The High Price of Quiet / Bonnie Riva Ras

When I arrived at the Kotel on Wednesday morning, the first thing I saw was a very long unmoving line.  It took a while to get up close enough to the front of the line to see what the hold-up was. Women, and evidently some men, were being told to remove coats and sweaters and anything bulky on a particularly cold dreary Jerusalem day, and were being frisked.

When I got up to the front of the line, I gave security my handbag and backpack to check and tried to walk through the metal detector. I was stopped. I told the Western Wall Heritage Foundation security people that the Supreme Court had rules that they could not do any extraordinary measures beyond normal security and they told me submit to being frisked or I couldn’t go in. I reluctantly took off my rain coat and sweatshirt and even though I was wearing a form fitting sweater and skirt, and was patted down to see if I could possibly have a Torah scroll hidden on my body. It was clearly an excessive use of force and a way of humiliating us.

Another Women of the Wall board member was told to remove her head covering but I didn’t see any kippa-less or hat-less men. One board member saw the security guard open and read a letter from her physician. Another had her sanitary products exposed and handled. We all felt violated. But that was clearly the intention. The contents of our bags were photographed for some unknown purpose.

This extraordinary security harassment was meant to humiliate and delay any woman wanting to daven with us on Rosh Hodesh, any chance of us being able to bring in a Torah scroll, and pay-back for saying that the police and the Western Wall Heritage foundation was not doing anything to prevent the verbal harassment, whistling, screaming, spitting, hot coffee throwing, and physical attacks that have been increasing every month by a group of underage girls and their mentors in an attempt to drive us from the Kotel.

During the January 14 Supreme Court hearing, the court allowed a video that showed the violence that was occurring in recent months and the lack of police intervention. Chief Justice Esther Hayut questioned the role of the ushers asking “why they [Western Wall Heritage Foundations security] are there if they have no authority.”  In November, the court gave the police 30 days to explain why they are not protecting worshipers and the answer was that this is complicated.

Our demands for protection and the right to worship unmolested were being answered by the Kotel administrator Rav Shmuel Rabinowitz and his Western Wall Heritage Foundation security goon squad whose agenda is exactly the opposite. WoW Board member Rachel Cohen Jeshurun believes that the extra “security” on Rosh Hodesh Shvat was the price they were making us pay for quiet.

When we arrived at the caged in area that we are forced to pray in, we found that the space had been reduced by 50 percent and that we were told they would move the barriers but it was never done. Young boys walked around us looking for prayer books or tallit bags to grab and young girls handed out slick printed incitement material and stickers that are in violation of regulations that prohibit distributing political or commercial materials at the Kotel.

We began our service almost half an hour late but we still had a moving and spiritual prayer service that grew stronger as more women managed to get through the security lines. Some were in tears from what they experienced coming in.

The Taliban girls were mostly quiet during the prayer service but there was an unending chorus of men and young boys screaming that we were “desecrators of the faith, that we didn’t belong at the Kotel,” and other offensive slurs that got louder and more hateful as time went on. But the best was yet to come. As the WoW Tefilla worshipers left the plaza, a man tried to grab WoW board member Linda Avitan’s tallit. The pack of girls followed the group as they left the plaza to get on a waiting bus. They surrounded the bus banging and spitting on the windows, making obscene gestures and they attempted to keep the bus from moving.

“The rain fell in big drops as we pulled away from the Kotel. Our hands were cold and our hearts were heavy from the deplorable behavior we witnessed,” said Wow’s executive director Leslie Sachs.

In our legal battle, the state has been given more time to come up with concrete information about the Robinson arch face lift. The about face of Prime Minister Netanyahu on the Kotel deal and his choice of abandoning the country to the whims of the haredi minority, makes it very difficult to believe that all Jews are welcome to live in Israel. This is what the haredi leadership wants. They yell, “go back to Tel Aviv,” but what they mean is go back to America, Canada, the UK, Australia, France, or any of the countries of the Diaspora where religious pluralism is practiced. I have a news flash, the majority of the women who daven with us are native born Israelis and those of us who are olim are not going anywhere.

Is the price high, maybe, but freedom is seldom free. We will continue our thirty-year struggle for the freedom to pray at the Kotel unmolested.

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