by Rabbi Nina H. Mandel
Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5770
This morning, both you and I went to the Kotel in Jerusalem– one of the holiest sites of the Jewish people– for the same reason: we wanted to say the morning prayers and welcome in the new month in a place that has inspired the sacred dreams of our people for many centuries. Perhaps you met friends and loved ones as you approached the Wall. Perhaps your husband and sons were on the other side of the mechitza also celebrating. I joined the group of women in the farthest corner of the Wall, where we gathered to pray together without disturbing our sisters who were drawn nearer to the ancient stones.
I understand we were a large group, and with the security and press watching us, we were hardly unobtrusive. However, like you, we were simply gathered to pray and celebrate in this evocative Jewish environment. That is why I am deeply saddened that you were among the people who found our presence so offensive that you stood, with your back to the Kotel, screaming and reprimanding us. Please know that we were engaged in prayer at the moment that you were engaged in hateful speech. Against Halakhic prescription, you set out to shame and embarrass us as well as divert our minds and hearts from the words of Torah.
Perhaps you feel that protecting your vision of Jewish practice is worth negating the teachings of the rabbinic sages. Like you, I am passionately invested in ensuring that the Jewish people and its teachings live on. That is why I planned my visit to Israel this summer to coincide with Rosh Chodesh and I traveled from Tel Aviv to join this group of women. And that is why I keep coming back to Jerusalem even though this is not the first time my voice has been silenced and prayers interrupted in our holy city. My heart is hopeful that we all can find a respectful way to coexist as Jews, so that we can live on.
We, all the Jewish people, are fortunate that Women of the Wall meet every Rosh Chodesh to claim their rightful place alongside all who cling to Torah. I wish I were able to join them every time. I am sorry that this upset you, perhaps the next time (Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan) you will come a little later so as not to be disturbed by our presence.
With blessings for peace and forgiveness in the coming year,
Rabbi Nina H. Mandel
Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, USA