If a whistle sounds in a crowded space where everybody can’t help but to hear it, does it matter? What about dozens of whistles?
Yesterday, for over an hour, I stood behind barricades with Women of the Wall, guarded by police, from my people. Our people. People (haredim) who are absolutely certain that our female voices, and our prayers, said out loud for the world to hear in “their” place, are designed to be the downfall of our religion.
Having elected to wear “modest” clothing this morning, I threw on a floor length long black maxi skirt at 5am, ran out of my apartment in Tel Aviv and sped to Jerusalem, determined to stand together and pray in solidarity with Women of the Wall. However, my attempts to get to the women were thwarted twice – first by the police who were preventing people from entering the plaza from above due to the “situation.” Next, after circumnavigating the corridors of the Old City to another entrance, I attempted to join the group of women who were entering the plaza together surrounded by guards for protection. However, police who mistook my respectful dress code for attempting to infiltrate the Women of the Wall, stopped me again and would not let me pass without some “proof” (i.e. tallit or tefillin) of my affiliation with the Women of the Wall. It took additional women who came along with their tallit and tefillin and vouched for me (women who didn’t even know me), to be allowed entrance to the other side.
Ironically, by choosing to respect the sanctity of the place by my dress code, I had specifically caused confusion to the police and guards for potentially being an imposter to the larger cause. And yet, my skirt and lack of religious paraphernalia is exactly the reason that I was so completely unbelievable in a black and white society misunderstood not only by the Haredim with whistles, but also by the general Israeli society who sits relatively idly by as Judaism is co-opted in the public sphere by the most extremist views.
As I stood in the plaza being inundated by the whistles shrieking from the lips of the Haredi protesters for over an hour, I began to understand this dilemma not as one of a place or tolerance or even acceptance, but rather one of fear. What about our prayers causes them to fear our presence so much? Are the fences they place around “their” Judaism so fragile that our mere voices and prayers are enough to rip them to shreds?
Many years ago, as young 20-somethings, my best friends and I would spend Shabbatot and chagim with a wise Haredi rabbi in New Jersey. After I left to study Talmud in Israel for a year at Pardes, I ran into him at a conference where we were both recruiting students for our respective programs. Even while his own daughters were not permitted (nor interested – I asked them) in learning Talmud, he listened to me and we had an interesting discussion on my favorite section in San Hedrin. I will never forget his words to me at the end of our conversation, which I appreciate now more than ever. He said, “Marni, I believe that we are both in pursuit of the truth.”
Perhaps from one Haredi rabbi to the others about the Women of the Wall…”we are both in pursuit of the truth.” Let us respect each other and act accordingly.