By Doris Schyman
I was absolutely thrilled to join the Women of the Wall and participate in the Rosh Chodesh Adar service on February 4th, 2011.
Last week, Erev Shabbat, I spoke about my experience at our synagogue. This week I will do the same at another synagogue in our area. Below is an excerpt from my presentation:
On Shabbat morning, January 8th, I chanted Parashat Bo, with full cantillation, from the Torah. My first time. I had a Bat Mitzvah many years ago, but at my parent’s traditional synagogue the girls did not read from the Torah. I’m not sure we were allowed near it. I chanted the same portion my father did in 1922 at his Bar Mitzvah. My family joined me for the 3rd aliya. When they were called up, my 6-1/2 year old granddaughter slithered in front of me. While I loved having her close, the symbolism of her between me and the Torah was fabulous. The next morning I left for Israel to volunteer with Sar-El to help the I.D.F. At the end of my “tour of duty,” I went to Jerusalem and was very excited to join in the Rosh Chodesh service.
It was a drizzly morning. I arrived early, about 6:45 am and met the women as they trickled in. One woman was questioned at the security gate as to why she had a tallis in her backpack. (What?!)
When Anat Hoffman arrived, I quickly introduced myself. I had met her on 2 other occasions, once in Israel and once in the U.S. when she spoke at our Temple. She said: “Hello. I need a volunteer, would you like to help me?” SURE! Because we are not allowed to bring a Torah into the Wall Plaza, volunteers take turns, 20 minute shifts, holding it outside the gate. I went first. I watched the people entering the plaza gates and tried to make a connection with as many as I could. There were smiles and thumbs up. The Orthodox men don’t make eye contact but trust me, they saw and they knew. Many Orthodox women did look at me, mostly expressionless. Look, you don’t need to necessarily like or even approve of what we do and how we pray but respect is a must. It works both ways. The Kotel is and should always be a place where Jews are free to pray in their own spiritual way.
At 7:20 we made the switch and I joined the others at the Wall. We stood together in the back of the women’s section and had a policeman never more than 6 ft. from us. He stayed on our side and paced, back and forth. After the service, Anat said: Let’s dance. We did, undisturbed. I was told this is the first time this was done. One point, women.
Next it was time to move to Robinson’s Arch near the Southern Wall for the Torah reading. We walked together, behind our Torah, singing. Along the way we gathered supporters. We were joined by many others, including quite a few men. It was nice to have the support. When we got to the space, several of the women put on tefillin – also forbidden at the wall, ONLY for women. Two different women chanted the parshah. One, a young girl celebrating her 25th birthday.
After the reading, the gal doing the service asked for someone to lift the Torah. Well, I was pretty sure that was the question, it was of course asked in Hebrew. So, I looked left, I looked right, I looked left and BOOM, up went my hand. I lifted the Torah high, and turned 360 degrees for all to see. It was an aliya and a morning I won’t soon forget.
One more thing. February is in the heart of the rainy season in Israel. It rained all day. Well, not quite all day. There was no precipitation between 7:00 and 9:30 am. You see, God is on our side.
Don’t mess with the women.