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Not just a face

Reflections on ending up as the most visible member of Women of the Wall

Recently, my face has become fairly well known. Even the man at the fruit stand asked me if I was “The Woman of the Wall.” (I’m certain that is Anat Hoffman, not me.) It wasn’t my choice; I’m not sure I had a choice. Maybe I did; it was my choice to go to Women of the Wall.

Many people have told me, of course they would take your picture, you’re tall, you’re blonde, you have blue eyes, you are young, you are beautiful. You wear tefillin (the first woman to do so at the Kotel) and tallit. You are serious in your prayer. I suppose all of these things may be true. But it’s still weird seeing your face plastered in the newspapers and internet every month.

At first, I was really shocked. There are hundreds of other women who go to Women of the Wall every month – take pictures of them. But then, as it happened month after month, I came to accept the fact, and now I feel honored to be helping a cause I truly believe in. But with this honor is coming a lot of responsibility. This month, my head tefillin was too low on my head. Of course, there are pictures documenting this. There aren’t mirrors at the Kotel, and it didn’t feel too low when I put it on. The tefillin is suppose to be right above the hairline. So what? It was a mistake. But many people have commented. And I feel that I have reinforced the false stereotype that the women of Women of the Wall don’t know what they’re doing. This is upsetting, because the core group of women who go every month are brilliant, serious, knowledgeable, devoted Jews. The last thing I want to do as a symbol of this movement is to misrepresent it.

Anyway, it happened. I became the face of a movement. I have become a symbol of what “they” hate. I have become a face of something “they” fear. A face that people are willing and want to spit on.

Here are just some of the pictures that have been take of me in the past year…

…and here are some more...

and, yes, more.

Women of the Wall was founded on the grounds of wanting to pray in an Orthodox / halachic fashion with the ability for women to read Torah, in the women’s sections at the Kotel, in a minyan of women. But recently, women who also go have been doing things that I don’t wholeheartedly agree with or I wouldn’t do myself. Sometimes I find it hard; I know most of the women who go don’t pray the same way in their private lives.

Should it bother me that they don’t lay tefillin every morning or wear a tallit every morning? Or, in actuality, they may not pray every morning at all. Some women pray/ sing at the top of their lung in an operatic voice. I don’t think they would do that at home or in their local beit knesset (synagogue). I don’t think the Kotel should become a spectacle. I really think the Kotel is holy, and I love praying there. (To read a previous post about my thoughts on the Kotel click here.) I don’t want the Kotel to be turned into a place that isn’t about prayer. This is clearly a fine line that I am willing to walk. Women of the Wall, and more so the reaction to Women of the Wall, has become a spectacle at the most holy site of the Jewish people. On top of that, my face has come to symbolize that spectacle that takes place every month. (Read about Rosh Chodesh Sivan and Adar.) Yet, despite my hesitations, I still keep going.  Why?

Because this is something bigger than me, and my petty disagreements don’t outweigh the greater goal. What’s the greater goal in my eyes? That the Kotel should no longer be in the hands of the Haredim. The most holy site for the Jewish people cannot be exclusively controlled by one faction. Especially when this one group doesn’t allow for any type of prayer expression besides the very restrictive one that they have deemed correct for all Jews. I should have the right as a Jew, as an Israeli and as part of Am Israel, to pray at the Kotel the same way I do every day, with tallit and tefillin. Yes, I said it. I pray this way every morning. Whether it is in my home in my bedroom or in a mechitza minyan (of men) this is how I pray and how I feel most connected to haShem.

Obviously, there are many Haredim who vehemently disagree with this. Some of them have started sending young women/ girls to come and stand in protest against what I and other women are doing at the Kotel (men come to protest as well). The women are hardly just standing; they are yelling, spitting, throwing things, shoving, pushing photographers off chairs, etc. When I see these things happening, I am highly disturbed, upset, and saddened. It affects me more than anything else going on. I don’t I care that I am being yelled at, I don’t really even care that they are pushing me, but I am so upset that they have no idea how they are being controlled and manipulated. They are young girls who aren’t allowed to think for themselves.

People have challenged me on this point before. They say that these girls are thinking for themselves and making the choice to go of their own accord. But the more I interact with these girls, the more I believe that are being abused and being taken advantage of.

It’s probably on my mind because it was last week’s parsha, but this situation reminds me of Migdal Bavel (Tower of Babel). Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netziv) wrote in Ha’amek Davar (his commentary on chumash/ Torah: Bresheit 11:1) that they were afraid of free thought. Everyone had to be of the same mind. They didn’t want the people to be able to think differently. HaShem did not approve of this and to avoid this he scattered them across the face of the earth.

This is what is happening to these young girls; they are not allowed their own free thought. They are told what to do, their minds are not being opened to different ways of living and thinking. They are not making their own choices. We cannot let this happen to the Jewish people. Only someone who has an identity can have a relationship with haShem. And thus religious coercion is an oxymoron because religion relies on belief and personal choice.  Ze’ev Wolf of Zhitomir, known by the title of his book Or HaMeir, said if the individual is deprived of his own choice, “then the creation of the world would have been in vain!”

For Rosh Chodesh Av, I landed at Ben Gurion Airport from Warsaw at 3:00am after leading a group of young Jews through Czech Republic and Poland. I went directly to the Kotel to pray. That month there wasn’t room for us to pray in the women’s section because it was full of girls. We were barricaded near the entrance of the Dung Gate. I was very close to the barricades that were holding back ultra-orthodox men. Besides calling me not Jewish, retarded, and crazy, they called me a Nazi. Over and over again they screamed it. Obviously, they had no way of knowing that only three days before I was at Auschwitz telling my participants how important it is to be a part of Am Yisrael and that in just a few days we would get to go to Israel where all Jews are safe and welcomed. I believe this and I will fight for my Israel to be this way. I will fight for my future and my daughters’ (be’ezrat haShem) futures that they will never feel the divide of hate between Jews that I have come to expect.

Next time you spit or scream, remember that I am an individual and that I also have a relationship with haShem. I will continue to pray for my right and the right of other women to be individuals and for us to be able to cultivate and deepen our relationship with haShem in the way that we choose.

About the Author
Andrea is a teacher, athlete, mom, baker, olah, wife, Hoosier, Torah lover.
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