Rosh Chodesh Shevat 2011

By Susan Aranoff

           Today’s Tefillah was beautiful.  Anat estimated that we were a group of 70.  We stood in the rear of the Ezrat Nashim, quite a distance from the rows of women right next to the Kotel. I was honored to lead Shacharit. Hallel was led by Nancy Abramson, who had a beautiful voice.  I/we gained in spirit and voice volume as the Tefillah progressed.  Many women were visibly wearing Tallitot of various styles in various draped positions, some almost over the shoulders as one would normally don a Tallit, some of the Tallitot under coats some not.  I heard only one woman protest our audible singing, shouting that there are men!!!!! That was early in the Tefillah, maybe five minutes into it.  No one backed her up, and she said nothing else after that.  We were singing quite loudly and freely.

            There was a group of “our” men who stood right next to the Mehitzah near as possible to us.  They sang with us and were obviously there in harmony with us and in support of us.  I believe some of those men were part of a group along with some of the women with us in the Ezrat Nashim.  The police officers in the Ezrat Nashim stood right in front of us, so close that it intruded into “our space,” but they said little just peered at us, stony-faced without interruption.  There was also a cameraman filming us throughout.  Well, at least there is documentation of our Tefillah though I doubt we would have an easy time requisitioning that film from the government.  One police officer walked over to the Mehitzah and looked “our” men over a few times. I felt that the presence of the men on the other side was a deterrent to the police officers directing any more aggressive body language or words toward us, but that is just a sense that I had — no hard evidence.

            In sum, we were a good sized group able to sing quite loudly, had only one small disturbance from one woman, but were under police surveillance that for me disturbed the atmosphere of the davening.  But despite the leering police officers, the overall atmosphere was spirited and powerful, with a great sense of unity.

           We walked to Robinson’s Arch singing as we went and, of course, needing to meet up with the women who were holding the Torah in a vigil outside the entry barrier.  Once at Robinson’s Arch we had a beautiful Torah reading, marked by Sheh’Hecheeyanus for first time Aliyot and for Shulamit’s and my joint Aliyah as Shlishit, the first at the Kotel for both of us in a long time. Anat reported at the end of Musaf that one of the police officers in the Ezrat Nashim told Lesley that we were singing too loudly and that we should lower our voices.  Lesley responded to the officer that we would discuss his request at our next board meeting.

            A wonderful surprise for me was that Shulamit Magnus was in attendance. She gave a beautiful D’var Torah about persistence in pursuing a causein the face of entrenched resistance (parallel to Parshat Bo and Pharaoh’s recalcitrance) and Mose’s inclusive demand of “Bee’Nearenu U’Veezkenenu Nelech,” and our demand that women be fully included at the Kotel.  Shulamit and I were jointly honored with the third Aliyah.  Being at the davening with Shulamit engendered many powerful memories and feelings for me.  In preface to her D’var, Shulamit recounted a short exchange she had with one of the police.  She told the officer that she had hopes that in the future he would not have to be in the role of keeping watch over women who want to pray at the Kotel.  He told her that he does this because he is ordered to and would himself also prefer it wasn’t so. 

           Just before we left Robinson’s Arch, Anat pointed out the vegetation that grows between the Kotel stones and said with a smile that the name of the plant is, interestingly, Bella Donna.

            Most of the group adjourned to a space not far from the entrance to the Robinson’s Arch area for a lovely Kibud in memory of Peggy Sidor’s mother z”l, sponsored by Anat and Betsy. Anat alerted everyone that the Supreme Court was scheduled to issue a decision about the segregated buses at 10:00 am that morning and spoke about a “freedom riders” project to establish large numbers of women who ride the segregated lines and report on whether they were free to enter and sit on the bus freely.

            The large group, the absence of significant protest from other women, and the freedom to sing and sort of don Tallitot was heartening.

5 thoughts on “Rosh Chodesh Shevat 2011”

  1. Thank-you Susan, you led Shaharit beautifully. Kol Hakavod for your courage to raise your voice strongly. Tizki L’Mitzvot.

  2. Thank you so much for this accounting of Rosh Chodesh Shevat 2011. The next time I come to Israel, I hope I will be there at the time of one of your services so I can join you! Yasher Koach!!!

  3. Here’s a Test for Jewish Women: Be careful. It’s tricky.

    You wear your tallit like a scarf because:
    a. You are cold
    b. It looks cute
    c. You’ll incite a riot
    You are told to lower your voice when you pray because:
    a. You sing out of tune
    b. You don’t know the words
    c. Men might get excited and lose control
    You stand and hold a Torah for one hour in an isolated area because:
    a. You use it to keep warm
    b. You are a masochist
    c. You will get arrested if you bring it to a forbidden place
    You are videotaped for all eternity because:
    a. You are gorgeous
    b. You are not peaceful
    c. You might incite a riot, men might get excited and lose control, and you might bring the ‘forbidden’ Torah to a ‘forbidden place
    Bonus Question:
    Where does this take place?
    a. Iran
    b. On the Temple Mount or in a mosque
    c. At the Kotel
    If you answered ‘c’ to all the questions, you are well schooled in the evils of attempting to stand up and be heard.
    Such shame and disgrace for this outrage to take place in the Jewish homeland. One stands in disbelief bearing witness to the fact that in the only democracy in the Middle East it is sanctioned to tell a Jewish woman to hide her tallit, lower her voice when praying, force her to carry and read the Torah in secret, and arrest her for exercising her freedom of religion!
    On Rosh Chodesh Shevat I had my first experience with the Women of the Wall. At first we were barely audible. But then Anat came over and transferred her energy and determination to the rest of the group. Soon, we were singing and praying out loud, as one, as it should be. The police stood facing us, one with arms crossed, another, video camera in hand. We feared not. Our voices rose in unison as we lost ourselves in prayer and song. No words of admonishment would force us into silence. Our prayers were heard.

  4. So glad to have been able to be one of ‘our men’ which Susan described as I joined with Nashot Hakotel during my brief visit to Israel. Keep up your important work as I try to spread the word from here in North. America!

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