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A spitting image

If this is how Jews treat other Jews, how can we ever move to a place of peace and respect?
Illustrative: A group of Jewish ultra-Orthodox men and boys oppose the prayer service of the Women of the Wall, April 24, 2016. (AFP Photo/Thoman Coex)
Illustrative: A group of Jewish ultra-Orthodox men and boys oppose the prayer service of the Women of the Wall, April 24, 2016. (AFP Photo/Thoman Coex)

The instant I arrived home from the Western Wall, I made a beeline for my laundry basket. I was drenched, not from rain, but saliva.

Hours later, the Shabbat liturgy would urge, “Shake off the dust, arise!” but my transformation was motivated by something other than the Sabbath glory.

It was Rosh Hodesh Kislev and Women of the Wall marched out of the Western Wall Plaza, facing a mass of violent noise. Then came the downpour. When the first drop hit my forehead, I flinched and swatted my face as if shooing a fly. But they continued, a barrage of disdain landing wetly across my shirt.

I struggled to pinpoint what about this act exactly left me feeling mortified. I considered that spit dries clear but leaves its target feeling violated, marked in a way a bucket of paint or a swift sucker-punch do not. No stains or bruises, but an assault nonetheless.

Spit can be projected from a distance, penetrating the safety of established boundaries. It evades the direct tactile contact of a slap, but forces an invasive intimacy between people. The young religious boys and men lobbed curses my way, questioning my Jewishness and my right to this sacred space. These words indeed stung but the filth of their germs is what stuck to me, even after I rinsed myself clean.

In the Torah, spitting is part of the ritual of halitzah, performed to show disgrace toward a man who refuses to perform the rite of Levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25). The expression “spitting in her face” is also used as a euphemism for rejection or condemnation (Numbers 14). In my lingering disgust, I understand why tradition regards the act of spitting on another person as shaming.

Women of the Wall know “[the Torah’s] ways are ways of pleasantness and all her pathways are peace.” But at times, particularly when covered in spit, it is difficult to envision a day of true tolerance and coexistence. If Jews blatantly spit on other Jews, how can they talk to each other? How can we move to a place of peace and respect?

Instead of resigning to intolerance, we are determined to wash off the germs and continue on our mission. Those who hurl degradation our way do not realize they are fueling our persistence, emboldening us as we advocate for equality. Spit may dry up, but WOW’s radical resilience never will.

About the Author
Lesley Sachs is the 2014 recipient of the NCJW Jewel Bellush Outstanding Israeli Feminist award and was one of the founding members of “Isha L’isha – Haifa’s Feminist Center” and worked for 10 years in the Israel Women’s Network. Lesley served as executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), vice president of the World Union For Progressive Judaism and founding director of Project, Kesher Israel. She is currently working as the executive director of Women of the Wall. She served on the board of directors for the Jerusalem Women’s Shelter, board of directors for the JNF-KKL and currently she is chair of the pre-army mechina Michmanim in Jaffa.
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