow we soldiered on and got through Hallel, the most joyous prayers, with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts. As we were finishing and ready to walk to Robinson’s arch, because women cannot read from the Torah, or even bring a Torah scroll into the Kotel plaza, a fourth woman was detained.
We didn’t go to Robinson’s arch this morning. We took the Torah to the police station just inside the Jaffa gate and prayed. We wanted our sisters to know that they were not alone – we were there with them.
We expected a three hour vigil; the time that the police are allowed to question you without filing charges. But that was not the case. After three hours, our Nashot Hakotel lawyer told us that the police determined that the women broke the law. They were being accused of behavior that could lead to endangering the public peace – yes that is a charge in Israel – and for wearing a prayer shawl.
To keep the women from being detained overnight, an agreement was reached. The women would plead guilty and would be forbidden to go to the Kotel for 50 days. They would have to go to court and sign the agreement. Breaking the agreement will lead to a very large fine.
So, our band of supporters, that dwindled as the hours passed, went to the court, outside the old city in the municipality area that had been on the city seam before the reunification of Jerusalem and we waited again.
We were told that the next women who are detained will be held for twenty-four hours. I will pack my medication and a toothbrush along with my siddur and tallit for the next Rosh Hodesh.
I will keep on going, every month, because the cancer of subjugating women that began at the Kotel is spreading. Women’s voices are silenced in public, and on the radio. Our photos are missing in Jerusalem; Egged buses do not want to run ads with women in them because they are afraid that the buses will be vandalized.
I am so angry that a small minority of radical extremists have been allowed to infect society with their hatred. It is easier to arrest women then to protect them at the Kotel, on the buses and in the streets.
I made aliyah two years ago. I expected to celebrate with my friends. I didn’t expect to spend the morning and part of the afternoon at the police station and in court.
Bonnie Riva Ras