Rosh Chodesh Nissan with the Women of the Wall
The first time I experienced early morning Rosh Chodesh prayer at the Kotel was seven years ago. My son was returning from his school trip to Poland. Parents were asked to meet their children at the Kotel at the “crack of dawn”. I dragged myself out of bed, into the cool early morning Jerusalem air with the agenda of just picking Shlomo up and leaving very quickly.
As I entered the chilly, still dark plaza, I was suddenly drawn to the Wall, to the women praying there. I decided to go down and join them. There was a minyan next to the mechitza and women were juddled around trying to hear a kaddish, a kedusha, a bit of the reading of the torah. Suddenly, I heard 3 loud bangs, and every person praying was silent, all saying the shemone esrei at exactly the same time. It was a powerful moment and at that point I decided to take upon myself going to the kotel every rosh chodesh.
The organization, Women of the Wall has been around since 1988 and have been meeting at the kotel every rosh chodesh. I had read articles about them here and there. I simply brushed it aside as a group of “crazy” women with a need to shake up the status quo. I followed the news and read about the arrests, but didn’t pay too much attention. I continued to follow my tradition of going on Rosh Chodesh, usually leaving the plaza as their group was arriving.
I have observed so many changes in the prayer experience at the kotel since that time. The women’s section has shrunk drastically, the women’s bathrooms have been moved to a very inconvenient spot, the charedi presence which was always strong has become stronger and more vocal. The mechitza got higher to the point where in celebrating my youngest son’s bar mitzvah, I could barely see, let alone hear. And the women of the wall has become The “hot” issue.
One rosh chodesh as I was leaving I observed a group of women, praying together so beautifully. I stood for a few moments listening to their hallel, when suddenly a group of police stormed the area and started pushing the women. I was shocked. I could not believe what I observed. Why were the police breaking up this otherwise most passive, peaceful and beautiful group of women?
As upsetting as this incident was to me, I continued to stay on the sidelines. A few days ago we celebrated Rosh Chodesh Nissan-the month of renewal among the Jewish People. This time I decided that I wanted to pray among this group of women-The Women of the Wall. Since the first Rosh Chodesh davening that I experienced at the kotel, I have made some changes in my own spiritual journey. I mondernized my head covering, learned how to read the torah and read in the community service at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. I studied Megillah trope and read at this year’s megilla reading at Pardes as well.
As I approached security, Anat Hoffman, who was ahead of me, was stopped. The guard refused to let her thorough as she had a tallit in her bag. The interaction was upsetting, in particular for the 2 teenage girls who had come with Anat and had to observe this most belligerent interaction.
I finally arrived at the women’s section, where a crowd of women, Anglo and Israeli, of all denominations had already started davening. A special Rosh Chodesh siddur , put out by the Women of the Wall, was distributed to those women who needed a prayer book. Some women had never davened before. The scene was so moving. But then the yelling started. A very small group of haredi women started screaming. The davening continued,as photographers came in for the pounce like hungry tigers. One woman screamed back at the group of haredi women, otherwise the davening just continued. By 7:30 it was over.
As I observed these women, I realized that this was their platform. Are they abused, downtrodden, jealous of this eclectic, colorful group of daveners? We all have the common language of prayer, so why are they challenging it? Why are they so angry?
I realized that these women are not angry or distressed by what the Women of the Wall are doing, they are jealous that this group has found their voice, where they are feeling so isolated. I saw the pain their faces. Theirs wasn’t an angry yelling, buy a crying out-Hear Me!
And at 7:30 they were gone, on the bus heading back to their homes, to face another day. For our group, the rest of davening and the move to the Southern wall for the torah reading continued without incident. There were aliyot for all of the single women, for women who came to daven for the first time and then for anyone who wanted an aliya.
It was truly a spiritually uplifting and unifying morning.