Culture, Global, Identity, Israel, Justice, Religion, Sex & Gender

One Hundred and Twenty Minutes in the JCC

Sometimes when I go to Jewish events that I know will include a  question and answer session,  I make a chart that looks like this:

# of times someone asks a question that is not actually a question  ( __ ) 

# of times speaker is interrupted by someone in the audience ( __ )

# of rants by audience members  ( ___ ) *

This chart has come in particularly handy at conferences, but can be applied on a holiday such as Shavuot, if you write. (It also makes an excellent drinking game.)
I spent Shavuot at the JCC in Manhattan, which, if you have not attended a tikkun there before, can be really overwhelming. It’s super crowded, especially in the areas with the cheesecake and water and coffee. The offerings are pretty diverse: yoga, films, art, speakers, and more traditional learning situations with chevrutah. I came because I was in the neighborhood, and also for the 10 pm session with Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson (RKE in this piece, for the sake of brevity here), director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, called “Women of the Wall, Pluralism in Israel, and American Jews.”
RKE began by asking the audience about the values that motivate their activism (“I just don’t want someone to say that my voice can’t be heard,” said one woman,) and also about the values that they felt Israel should embody, which were no surprise in a liberal Jewish crowd: equality, democracy, justice, respect, Judaism, co-existence, pluralism. “I am worried by what I see in the news,” said RKE, before giving a brief history of the actions of Women of the Wall, beginning in 1988, when the group gathered at the Kotel for the first time. In 1993, the group attempted to read Torah for the first time at the Wall, resulting in the arrest and detainment of group members. (The Torah reading happened, outside the jail near Jaffa Gate, while members of the group and allies waited for folks to be released.)  “There was a feeling of being vulnerable, and yet so strong,” said RKE. The events  continued to escalate after 1993, and American Jewish support for WOW grew.  RKE: “Seeing Jewish women being taken away by Israeli police in a Jewish state? How can it be?”
(Question from an audience member: “Should Israel Jews be able to interfere in American politics the way American Jews are interfering in Israel’s? Why should that be allowed?”
Friend I brought with me, under her breath: “I don’t know, trillions of dollars in military aid?”)
It’s the opinion of the American Jewish community that RKE feels led Netanyahu charge Natan Sharansky with creating a solution to the “problem” of Women of the Wall and their goal of creating equal gendered space. (RKE-Robinson’s Arch is not so physically accessible, and can seem “like you’re praying in an archae0logical dig.”)  There’s some confusion, however, as to who makes the ultimate decision. It’s not Naftali Bennett, apparently, but RKE encouraged the audience to email him and write him letters. It’s probably not Netanyahu, either. “Liberal Jews have given up on the Kotel,” said RKE. “They’re saying, this is not our place, we don’t need to be involved. I’m not interested in restoring the sacrificial system, but I don’t want to give (the Kotel) up. It’s ours, too. We’re liberating the wall again.”  Citing the May 10th prayer service, which was the first time that Women of the Wall were protected by the Israeli police, RKE said, “We’re watching the ground shift, we’re not going to go back.”
*Tally, in case you’re interested, from this session:
# of times someone asks a question that is not actually a question: 3 
# of times speaker is interrupted by someone in the audience:  4
# of rants by audience members: 2 

4 thoughts on “One Hundred and Twenty Minutes in the JCC

  1. In 1993, the group attempted to read Torah for the first time at the Wall, resulting in the arrest and detainment of medical student Nofrat Frankel.
    Nofrat Frankel was arrested in 2009.

  2. (Question from an audience member: ”Should Israel Jews be able to interfere in American politics the way American Jews are interfering in Israel’s? Why should that be allowed?”
    Friend I brought with me, under her breath: ”I don’t know, trillions of dollars in military aid?”)

    But the American Jewish community doesn’t give Israel trillions of dollars in military aid.
    It’s the U.S. government gives Israel trillions of dollars in military aid. And that’s because of the Evangelican Chrisitan community in the U.S. and because of the fact that America’s and Israel’ military-industrial worlds’ are so intertrwined (which, granted, is the case in part because of AIPAC’s efforts decades ago.)
    So, American Jews do have the right to voice their opinion and act according to their convictions to bring about change in Israel . . . from the Manhattan JCC.
    Or, in order to create an Israel that embodies “equality, democracy, justice, respect, Judaism, co-existence, and pluralism,” 200,000 American Jews could move to Israel during the next decade, and much of those changed would occur.
    (But there is no way that will ever happen).

  3. I think you’re doing a great service blog here;and in your heart Dan the jewish people are sacred.
    So then where were you last wednesday night? Missed the greatest wedding ever!And no mention not even a malzal tov on your blog.I know it’s complicated.Your dad and mom have a perverse influence-
    BUT How many sisters do you have Dan? What is real goodness, forgiveness, morality; what does it mean to do right? It means to be there no matter what for those that need you- close ones.
    I remember a few years ago you began to speak about growing up- true feelings real stuff- but that abruptly ended from pressure.
    And what kind of folks are you really?After all the moralistic talk is finished what are the reasons you care in the first place? There’s no escaping your true self and not being in Jerusalem that night was an attempt at just that.

  4. #1. I resigned from Jewschool in 2007 and have had no relationship to this website since that time. I proudly congratulated my sister on her wedding on my Twitter and Facebook profiles, which have been my primary vehicles since my resignation from Jewschool.
    #2. I was unemployed 11 months out of last year, had my savings wiped out by two hospital visits, and recently left my new job because I was getting stiffed on health insurance, which for my wife and I, I pay $500 out of pocket for each month. I am now a freelancer, living from hand-to-mouth. My parents recently emerged from bankruptcy but lost their home to foreclosure and barely earn enough to feed themselves let alone pay all their bills. So how, pray tell, were any of us supposed to be in Jerusalem on a month’s notice? Were you going to pay the $3,000 roundtrip airfare for each member of our family to be there? Do you think we’re all just sitting on stacks of thousands? Did you know that 40% of Jewish Americans live below the poverty line and not all of them are Orthodox Jews living on a kolel’s dole and hiding their income from the tax man?
    #3. My parents have done more tzedek in their lives than anyone I know. They may have their issues but “perverse” is not a word I would use to describe them, nor do I consider it appropriate for a stranger who I’m sure has never met them to publicly shame them in such a way, nor to mix themselves up in intimate family matters they have absolutely no genuine knowledge of.
    #4. Frankly, I’m not sure who you are — I assume one of many people I encountered in Jerusalem with whom I have no actual relationship and whom I forgot along with the names of Nachlaot’s alleyways. Bearing that in mind, it’s hard for me to understand why you feel so comfortable making such presumptuous claims. I can only guess that you are a friend of my sister’s and you are coming to her defense because it felt wrong for none of her family to be present at her wedding. While I appreciate that sentiment, because I can also be defensive of my sister, and because I truly wished I could have been there, her choice to get married a $3,000 round-trip away made it impossible for that to happen.
    There will be no further discussion of this matter.

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