A blog post, pictures and video by Brian
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There was tension in the air when I got out of bed at about 5:15 in the morning on Wednesday. Marina and I met a group of students and we walked towards the Old City to meet Women of the Wall at the Kotel for a Shacharit Service for Rosh Chodesh Elul. As we descended the steps towards the Kotel, the sun started to crest over the top of the The Temple Mount, over the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque with the Western Wall at the base.
Once we arrived, due to the Mechitza, the women went to their side and the few men I walked with joined the group of mainly HUC students standing near the women at the Mechitza. There were enough of us to make a minyan. The women were close enough that we sometimes could hear them and we tried as much as we could to continue to pray with them. As the women got louder, an orthodox man heard their voices, picked up his books and a small table and moved over near us and began shouting the words from a book. He was trying as hard as he could to drown out their voices.
The video is shakey, but you can hear the women and the man reading at the top of his lungs.
As the women in the group prayed louder, a congregation of Sephardic men rushed over to start their service. I couldn’t tell if they typically recite their prayers this loudly or if this was their protest. As the women were louder, the men got louder. I was emotionally distraught at the way that words of prayer were being used.
Being Reform Jews, we continued our service and enter the T’Fillah (the 18 prayers that are the central part of a service). There is a prayer traditionally called the A’vot which recalls the memory of the first Jewish Ancestors (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). The Conservative and Reform Movements have changed their liturgy to also include their wives as well (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah). Loud enough to drown out the men, we chanted this prayer OUR way. This enraged the men who had finished their loud service and the few that hung around began to yell things at us as well as the women. I apologize for the coarseness of the coming language. Some of the phrases I was able to understand include; “You’re not really Jewish”, “You (Reform Jews) may as well be Muslim”, “Faggots and Lesbians”, “You are ruining Judaism” to name a few of the horrible phrases screamed by these “righteous” men. Disgusting.
Because there were some disturbances there were always policemen standing near us, sometimes directing some of the people who came too close to leave. This includes some of the women from the other side of the wall that came to stare through the Mechitza and yell at us too. They mostly were telling us what we are doing in support is wrong and we shouldn’t be there. So much for “separating” men from women to pray, right?
There was another point in the morning that a man decided to come stand on one of the benches at the back of the Kotel area to stand and take turns yelling horrible things at the women and at us. Another man joined him and tried to restrain him, tried to calm him down. He continued to push this man back off the bench and there was a security officer standing there that did nothing until it looked like this second man was going to be hurt. At this point, he walked up to try and “control” the situation a little.
Not only that, but these religious men were distracting other people from their prayers. Another man from a point far away at the Kotel came to ask one of them to stop shouting. Apparently this was the man reading from the Shulchan Aruch. His response? I couldn’t here precisely what it was but after watching his gestures, it was apparent that he was doing it to try to drown out the women on the other side.
There was no major violent outburst, no arrests nothing horrible that happened during the services. I was just completely disgusted at the reactions of the men on our side of the wall. Yes, I do understand that Israel has decided to stand on the side of the religious men and say that the Western Wall is to be treated a certain way. At the same time I am struck by the hypocrisy displayed. The circular arguments I’ve read online since that day have very limited and weak excuses for why the Women of the Wall have no right to do what they want. Despite the treatment that all of us received that morning, I hope to continue to join them for Rosh Chodesh services.
I doubt that anything will change in the year that I will be here, but that doesn’t mean I am allowed to walk away from the situation.