By Talia Kaplan, Inspired by the true stories of Noa Raz and others
Talia is a high school student from Pennsylvania who enjoys acting, reading, traveling, and spending time with friends. Her favorite areas of study are history and English. Talia has always understood the need for equality in Israel and all over the world, but her connection to Women of the Wall’s cause grew stronger after visiting Israel in 2011.
After reading news reports and blog accounts of various experiences women had praying at the Western Wall, often with Women of the Wall, I was inspired. At the summer program BIMA, we had to chose a story to explore through art. I chose Noa Roz’s piece “Why Does a Woman Wear Tefillin” and read other similar pieces to get multiple perspectives on similar occurrences. We could use any medium from music to theatre to writing to fine arts to explore our story, so I selected writing. I wrote a first-person account combining the experiences of the many women whom I had read about. I have been to the kotel, so I also added some of my own feelings. While I am in no way trying to say I went through what these brave women and men fighting for equality did, my experience at the wall helped me connect. The piece is ultimately fiction, but it is based off of many true events and opinions. This piece pays tribute to the courageous men and women who are working so hard for equality.
As if by magic, I am drawn into a world that is like no other.
Sun beats down, bathing the plaza in light.
People of all backgrounds swarm past.
A group of men in uniform gather by a lengthy set of stairs.
My body carries me over the smooth tiles, moving forward.
Unique sights, sounds, and smells swirl around me.
The Western Wall
Secrets stretching back thousands of years
the sprawling stretch of stone – bursting with notes, hosting tiny tufts of green.
I long to run up,
touch the wall, kiss the stone,
be transported to another place and time.
Before approaching the wall,
I must get the police’s “necessary” nod of approval on my outfit.
What right do they have to plan how I pray?
Finally, I go to the designated area for women,
the 1/3 of the wall where I am actually allowed to pray.
I see the women’s side getting smaller every day.
But how can I pray?
Not like a man!
To the Haredim who control Western Wall politics,
women are the inferior class.
Previous encounters have prepared me for potential provocation.
Still plagued by the fear of Haredi harassment, I attempt to pray.
Yet I can’t help but think of the mechitza.
My eagerness to pray is stifled by the sight of segregation.
From the other side of the mechitza,
I hear yells.
Jeers directed at us women.
They say we are praying incorrectly.
How is that even possible?
There is no right way to worship,
yet somehow our individual attempts at inspiration have offended.
All we do is pray.
Their severe shouts are the true offenders.
A holy place
poisoned by the close-mindedness of misogynists.
I force myself to block out the howls of hate.
Before I can even reach the wall, focus on prayer,
I am told my tallit needs to be adjusted,
turned into something it’s not.
Tallit is tallit, not a scarf.
If I oppose,
I am dragged away.
But my voice is silenced
should I submit and obey.
My prayers are trapped,
blocked by the mechitza,
stomped on by the shouts,
and patronized by the police.
Hatred overwhelms me.
How can people who harness such hatred call themselves holy?
Is it holy to beat others down in order to raise yourself up?
Where is the compassion?
Come together –
Where is the unity?
I never thought such a religious place would be the home of such bigotry.
Where is Gd?
Does Gd feel what I feel?
My prayers are lost.
What is to gain?
Look to the future,
the next generation.
Repair Israel by uniting the nation!
We must not be silenced.
The fight must go on.
Our quest for equality –
a battle that must be won.