Ten years ago, I prayed at the Western Wall wearing a tallis and tefillin. I was on a six week trip to Israel. We had just spent four weeks in the desert, where I woke up every morning to pray the morning shacharit service with my Siddur Sim Shalom, draped in tefillin, tallis and a kipah. I felt more connected to G-d, to something outside of myself praying amidst the sand dunes in the Negev, than I have felt before or since.
That day, when I prayed at the Western Wall, I was with a group of my friends, and as Orthodox women started to scream at me in Hebrew, tearing off my tallis, pushing me away from the Wall, my friends spoke up on my behalf, arguing in Hebrew that I, like any Jewish person, had every right to wear a tallis when I prayed. I ran from that holy place, horrified. I davened on the rooftop of our Jerusalem youth hostel the rest of the week.
Tomorrow, Thursday, December 17th is a day of international solidarity and support for the Israeli organization Women of the Wall. The Women of the Wall are a “group of women who have asserted women’s right to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, have struggled against personal violence and public opprobrium since 1988,” according to the Jewish Women’s Archive.
Far braver than I, these women have been gathering at the Western Wall every month for decades not just to wear tallis and kipot but to pray and read the Torah, and to raise their voices to the heavens in song and prayer. All of these activities are illegal in Israel. Women are not allowed to pray out loud, in groups, or with tallitot, at the Western Wall. To do so is a crime punishable with imprisonment. But they face more than jail time. Feces are thrown as these women while they daven. And chairs.
The international day of solidarity and support is being held in honor of medical student Nofrat Frenkel, who was detained by police last month at the Western Wall for wearing a prayer shawl at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Read Frenkel’s article in the Forward, “The ‘Crime’ of Praying with a Tallit, and a Plea for Tolerance.”
If you are awake early tomorrow morning, attend if you can the special prayer service in honor of the Women of the Wall at Beth Jacob congregation in Mendota Heights. Or take a five minute break and watch this amazing movie about the Women of the Wall called “Praying in her own voice.”
However you choose to do so, spend a moment this Thursday giving thanks for the opportunity we have as Jews in Minnesota to daven as we wish, and add an extra prayer of support to the Women of the Wall for their courage in the face of tremendous opposition.
If you would like to send your words of support directly to the Women of the Wall, email Judith Sherman Asher, [email protected], who is a member of Women of the Wall in Israel. Or buy their book, Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism’s Holy Site on TC Jewfolk’s Amazon.com site.