Searching for Family and Light

by Eliana Fischel, Women of the Wall Intern and HUC-JIR first year rabbinical student

As I enter my sixth month living in Israel, I realize that I am looking for family everywhere I go. My cohort at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion was the easy first pick. This group of like-minded Americans, many of whom are also separated from their nuclear families, has proven to be the warmest, most challenging, and most comfortable Israel-family I could have ever hoped for. However, as the months start feeling a little longer, I need more. Unfortunately, Chanukkah has not helped with this feeling of misplacement. This holiday is one of the few in our year that centers on the home, filling a family’s residence with light. It turns out, when the family is not present, the light is hard to find.

As I walked to the Kotel this morning for Rosh Chodesh Tevet services, this search for family and light was a sort of undertone in my head. Usually, I am full of energy before Rosh Chodesh: excited and impassioned to pray with such thoughtful and motivated women. But today, I was already feeling slightly out of place and was, honestly, not in the mood to be in an uncomfortable location with people yelling at me for praying the way I have always prayed. I walked onto the Plaza and saw the enormous hanukkiyah in the men’s section. It was taller than me, made from some sort of metal, and was simply daunting. It looked like something out of a medieval play, certainly not like a meaningful ritual object. The hanukkiyah seemed to laugh at me: if I was looking for light, I was not going to find it here.

Then I entered the women’s section and joined Women of the Wall. Of course, there were seminary girls yelling and photographing us as if we were caged animals, but, overall, everything seemed peaceful. I hugged some of my classmates and greeted women I hadn’t seen since last Rosh Chodesh. We started praying in Sephardic melodies, melodies I am not familiar with, but I learned. Then we moved into the Torah Service and women were honored by their generation. The first Aliyah was for the grandmothers, or the older generation, our pioneers. The second Aliyah was for the mothers, the current activists and role models who are paving the way. The third was for the daughters, the generation that will continue this work. And, finally, the fourth Aliyah was for those women who needed a little extra strength for the month to come.

I found family at the Kotel this morning as Women of the Wall. We stood together, the few against the many, embracing and strengthening each other. I was challenged by things I did not know, yet felt comfortable to try and learn them. Although my grandmother and my mother were not part of these Aliyot, the collective grandmothers and mothers made me feel at home. Finally, the innocent face of a young girl standing under a tallit, reciting the blessing for studying Torah was exactly the inspiration I needed.

Thank you, Women of the Wall, for not only fearlessly working towards an Israel that accepts pluralistic prayer for women, but, specifically today, for providing a community of women that makes me feel challenged and comforted, that lets me find the light.

Chodesh Tov

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