Culture, Identity, Israel, Religion, Sex & Gender

In the Spirit of Adar

At 6:15am on Rosh Hodesh Adar Aleph, I stood at a bus stop on Derech Hevron by Tzomet Habankim. I watched Israelis get on and off the green public buses and waited until a blue and white mini bus pulled up. I boarded the Palestinian bus which runs from the entrance to Bethlehem to East Jerusalem, paying only 5 shekels instead of the regular 6.40 NIS.
shaharitIt was a quick ride with almost no stops until I rang the bell for Jaffa Gate. I was the only passenger to descend from the bus.
officerIn flowy green pants and a purple skirt, I made may way through the pouring rain toward the kotel. I was grateful to both fit into the hippy Jerusalem culture as well as the serious feminist activist group that was having their monthly meeting of worship, song, and taking a stand.
As I approached the plaza, I heard loud voices of men singing a Shlomo Carlebach niggun. Why were they singing so loud? Was it because of Rosh Hodesh? Was their joy pure? Or could it have been do drown out the women’s voices close by on the other side of the mechitza? Having been at the kotel the week before for Havdallah, straining to hear the words of the blessings, my instinct was that this loud singing was the latter.

I was greeted on the women’s side by women of all shapes, sizes and accents. Some smiling, some deep in prayer, some simply watching the scene. A male police officer paced in front of us mumbling into his shoulder radio: “In my life, in my life I’ve never seen anything like it.”
As I pulled my tallit from my backpack, I noticed a change from my previous encounters with this group. Having been to these gatherings almost ten times since the summer of 2000, I knew that the fact that some folk were wearing their tallitot publicly (i.e. on the outside of their jackets) was a big deal. And yet, it still felt so limiting to leave my tefillin in their pouch.
The Hebrew accent of the woman leading hallel washed over me – it was a new sound that inspired and connected me to these nameless women. I glanced behind us at the male allies davening behind the fence – it was difficult not to resent their ease of wearing tefillin and singing aloud. The mix of their voices with ours gave me pause. I noticed a small black cat climbing the rocks under the ramp toward the upper plaza–how pleasant to be a small furry border crosser.
Soon our songs of praise became a circle dance – the circle with no end and no beginning – we grasped arms and hands and belted out our carlebach niggun high and wide. Unlike so many visits over the past decade, we continued undisturbed. The rain lightened.
As hallel concluded we began the levitical march with the Torah to Robinson’s Arch. After ignoring a few insults from onlookers, we made our way to the corner where we could continue our service with Torah reading and Musaf. A handful of us revealed our tefillin, and the Torah came out of her duffel bag.
readingtorahI was blessed to be the first Torah reader that morning. Five years ago I also read Torah on Rosh Hodesh Adar, in honor of my Adar birthday. I felt the energy of the group’s intention through chanting each word – this is what it feels like to stand for something.
In an odd chiastic dance, I then removed my tefillin for musaf. I was able to step back and see many more stones than are visible at the main plaza. I also noticed the small black cat who had joined us, without passing through any metal detectors. As the rain became heavy again, we made our way to a modest kiddush.
With joy in my heart, I bid farewell to these diverse women, wishing them good shabbos and hodesh tov. Ironically, after this gathering I made my way to a men’s only oneg at a yeshiva connected to the Hurba Synagogue, followed by a small wedding in the pouring rain at Aish HaTorah – all before noon. In the spirit of Adar, V’nahafoch hu!
Cross posted to Women of the Wall. For additional photos, see the Huffington Post Photo montage.

13 thoughts on “In the Spirit of Adar

  1. “I watched Israelis get on and off the green public buses and waited until a blue and white mini bus pulled up. I boarded the Palestinian bus which runs from the entrance to Bethlehm to East Jerusalem, paying only 5 shekels instead of the regular 6.40 NIS”
    I don’t object to riding the Palestinian buses but is this an essential detail to the story? Just curious.

  2. As far as I’m concerned I support your efforts to be part of WoW. I think they are a very important organization. But you haven’t answered my question.
    Seriously, is the fact that you rode the Palestinian buses an integral part of the story? I am having trouble making a connection. Maybe since you were at tzomet habankim it was the easiest and cheapest way to get to the old city via public transportation. That makes sense. Maybe you included it because normally you only ride the green Egged buses and your choice of the Pal. buses was part of your ‘venahafochu’ message. That makes sense too.
    When most of my friends in Jerusalem tell me that they ride the Pal. buses my view is that they do so to make a preachy, i’m-more-progressive-and-therefore-better-than-you kind of statement. Is that why you included it in your post?

  3. All I’m saying is that someone could have mentioned to the person whose head tefillin straps were reversed that their head tefillin straps were reversed. Positioning is more complicated on people who have more hair, but straps are easy to see. It boggles the mind why the dozens of people in the surroundings did not correct the person. It’s kind of a big deal to me.

  4. I watched Israelis get on and off the green public buses and waited until a blue and white mini bus pulled up. I boarded the Palestinian bus which runs from the entrance to Bethlehem to East Jerusalem, paying only 5 shekels instead of the regular 6.40 NIS.
    Maybe ShamirPower is Palestinian, and she doesn’t feel comfortable riding the same bus as Israelis?

  5. It’s kind of a big deal to me
    it’s kind of a big deal to the mesorah, too. the fact that the legal tradition actually puts such emphasis on which way the straps should lay on the head and arm tells us that this is not an insignificant matter.
    wow i feel so loved and supported by the Jewish people right now.
    is there any more ancient and culturally significant Jewish custom than debate over mundane details? 🙂

  6. hey folks.
    yes – the palestinian bus was more direct (as well as cheaper) – i enjoy pointing out when something is both more affordable and more efficient. i wouldn’t call it ‘integral’ per se but just painting a picture.
    i was actually quite embarrassed that no one pointed out that my tefillin strap was twisted – it is rare that i am davening outdoors where i don’t have window in which to see my reflection. perhaps it was the rush of it all the fact that i was front and center that nobody commented. or perhaps so few women who were ‘in the know’ felt comfortable pointing it out.

  7. Genuine curiosity, as a person who doesn’t lay tefilin:
    I know that a lot of what goes into wrapping tefilin is a minhag, not law. For instance, sephardim wrap in one direction, ashkenazim in the other, etc. So is the underside of the strap showing an issue of what I call “minhag with a lot of traction” or is there really a halachic issue involved?
    That said, I still think praying at the wall is a bizarre practice, but kol hakavod for fighting for the rights of everyone to practice bizarrely!

  8. Kitzur Shulchan Oruch, 10:14,
    Care should be taken that the black side of the straps face outward. If it happens that the straps become inverted around your head or around the muscle of your arm so that the white sides faces outward, you must either fast or redeem yourself by giving charity.
    And I understand completely how it might be a bit overwhelming to be davening at the kotel, leading to errors like this. I don’t blame you at all shamirpower. It’s the people around you who should have said something. Correcting another Jew’s avoda, where appropriate, is a sign of affection, not criticism or interference in their affairs. This is all the more so for tefillin, which are a very precious mitzvah.

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