Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A powerful 24 hours

Hey World,

So I have been thinking about how to write this blog entry to give justice to the very interesting and moving 24 hours. Last night I went to the Mosh Ben Ari concert and then this morning I went to morning services with Women of the Wall.

Mosh Ben Ari is a pretty popular Israeli artist. I don't know exactly how I'd describe his style. It is rock-ish/pop with a lot of reggae influence? I really don't know...It's great music though. The crowd was much younger than David Broza; there were many high-schoolers there. While they were pretty annoying (not unlike H.Sers in the U.S), it was nice because most of them were short so I had a great view of the stage.

The concert was AWESOME. Mosh ben Ari plays a great electric guitar and has a really nice voice. I knew most of the songs, so it was fun to sing along with everyone.

Something interesting (or at least to me) about Mosh Ben Ari is that some of his songs have religious themes, but he does not appear outwardly observant. He doesn't wear a kippah or anything like that. )As a Reform Jew this isn't so unusual to be religious without being so observant, but it is more surprising to see that in Israelis.) He has a song called "Jah is one" about how even though we have different religions we still believe in one god. His song "hinei hu ba" Here he/it comes, talks about angels guarding us/listening to us. While most American music (with the exception of christian rock) shies away from spritual topics that doesn't seem to be the case here. Maybe that's because we're in a Jewish state...

For his last song Mosh sang his version of psalm 121. It's a beautiful version of the psalm, and it was interesting to be hearing it in a concert setting. Everyone was singing along and it got me thinking, is this prayer? It was definitely spiritual. It was cool to be in a place where the boundary between prayer and singing along at a concert was blurred. hmmmmm. Another thing in connection to this is that there were so many young people singing along/connecting with the song, maybe they wouldn't admit that they were moved by this experience, but regardless they were willingly praying or at least reciting a psalm. Here prayer (or something close to it) was made very approachable. And how can we as future Jewish leaders/members of the Jewish people help make prayer more approachable/enjoyable? (ps sorry to all the people who this is boring to pieces...the next part is different)

So after that awesome concert I went to bed early because I had to wake up at 6am to go to services at the wall. Today is special because it is rosh chodesh, which means the first day of the new month. Rosh Chodesh is also associated with women, and there are groups of women who will get together to celebrate the beginning of the month.

What this group women of the wall does is every rosh chodesh they gather together to pray at the wall in protest of the lack of religious pluralism/tolerance at the wall. Women are currently not allowed to wear tallitot or tefillin or even HOLD A TORAH on the women's side of the wall. Women aren't really even supposed to pray together, or at least that's what it seemed like from the reactions we got (more on that in a little). If you want more information go to ALSO you should totally "like" them on facebook and while you are there check out the pictures, see if you can spot me (it's pretty easy).

I got to the wall at about 7am and there was a group of about 30 women there already. While women aren't allowed to wear tallit at the wall if you do in without drawing too much attention to yourself/without giving the police a reason to come after you, it is ok. Most of the women at the service wear a tallit around their neck kind of like a scarf, to draw less attention to the fact you are wearing a tallit. I did this too, I wasn't sure if I was going to wear one or not at the wall (because I'm not trying to get arrested), but I decided it was important.

The service started out pretty quiet and not a lot was happening. When we all started singing together that was when things got a little crazy. It's ridiculous the chaos a group of politely singing women will cause at the wall. Seriously. You would have thought we were yelling, or praying to an idol. We started singing the song "Ozi v'zimrat yah" (great song!) and everyone was getting really into it. Even though we were in a hostile environment everyone was really dedicated to prayer and it was very spiritual. Anyways, we are singing this song and we are singing louder and louder because dangit we are PRAYING. Then a police officer started shushing us, which didn't do anything. We did get attention of more people on both the woman's side and the men's side.

One woman came over to us and was YELLING saying horrible horrible things about us and how we don't deserve to be here and how we aren't Jews, etc etc. It was really painful to see how angry she was, and she was saying how it wasn't ok because we were disturbing the men praying (don't even get me started). She yelled and yelled and lost her voice. Thankfully one of the police officers kept her at a safe distance for most of the time.

The men on the other side of the kotel were horrible also. When they heard us singing they started to try to drown us out. They were also "praying" but whenever they got to a part where they had to pray outloud they would yell it so we would be disturbed. Even if you disagree with what we are doing what gives YOU the right to disrespect your own prayers that way. Using the words of prayer to oppress others/to put down others is NOT what those words should ever be used for. Why is it ok for YOU to do that and it is not ok for us to take joy in praying???

There was one particular guy who was just yelling for most of the time, apparently he was just reading shulchan aruch (a jewish law code) very very loudly. Asshole.

So also on the men's side we had a group of supporters who came to support the women of the wall. Some HUC buddies were there and they told me how they managed to get the group of men who were yelling to move away from us by praying along side them and singing louder. (not yelling, which would have been disrespectful) which was great so we weren't being heckled from all sides the whole time.

The woman who was yelling earlier came back for round two. Honestly I heard some other stuff happened but I was trying to concentrate on praying. Instead of looking around and seeing everyone trying to disturb us, I tried not to be disturbed.

This moment was very powerful for me for a bunch of reasons. One of which being that I was genuinely scared. I was scared that the police were going to arrest us, I was scared that more people would yell at us which really hurt me. I was scared that some men would come over and do something or something would happen when we left the woman's side. This was the first time (on this trip) that I felt unsafe in Israel. I felt unsafe at one of the holiest sites in Judasim, as a JEW. It's heartbreaking.

There was so much hate. At the same time as I was scared/on the verge of tears at times (when people yell at me I get very shaken up), I did have a positive and meaningful prayer experience. Singing hallel (part of the service for the new month/other holidays where you sing praises) was beautiful. It upset a lot of people around us because we were doing a lot of singing (which you are supposed to do).

To conclude the portion at the wall we were going to blow the shofar (the rams horn), which the group has been doing every month. A classmate of mine was going to do it, but when she came to the middle of the group to blow it the policeman came and snatched it away from her. WTF, are women now not allowed to blow a shofar? Instead the leader of the service started imitating the sound of a shofar and everyone followed that. (we did blow the shofar later for real, so we satisfied that mitzvah, don't worry)

For teh Torah service we went to another portion of the wall (because God forbid a WOMAN read torah at the wall), the south side I think?, it is off to the side called robinson's arch. There we joined with out male supporters and prayed together. A few of us wrapped tefillin which we were unable to do at the wall. It was nice to be in a place where we weren't being heckled.

I experienced a lot of emotions this morning, but I am so glad I went. Religious freedom/tolerance/pluralism is something that is very important to me. As a Jew in the JEWISH STATE I should not be made to feel like I don't belong or unsafe because of my religious practices. I do agree that we need to respect each other, which is why I wouldn't wear a tallit at an orthodox shul, but the wall is for ALL jews and it needs to reflect that, and not just reflect the desires of a minority. There has to be a way we can work this out. I will fight for my right to wear a tallis, and pray in a group. I'm not saying that all women should do this, if it is not right for you or you don't feel that your judaism can accomodate this that is OK, but let me and others practice our Judaism in our way and you in yours and let's be happy that we are BOTH so invested in the religion and love Judaism. People have different ways of expressing their love, let's recognize that our love is for the same thing and be happy that we can share that. (someday I hope...)

I also hope that the other women at the wall who were looking at us in confusion, especially the younger women/girls might start thinking about what we did today. When they saw a woman wearing a tallit maybe it seemed super strange to them, but the next time they see it maybe it won't be as surprising. Maybe they will even consider wearing one themselves someday...

This is a very long blog entry, but I really wanted to do justice to the experience I had this morning. I encourage you to support the cause. Check out the website and fb page (see links above), talk about it, see what you can do to help.

Now for some more mundane stuff: After women of the wall I took a Hebrew test. I think I did ok...we'll see.

Also while I was writing this blog entry I got a phone call from a telemarketer (ALL in Hebrew) and I understood what she was talking about, and said no to all the stuff she was trying to sell me. I was so excited that I was understanding that I stayed on and listened to her trying to sell me stuff for longer than necessary. haha. She tried to get me to buy a home phone and some antivirus stuff. Lo todah.

If you got all the way through this, you rock! And for my non-Jewish friends out there I still love you,it's just I'm in Jerusalem/rab school so everything is pretty Jewy here, so that's what I write about :-)

Chodesh tov!



  1. Your account of your experiences with the Women of the Wall are very moving.
    We are Reform but I am still unsure about joining the women at the wall. I would do so if I was younger but the idea makes my husband nervous - I have a very short fuse and he doesn't want me to get arrested!

  2. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed reading them. It was hard to write about my experiences and form my feelings into words, but I thought it was important. I don't think you would get arrested, but I respect that (but think about what a good story that would make haha)...