By Anita Silvert from www.jewishgems.net
Anita is a life long learner, educator, writer and lecturer
“You shall make tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.” (Deut.
My husband threw me a surprise birthday party for my 40th birthday. I was really surprised; I know,
because we have pictures. There’s one picture in particular, though, that marked not just the passage of
a year, but the passage into a whole new realm of my Jewish practice.
My husband bought me a tallit. The picture shows me surprised, laughing, and on the verge of tears.
Captured the moment perfectly.
I had never worn a tallit before, and though I was dabbling in getting more deeply engaged with Jewish
practice, and talked about maybe, some day, what-would-it -be like to wear a tallit., I hadn’t taken the
next step. A little scared. A little nervous. I used to play with the fringes on my dad’s tallit, sitting next
to him in High Holiday services; what would my now-late father have said? It still seemed really “male”
to me. That is, until I put it on.
It was no longer a “male” or “female” thing. It was a prayer-thing. You know how when you first get
married, your ring feels a little like a mosquito bite? You notice it most of the time, it weighs on your
finger, but after a while, it’s the most natural thing in the world; it belongs. You only notice when it’s not
That’s how it was with me and my tallit. And all these years later, it still feels like the most natural thing
in the world. During some summers when I was teaching at a Jewish camp, and it would have been
really easy to forgo putting on a wool garment over my shorts and t-shirt in bright sun, I remembered
that I had signed on for this mitzvah and I needed to follow through with wearing it whenever I was in
a prayer-ful setting. It feels odd when it’s not there. And it really does change my prayer experience.
I pray differently with my tallit. I enter a space. The tallit is something I only wear for prayer, and to
ignore with unseemly behavior, even words, would demean the separateness/holiness/sacredness of
the cloth and fringes.
If you haven’t been following what’s going on in Israel, with the amazing group called “Women of the
Wall”, led by the equally amazing Anat Hoffman, pay attention. (And if you can, support them you’re
your efforts and dollars) Women are being illegally arrested, hauled off to jail, even once endangering
the safety of the Torah when the police tried to pull it out of Anat’s hands, (it still brings me to tears to
watch) all because a group of faithful women acting on their love of Judaism, Torah and God the way
Jews have done for thousands of years, with prayerful words and prayerful garb.
I have prayed with the Women of the Wall. It was over ten years ago. It was the most terrifying
and exhilarating thing I’d ever done. I was there with my sister, who is now a rabbi. We were
given instructions as to where to sit to meet up with the group. How would we recognize them, we
wondered. We didn’t know anyone by face or name. You’ll know, we were told. And we did. A nod,
a look, a silent confirmation. We were told that, if things got violent, there were procedures to be
followed. Things did get nasty, but not violent, but we still had to sing in muted voices (Hallel, of all
things! Praising God with joy!) and disperse quickly. To this day, I ask, resentful and dumbfounded, why
should any emotion like fear or anxiety enter into my holy moments at the Wall?
I don’t know when my next trip to Israel will be. I’ll try to make it around Rosh Chodesh, the time when
Women of the Wall meets, as they have every month for over 20 years. If it’s not Rosh Chodesh, I will
not be going to the Wall. It has stopped being a holy place for me in any other circumstance. I see only
intolerance, hatred, and extremism there. I don’t see a place for me, literally. The women’s section is
getting smaller and smaller. The police/government need to protect more and more women from the
disgusting and violent harassment of a small group of very loud people.
To them I say, “You pay attention to your prayers, and let me do the same” Then, maybe, the spot
known as the Wall will become a place where prayers are really heard, and all our voices can rise to God
on wings of hope, tolerance, love and righteousness.