The following is an email I received today from a haredi woman who opposes the free prayer of Women of the Wall, with name removed to protect and respect the identity of the person who turned to me. I felt that perhaps others had similar reactions to a few of my Tweets yesterday which invoked the word “ghetto”. So I share my response with you here.
“Shira, chodesh tov.
I have to admit that I was quite bothered by some postings of yours today. When I read posts that evoke holocaust imagery, such as referring to the police cordon as putting WoW in a ghetto of sorts, I get very upset. The holocaust is something very painful to all of us, and using holocaust references in reference to WoW’s treatment trivializes the holocaust. As someone whose great grandfather was killed in the holocaust, I ask that you please rethink before using holocaust imagery in reference to WoW.
I am sorry you were bothered by this word. I will not use the word ghetto again. I can hear that it hurts you and I will honor that. מודה ועוזב ירוחם
But I ask that you take a minute to try to put all else aside and see where I was coming from, in the heat of that moment:
If you were upset by just a few words, please close your eyes and imagine how it feels to be a bat mitzvah girl with your grandmother and mother looking on, with no sefer Torah and while being pelted with eggs, the high pitch scream of whistles in your ears and screams of “shiksa”, “amalek”, “nazis” and “zona”. This is how our 13 year old bat mitzvah girl was treated yesterday, in Israel by Jews. I had 300 women in tears during the singing of Hatikvah, questioning why they are so hated by other Jews who claim to be righteous and whether they are welcome in the state of Israel. We were fenced in and surrounded by hundreds of people who were allowed to gawk, scream, through things, blow whistles and curse at us for 2 hours.
We are real people, this is our Jewish identity and when we are treated that way, the imagery that comes to my mind as the granddaughter of 2 holocaust survivors who has spent a lot of time in Poland bearing witness to my families decimation so many years before is that of the ghettos. I am deeply troubled by what happened yesterday and though I should not have, I expressed it this way in the heat of the moment. This is not an act or a game or a political scheme as [our detractors suggest]. We are Jewish women, with real kavannah to pray at the Kotel and with no less dedication to justice. One of the women who was with us yesterday, her best friend is having a double mastectomy today and she wanted to put a petek in the wall for her. She couldn’t get to the wall. So instead she asked some haredi girls to put in the petek for her. No one would do this for her. She did not find one woman willing. They told her: “It’s your fault”, “She deserves it”, “May she _____ from cancer” [God forbid] and so on. This upsets me greatly.
So I will not use the word ghetto again. I can hear that it hurts you and I will honor that.
But please do some soul searching as well. I fear that the work [of those who oppose Women of the Wall] is inciting and fostering sinat hinam. If [they] stop, or pray at another time educate these girls in kindness and tolerance, instead of focusing all of your work on defaming and blocking us, the sinat hinam will disapear. We can pray in peace and you can pray in peace, I believe we can do this at the same time, same place but by blocking us yesterday. I can see that you do not believe that this is possible?
If your goal is to make us stop praying according to our traditions at the Kotel, this will not happen. We have over 50,000 supporters world wide who will never stop praying towards the Kotel and believing that it is a place where ALL Jews are welcome. We welcome you as you are and yet you do not welcome us with our traditions, as we are. We are not going to change. I swear by the memory of my grandfather that I will make sure I see a day when a girl is bat mitzvahed at the Kotel proper with a Torah and with no harassment.
My Zayde was an even-tempered man who used humor to diffuse and who had eyes that saw the good in all people. He did not want to look back as what was but look forward to what could be, for his family. Nonviolent, peaceful and progressive features are what I took from him. I sat next to him during prayers as I grew up and though he was no longer there, I felt his presence when I read Torah at my bat mitzvah, in a women’s minyan. When I pray today, especially at the Kotel, I can feel him right next to me, beaming with pride.
I hope that we will all take stock during Hodesh Av of our part in yesterday’s horrifying display of sinat hinam. I can honestly say with a clear heart that all Women of the Wall, despite their hurt and sadness, did not engage in any conflict. We had a beautiful tefilah, with ruah hakodesh and all of the love in our hearts. No one gave in to the conflict or speaking out of anger- they were hit by eggs thrown by haredi men and women and they kept on praying. This is the true spirit of Women of the Wall, no matter what other things you may say about us. Can you say the same with a clean conscience? of the men and women in your community who hear your messages in the haredi media? What is the true spirit of your group? Is that being shown on Rosh Hodesh? If your intentions are good and I believe that they are, then this is not coming through your work, from where I stand. I hope that you can consider that in the month we have before Hodesh Elul.
Please know that I am personally dedicated to finding a way that we can pray side by side at the Kotel, some women with tallit and teffilin and Torah as they have been raised with this as they Jewish tradition and some without as they have been raised with that tradition. I believe that there is no reason for this to create a conflict if we live and let live.
“One who blesses the New Moon at the proper time is as one who has received the Divine Presence.”
“A person who publicly humiliates his fellow is as though he shed blood.”
-Baba Mezia 58b