When I was younger, my best friend’s mom took us to a Women of the Wall service at the Kotel, and it was the first time I realized that my prayer is political.
I learned not only that raising a female voice at the Western wall has been made into an overtly political act, and is met with ardent opposition, but that the content of my prayer was political too. I was asking for change; saying the words I had read from my siddur a hundred times, but really saying, “Make them accept me and my community and let us live as we see fit.”
The request for religious freedom is not often met with an affirmative answer in Israel.
That morning, at the Women of the Wall service, I experienced prayer and protest and refusal to be silenced. I felt like a suffragette, I felt like a revolutionary. I was being spit on by the ultra-Orthodox men hanging over the partition, and I was being jostled by the police that were there to protect us, and no other experience has felt so holy and so sacred.
I often pray in settings that I don’t like. There are far more non-egalitarian services available to me than egalitarian ones, and so during prayers, I am often thinking about the fact that I am being treated differently because I am a woman. I am thinking about how my voice counts, but not like the voices of the men. I think about how I could never give a Dvar Torah or come up with a halachic answer in these settings and how that makes me powerless in them.
The religious, Orthodox nature of the state serves to disenfranchise me. Despite living in a democracy I am not equal to men in the eyes of the law. Many of the inequalities stem from the state’s Orthodox interpretation of my religion.
This ties my prayer to politics, and societal structures, and the human forces that shape our lives, and the heavenly forces that I wish would change things.
Because I don’t trust human forces to change things anymore.
We have been fighting the same fights for so long, pushing against forces that maintain their seats of power no matter how determinedly we challenge them. How are we still asking for equal treatment for women this many years later? How can it be that we are losing ground?
When I found feminist stickers in my desk at work, I wanted to plaster the world with them, but I didn’t really know where to put them. I glanced at my siddur and dismissed the idea. How can I deface a holy object with unholy political slogans?
Then I thought about what motivates me to pray and realized that my prayer book was the perfect place for them. After all, shouldn’t politics be about creating the world you wish you lived in? Isn’t it about bringing justice and peace? Shouldn’t these same things be what prayer is for? Isn’t working, and wishing for something that you don’t really believe can happen what faith is?
These days at services, I hold my feminist-sticker-covered siddur high, like a sign at a protest, because to me that it what my prayer is.