I woke up early for Religious Tolerance
March 13, 2013
Yesterday, I joined in solidarity with Women of the Wall at the “Wake up for Religious Tolerance” Service in NYC. Women of the Wall began in Jerusalem, 24 ½ years ago, when I was a first year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR. As the 20th anniversary of Ordination approaches, my classmates and I recently reflected on our experiences with WOW in the year 1988-1989. Many of us were at the service in March 1989 when chairs were thrown and at least one woman was injured. The police tried to protect the women by releasing a tear gas canister on the men’s side. How disgusted we were when a haredi man took his tallis to protect his face and redirected the tear gas to the women’s side. This harsh memory has faded but the scars are still there. Each month the challenges faced by Women of the Wall evokes this memory. I never imagined that nearly 25 years later women would still be immersed in this Civil Rights issue.
The exciting news from Jerusalem for this Rosh Hodesh is that there were NO arrests at the Kotel for the first time in 22 months. Joined by three female Members of Knesset, Stav Shaffir, Michal Rozin and Tamar Zandberg, the Women of the Wall were bolstered in their support. When security questioned the MKs and told them they were not allowed to wear tallit at the Kotel, they invoked diplomatic immunity.
We in NY/NJ were concerned for our sisters in Jerusalem. Posters in recent days in the ultra-orthodox communities in Jerusalem urged haredim to protest against the “desecration at the Western Wall” by Women of the Wall. Fortunately, many supporters in Israel thwarted what could have been an unpleasant morning. Of course, President Obama’s forthcoming visit may also have helped matters. It is important to keep the spotlight on as we all work for justice.
In NYC, though rain changed the outdoor location of Union Square to a warm welcome at Town and Village synagogue, there was a wonderful feeling of unity. I wore my Women of the Wall (and favorite) tallis. No one stopped me on my way into the synagogue to check my prayer ritual garb. Many women and men wore tefillin. Kol Yisrael aravain zeh bazeh. All Israel is responsible for one another. We prayed together, men, women and yes, children. It was moving when students from Hannah Sennesh and Solomon Schechter (NYC) Day Schools led the Aleinu.
The service began with Rabbi Iris Richman, organizer of the event, speaking to us. It gave a sense of a rally but soon the music led us into prayer. The power of lifting our voices together in prayer was palpable. Ozi v’zimrat Yah-vay’hi li yeshua. God is my strength and my song; God is my deliverance. The melody has become an anthem for WOW and we sang it again during the Hallel prayers for Rosh Hodesh.
As we enter this new month of Nisan, it is especially appropriate to raise our voices high for freedom. I am grateful that I am free to pray with Jews across the religious spectrum and join together in support of women’s rights to pray at the Kotel. I pray that one day soon, women and men will be able to lift their voices in prayer without needing any diplomatic immunity to bring a tallis.
Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz serves Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, NJ. She and her husband, David, are the proud parents of Ezra, Benjamin, Samuel and Daniel. For many years she focused on the four daughters of the Passover Haggadah but the reality in her house is the four sons.