Rosh Hodesh Elul by Bonnie Ras

Today is my two year aliyah anniversary. It is also Rosh Hodesh which means that I am at the Kotel by 7 am to daven with Nashot HaKotel (Women of the Wall). I have not missed a Rosh Hodesh in the two years I have lived in Jerusalem.

This month, my good friend Lorraine Skupsky joined me. Lorraine davens every morning at Moreshet Yisrael; she is a very dedicated observant Conservative/Masorti Jew and she wears a very traditional tallit.

We should have known that this Rosh Hodesh was going to be different by the way the guards greeted us at the entrance to the plaza. Instead of slowly, very slowly, unzipping every pocket and even inspecting out tallitot and siddurim, the guards said, “Nashot HaKotel, go right in, have a great day.” And then they took our pictures.

At the Kotel, right at the beginning of the morning prayers, a policeman interrupted Lorraine’s davening and told her that she was wearing her tallit like a man and she had to wrap it like a scarf or she would be detained. Lorraine said she was wearing her tallit the way she always has and she was not going to change it. She was led away.

A few minutes later, they took another Woman of the Wall away. And a few minutes after that, they detained our shlichat tzibur.

Somehow we soldiered on and got through Hallel, the most joyous prayers, with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts. As we were finishing and ready to walk to Robinson’s arch, because women cannot read from the Torah, or even bring a Torah scroll into the Kotel plaza, a fourth woman was detained.

We didn’t go to Robinson’s arch this morning. We took the Torah to the police station just inside the Jaffa gate and prayed. We wanted our sisters to know that they were not alone – we were there with them.

We expected a three hour vigil; the time that the police are allowed to question you without filing charges. But that was not the case. After three hours, our Nashot Hakotel lawyer told us that the police determined that the women broke the law. They were being accused of behavior that could lead to endangering the public peace – yes that is a charge in Israel – and for wearing a prayer shawl.

To keep the women from being detained overnight, an agreement was reached. The women would plead guilty and would be forbidden to go to the Kotel for 50 days. They would have to go to court and sign the agreement. Breaking the agreement will lead to a very large fine.

So, our band of supporters, that dwindled as the hours passed, went to the court, outside the old city in the municipality area that had been on the city seam before the reunification of Jerusalem and we waited again.

We were told that the next women who are detained will be held for twenty-four hours. I will pack my medication and a toothbrush along with my siddur and tallit for the next Rosh Hodesh.

I will keep on going, every month, because the cancer of subjugating women that began at the Kotel is spreading. Women’s voices are silenced in public, and on the radio. Our photos are missing in Jerusalem; Egged buses do not want to run ads with women in them because they are afraid that the buses will be vandalized.

I am so angry that a small minority of radical extremists have been allowed to infect society with their hatred. It is easier to arrest women then to protect them at the Kotel, on the buses and in the streets.

I made aliyah two years ago. I expected to celebrate with my friends. I didn’t expect to spend the morning and part of the afternoon at the police station and in court.

Bonnie Riva Ras

8 thoughts on “Rosh Hodesh Elul by Bonnie Ras”

  1. When I celebrated Rosh Chodesh with Nashot HaKotel 2 years ago, there were also the pictures… and the attempted silencing of women… we, too, didn’t make it to Robinson’s Arch, because Anat was arrested and removed from OUTSIDE the plaza entrance, Torah in hand. We went to the police station in the old city, as you did, and waited and waited… this is just so wrong, especially when history itself proves that men and women did pray at the Wall, without a mechitzah, in the early part of the 20th century. When I am back, I will be there with you again, not just in spirit.

  2. Bonnie, I am truly proud of you for writing so elequently about the challenges faced by Nashot Hakotel. Those of us who are with you in spirit and support are so grateful for your perseverance and dedication. Kol Hakavod.

  3. This morning I joined a very small minyan at my Masorti kehillah in Cleveland. I donned my new Nashot HaKotel tallit, loving being wrapped in ritual garb that has so much meaning. Then I read about the 4 women arrested – like the 4 Imahot named on our “feminine” tallit. What will it take for the women of the American Jewish community, as well as the men, to collectively raise our voices so loudly that the establishment in Israel understands how destructive this is to Jewish Peoplehood? 40 women arrested? 100 women arrested? 180 women? My commitment to this cause is only strengthened when the Jerusalem police bow to a Public Jewish Law that treats women in this manner. May 5773 be a year of activism on behalf of the Jewish People, led by the Nashot HaKotel, as we have been doing for 23 years……………

  4. This is an outrage, and Jewish women everywhere share the anger and admire the courage of the WOMEN OF THE WALL

  5. Ladies. And, thanks Bonnie for this great article. Jewish men are outraged, too. I, along with Lorraine’s 3 children, are very proud of her Jewish commitment and very proud she stayed firm in her beliefs. And, by the way, her tallit is white on white, and does not have blue or black stripes like a “man’s tallit” — not that it matters.

    I have had the privilege, along with other men, of providing “so-called protection” to the Women of the Wall from the perimeter. The radical Haridim cause the disruption, not the women. I have seem them curse across the mechitza and throw things at the women. The Rabbi of the Kotel says the Kotel should be a place for bringing Jews together, and yet he is responsible for so much hate toward fellow Jews. We men stand with you.

  6. Bonny, kol hakavod. I think you are one of the first writers here who understands that participating in civil disobedience means being ready to be arrested for the cause. The law is totally outrageous but it is, most unfortunately, the law and it won’t change without sacrifice. חיזקו ואמצו

  7. I had chills and goosebumps as I read Bonnie’s harrowing account of WOW’s Rosh Hodesh Elul observance. As Shoshana wrote above, .כל הכבוד לכן

    I was with WOW last month for Rosh Hodesh Av and was detained by the police at the entrance to the plaza because I was carrying tefillin in my knapsack. I was planning to bring them to a sofer elsewhere in Jerusalem (who was recommended to me as someone who would check a woman’s tefillin) after the service. I had no intention of putting them on at the Kotel and no scheme to be a rebel or prove a point. So I was actually surprised when they were discovered in my bag. The guard asked me, “What is this?” When I replied, “Tefillin,” he said surlily, “I know what tefillin are!” I was shocked to be asked to wait while supervisors were called to the scene and consulted. Even though the bag containing the tefillin could have been removed and my bag with my i.d., money, and personal effects could have been returned to me, it was held hostage by the police during this time.

    I don’t think I will ever forget this experience. Although I may have waited ten, or, at the most, fifteen minutes, it felt like an eternity. I felt regarded as a criminal as I feared that I would be forbidden from entering the plaza, or that my tefillin would be confiscated, or that I would be arrested, or…? My two friends whom I had arrived with and other women from the group, whom I didn’t know, waited with me. Some asked the police why they assumed the tefillin belonged to me and not (my imaginary!) husband or son, or my brother? Finally, a supervisor ruled, “She can’t carry in a Torah, but tefillin are okay,” and I was allowed to enter.

    As the davvening began, my heart was racing and the challenge of focusing on the tefillot was increased by looking up to see that we were being filmed by a policewoman. While I understand that this is now a routine practice and that a member of WOW also films the proceedings, it was nonetheless unnerving.

    May the One who makes peace in the high heavens help us find enough strength, hope, tenacity, courage, and inspiration to overcome the obstacles at the Kotel. May we be granted the wisdom and the chutzpah to transform this narrow place into a wide, open, safe one.

    Hodesh Tov,

    Hazzan Naomi Hirsch

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