By Emily Shapiro Katz
March 21, 2011. It was a beautiful morning in Jerusalem. The Kotel was packed with people in costumes who had come to pray and celebrate. Women of the Wall met at 10:30 AM on the women’s side of the Kotel for our annual Megillah reading.
Anat Hoffman arrived dressed in full yeshiva garb including tzizit and a black hat. She brought her family’s 300-year old Megillah for us to read. Approximately 100 women from Jerusalem gradually joined us. Most of the other women at the Kotel seemed to be standing on plastic chairs looking over the men’s section to try to hear megillah readings or participate in bar mitzvah ceremonies.
We had lots of great costumes – a Mad Hatter, Mary Poppins, Chummus, clowns, and, of course, three yeshiva bachurs. The eight women who read Megillah – Leor Shtull-Leber, Anat Hoffman, Alexandra Polsky, Jessica Belasko, Diana Shapiro, Liz Piper-Goldberg, Aliza Berger-Cooper, and Hanalei Lerner – all did a great job! It was wonderful to have such a diversity of readers and participants. There were WOW “old-timers” and WOW “first-timers,” some of them students from places like Hebrew University, Hebrew Union College, and the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies.
The atmosphere at the Kotel was circus-like or, in Hebrew, a “balagan.” Maybe that is why we have been “getting away” with reading the Megillah for so many years without a problem. There is so much going on that nobody seems to care or notice what we are doing. Many women did stop and stare but not in derision, more in fascination or confusion. I heard many different women and girls say “what is this?” or “what are they doing?” A couple of women stopped and one said to the other, “it is acceptable for women to read the megillah.” The other responded “really? That is not familiar to me.” I was excited because it felt like we were succeeding at educating and not just angering others. One Orthodox woman did pause and told her friend that we were “Reformim” but even this was not said in anger, just in explanation. In fact, the way she flippantly said her comment made me think to myself “she doesn’t care that we are doing ‘our thing’ here in the back of the kotel. She knows that it in no way hurts or disturbs her experience at the kotel.” In general, the success of the reading made me think how simple it should be for us to read from the Torah at the Kotel. How different is it to read from the Torah than from the megillah? If the Kotel can handle a women’s megillah reading, it can handle a women’s Torah service!