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.