Every Rosh Chodesh (the first of the month and a holiday for women, given to them for refusing to participate in the creation of the golden calf), women and men gather together at the Kotel to pray aloud, choosing to wear or not wear any or all of the prayer accoutrements of Jewish practice. (A yamikah/kippah, a circular head covering, or other or multiple head coverings; a talis, a prayer shawl that is traditionally mostly white; tzitzit, a garment worn under the clothes, which has specially tied fringe at the four corners to remind the wearer of God’s commandment; t’fillin, the leather straps wrapped around your left arm and head that contain the verse from the Torah requiring you to wear God’s sign upon your heart and head) However, the Kotel is controlled by the Orthodox, who forbid women from praying aloud because it will distract the men from prayer and who forbid women from wearing prayer accoutrements because they are not commanded to in the historical sources.
This last Rosh Chodesh, I got up before dawn to walk through the sunrise to meet Women of the Wall and go together to pray and sing aloud, wearing our t’fillin and our talitot and our tzitzit. Most of my fellow HUC students were there also. For security reasons, we took a bus to and from the Kotel. Over the past few years, and especially over the past few months, Orthodox rabbis and leaders have mobilized their communities to protest Women of the Wall. In accordance with the customs of the Kotel, the police protected the Orthodox protestors and arrested the Women of the Wall. That all changed two months ago when a judge ruled that the arrested women had broken no laws, thereby negating that the customs of the Kotel were law and suggesting that other forms of Judaism were as valid as Orthodoxy. Now, the police support the Women of the Wall and arrest the protestors.
This Rosh Chodesh, Rosh Chodesh Av - the eleventh month in the hebrew calendar, a prominent Orthodox rabbi asked school girls to come to the Kotel and then bused them in. 5,000 - 6,000 women and teenage girls showed up, completely filling the women’s section. (At the Kotel, women and men are sent to different areas to pray, divided by a barrier called a mechitza, another Orthodox custom. This means that families can not pray or celebrate together at the wall.) Though some said that there was enough room in the back of the women’s section for the 300 of us, the police determined that, because of the numbers, they could not maintain our or others’ safety, and they would not let us enter.
That did not stop us. Though we were not at the wall itself, we were within sight of it. In a cordoned off area, we raised our voices in song, welcoming the morning sun and the new month. I have never been so proud to be a Jew and a Jewish woman. Together, we drowned out the whistle blowing and the shouts of hate coming from beyond the police line. Though they threw insults and eggs at us, I and everyone else continued to pray from our very souls, sometimes hand in hand, but always heart to heart. The ruach (spirit) was palpable.
Though I was proud, I also felt sad that the protest was even happening. Its terrible that Judaism is so divided that we can not allow each other even the peace to pray without argument and violence. I pitied the protestors. To them, our presence, our audacity represented the destruction of Judaism. Empathy though did not and will not stop me from defending my right to pray in a manner than is spiritually meaningful to me. My voice, my prayers and my songs are as important as any man’s, as any other human’s. I believe that God does not see the world divided by a mechitza.
A one point, an amazingly brave 13-year-old girl got up on a chair and read from the Torah for the first time as a Bat Mitzvah. I began sobbing because that girl was the physical manifestation of everything that we were fighting for by praying at the wall that day: the chance to be heard and the chance to be recognized as spiritual equals.
I will never forget the emotions and strength that moved through me that morning. I will never forget how supported and loved and uplifted I felt while singing “Ozi v’zimrat yah, vaiyahi-li lishua - My Strength balanced with the Song of God will be my salvation.” For the first time in my life, I felt like God was actually with me, not around me but actually a part of me. I saw my own divine spark and knew that I am indeed b’tzelem elohim - made in the image of God. So, I sang even louder and even stronger, clutching the hand of the friend next to me. Because when I was fighting a battle over the right to pray against my own brothers and sisters, all I could do to make a difference in that moment was to sing and pray, and therefore bring a little light into the world. And in that moment, my voice was enough.