By Bonnie Riva Ras
Mishe Nichnas Adar marbim b’simcha is sung throughout the month of Adar beginning on Rosh Hodesh; the happiest Rosh Hodesh of the year.
Yesterday, Rosh Hodesh Adar, women entering the plaza had their tallitot confiscated as they went in. Some women had men bring in their tallitot and slip it to them over the mehitza. I managed to bring my tallit into the Kotel plaza because I wore it under my clothing and took it out to pray. Many of us were wearing tallitot during the service.
I daven every Rosh Hodesh, except for Rosh Hashana or when the new month begins on Shabbat, with Nashot HaKotel at the Kotel . Two months ago, I was arrested at the Kotel and last month, my tallit was confiscated by security as I entered the plaza.
This month, we were joined by several of the paratroopers who liberated the Kotel in 1967 and we had hundreds of women and men join us on both sides of the mehitza. We davened and danced with joy, celebrating what we thought was the first arrest-free month in a long time.
I was leading the women out of the Kotel plaza to Robinson’s Arch where we conclude our service (we are not allowed to read Torah at the Kotel), arm in arm with Jerusalem city council member Laura Wharton. We had just left the plaza when a police woman came over to me and told me to come with her. Contrary to Israeli law, there was no reason given.
I was brought to another police officer and joined by two other women, Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodkin and Rabbi Debra Cantor. I told them that we were going to walk very slowly and we began singing Mishe Nichnas Adar marbim b’simcha as we walked. We could hear other women singing behind us and they caught up with us at the entrance to the passageway leading to the police station just outside the Kotel.
There were more women behind us; 10 in all; Rabbi Susan Silverman and her 17-year-old daughter Hallel, Lior Nevo rabbinical student who is an eight-month pregnant, Wow’s chairperson Anat Hoffman and executive director Lesley Sachs, two supporters from two women from Tivon, Esti Maman Yisrael and Michal Gavrieli, Robyn, Debra and me.
We were kept outside on that cold Jerusalem morning in a courtyard in the police station by the Kotel and not transported to the Kislech police station by the Jaffa gate to be interrogated. Our sisters moved the service to the Kislech to show their support for us but we were not there to hear them.
My interrogation was short, my interrogator was polite and he skipped many of the questions that had been asked and answered two months ago. He asked if I planned on stopping singing and wearing a tallit at the Kotel. I told him I was praying, davening, and some prayers are silent and some are chanted or sung out loud. I refused to sign any paperwork except for a sheet that said we were not mishandled during the arrest.
Our attorney was told that the police wanted us away from the Kotel for a much longer period so they were going to take this to court. We were told we were being transported to the court and five of us were put in a van. But we weren’t taken to the court; we were transported to the other police station. The police were intentionally misinforming our attorney and the WOW members who were waiting for us.
In the police station, we went into a room with three chairs. An officer walked in and said, “Don’t worry, you will all be released after you sign a paper saying you cannot go back to the Kotel for 15 days.” Some of the women had flights to the US that evening and others had to be other places and they decided to accept the ban. I was the third person to go in to speak with him and I said, “I am not signing. I do not believe that a Jew can be forbidden to go to the Kotel.” He became angry and said that he “strongly suggested that I not do this. If I refused to sign, I would go to jail and then eventually to the court.” I told him I would still not agree to being banned from the Kotel.
A young policeman took me into another room where fingerprints were taken. I told him that they had my fingerprints from my previous arrest. He grabbed my hand and forced it into the ink and roughly took the fingerprints and then he did the same with my other hand. Then he grabbed my hand to put the whole hand in the ink, I was wearing a light colored coat. I took my hand free to take off my coat. He forced my hands into the ink and there was ink all over my hands even over my wrists. He told me that’s it – go. I didn’t leave, I walked around him over to the sink to try to get the ink off of my hands and arms, picked up my coat walked back to the room and waited.
I called our attorney and told him where I was and what I had been told. He told me that Anat and Leslie had refused to sign and they were released but that I shouldn’t go to jail, I should sign the paper. A short time later, the interrogator came and told me to leave.
Members of the board and supporters were waiting for me when I got out.
I will not be intimidated. I will not stop going to the Kotel to daven and I will continue to wear my tallit.
The Kotel belongs to all Jews. It is part of our collective historical memory. Just like the paratroopers who liberated the Kotel, I too, wear two thousand years of history when I walk on the stones of the old city.