Simple math

The motto of the elite unit Squadron 13 teaches that “when the waves get stronger, the strong are revealed.” It serves as a metaphor for life itself, and not just for life in the middle of the sea. When something difficult happens, then we see who really is a strong person.

This saying is true during this current crisis as well. On one hand, we saw Israelis mobilize in all its glory for the benefit of the weak: volunteering, checking in on older neighbors, shopping “blue and white” (Israeli-made products), and a variety of private initiatives.

But on the other hand, we also saw how the strong ones were revealed not in the positive sense, but in the negative, forceful meaning of the word. We have witnessed large factions of the religious and ultra-Orthodox population demand that women do not come to synagogue to ensure there is room for men. We witnessed how they ignore regulations. Most recently, a graph was published by Dr. Rina Azulay “proving” that COVID-19 morbidity spikes are related to Women of the Wall’s prayer services at the Kotel — if we came, the numbers of sick people increased. During our absence, the numbers decreased.  

A simple calculation teaches us that 6 + 3 = 9, but as Dr. Rina Azoulay, a Math professor surely knows, there are a few ways to reach the same result. For example, 1 + 8 will also lead to  9, so will 7 + 2, and so on.

The way we do things, even if the result is right, is not the only way.

In Judaism, there are many customs and traditions. Each family’s Passover seder has its own significance: The custom of the Persians’ calls for whipping each other with green onions while reciting the Ten Plagues, a modern feminist custom of an orange on the seder plate. The bitter herbs and the charoset vary according to the family’s customs. 

The bottom line is that everyone celebrated a Passover seder night.

Regarding the work of the Creator: who determined that there is only one way to practice religion? My friends from the Reform and Conservative movements define themselves as religious, but in a way that is not always compatible with the world of Orthodoxy.

When the Hasidic movement was in its infancy, Lithuanian opponents stood up in protest (and often more than just a loud protest). They feared, of course, that the Hasidic followers were trying to form a new sect of Judaism, but most of all, they were afraid that the new leaders would take the place of the existing leadership and that this would entail economic losses for the Lithuanians.

The Hasidic groups were boycotted, claiming that they were the destroyers of Judaism and that they would be extinct within a decade. And hundreds of years later, there are still many Hasidic groups among us.

Does this remind you of something? The allegations against the Reform movement, perhaps?

Disclosure: I don’t belong to the Reform or Conservative movements. I was born into the Orthodox world and still define myself as such. My first encounter with a Reform rabbi was at age 16, and I was unable to comprehend the depths of many issues. But unlike others, I grew up realizing that the world is not black and white and that not everything that is different from me is wrong or dangerous. 

I reached my religious and spiritual world in my own way, but know (and more than that, appreciate) that there are other ways. I know it is dangerous to think that the truth is only in my hands.

I call on Dr. Azoulay and all those who oppose WOW and liberal Judaism to do the simple calculation, put the hatred aside and be open minded to all ways of Jewish practice. 

Women of the Wall praying at the Western Wall. (Daniel Shitreet)
About the Author
Yochi Rappeport is the executive director of Women of the Wall. She was born and raised in the Orthodox environment of the Safed Old City. Upon turning 18, Yochi joined the IDF and served as a commander in a course for Judaism and Zionism for soldiers who aren't Jewish and new immigrants. Following her service, she studied Political Science and Middle Eastern studies at Bar Ilan University, and then served as an executive assistant at an Israeli news agency. Realizing she wanted to be a part of something more meaningful, she happily started working for Women of the Wall in 2016, as director of Education and Community Outreach. Today, Yochi lives in Jerusalem with her husband and daughter, where they live an open-minded and feminist Orthodox lifestyle.
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