BY EDEN FARBER / AJT //
There’s a war going on in Israel. It’s a war involving an area to which both sides are connected; a war invoking G-d’s presence; a war having to do with worship.
It’s not a war that ends in the loss of life – thank G-d – but it’s a war that ends in the loss of freedom. It’s being fought by the Women of the Wall, a group that visits the Kotel (the Western Wall) to hold a prayer service every Rosh Chodesh.
Each month, they sing and pray, reading from the Torah. They also wear ritual garb – kippot and tallitot – and, being women, thus commit a crime. Since the Kotel is governed by men with right-wing views, women visiting the area (even for prayer) are forced to wear their prayer shawls as scarves. They aren’t allowed to say Kaddish or sing loudly.
And yet, every month, hundreds of women gather to pray their hearts out at the Kotel, arguably the holiest site for Jews both in Israel and around the world. Every month, women are detained, arrested and sometimes strip-searched. Every month, women have their religious freedom compromised for simply being women.
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And every month, those of us living in the Diaspora fear the latest indignity we’ll hear about when the Women of the Wall attempt to pray.
This past Rosh Chodesh, there was good news, a breakthrough. Five women were sent to court for praying at the Kotel, but the Judge decided there were no grounds for their arrest.
“Any disruption that took place was not instigated by the defendants,” the judge ruled. For the first time, it seems, someone in power had recognized that the sin of these women – their evil, immodest behavior – was nothing but prayer.
Unfortunately, the fight isn’t over. The fact of the matter is that Jews are being arrested for praying in public in Israel – supposedly the land of Jewish freedom – and frankly, that should disturb us all.
Yes, prayer that doesn’t meet Orthodox standards is illegal at the Kotel. Yes, if you’re a woman, it’s even more difficult to handle that point. To me, though, such a stance is basis for a revolution.
Would we talk about and honor Rosa Parks if it had been legal for her to sit at the front of the bus? Not likely. Because they took actions which were not only frowned upon but against the law, Parks and others involved with the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. suffered abuse and prejudice, and so must anyone else battling prejudice and offensive laws.
Some people are offended by the Women of the Wall; they feel that their loud protests are inappropriate. Maybe they are.
In an ideal world, the issue could be solved without one side doing something illegal and the other side forbidding prayer.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world.
Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, has offered a few compromises in recent months, suggesting that an egalitarian section be created at the Kotel. I don’t understand why the Orthodox community finds this proposal controversial.
Sharansky’s point is simple: “One Western Wall for one Jewish people.”
That’s one Jewish people, not one sect of mainstream Orthodox Jewish people.
This war is frightening because it’s between ourselves and the combatants are brothers and sisters. Yet it’s also a political battle that wounds the spirit and has many of us longing for freedom – apparently, freedom from ourselves!
As the war wages on, I’m left with two major thoughts: How fortunate we are as Jews to have the Land of Israel and the Kotel, but also how unfortunate we are that we’re using the Western Wall to create divisions.
Atlanta’s Eden Farber, 16, was recognized in the Jewish Heritage National Poetry Contest of 2010 and has published op-eds and poetry in Modern Hippie Magazine and the NY Jewish Week’s Fresh Ink for Teens section.