We were bussed in from a Jerusalem park and escorted through security to a reserved spot on the Western Wall Plaza. Haaretz reported that this was the first time in 25 years Women of the Wall had to pray on the plaza instead of at the wall, but I’m told it’s been happening for the last few months (ever since the courts ruled they had a right to be there and Hareidi women responded by flooding the women’s section of the wall to keep them away).
Women of the Wall issued a press release after today’s service:
July 8, 2013
Women of the Wall’s Prayers Blocked and Exiled from the Western Wall; Police Collaborate with ultra-Orthodox Protesters
More than 350 Women of the Wall were led by police escort to a fenced in area of the Western Wall (Kotel) Plaza while the Western Wall stood nearly empty at 7 AM on July 8, 2013. The women were held to pray in a space next to the public bathroom, usually used by Police as a parking area, and were not provide a separate section for women to pray away from the 100 male supporters, effectively forcing the women into mixed prayer. The women were refused entrance to the main plaza, to pray close-up to the Kotel, and instead, 100 ultra-Orthodox protesters with signs, whistles, throwing eggs and yelling were allowed free of the public, holy site.
The women’s section was full of seminary students bussed in for the purpose of blocking out Women of the Wall; however, the remaining space surrounding the Western Wall was empty. Hundreds of witnesses were shocked at the scene as there was ample room for Women of the Wall to pray. Despite claims of security and keeping the public order as the reason to blocking the women’s prayer from entering the Kotel, Police stood back and did nothing while an international female journalist was physically attacked by a haredi man and woman. Her request to file a complaint on the spot against the attackers was denied.
Lesley Sachs, Director of Women of the Wall said, “Today the Police gave in to politics and bullies instead of upholding women’s democratic right to pray freely at the Western Wall.”
Anat Hoffman, Chair, added, “During the prayer for the Peace of the State of Israel and Hatikvah, women were crying, especially in the line, “To be a free nation in our country”. We are more resolved than ever continue and come back next month with more women. We will see women pray freely at the Kotel.”
I have to echo what Sari said. Despite the tension and the anger, the davening itself was beautiful. I’m not someone who is often (ever?) moved to tears by prayer, but I found myself welling up several times this morning — during Hallel when we read the verse “The rock the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22), during the bat mitzvah (particularly thinking about the generations of women in my life), and during Hatikvah, realizing how these women were living out the struggle described in the words of the song.
I have a hard time getting worked up about the Kotel — it all feels a little too avodah zarah (idol worshippy) to me. And ultimately the women are fighting for the right to single-gender prayer, which isn’t my battle either. But I understand a thing or two about state-sponsored and societally institutionalized discrimination, and the women who have made this their fight are truly inspiring.
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