We are Women, Hear us be quiet?

This morning, I woke up at 5:45 to meet 2 other female rabbinical students, to get a cab to the old city’s Jewish quarter. We arrived at around 6:50 to meet our group. Today, being the second day of Rosh Chodesh Kislev, a special group of women were scheduled to meet. We were going to daven with Women of the Wall. For those of you who don’t know, this group of women has been in legal battles for their right to daven at the Kotel, with their talitot on, tefillin, read torah, have a minyan without any men. They meet every month for Rosh Chodeseh (new month) davening at the Kotel on the women’s side, daven Shacharit and Hallel and then move to Robinson’s Arch at the southern wall to read torah and do musaf. And so, i decided to try it out, put on my tefillin a second time in the old city, support a group of women who support me, and enjoy. What follows is my reflection on the morning, and some other thoughts!

So we arrived, and as a small group of women, we met one another, looked around, no police guards, no army personel to protect us. We gathered around each other as we one by one put on our talitot and then quickly covered them up with a jacket so as not to incite unnecessary confrontation. Once this was accomplished, the Shaliach tzibur began to lead us. Quietly, she sang the words of the Shacharit service, quietly, we responded when necessary. Our group grew, we now had a few army personel looking after us from outside the women’s section of the Kotel. We moved on to Hallel. Hallel is supposed to be lively; i mean, we are praising God!! I’m used to singing aloud, putting my heart into it, really praising God. This was not the place. We quietly sang together the service. I wasn’t expecting us to scream at the top of our lungs, but we could have been a little bit louder. How come the men can scream, cry, dance, enjoy and we need to be quiet, lest we should upset someone. One woman came by and made comments that this was for the men, but I just ignored her presence. But there we were, at least 3 generations of women gathered together at the Kotel, praying, doing something as women who love Judaism and tradition, there we were a learned bunch of women who know very well that halachickly, davening together isn’t a problem and we could barely be heard 4 feet away. A disappointing feeling, but then, we still had our move to Robinson’s arch for the Torah service. Of course then, when we are alone we can rejoice, right!?!?!

So, we finished Hallel, made sure our talitot were well hidden and walked to Robinson’s arch. One of my tzitzit was hanging out, and many women and men made comments about it. It was absurd for them to see a woamn wearing tzitzit. I wasn’t trying to upset them, but I know they would have taken my talit if it had been outside. I wasn’t bothering them, why did they need to bother me? If they only knew what I was going to put on next!

We arrived at Robinson’s arch, quickly put on our tefilin, and began the torah service. Now, this is where I think most of my disappointment in the experience comes from. Here we were, in our own place, praying together as women, what a sense of unity there could have been, what kavanah, what spirituality, what love there could have been. Instead, i felt like the life had been sucked out of me, no one was sinigng, no one was dancing, no one was rejoicing. Instead, we did our thing, as quiet if not quieter than when danger was emminent. And that was it. Nothing! I didn’t feel the love, the power, the pride i thought I would. Here are these women who are well educated, who love Judaism, want to fulfill the mitzvot, stand up for their rights, and there was nothing. They haven’t given up the fight, because they showed up, but where is the passion?

I guess I am just frustrated because I think so much more could have been done. We could have rejoiced with one another, but no. I think back to the last time I lived in Israel and was surrounded by Jews less liberal than I, the Orthodox community that would never be a fit for me. I think back to that time when I wanted to spite them, I wanted to show them how i didn’t care what they said, how I was equally able to go up to the torah. But, in those times, I wasn’t acting for myself, for my own reasons, I was acting against their beliefs. I went to the Kotel on Shavuot in 1998 and participated in a brilliant, egalitarian service. I held the Torah as a woman read from it, davened loudly, with passion, and ducked from the bags of frozen chocolate milk and other “stuff” being thrown at me. I stood there with my Talit out in the open, filled with pride, a rush of adrenaline, I was alive, the men and women who surrounded me were fighting, we were standing up for ourselves. This is what it was all about.

Back then, I wore short skirts to upset people, instead of respecting their views of modesty and myself. Now, as I have returned to this place 9 years later, older, wiser, more mature I see things differently. this time, I am acting for myself, for what I believe in, not against someone else’s beliefs. I am acting out of my own wants, needs, desires. I am acting for me, for what i believe to be right and just. I don’t need to disrespect someone in doing so, but they shouldn’t disrespect me on my way. We should live together, peacfully, instead of pick fights because of a quiet gathering.

So, will I go again to Women of the Wall? Maybe. Will I purposefully try and upset someone because their views are different from mine? rub in their face my beliefs? No, but i ask that in return they respect my rights as well. Will i continue to stand up for my right and legitimacy to learn jewish texts, wrap tefilin, wear a talit, learn, read from the torah and Daven together with my community? ABSOLUTELY! But, I think this is what living in Israel is all about. I have found myself a second time, realized how much I have grown, and now, I act for myself, for my own beliefs, for my love of Judaism. Now, I am navigating the complexities of Jerusalem and trying to respect others and learn from them with the hope that they in turn will respect and learn from me. Maybe then we will find our spirit, there will not be a need to fight, we will support one another, compromise, and then the joy and passion will return!

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