In israelengagement, stories, travel

I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent – Rabbi A.Y. Kook

On my personal experience during Rosh Chodesh Av – July 17, 2015
Women of the Wall The Kotel, Jerusalem.

By Teresa Quiroz.

Rachel Cohen with her detention record

Rachel Cohen with her detention record

On my first visit to the Holy Land I wanted it to complete a dream that I had for a long time.  Since my  Sisterhood joined the Women of the Wall (WoW) movement I was impressed by the courage and valour of the founders of the WoW group. I heard that Anat Hoffman had started the group at least 25 years ago.  My husband found a newspaper clipping from 1980 when it was international news the WoW group was asserting their right to celebrate Rosh Chodesh at the Kotel as a collective Jewry.  It was unheard of women not only wanted to celebrate Rosh Chodesh but wanted to chant from the Torah at the Kotel wearing Kippot, Tallits and Tefillins! Why not, after all Rosh Chodesh has been a holiday reserved for women. Why not? Since when chanting from the Torah scroll has been a monopoly of men only.

I went to Jerusalem to celebrate and join in with the Women of the Wall group. I wanted to show my support.  I was assigned an Aliya and I prepared for the chanting with the help of Rachel Cohen Yeshurun a member of the board for the WoW group. I met Rachel for the first time at the Reform synagogue Kol Ha Neshama. She was “borrowing” the Torah scroll for the Rosh Chodesh service. I learned then that in Israel it is illegal to bring a Torah scroll into the women’s section at the Kotel. I was well aware of the sometimes violent situations the group had endured throughout their relentless fight to be allowed to chant Torah from the scroll but I was not prepared for what ensued the following day.

Haredim behind police barricade

Haredim behind police barricade

Rachel carefully packed the Torah on a backpack because the next day she is going to “smuggle” it into the Kotel. At this time I did not know what she really meant, however I began to sense some sort of danger. All I was focused was to chant during the service. I rehearsed with Rachel my chanting from the Torah scroll at the Women of the Wall office located in the Hebrew Union College. That day I was also introduced to staff members working for their group. I was impacted to see that a picture hanging on the wall of their office. I had seen this picture in Toronto at a temporary art gallery it had won 1st prize in reporting journalism. The WoW group praying and being protected surrounded by female army officers.

On Friday July 17, Rosh Chodesh Av, I was at the Kotel ready at 6:30 am as instructed. I could not find Rachel or anyone that appeared to be part of the group. The service was to begin at 7:00 and the time had long passed. At about 7:15 a group of women came down the ramp and it was them. They seemed agitated. They began to set up bringing out a table and distributing their own WoW siddurim, One of the women addressed the crowd, by now between 200 to 300 women, indicating that Rachel had been arrested, handcuffed and taken along with the Torah scroll to the police station, but that the Rosh Chodesh service would take place regardless.

By this time the crowd of haredim in the plaza behind the women’s had multiplied and they were yelling their prayers in Hebrew so loudly that our voices could not be heard, my husband said they were chanting psalms, but I disagreed.

The hostility on the women’s side was also demonstrated by the orthodox women. A woman stood on top of a stool, right in front of us, wearing a black coat with a demonstration sign written in Hebrew on her back. She never moved but we continued our service. Later another woman came with a referee’s whistle, blowing it all around us to interrupt the service until a female security agent came to remove her.

Teresa Quiroz at the far right

Teresa Quiroz at the far right

In the open plaza behind the women’s’ section, men supporters came to pray with us with the help or radio transmitters to allow them to follow the service.

This group of men ended up sandwiched between the barrier to the women’s section and the police barricade erected to keep the orthodox men at a safe distance.

We had our Rosh Chodesh service without the Torah.

We chanted from our WoW siddur. There were four women including me scheduled to have aliyot, amongst us one woman was celebrating her Bat Mitzvah. I had the 4th Aliyah, but by then I was a wreck. The heat, the nervousness and the harassing environment almost made me faint, but I did not.

At the end of the service  when we chanted Hatikvah I wept for several reasons;  We are supposed to be one people, Am Echad, but I discovered that the fundamental orthodoxy of the Rabbinate in Israel hold a monopoly over the Torah and we, liberal women, were treated as an ‘enemy’.

I admire the determination of Anat Hoffman and WoW, for the hostilities they have endured for years, month after month, only because of one reason, their right to celebrate Rosh Chodesh, a special observance reserved for women, by reading the Torah in the Kotel. We as women should have the right to read from a Torah scroll in peace here, everywhere and especially at the Kotel.

As Rabbi Kook said “I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent”. I had to say something in support of the WoW group and admit that the experience has transformed me. To effect change we have to show our support and there are many ways to do it; join the Facebook page of Friends of Women of the Wall, join us in celebration of our Rosh Chodesh Shacharit Services at HBT, buy their siddur, help financially, they need financial support to continue with their struggle, write an email to the Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, at the very least write a note or a word of encouragement to their WoW group, but by all means don’t remain silent.

Thank you.

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  • Arlene Roth

    Thank you for sharing the traumatic experience of abuse and discrimination from “our own” that you faced at the Wall. Your recommendations are noted.

  • Pnina Margolese

    A very moving account of a very sad situation. Thank you Teri. You did us all proud.

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