Women of the Wall – December 18, 2009
Since moving to Israel in July, I have had the distinct pleasure of participating in some of my first bouts of political activism and other protest-like demonstrations. This past Friday, I stood at the Kotel and wore a tallit and a kippah (and it is strictly forbidden for women to wear tallitot at the wall).
The Kotel, or the Western Wall, is a remarkably intact portion of one of the retaining walls from the Second Temple (which was destroyed in 70 CE). It was the place where the Arab Revolts of 1928 began and where thousands sit on Tisha B’av to commemorate the destruction of the Second Temple. The Kotel came under Israeli control following its victory in the Six Day War in 1967. An Orthodox Rabbi remains in charge of the Wall’s goings-on.
Women of the Wall, a group of women from all movements, gather on Rosh Chodesh to pray together at the Wall. Besides not being allowed to wear tallitot, women are also not allowed to gather at the wall to pray/sing as a group or read Torah at the actual Kotel.
I arrived at the Kotel at about 7:10 on Friday. The service had begun at 7:00am. It was POURING and there was a big group of umbrellas gathered at the back of the women’s section. Everyone was already drenched but had their tallitot on and their siddurim in hand. There were photographers everywhere but most people were just concerned about trying to pray and not get soaked. I joined my classmates who had also come to pray, including a few teachers, and huddled under a few umbrellas.
When I took out my tallit to wear, almost immediately a security guard of the Kotel came over and said, in Hebrew,
“You need to zip your jacket and put your tallit inside of your coat.”
I stared blankly for a moment, asked him why, he said it was forbidden to wear it, and I said, I don’t understand…he repeated his request. I sort of tucked my jacket around my tallit but did NOT zip it up.
The remainder of the service at the actual Wall was disrupted by the men standing at the mechitza yelling, “Gevalt!” (like oh no!) to us. They gathered at the mechitza and for most of our time there, there were actually NO men at the Wall praying, they were all just yelling at us!
When we finished the first part of the service and started to walk towards Robinson’s Arch (the area designated for groups like Women of the Wall to do a Torah service, or for girls to become a bat mitzvah), Anat Hoffman and another young member of WOW, both wearing tallitot, carried two Torahs from the plaza to the entrance of the plaza. This is why the one woman was arrested a few weeks ago (for being a women, wearing a tallit and carrying the Torah).
The men who had been screaming at us emerged from the men’s side and we heard insults such as:
“NAZIS! YOU’RE WHY THE 6 MILLION JEWS DIED IN THE HOLOCAUST!”
“YOU’RE NOT EVEN JEWISH!!”
And a few of the men even spit at us (and the Torah, I might add) and threw some trash. The police they had there were incredible and I felt very safe. We walked and sang…and overall, it was probably the best experience I’ve had at the Wall. I even wrapped tefillin once we got to Robinson’s Arch.
It was DEFINITELY an experience I’m going to remember. Check out the New York Times article about it…just so you know, I’m under the umbrella towards the middle of the picture, it has red, white and blue flowers. Some pictures for your enjoyment.