My actual name apparently didn’t matter. In the course of three hours on Friday morning I was given several nicknames. Goy, Mifager (retard), and, yes, Nazi. I was told to go to hell, told I’m a “fucker” and told that I do not care about love – only sex. I had water poured on me, I was shoved, and I was told that “pulling out your teeth and killing your Reform friends” would make G-d smile. I heard one of the greatest Mordern Orthodox Rabbis of our generation called an idiot, and told that my grandparents caused the Holocaust.
In fact, my name is Jordan Soffer. After 13 years of Jewish day-school education, I got my BA in Jewish Education and Hebrew Literature. I graduated early in order to enroll full-time at Yeshivah, and have been doing so for three years since. I am currently studying at Yeshivat Maaleh Gilboa, but will be returning to America in less than a month to continue studying for my smicha rabbinical ordination at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and pursuing a masters in education from Yeshiva University.
On Friday morning I arrived early at the Kotel, hoping to welcome in the new month with joy and song. As I approached the wall, I was greeted instead by a tidal wave of fellow Orthodox Jews screaming, throwing chairs, and water, and shouting truly horrific obscenities. I had known Women of the Wall was going to be hosting their monthly minyan, but I thought little of it. While I had heard of Women of the Wall, I also knew that I wanted to cultivate my own opinion.
I would have to learn a bit more, I felt torn, I saw both sides. I sympathize with their desire for a more comfortable prayer space, but I am also uncomfortable with nay-saying forms of politicization or provocation taking place at the Kotel. Unfortunately, I was given no time to form my own opinion. Instead, I was instantly thrust into the position of spokesperson for ahavas Torah (love of Torah), compassion and achdus Am Yisrael (Jewish unity); I learned eerily quickly that the Torah I had thought was muvan me’elav (obvious) was unheard of to too many of my Haredi brothers and sisters.
Friday morning I felt as though I walked in on my wife cheating on me. I had suddenly been abandoned by the thing that means the most to me; the greatest love I have ever had. The Judaism I have known and loved for my entire life was suddenly unrecognizable.
For the large majority of my time at the Kotel I was not permitted to enter the mixed section; a cop had seen me dancing with Haredim as I walked down, and decided I would be too big of a risk. As I stood outside, I engaged in conversation with several of the Haredim (I did not end up leaving until nearly 11). I quoted the psukim (biblical verses) and mishnayot I have heard my entire life about love, pluralism and achdut. I heard about how the Gemara permits us to kill the evil. For even murder, I was told, would be justified to stop these “evil koifrim (heretics).”
Moishe, an 18-year-old student from South Africa studying at the Mir Yeshiva, asked me why I, who believe so firmly in Dan Lchaf Zchus (judging everybody favorably), was not practicing that towards the Haredim. I told him that I really try to. In fact, I entirely respected their right to protest: Sit in! Sing tehilim! If you think Women of the Wall is undermining your core values, stand up and do something. But violence? Hatred? This is simply not the way of G-d. If they object to a potential change, they have a moral obligation to protest. The use violence in the name of G-d, however, nullifies this obligation, and relinquishes any right.
Judaism is a religion filled with text. An honest observer would note that one can form a theology based on the words that speak the most to our soul. How do we choose? It’s relatively simple, the Torah says: U’bekharata b’chaim. Choose life. Choose love. Choose hope. I shared my “credentials” earlier. I shared them with all the Haredim who would talk to me on Friday, and most were impressed. Many told me I know a lot of Torah. It was a source of pride. A source of legitimacy. Now, however, it feels like a weight, a source of shame, a waste. This cannot be; we cannot allow this to come of our Torah. If we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, if we see the Torah as the heritage of all man, then, and only then will we be able to cultivate a nation of holiness.