By Michael Jacobs
Teens at the NFTY convention Feb. 15 saw examples of how Israel falls short of Western ideals and how young members of the Reform movement are working to improve society.
The workshop with Jerusalem residents Alona Nir, Anna Posner and Damian Kelman, all of whom work with the Reform movement, looked at efforts to combat perceived discrimination beyond the efforts of Women of the Wall to have a section for full women’s worship at the Western Wall.
Speaking with nine teens in the second of two sessions on the topic, the three adults emphasized that Women of the Wall made remarkable progress in a year, from police arresting participants during their monthly Rosh Chodesh services at the Kotel to police protecting them.
Israel resolved the controversy over women bringing the Torah to women-only worship at the Wall by banning anyone from bringing in a Torah, but men at Orthodox areas of the Kotel benefit from permanently housed Torahs. The Reform movement is engaged in planning for new facilities at the Wall to ensure that the complex accommodates the full range of Jewish worship.
But just as the Wall is of symbolic importance to the Jewish people, so the struggles at the Wall are symbolic of broader issues for women.
“It’s a microcosm of Israeli society,” said Kelman, the director of Noar Telem, the Reform youth movement in Israel.
He cited the now-outlawed practice of women being forced to sit in the back of buses in some Haredi areas to allow the men to sit separately in the front. Noar Telem is using hidden cameras on bus passengers to monitor and record harassment of female passengers.Damian Kelman heads Noar Telem, the Reform youth movement in Israel.
Nir, an Israeli shlicha (emissary) for the Union for Reform Judaism, made the comparison to Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Ala., and Posner said religious Israeli men have to deal with the reality of women: “We’re here, and we’re not going away.”
While the struggle for women’s equality is about the quality of life and an equitable Israeli society, the response to the Price Tag attacks is potentially about life and death. So far, those attacks against Muslims and Christians have targeted property through graffiti and arson.
But if the attacks aren’t stopped, Nir said, the violence will escalate to killing.
She showed the teens bumper stickers that read in Hebrew and Arabic, “All the neighbors are good in my view,” an instantly familiar phrase in Israel from a popular children’s book. Those stickers are from a counter-Price Tag coalition called Light Tag, of which the Reform movement is a part.
“We don’t want them to be the voices of Judaism,” Kelman said of Price Tag. “That’s not what Judaism teaches us.”