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Sarah Tuttle-Singer
A Mermaid in Jerusalem

Not all heroes wear capes

Is there a 'best way' to protest the rising tide of religious Jewish extremism encroaching on our holy Western Wall?
A woman strips down to a bathing suit at the Western Wall in an apparent protest on February 12, 2023. (Social media: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A woman strips down to a bathing suit at the Western Wall in an apparent protest on February 12, 2023. (Social media via @yaelfreidson on Twitter: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

So Sunday, in the last bitter throes of a frigid Jerusalem winter, a woman put on a bathing suit under a coat and went to the Western Wall.

Once she was in the Women’s Section, she disrobed. She didn’t do it to sunbathe. She didn’t do it to flaunt her body. She did it in protest against the rising tide of religious Jewish extremism that is encroaching on our holy site.

Was her protest extreme? Absolutely. But no more extreme that the Shas proposed legislation to (and I quote from The Times of Israel) “make it a criminal offense, punishable up to six months in prison or a NIS 10,000 ($2,900) fine, to dress immodestly at the Western Wall or to pray there in a manner not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.”

Some have said that she desecrated our holy site.

I say that the real ones who threaten to desecrate our holy site are the politicians and religious leaders looking to impose their brand of Judaism on every Jew. I say the real ones who threaten to desecrate our holy site are thugs who interrupt egalitarian prayer and who spit on Women of the Wall. I say that the real ones who threaten to desecrate our holy site are those who forget that Judaism is a multifaceted people, and our tent is large, and there should be room enough for all of us to be Jewish as we want to be without hinderance.

Was her protest provocative? Yes.
Did she do it to show off her body? No.

Is this how I personally would choose to protest? Definitely not after having kids.

Does it matter that she wouldn’t do this at a church or mosque? Yes, it absolutely does matter because she isn’t Christian or Muslim, and she isn’t protesting Christian or Muslim extremism.

She’s a Jewish woman protesting Jewish extremism.

And like the women in Iran removing their hijab, this woman is doing something in a similar vein… and while we may not like the optics, and while we may even find it inappropriate, I think the real reason for our discomfort stems from what her protest says about our government and our Rabbinate — that things are so freaking bad right now that a grown-ass woman would show up in the freezing dregs of winter in a bathing suit to make a point.

She’s holding up a mirror, and we don’t like what we see.

But I admire her courage.

Not all heroes wear capes. Some don’t even wear clothes.

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer is the author of Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered and the New Media Editor at Times of Israel. She was raised in Venice Beach, California on Yiddish lullabies and Civil Rights anthems, and she now lives in Jerusalem with her 3 kids where she climbs roofs, explores cisterns, opens secret doors, talks to strangers, and writes stories about people — especially taxi drivers. Sarah also speaks before audiences left, right, and center through the Jewish Speakers Bureau, asking them to wrestle with important questions while celebrating their willingness to do so. She loves whisky and tacos and chocolate chip cookies and old maps and foreign coins and discovering new ideas from different perspectives. Sarah is a work in progress.
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