Last month, I based my blog post on a list of observations. After this past Rosh Hodesh service, it seems only fitting to structure this post with a list of confrontations. While I have only been to three WOW services, last week’s service was the most exciting (for better or for worse). Being the photographer, I was consistently running from one situation to the next. It felt like the altercations never stopped.
We started the morning with a plan. Last month, we were told that one person could only bring in two or three siddurim, prayer books. As our supporters use our siddurim to follow the service, this was unacceptable. Generally we have people bringing five siddurim each. Anat decided to walk through security with 15 siddurim right in her arms, not even in a bag, in order to challenge this new arbitrary restriction. We were ready for the security to challenge this move, but oddly enough, with cameras rolling, there seemed to be no problem bringing in all 15 of the siddurim. Anat explained that every month the security forces seem to make up new rules that are not according to laws or legitimacy; and that it is almost like they are looking for new ways to bother us, consistent or not.
As we passed through security, half thankful and half disappointed that there was no confrontation, we realized that one of our board members, Cheryl, was stopped. They were questioning her about bringing her tefillin into the Western Wall plaza. She explained that she was not going to wear it at the Wall and that she had brought it to wear during our Torah service, something she had done many years. After some hesitation, security let her through.
We gathered in the back of the women’s section as usual and noticed that we had a new group of police officers for the first time in several years. With the new group surrounding us, we formed together to begin our prayer service. Deb led shacharit. Almost immediately, the police approached Anat about how Deb was wearing her tallit.
Now, there were plenty of people wearing their tallits like Deb, but she seems to consistently get singled out (she was almost arrested last month), probably because of her “alternative” appearance. In fact, the police referred to her as the girl in the green sunglasses. The police asked Deb to wear her tallit like a scarf, and not like a prayer shawl. He then proceeded to take her tallit and change it for her. Throughout the rest of the service, we overheard them debating if they should arrest her.
The service carried along and we finally arrived to the prayer of the shema. It is custom for one who recites the shema to gather the tsit tsit, the fringes of the tallit, in their hands during the length of the prayer. Just seconds before the prayer, a police woman approached three women rabbinical students, asking them to wear their tallits like a scarf (the tallits now laid like a proper prayer shawl, since they were in fact in the middle of a prayer). They explained that they would change it immediately after the prayer. The police officers seemed satisfied and walked away.
We finished our prayer service at the Wall and began making our way to Robinson’s Arch for the Torah portion. Right after we exited the premise and passed security, our group was stopped. A policeman pulled aside the three women from the earlier shema incident.
The police explained that since the women refused to change their tallits immediately, they were being detained. It seemed like a set-up. They were called out right before the shema and then got in trouble for not changing the tallit right away. The police collected each of these women’s contact information. A fourth supporter was also stopped and detained. They were told that they would be contacted for further investigation. It makes no sense because this happened outside of the Western Wall plaza (they said it was for not cooperating before) and also that there were many women standing with the group at that time wearing tallits the same way.
In addition to all of these incidents, there was, of course, the usual women telling us to be quiet and that we were crazy. As we started to leave, three women started screaming and approached WOW’s Director of Public Relations, Molly, and got into a full argument about what we were doing. There was also the man on the men’s section who stood up on a bench and pointed at us, yelling that we create a lack of division between man and woman and gender roles. While the police (thankfully) quieted him, it definitely distracted everyone and drew their attentions to us.
I am torn as to whether I am happy that the number of “situations” has increased. I obviously don’t enjoy being verbally attacked or having the threat of arrest. When I saw the detained women, completely stunned and crying, I felt so bad. I almost wanted to change places with them. They didn’t choose to be the faces of this fight, especially at the culmination of their year studying in Israel. However, these confrontations are the only way that change will occur. If we are going to be harassed then we must show the world what is happening, so our supporters remember why they support us and the press understands what we are fighting for. We need support and awareness to create change. So, I guess to look on the bright side of things, at least the services are exciting…?