An Exercise in Hope and Faith

I am traveling during Sukkot and Simchat Torah this year. I arrived in Florida just before the Holiday and was touched seeing so many Sukkahs in front and back yards. Such faith when those people who made an effort constructing and adorning them know the pouring rains this season will most probably drench them, make the challah soggy and  have the gefilte fish swimming again.

Every year at Sukkot, we exercise hope and faith. We know there’s a good chance of rain-not only in Florida. We know that the spiritual place we are trying to create, the one that reminds us of Bnei Yisrael’s journey to the Holy Land, the one that has us looking up at the night skies and the full moon, is far from safe. It won’t protect us from the dark, the cold, the potential storm that’s brewing. But despite a good chance of weighty raindrops diluting our soup, we have faith to build the sukkah and we have hope to enjoy it.

Later this week I will be traveling to New York to celebrate Simchat Torah. On this special holiday, fully dedicated to the Torah, we celebrate the conclusion of reading the five Chumashim and on the following Shabbat, we begin again at Bereshit. To begin, we need faith. To continue and accomplish, we need hope.

Dancing with Torah at WOW's Rosh Hodesh Prayer
Dancing with Torah at WOW’s Rosh Hodesh Prayer (Michal Fatal))

Writing a Torah scroll is an immense task, complex and consuming. It takes roughly 18 months to complete the work, tediously following extremely strict guidelines. First, there’s the preparation of the parchment, made of animal skin and specially cured and treated then marking them with 42 straight lines and scribing the Chumash. 304,805 letters are scribed, all suspended from the top line, using a feather from a Kosher bird and special durable ink. Then there’s sewing together the parchments,  and attaching it all to the Atzei Haim which have been carved out lovingly.

A new Torah scroll involves a lot of work, as does learning to read from Torah. Both demand perseverance and tenacity. Both require hope and faith. But this is our Book of Life, our moral compass, our spiritual collective soul.

I have a very special connection to the Torah having been arrested by the police with WOW’s Torah scroll just over a year ago. So while I dance and rejoice during Simchat Torah, as the Executive Director of Women of the Wall, I experience other emotions as well.

Since the Wall Rabbi has a special regulation preventing us from bringing a Torah scroll into the women’s section of the Western Wall, and since there are no public scrolls for women to use (while the men’s section features approximately 200 scrolls) we are forced to smuggle in our Torah scroll. Every Rosh Hodesh, when we congregate to pray, we have faith in the Torah and hope that we will get to read from it that day.

During the month of Elul WOW experienced an increase in violence and abuse, ranging from body searches by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation’s guards to whistling, spitting and shoving by ultra-Orthodox worshippers. We’ve also seen a decrease in police involvement and protection, as police officers looked on when WOW’s Selichot service was violently interrupted, and the head of security at the Wall wished us a Shana Tovah, but refused to fulfill his duty to protect us and maintain order.

This gross abuse of power, infringing on the ritual religious rights of the majority of the Jewish people by a minority must be stopped. Despite our on-going trials and tribulations, we at WOW have faith that the Supreme Court will restore justice. We have  faith that by next Simchat Torah, we can read our Torah at the Wall freely.

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.