Praying With the Women of the Wall: A Teen Girl's Account

The Wailing Wall. It’s considered a very spiritual place where you’re supposed to pray/wail (as the name implies) to God. It’s supposed to be a very moving experience — I mean, people come from all over the globe to see the Wall’s wonders. But after praying there with Women of the Wall, I now have a whole new side to this “experience” (not to mention a whole new side to the term “wail.”) Before I went on Monday morning for Rosh Chodesh Adar, I had a vague sense of what might happen. I heard about people tossing words and other things at the group. But I’m not sure I really understood what that might feel like.

When we arrived, we were met by cameras and television crews, as well as by police. There was a male policeman in the women’s section and I was wondering why people weren’t telling him off for that — you know, for being on the wrong side of the mechitza and hearing women’s voices. Anyway, I went with two other girls to get siddurim, and then one religious girl walked up to my friend, who was wearing a tallit under her clothes, and said, “Homo!” I knew it was a very offensive and politically incorrect thing to say, but it still made me want to laugh. I tried to keep a straight face when the first haredi guy started screaming and ranting from the other side of the mehitza, making such obviously false points that made me feel like I was in some alternate universe.

The Wailing Wall. It’s considered a very spiritual place where you’re supposed to pray/wail (as the name implies) to God. It’s supposed to be a very moving experience — I mean, people come from all over the globe to see the Wall’s wonders. But after praying there with Women of the Wall, I now have a whole new side to this “experience” (not to mention a whole new side to the term “wail.”) Before I went on Monday morning for Rosh Chodesh Adar, I had a vague sense of what might happen. I heard about people tossing words and other things at the group. But I’m not sure I really understood what that might feel like.

When we arrived, we were met by cameras and television crews, as well as by police. There was a male policeman in the women’s section and I was wondering why people weren’t telling him off for that — you know, for being on the wrong side of the mechitza and hearing women’s voices. Anyway, I went with two other girls to get siddurim, and then one religious girl walked up to my friend, who was wearing a tallit under her clothes, and said, “Homo!” I knew it was a very offensive and politically incorrect thing to say, but it still made me want to laugh. I tried to keep a straight face when the first haredi guy started screaming and ranting from the other side of the mehitza, making such obviously false points that made me feel like I was in some alternate universe.

I thought that the reaction was a little exaggerated. I mean, we were just praying. That’s it. Eighty women, standing together, very squashed I might add, singing and praying. We didn’t even read from the Torah. (We went to Robinson’s Arch to do that.) And only a few girls wore a tallit (one of whom is a friend of mine), but they all wore it under clothing, so it would not be seen — even though that defeats the entire purpose of the mitzvah (“ur’item oto…” – “You shall see it” [Numbers 15;39]).

Soon, the situation got worse. Someone on the men’s side brought a megaphone and started screaming, leaning over the mechitza to the woman’s side, “Gevalte! Kofrim!” (heretics), and then they said we’re not Jewish. “We overcame the Romans, we overcame the Greeks, we overcame the Holocaust, but you are the worst!” Then, the haredi women started to curse us and call us “men”, “lesbians”, “devils”, “Christians,” and they even said that we are disturbing their prayer. A girl from Women of the Wall responded with the obvious, “Excuse me, but you’re interrupting our prayer.”

We all kept our calm. The police were trying to organize things and eventually made a “protective barrier.” This barrier consisted of three police men standing in front of us, which I thought was very kind, but that didn’t help much, because a haredi woman came from behind the group and pushed me and my friends, screaming in our ears “Get out of here! You’re a disgrace!” and so on. They were making all kinds of “ahhhh!” noises trying to overpower our voices and “sheket” [be quiet] screeches. Meanwhile, one man with a white beard held up his hands in a v-sign and sang “Hallel” along with us.

Apparently, this wasn’t as bad as prayer services past. We didn’t get anything thrown physically at us, although for one photographer had coffee spat at her, and one of our participants who wanted to take a photo of a hysterical haredi woman had her camera knocked out of her hand.

This all made me very sad. On the one hand, I want to have a civilized conversation with other Jews, haredi or otherwise, and I’m willing to listen if they are. But I felt like my only real recourse in the face of all this was to just stay silent. One kid in my class told me that it doesn’t respect the Kotel to hold up signs and “demonstrate.” I calmly explained to him that there were no signs! We weren’t trying to prove anything or “demonstrate” at all, that all we wanted to do was pray and express ourselves the way we love and the way we know how. So he kept on asking, “Were you wearing tefillin and kipot? Did you read from the Torah?” When I answered “no” to these questions, he slouched in his chair, and in a confused tone asked, “So why were they upset? I didn’t know how to answer. It confuses me why all those people at the Kotel are against prayer. I mean, they pray every single day, it obviously means a lot to them, and yet they reject other’s prayers. It this same sinat chinam — baseless hatred — that destroyed the Second Temple. If only they were willing to talk to me like a civilized person I know they can be, I would love to hear what they have to say about that. I prayed for such a dialogue — and it was one of the most meaningful prayers of mine in a very, very long time.

Avigayil Sztokman is a student in the 11th grade at the Yachad School in Modi’in, Israel.

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