This morning, I had the opportunity to take a group of about 20 people from our Temple Family Israel trip to the kotel for Women of the Wall's Rosh Chodesh minyan. It was the first full day of our trip so many of them were quite jetlagged, but five young women who will become bat mitzvah this Shabbat came, as did several mothers and grandmothers and even a few fathers and a grandfather. Some had converted to Judaism, others were born into it. For all but very few, this was their first time at the Kotel because it is the first time they are in Israel.
What an experience to have as your first time at the Kotel! We began by joining with Anat Hoffman and others in trying to be allowed to bring a Torah scroll through security. They knew it would be denied entry, but they did it knowing another Torah scroll could come through and be available to be read. We sang with others as the leadership of Women of the Wall argued with the guards, then entered the kotel plaza, some of us wearing tallitot. We joined in the joyful sound of women's voices singing, drowning out (mostly) the shouting which came from some of the Orthodox women who felt that what we were doing was an abomination. We had the opportunity to witness three young women become bat mitzvah with a Torah scroll at the Kotel.
As we prepared to leave, I asked the group what it felt like--what did it feel like for the women and what did it feel like for the men watching from the back? Amazing, wonderful, powerful. One man pointed out that he walked to the men's side and immediately was able to be wrapped in tefillin, but was sorry no one would do that for his daughters (and I am of course sorry I did not bring my tefillin to give the five girls the experience that so many boys and men have).
What I said to them, with tears in my eyes and throat, was this: "The Kotel has always been complicated for me as a woman, a Reform Jew, and as a rabbi. It has, at times, been powerful, but mostly it has been complicated. I haven't much wanted to come. Two years ago, I brought the mothers and daughters on our family trip to the Kotel and had to frame the experience almost apologetically, as if to say, "This is a very sacred place, but it will also likely make you really angry as a woman." Today, though, I didn't have to apologize. We were able to go in there and the Kotel felt like it belonged to me, and I hope it felt like it could belong to you."
For me, this was one of my most profound experiences as a Jew. I actually prayed at the Kotel in a way that felt like me--modest, but dressed in clothes I would wear if I were at services outside, wearing a tallit which I often wear on the bimah at home, the kippah that my mother made on my head, standing with women with whom I share a community back in Atlanta. It felt amazingly spiritual as I finally made a connection.
The Women of the Wall is about more than just the Kotel--it is part of a larger fight for the recognition that "religious Jews" are not just Orthodox ones and that the diversity of the Jewish people must have a place in Israel as it does elsewhere. It is my prayer that the women and men I brought from our group will join in that fight, and that we will continue to see forward steps. Today was beautiful, but it was still dramatic, there were still a few people yelling, there were police protecting us as we prayed. There is still work to be done, but today to see a Torah scroll held high by women was an achievement. Today, the Kotel was ours.