It is 1:15 AM, and I just returned home from the Hadassah and WOW Women’s Night at the Kotel so filled with emotion. At the same time, both anger and passion encompass me, and all I can hope for is that one day things will be different. However, all I can be sure of is that I will continue fighting for what I believe in.
As an HUC-WOW liaison, I gathered about ten volunteers to help usher in the Hadassah women and song-lead for what was to be a spiritual and peaceful event. It may have not been peaceful, but it was definitely moving! This evening was supposed to commemorate the joining together of women from all different backgrounds to be one at the Kotel. Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, has assembled in Jerusalem for Hadassah’s 100th Anniversary, and tonight we had hoped to celebrate womanhood together!
Our niggun came to an end without regard to the shushing noises coming from both the men’s section over the mechitza as well as some Orthodox women. It was then that Chairwoman of Women of the Wall, Anat Hoffman began with words of welcome in the women’s section of the Kotel. After she explained the mission we stand for and thanked everyone for coming, I began leading the communal Shema for all of the Hadassah women. I let out the starting “Shema” as everyone joined in praise around me! Wow! All of those voices together; so powerful! I stood next to her, so proud to be a part of this amazing organization. I looked around at the Hadassah women, and turning back, the next thing I knew, Anat was being arrested. From right next to me, she was taken away for singing the Shema out loud!
We continued with the V’ahavta and exited out after Anat singing “Ozi v'zimrat Yah” [defined as "My Strength (balanced) with the Song of God will be my salvation (Psalm 118:14 & Exodus 15:2)"] (Translation from Rabbi Shefa Gold). We stood in the main courtyard as tensions exacerbated. Security guards stood all around and Orthodox women yelled at us for singing out loud. One WOW representative explained to the Hadassah women what had taken place, thanking them for attending and supporting our cause.
More buses had arrived and Hadassah women entered into the courtyard expecting to attend the spiritual, song-filled event, only to find shouting and chaos all around. I saw one Hadassah member, about my age, watching the yelling of the Orthodox women. I went up to her and asked if she could translate for me what exactly they were saying. She saw my WOW nametag, thanked me for supporting the organization and threw her arms around me. We were both so shaken, filled with rage at the hatred around us, but in that moment of uproar, two strangers stood united! Just then her mother came over and asked if we knew each other. The girl answered, “No” but that we had bonded. She was right! I looked about to see Hadassah women of all ages, mixed with HUC students, all in conversation. We truly were united.
I sit here typing further into the morning; my emotions trying to find space to settle. I cannot believe the actions I have witnessed this evening: the yelling, the arguing…all to point out our differences. One could not even begin to imagine how divided our people are, the Jewish people, until witnessing tonight. While I do not know what the future may bring, I do know that I will be back at the Kotel ready to prayer with all of my soul, at 7AM for tomorrow's Rosh Hodesh service… and sadly, mostly praying for the Jewish people.
“How filled with awe* is this place, and we did not know it! Blessed is the Eternal One, the holy G-d” (Gates of Prayer)
*awe: "an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Alli Cohen is a rabbinical student attending Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Originally posted at K'lal Yisrael - Praying for Pluralism