THE WALL, PREVIOUSLY A PLACE OF STORIES FROM A FAR-AWAY LAND, BECAME MY WALL
By Dr. Terry Segal
New Moon Meditations continue with the month of Tammuz that began on June 28, 2014. We have been on an Enchanted Journey through the Hebrew calendar, with this past year’s focus on relieving stress and anxiety, Dragons and using the Ten Enchanted Keys to improve the quality of our lives. Now we can expand the journey as we experience Judaism through an enchanted lens.
My husband, Fred, and I just returned from our first trip to Israel celebrating the milestone of our 30th wedding anniversary. What an extraordinary adventure. We traveled with a neighboring synagogue, Gesher L’Torah, led by Rabbi Michael and Tracie Bernstein and about two dozen of their congregants. We began as strangers and soon became family. Keshet Educational Tourism guides, Geoff and Yedidya, joined us once we arrived in Israel.
I didn’t quite know what to expect and planned to write about significant experiences in the coming months. I packed my clothes, Enchanted Keys and an open mind. Two of our three children went on Birthright at the end of December and encouraged us to go.
When the women of our group received the invitation to pray with the Women of the Wall (WOW), there wasn’t any question that we would accept. It was a Divine synchronicity that we were there on Rosh Chodesh Sivan. I immersed myself in the task of seeking out the Divine sparks that have fallen into our material world and uplifting them. How perfect the theme fit with what occurred for me at the Kotel or Western Wall.
It was Friday morning, May 30, day five of our trip, when we arrived at the Wall. Hundreds of women were already gathered, praying, chanting, and dancing. We had been told to dress modestly, with shoulders and knees covered, as there are women at the entrance who would inspect us and cover those whom they deemed were dressed inappropriately. I wore a light, long-sleeved T-shirt and long white skirt. There were washing stations at the plaza where we cleansed our hands prior to entering the section that divided the men and the women.
We had been warned of the possibility of being arrested for praying with the WOW and the chance of being subjected to protesters. From my limited knowledge of WOW, I imagined them as harsh and militant. That was so far from my experience. I used the Enchanted Key to Altered Perceptions.
I secured my kippah, recited the prayer before donning my tallit and was immediately pulled into the circle of whirling color and sound. These women were so passionate in their prayer that I became overwhelmed with emotion. Mirroring our movements were the birds, appearing more like bats that circled and swooped down the Wall before soaring back up again. These Common Swifts added their dramatic presence.
We were handed WOW Siddurim to use during the service. Women moved in and out of the circle as we went up to the Wall to pray privately and slip our notes into the tiny crevices. It’s customary to back away from the Wall when leaving, as to not be disrespectful and turn our backs to it.
I was not alone as I sobbed during much of this event. It was so moving to be at the Wall, previously a place of stories from a far-away land. It became my Wall in my Jerusalem. To be there for the first time with the Women of the Wall only intensified it.
WOW was founded on Dec. 1, 1988, by Dr. Bonna Devora Haberman, author and activist. The intended purpose was “to enable women to express our own full religious conscience in the presence of the public of the Jewish people,” with “the Kotel as that sacred place,” and that’s why the WOW desire to experience religious freedom, together with the women of Israel, specifically in that spot.
During their 25-year history, these women have been met with violence and opposition from ultra Orthodox men and women and the officials of the Western Wall, which has led to the arrests of WOW participants and Supreme Court rulings as to whether or not Jewish law has been broken.
WOW followers state that they are law-abiding citizens in favor of freedom of religious conscience and from discrimination on the basis of gender. Non-Orthodox practices at the site have been criminalized and protestors are outraged with what they see as a violation of local customs of the Orthodox, with women wearing tallit, kippot and tefillin. To this day, the women are not allowed to pray with a Torah scroll and, instead, read from the Siddurim while holding up Torah covers. Deuteronomy 22:5, reads, “A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the LORD thy G-d.” How many of us, women, now wear pants to synagogue? It’s an interesting topic to explore.
We had a joyful and meaningful experience, in spite of two female protestors, during the Bat Mitzvah celebration of a 60-year old woman, also in Israel for the first time. Blessings for Torah study were being offered to her when one woman began aggressively shouting in Hebrew and shaking her finger at us. Someone translated her words to mean, “Shame on you! G-d is watching!” Another woman made her presence known, as she moved like an iguana on the sidelines, blending in and then appearing. She shouted similar sentiments while giving us the evil eye. A couple of women, in response, became angry, which felt cognitively dissonant. I, gently but firmly, held my hand up to the protestor, as if to say, “Stop” and shook my head, “No.”
I asked a few women around who were disturbed by her to silently flood her with prayers of love rather than return the hateful energy she sent out to us. They were hesitant, saying I was “too nice” but I watched them let go of it and join me in that intention. The protestor made a disgusted face and walked away. She reappeared once more, following our group all the way to the gate when we left. We didn’t feel threatened by her but it made for a powerful discussion later on the bus.
This month of Tammuz, according to Kabbalah, is associated with the sense of sight. Corrected sight allows selflessness and unconditional love, with the left eye moving us away from that which is negative and training ourselves, through the right eye, to see what is positive as we look for goodness. This event offers hindsight and contemplation of foresight as well.
In what situations do you see an opportunity to look with corrected vision?
Dr. Terry Segal is a licensed marriage & family therapist, Ph.D. in energy medicine, hypnotherapist and author of “The Enchanted Journey: Finding the Key that Unlocks You.”