Bu Natalie Bergner, WOW Intern and Student
The month of Cheshvan, the eighth month on the Jewish calendar, is also known as the month of bitterness because it is the month without holidays. On October 16th, 2012, as a group of women gathered at the Kotel (Western Wall), in honor of Hadassah’s centennial birthday, eager to bring in the new month with song, prayer and a sense of community, they were silenced and distressed by the arrest of Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center and chairwomen of Women of the Wall. Anat Hoffman who was charged with the “crime” of wearing a prayer shawl and disturbing public order. Even more upsetting was the testimony Ms. Hoffman provided after her arrest. She stated in that she was “handcuffed, strip searched, laid on the bare floor.” The morning following Hoffman’s arrest, while she was still in police custody and Women of the Wall began to pray at the Kotel, 2 more women were taken away by police mid prayer, Lesley Sachs WOW Director and Rachel Cohen Yeshurun WOW Board Member.
With an experience this shocking and disturbing, one could taste the bitterness of Cheshvan. However, it is in moments like these that the beauty of the worldwide Jewish community comes forth and transforms that bitterness into the sweet taste of hope.
This hope came in various amazing forms:
- Statements of support from organizations incuding Reform and Progressive Movements, Conservative Judaism, Women of Reform Judaism, National Council of Jewish Women, Womens Rabbinic Network, New Israel Fund, the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, Ameinu, ALEPH/OHALA, Masorti Movement, Hadassah, The Jewish Agency.
- Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president and CEO of the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism, created a campaign: “Global Shema Flash Mob.” As a part of the campaign towards religious pluralism, Wernick asked individuals and groups to post a video of their Shema gatherings. Over 2,537 videos were posted. To see the geographical and community diversity was incredible. There were videos ranging from the Mid-West United States to Maputo, Mozambique; from students at the Jewish Theological Seminary to two small children praying in their backyard in Fanwood, NJ.
Women of the Wall has received an influx of news coverage and attention from the media:
- In-depth interviews with Ms. Hoffman for exampe this one conducted in Germany
- Op-eds including the Huffington Post
- News coverage in Israel, including multiple articles in Haaretz
- Mentions on BBC, ABC news from the Associated Press article
Organizations have also been using the media to get the word out about this injustice:
- The chairman of the Jewish Agency stated, “We are very angry and very upset at the behavior of Israel’s police.” The Jewish Agency went on to pass a resolution for prayer at the Western Wall.
- The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is now asking people to sign a petition urging the Israeli government to “ensure that oversight of the Kotel includes a range of Jewish views and voices and protects gender equality.”
- This encouragement extends beyond organizations to individuals like Abby Caplin, who posted a poem in solidarity with Women of the Wall.
All of this support has changed the disheartening beginning of Cheshvan into and encouraging month of support and major change. Finally, it helps to strengthen our mission to “achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.”