By Simone Schicker, an HUC Jerusalem Student and a Women of the Wall Intern
Speaking about my experience praying the Rosh Hodesh service at the Kotel is not easy nor is it simple. I believe completely in the mission of the Women of the Wall, and you will find me praying with them every Rosh Hodesh that I am in Israel. Every month you will find me waking up early and walking as a Kehillah Kedosha (A Holy Community), with women and men, into the Kotel plaza.
Yet, there is a side of me that is saddened by the need for this organization 25 years after it was founded. Saddened because how is it that there are Jews, my people, who believe that what I am doing, what all of these women (and men) are doing, is so horrible in Hashem’s eyes that we need to be drowned out by whistles, drowned out with a loudspeaker, drowned out with boos. This is how we were welcomed on Rosh Hodesh Elul when we arrived to pray. This is how many of the Haradim decided to start of the month of repentance. The month, when all Jews are supposed to be preparing themselves for the High Holidays, many Haradim decided to drown out the prayers of other Jews because they disagree with how we pray. It astonishes me that the way I choose to pray, the way I choose to express my devotion to our G-d, to the G-d of our fathers and our mothers, is wrong in their eyes.
I would love to have the opportunity to sit down and discuss our differences face-to-face but I know that it is too much to ask. The men and women who came to protest my prayer are not interested in knowing me as an individual; they are only interested in what they think of me. I am not a Jew in their eyes but an interloper.
For I believe that I, and all women and men, are made betzelem elohim (in the image of G-d). Coming to terms with this is not easy and neither is praying with the Women of the Wall; it takes a lot of concentration and a thick skin. It is hard because I go with them to pray knowing that I am walking into a battle zone. I stand with my fellow Jews and ask myself why do I choose to put myself in this situation? I know the answer and yet I find myself having an inner dialog with Hashem about why I am there. In my heart I know I go to pray because I believe that every Jew has the right to express her or himself as they see fit. I pray with Women of the Wall because I have every right to be able to pray in the women’s section at the Kotel, out loud, while reading from a Torah scroll. My prayers are important, my presence is important.
The Kotel is a holy space for every Jew, not just the Haradim. Knowing that we, the Women of the Wall, are forbidden from reading from the Torah because we are women breaks my heart because the Torah does not belong to one type of Jew but to every Jew. The Torah is a moral compass and from it we learn to “love the stranger in your midst” and that “justice justice you shall pursue.” Those Jews who protest the prayer of other Jews are learning a Torah that I do not know. For my Torah teaches me love and acceptance of those who are different from me, it does not teach me to hate my fellow Jew.