Today is Rosh Chodesh Av. I’m writing this post after attempting to pray at the Kotel (Western Wall) this morning with Women of the Wall, an organization I’ve written about and prayed with many times. (I’m also typing this on my iPhone so please forgive the lack of hyperlinks and any mistakes. I will fix them at a later time).
My morning started at 5:30 with a blaring alarm. I needed to be at Liberty Bell park to get on the bus with Women of the Wall. Last week I saw a tweet from Women of the Wall that said registration was necessary as coming together would be the only way the police could guarantee security. Ie we needed a police escort to the Kotel. I arrived and saw many colleagues and friends, male and female. 2 announcements were made. First a request not to take pictures during the prayers and not to talk to reporters during prayer. We then boarded buses. There were probably 350 people or so based solely on the number of buses.
We had a police escort directly to the entrance/drop off of the Kotel. We are talking all traffic being stopped for us and if you have ever traveled in Jerusalem you might imagine this is no small thing. Closer to the entrance there were blue police gates keeping people from blocking our way. It was hard to describe the sense of the police and army protecting us. Completely opposite of my previous experiences.
We entered the security area of the plaza and were pretty much waved through. But we could not get near the Kotel. We were basically confronted with the blue police gates with hundreds of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men on the other side. I put on my Tallit and the morning service started. The Haredim screamed, sang, blew whistles and did everything imaginable to disrupt the prayer service. It was very difficult to hear the leader.
It is hard to even describe this to you. The vitriol spewing from other Jews. Being so far away from the Kotel (I didn’t know why yet) was weird and then the eggs started flying. Two of my colleagues, Rabbi Sari Laufer and Rabbi Amy Small were hit by eggs. Fortunately they were not hurt. Young haredi women stood not far away and were mocking people wearing Tallit and tefillin (phylacteries).
The Torah service started. There was no Torah scroll. I’m not one hundred percent certain why not, but I think it has to do with the ongoing negotiations. The first reading was done by a young woman who became a Bat Mitzvah. She became the third generation of women in her family to do so. This was a beautiful moment. A chair was brought in to lift her and celebrate this moment in her life. In the whole experience this was the only joyful moment (there was still whistling and jeering from the Haredim).
The service continued and I decided to take a walk to see what was going on and maybe take some more pictures. I was standing at the back of the group. I learned from others that we couldn’t go to the Kotel because thousands of young Haredi women were bused in at 5am to stand in the women’s section and crowd the Kotel plaza so there was no room for Women of the Wall. I felt more nauseated.
The worst was yet to come.
The service ended. Anat Hoffman stood on a chair and led the group in the singing of Hatikvah, the hope, the national anthem of the State of Israel. The haredim, men and women started screaming louder than ever before. Blowing whistles and behaving in a disgusting manner.
We got back on buses in an orderly fashion and went back to Liberty Bell Park. I still am reeling and feeling.
There is so much work to be done, my friends.