Rosh Chodesh Adar at the Kotel – why it made Judy Dvorak Gray cry
Mishanichnas Adar marbim b’simcha
by Judy Dvorak Gray
Hodesh Adar 5770 (Feb. 15, 2010)
I never cried before at the Kotel.
I know that the Kotel represents a long continuous link to our history and is the symbol of Jerusalem and Israel for Jews around the world. I would sometimes accompany family, friends or youth I worked with from abroad and would witness the effect on them when they first viewed the impressive, large stones sprinkled with henbane and caper plants growing between the cracks. I admit I was jealous watching their emotional reaction as they immediately connected to the site and carefully folded a personal note to place between the cracks.
I am a believing Masorti Jew and a strong Zionist. The Kotel should have stirred something within me, even just a small twinge at my heart strings. I tried. I would even stand there recalling the emotional scene of the soldiers who captured the Kotel in 1967 and Rabbi Goren’s famous radio message to headquarters, “The Kotel is in our hands!” But even that didn’t help. Each visit there left me feeling more and more isolated from Judaism in Israel.
In the twenty years I have lived in Jerusalem, I have witnessed the ultra-Orthodox Jews taking over the prayer space as well as the adjacent plaza, setting their own rules and demanding compliance from all visitors. Although I am egalitarian, I have no problem obeying the rules of an Orthodox synagogue when I need to and have readily sat behind a mechitza and left my tallit in its bag out of respect for “shalom bayit”. Accepting the dictates of the ultra-Orthodox at the Kotel is different for me. These stones—the last remnant of the Beit Mikdash in Jerusalem—belong to me too. I could resign myself to stand on the women’s side and give up sharing the experience with my husband, but that wasn’t enough. I couldn’t pray out loud and was judged by the women around me by the length of my skirt or whether my head was covered and was often physically pushed out of my spot as I reached out to touch the cold stones.
I began to avoid the Kotel. It was too painful a reminder of feeling alienated from my heritage. In 2000, when the alternative solution of permitting mixed groups to pray at Robinson’s Arch (the “Kotel Ha-Masorti”) was designated by the Israeli government, the situation changed. I could now pray in an egalitarian minyan, wear my tallit and feel a part of Am Yisrael. I felt a strong connection to the massive rocks scattered around the area that had fallen in the destruction of the Temple.
The situation at the Kotel was becoming more intolerable each year. Women of the Wall, who have faithfully prayed every Rosh Hodesh for twenty years, were now being harassed even more. Nofrat Frenkel (pictured above in center), a young woman who grew up in the Masorti Movement in Israel, was arrested on Rosh Hodesh Kislev (November) for wearing a tallit. A leadership mission from the Masorti Foundation in North America recently visited Israel because of their concern about the divide of the Jewish people and the alienation of non-Orthodox Jews in Israeli society. I spoke with some participants from the mission and was inspired by all they are doing to work to change the situation.
So today, Rosh Hodesh Adar, I decided to join the Women of the Wall and show my support for pluralism in Israel. I’m not a political person and I generally avoid demonstrations when I think there may be confrontation. But everyone has a limit.
About 100 women gathered at the back of the women’s section of the Kotel. Nofrat Frankel led the service. It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm morning and as I looked around me at the blue sky with the Israeli flag flying above the plaza and all the people who had come to welcome the new month with prayer, I felt comfortable and happy with my decision to be there. Police were on hand to keep order.
The first person who tried to disturb the praying was a man overlooking the mechitza from the men’s side. Ironically, his shouting began as we sang “V’ha’er aynenu…” “Open our eyes to your Torah, help our hearts cleave to Your mitzvot. Unite all our thoughts to love and revere You.” His words, “This isn’t Torah! Torah hasn’t changed for 2000 years and you can’t change it now…” were swallowed by the voices of the women praying.
A woman joined the group and wrapped her tallit around her. A police man came over and told her she had to cover it. She quietly took out her sweater and wore it on top of her tallit.
We continued the prayers and reached the silent Amidah. I was engaged with my own personal prayers but was interrupted when I heard shouting. A number of ultra-Orthodox women came towards the group and began yelling. One shouted, “Get out of here. You’re not Jews!” Another screamed, “You are all mentally ill. I hope you get every bad disease possible!” “It’s forbidden to change the Torah!” yelled a third. I witnessed the police physically separating the vicious protestors from attacking the women praying.
And that’s when I cried.
I cried not because I was afraid or worried about our physical safety. I cried because of the state of Judaism in my country. I – a woman who considers herself one who embraces Judaism and lives by its values and teachings in daily life– am not welcomed at the Kotel. People are telling me that I’m not a Jew. My tears were for the pain I felt deep inside me—the pain of the division in our society that seems insurmountable.
In spite of the disruptions, the service proceeded with Hallel for Rosh Hodesh. Our voices united as we sang praises. Psalm 118 had a soothing effect on me: “Min ha’metzar, karati yah…” “In my distress I called to the Lord: He answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me, I shall not fear; what can mortals do to me? With the Lord at my side, best help of all, I will yet see the fall of my foes.”
Judy Gray worked for more than 8 years as the Projects & Communications Manager at Masorti Olami & MERCAZ Olami, retiring in 2009.