Where Were You?

On Monday, October 22, more than 120 viewers logged on to watch a ProZion UK live webcast of Anat Hoffman being interviewed by Deborah Blausten. All over the world, watching and listening, live tweeting and asking questions, people watched Hoffman talk about religious freedom, women’s rights, and democracy.

Anat Hoffman is part of Women of the Wall, a women’s prayer group that started in Israel in 1988. Arguably, she is the most recognizable face of WoW, particularly in the Diaspora. She is the woman whose name I’ve been hearing since my teens, connected to concepts like equality, religious freedom and religious pluralism. She is the one whose name I remember connected to repeated arrests, because a woman praying in a tallit is so threatening as to be a crime.

I’m a Diaspora Jew; specifically a citizen of the United States. Born here, raised here. I’ve watched the struggle of WoW from that distance and cultural context. But as I grow older, the vociferous reaction of the Ultra-Orthdox to them appears to being growing stronger. I don’t think that’s something we can write off as social media amplifying the signal, there has been global pushback against women’s rights, and religious pluralism, with growing frequency and violence over the course of my life.

Progressive Jews have faced down prejudice in Israel before. I have no doubt they will again. But the thing I kept thinking while watching Hoffman’s interview? That wouldn’t get out of my head while I live-tweeted portions of the interview?

 Where is everyone?

The Diaspora is full of Jews. We’re scattered all over, and represent a dizzying array of approaches to our faith. Progressive is not just a substitute phrase for “liberal” or “Reform” to me. Progressive approaches to Judaism find a way to make it not only a religion that thrives and is alive, but finds ways to harmonize with human rights and religious pluralism. That’s a goal that can and should transcend sect. I know progressive Jews are all over the world, wherever you can find Jews.

So why didn’t that number of people watching crack 150? 200? Why is it that  it took till 2012 for us to  see a global day of action, where men and women pray the Sh’ma together in an act of solidarity? There is so much that is so horribly wrong, in Israel and in the Diaspora. Abuses of human rights. The mistreatment of refugees. The occupation of places that invading governments have no right to be.

The terrorizing of women in prayer at the Western Wall is just a piece of a larger, horrible tide of pedestrian evils. We need to face that tide. Apathy and ignorance of the world are not Jewish values. Empathy and action are. I’m hoping this is not a flash in the pan. I am praying this is the first step, that we will come together for women’s rights, and from there grow outward, to fighting for an Israel that does not commit the inequities others have committed against Jews.

Cruelty is not a Jewish value. Suppression and xenophobia are not Jewish values. If you’re not concerned about what has happened to the Women of the Wall since 1988, about what is happening to them now, if you’re not upset, then you’re not paying attention.

It is imperative that you experience concern.

And it is vital that you feel angry.

One Response to “Where Were You?”

  1. Eh, there are a lot of countries in the middle east that are intolerant to Jewish expression. It’s hard to stay angry about all of them. I’d rather focus my energy on community building in the countries that are happy to have us.


    Desh · October 28th, 2012 at 10:11 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik