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The day I read Torah at the Kotel

On the joyful experience of chanting from a scroll in the women's section at the Wall
ziva at kotel
Photo courtesy of Ziva Wernick

When I woke up I knew it was not going to be an ordinary day. I was prepared for a fight – not a physical one, a political one. On Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan I went to pray at the Kotel with Women of the Wall. I would be fighting for the right of all to read from the Torah at the Kotel according to their custom.

I had been in contact with the leaders of WOW for a few days. I was taking a stance. I wasn’t just going to be a witness; I was going to be a part of it. I was excited to receive the honor of reciting the blessings and reading the third aliyah. It is a reading with which I am familiar thanks to my Jewish upbringing that includes Jewish day school, Jewish summer camp, and USY. (And that was a good thing, for the Torah was the tiniest Torah I’ve ever seen!) In these environments, women and men equally assume the rights, responsibilities, and privileges of the mitzvot, commandments. In reading the Torah at this time, I found myself making history – among the first women to read from the Torah in the womens’ section of the Kotel, Judaism’s most holy of places.

I thought I’d had powerful and meaningful prayer experiences in the past, but I had no idea what was really possible. My belief in and about God is always changing. That’s part of being a young adult navigating the transition from my parents’ house to college. Prayer had become something for me, not necessarily for God. This time my prayer felt deeper. I felt more connected to God. And I felt I was making a difference, not just for myself, but for others. I felt that my presence, my voice mattered; that I was connecting to God, to Israel, to my community – a community of women.

When the Torah was presented the entire area was filled with joy. We sang, we danced, and we celebrated the most beautiful bat mitzvah service I have ever been a part of. We threw candy and celebrated the completion of her aliyah. It should have been so normal, but of course it wasn’t, because the Haredi regulations at the site are designed to prevent women from having access to a Torah, thus preventing them from public reading. Though the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of egalitarian prayer, the implementation of that ruling has led to the necessity of “sneaking around.” At the same time; it also heightened the joy.

The Torah service was completed without issue. What a miraculous experience!

As an early birthday and Hanukkah present I asked my parents to give to me the Women of the Wall tallit. It was an easy sell. I will wrap myself in it not only for Rosh Hodesh Kislev, but as I pray every day.

About the Author
Ziva Wernick made Aliyah in May 2019 after graduating from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts with a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science. She is a software developer with interests in medical technology, computer graphics, and cyber security. In her free time she volunteers and has a passion for working with therapeutic horseback riding facilities. She has always felt at home in Israel and is excited to see what this next chapter in her life brings her.
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