Acceptance. Tolerance. Religious. Haredi. Kotel. Whistles. Bullying. Change. Pray. Women.
This is just a small collection of the words that were swirling around the Western Wall Plaza on the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul. As they normally do on Rosh Chodesh, the Women of the Wall attempted to pray at the Western Wall, in a fashion that is currently not endorsed by Kotel leadership. Naturally, in what at this point seems like routine, controversy arose.
In one of my prior blogs, Don’t Call me Haredi (my most popular post by several hundred kilometers, which brought me a couple weeks of unexpected fame which I’m still recovering from!), I wrote: “I wish every Jew would be observant but at the same time strongly believe in the right and ability of every Jew to choose his or her own way” (which I believe is central to Chabad’s success as a whole, inspiring people to take steps on their own, without coercion, as so eloquently stated by David Brent in Why I love Chabad).
I still believe this. Wholeheartedly.
In that post I expressed dismay at some Haredi people throwing eggs at members of Women of the Wall. Several organizations, outspoken people and fellow social-media junkies took this statement as an endorsement of Women of the Wall and a character assault on grassroots, women’s organization, Women FOR the Wall (On Facebook).
This could NOT be further from the truth.
I feel that Women of the Wall praying together as women, with Tefflin, Tallit and Torah) is not an issue – on a personal level – that I need to weigh in on (as my father says: “I’m not G-d’s policeman!”) I can handle it. Men NOT praying together with Tefflin, Tallit and Torah bothers me more.
At the same time, I am in no position to call-out or endorse Women of the Wall or Women FOR the Wall. I have NO idea what women feel. Furthermore, I strongly respect their passion, be it for Judaism, women’s rights or whatever they are each in it for. My disagreement (NOT judgment!) with the ways of Women of the Wall does not mean I don’t love them as Jews. I certainly do.
In the past weeks I’ve had the honor of meeting [fellow Times of Israel blogger] Ronit Peskin (albeit virtually, via Facebook), a director at Women FOR the Wall. She reached out to me after last Rosh Chodesh. After conversations with Ronit, and now having experienced Rosh Chodesh at the Kotel, my eyes have been open to a clear reality.
The scene I, and many others (some curious, some oblivious), witnessed was a beautiful display of Jewish pride and emotional prayer. The group (and individuals – Ronit, Jenni and Leah) responsible for thousands of girls and women praying in unison at the Kotel, in respect of thousands of years of tradition (and several decades of Kotel tradition) could not possibly stand behind the tossing, yelling, whistling and more.
I watched as the Women of the Wall prayed peacefully at the back of the Kotel Pavilion, surrounded by Magavniks (police), there to ensure their complete, 100% safety (an about-face from the arrests, which I strongly disagree with, that they were handing out a couple months ago) and afford them the opportunity to pray together. Surrounding them were dozens of curious onlookers and a handful of people blowing loud whistles and the occasional jeer in their direction.
But, do you know who was asking the whistle-blowers to stop? Do you know who was encouraging the people determined to disturb and attack the Women of the Wall to back down? It was not the Magavniks. It was not the Kotel authorities. It was not defenders of Women of the Wall.
It was Ronit. It was Jenni. (It would have been Leah but she’s out of the country.) It was Women FOR the Wall. It was Orthodox and Haredi Women!
Do you know who invited ALL women to join in unified prayer at Judaism’s holiest site, together with thousands of other observant and non-observant Jews? It was not the Women of the Wall.
Again, it was Ronit and Jenni, the Orthodox (even Haredi in Ronit’s case!) leaders of Women FOR the Wall!
The modest, beautiful and peaceful methods they chose in defending the Kotel, their beliefs and Jewish women worldwide is to be admired. Jewish women, wishing nothing more than to pray in the same style and tradition of centuries of Jewish women and Jewish people before them (see Women of the Wall’s Collateral Damage in the Jewish Journal, by Leah Ahroni).
And yes, some people from Women FOR the Wall were protesting at the Kotel. Including their leadership. They were protesting whistles. Protesting shouting. Protesting hate.
Attention seeking, imposing change on tradition/local custom, Holocaust analogies (thank you, Daniel J. Levy in your article, An Open Letter to the Women of the Wall) and playing victim is not the way to protest.
Don’t forget, Women FOR the Wall is not asking you to change. They are asking you not to change them.