By Devorah Singer
Police make all the difference in the world. Remember my first trip to Women of the Wall? It was pretty miserable, both due to the rain and due to the haredim’s hatred. There were police around, but we didn’t feel guarded; this was just a month after Nofrat Frankel was arrested. The next month the police made a barrier between us and the haredi women and it went better, though one woman was hit by a haredi. This month–G-d. What a difference.
The assault from the men’s side was totally unexpected. They did not wait for us to start davening, but instead threw a bunch of chairs over the mechitza while we were still gathering, even breaking a leg off one of them. It wasn’t even 7am, and the police hadn’t arrived yet. Lots of chairs (and a video starting in the middle of it):
Notice how the women attempt to make light of it. This is how you have to think at Women of the Wall–ironic comments are about all we can do.
Needless to say, I thought that the early chair throwing was an indication of a very bad morning ahead. It’s not exactly a good sign. However, the men eventually stopped throwing chairs and the police came over to ask what happened and help clean up the chairs. Someone also said that they arrested the chair-thrower, which was the first good sign of the day. (According to YNet, they arrested two chair-throwers even!)
Once we started davening, the police formed a wall between us and the haredim. Surprisingly, the haredi women didn’t bother us this time–one woman muttered about how the moshiach was never going to come this way when she walked past us, but that was it. The men were also surprisingly subdued. There was a little bit of shouting, but that didn’t last. They mostly walked/danced around in a circle singing, supposedly drowning us out in their ears. For the first time ever I could hear every word the service leader said; the sounds from the men’s side didn’t overpower us at all us. Oh–and Mr. Recite Hallel at Us was back today, too. That was sorta weird–it almost seemed as if he was supporting us, except we knew better. (He was screaming “gevalt” last month.)
At the end of Hallel we were actually able to dance around in a circle ourselves, which one of the women said had never happened before. No videos of that because I was participating, but I think this is proof of what police–and overseas–support can do. When the chair-thrower was arrested I think it really changed the dynamics. The haredim no longer had the upper hand, and there were consequences to their hatred. They were in the position that we were in back in December, and even more so probably November. And why were the police guarding us? I think that has something to do with overseas–particularly North American–support for Women of the Wall. I mean, politics make my head spin, but when 29 Canadian rabbis send a letter to their Israeli ambassador supporting Women of the Wall and there is enough American support that the ambassador to the United States made a statement about the issue, that’s gotta mean something, right? If nothing else, it’d probably make Israel look pretty bad if/when something bad happened to the Women of the Wall while they were davening, assuming they were following the law (not reading from the Torah and not wearing talitot). Why else would the police go from arresting Nofrat Frenkel to protecting us from the haredim, if not for international pressure?
I have to say, I will be perfectly happy if the Haredi men keep drowning us out by singing and dancing and reciting Hallel at us. These are all things that belong at the Kotel. Screaming insults and throwing chairs–those do not. What are the chances that they’ll find this solution satisfactory, or that next month will be even slightly like this month? One thing I’ve learned over the past three months is that the reaction to our davening is unpredictable. Totally and completely unpredictable.
We went from our peaceful davening at the Kotel to an even more peaceful Torah reading with rotating Torah readers, including Devora, a fellow Rothberg student. Notice how you can hear the birds singing. Isn’t that a nice end to it all?