At 6 a.m. I rolled over and decided to stay in bed. Rosh Chodesh marks my monthly trip to the Kotel. But this morning, Rosh Chodesh Nisan, my stomach was not doing well.Ugh. I barely slept. I could skip it, I told myself.
Nope, I couldn’t skip it. My plan, this particular month, was to quietly recite mourner’s kaddish on behalf of my wife Ami, z”l. Five years ago, in the month of Nisan, on Shabbat Hagadol, she left this world.
Ami was a tough woman with a soft heart, a feminist, an idealist, she railed against injustice. Offering an extra kaddish with the Women of the Wall would be like reciting Tehillim, Psalms in her memory, helping lift her soul toward higher realms. I took my tallit, tefillin and sour stomach to the Western Wall.
For much of the morning, a young man stood nearby taking notes. I asked him if he was a journalist. No, he said, a Hebrew U student doing research on religion and politics in social life. I suggested that he speak to some women afterwards. He added: “And some men.” That, apparently, is how he selected me for a conversation.
Photo by Warren Burstein
Here, to the best of my memory, is a recreation of my Kotel interview about praying in support of Women of the Wall.
Do you have any family – wife, someone – who is part of the group?
No. Some friends.
So why are you here?
Three reasons, really. First, I come to stand in solidarity and support of the Women of the Wall. I believe in the cause: women praying together at the Kotel according to their custom. Second, because this is who I am. It’s one thing to believe in principles, ideas, ideals. It’s another thing to act on them. Third, I do this in memory of my wife, who would want me to be here. Every month, in some way, I remember her.
Are you making a political statement or a religious statement?
I’m here to pray with the Women of the Wall. If someone comes for religious reasons – by nature of the relationship between government, politics, religion and social structures in Israel – they’re also making a strong and public political statement. The two are connected. I think you need to understand them together in context of Israeli life. You can’t really pull them apart.
How do you feel standing behind here where you don’t really see or hear?
At times I wonder if that’s how women behind a mechitza (separation between men and women) experience tefillah. It’s annoying, on one level. If it was my typical experience of prayer, I’d probably get angry. Most months a few of the men have headsets to hear the leader and they keep us on track. I don’t know why that didn’t happen today. My main feeling, however, is pride. There’s an expression: “I’ve got your back.” It means that someone trusts me enough to let me stand behind them, to watch out for them, to be a buffer and a barrier for them. The original meaning of the expression is to ‘guard from behind.’ I’m proud of women who stand up for prayer and who stand up for their rights. Along with the other men, I’m sending the message: “We’ve got your back on this one.”
I’m inspired. These women are fighting for the right to pray with tallit and tefillin, if they choose, a privilege afforded to men that I’ve taken for granted for a long time. Years ago I stopped putting on tefillin. Watching these women, I’ve shifted, ever so slightly, and now I put on tefillin monthly on Rosh Chodesh. Because of the Women of the Wall, I’m reconsidering my own relationship with this mitzvah.
One more thing…
That was it, my Kotel contribution to academic inquiry. I’m sorry I didn’t also say this: This is the season of our liberation from slavery. May the time be soon when we are all free to pray at the Kotel, according to custom and practice – with talit, tefillin and Torah – in the fullness of joy.
Here’s my prayer, “Season of Freedom,” which appears in my book Haggadah Companion: Meditations and Readings.
This is the season of freedom:
Of freedom from the will of tyrants,
Of freedom from the bondage of self,
To become a nation and a people.
This is the season of release:
Of release from captivity and oppression,
Of release from a foreign land,
To receive G-d’s Holy Word.
This is the season of redemption:
Of redeeming our bodies and souls,
Of redeeming our strength and power,
In service to Am Yisroel.
This is the season of freedom:
Of reliving the ancient journey,
Of remembering the treacherous path.
This is the season that calls us to stand together,
The season that summons us to G-d’s Law,
The season that leads us home.