The Fifth Question

Women of the Wall Rosh Hodesh Nissan

by Allison Cohen, a rabbinical student attending Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the first year of the program is spent at HUC’s Jerusalem campus.

     As a rabbinical student, I am constantly reminded of one of the greatest skills I have been taught: the act of questioning. Who, what, where, when and my favorite, “why?” In each class, I take what I learn, question it, reason with it and apply it to society.

This past month’s Women of the Wall Rodesh Hodesh service not only celebrated the new month of Nissan, but also marked the month of the Jewish holiday of freedom, Passover (Pesach in Hebrew). During the Shacharit service, no women were detained, and just like last month, we prepared ourselves for the guards to be standing at the security checkpoint where we would exit from. As we made our way to Robinson’s Arch for the torah service, all of the women linked arms. I was linked in between two women who were in Israel for the Women of Reform Judaism’s Centennial CelebrationEveryone walked closely together as we sang Oseh Shalom. We waited for the guards to tear each other from our links, but to our surprise, no event occurred. Instead, we continued peacefully to Robinson’s Arch.

Women of Reform Judaism’s Vice President Susan Bass & Alli Cohen (me)

As wary as I am to an unexpected, quiet Rosh Hodesh, I know I need to stay hopeful. Nevertheless, Passover reminds me that in many ways, it seems we are still enslaved today. My involvement with Women of the Wall makes me question: How can we rejoice, when we cannot even have the freedom for religious expression, even in Jerusalem?
Jews especially love to ask questions, and this is quite evident through Passover. We have just asked ourselves four, very famous questions, and as the youngest child in my family, I may never retire from having to sing:    מה נשתנה, הלילה הזה מכל הלילות

(Why is this night different from all other nights?)”

However, I would like to propose a fifth question of my own: Why is this month different from all other months? This is the month of freedom. This is the month in which we recall the bitter times of our past but also the journey out of exile. Despite our past detainments and arrests, let this Rosh Hodesh and the recalling of the Passover story give reason to hope. Let it empower us to continue the struggle towards the freedom that we see just, for our own lives today.

Looking ahead, maybe Pesach teaches us that we need to continue asking in order to shape a brighter future. After all, the holiday is not just about remembering the time in slavery, but the journey our ancestors took; this journey continues today. So if it is up to us, maybe we should be asking: What can we do to create an atmosphere for religious pluralism in the public domain? How can we share a site that is sacred to a variety of people? How can we allow room for religious expression when it may go against our own beliefs? How can we enable the Kotel to truly be a place for all to find meaning? Just as a journey cannot be taken while stationary, neither can our need for continued questions cease. In order to move forward with ever-changing times, we must continue to question. As a student I have learned that ultimately, life is not about having all the answers but knowing that there are always more questions to be asked.

On Pesach many sing the song Bashana haba’ah, by Ehud Manor. Translated to English, the chorus means: You will yet see, you will yet see, how good it will be, next year.

Let us make this vision a reality! Hag Pesach Sameach!

1 thought on “The Fifth Question”

  1. This article shows that in order to achieve religious equality for Jewish women (& for non-Orthodox Jewish movements, too) in Israel – you have to operate within Israel’s political & court systems.

    It’s necessary to support this from abroad, but ineffective.

    If you want to REALLY make an impact, then you have to do what I do: Live here in Israel, attend the minyan at the Kotel during Rosh Hodesh, & vote accordingly.

    Have a nice Pessach.

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