Women at the Wall (yet again)
I had a very long and meaningful day. It started at 7 AM in a prayer service at the Wall to which Anat Hoffman had invited me, a private minyan that had been pulled together because two of their group members needed to say the Mourners’ Kaddish prayer for a yahrzeit (and because they hadn’t met on Saturday for Rosh Hodesh/the new moon). I couldn’t mention this opportunity in my blog the other day because of the sensitivity. Normally the group gathers about 40-50 women; today we were just over a minyan (11 or 12) so as not to draw attention to ourselves. Women of the Wall hoped that the police and the religious authorities of the Wall (who are out in full force on Rosh Hodesh in order to crack down on them) would not be expecting them today. Nonetheless, since the ground rule for today was to NOT get arrested (most of them HAVE been arrested at one time or another for the “crime” of wearing a prayer shawl publicly, though not treated as brutally as Anat was last month), we were instructed to wear our tallitot/prayer shawls under our coats.
I mentioned David Rubinger the other day, the official Knesset photographer. He also photographed the famous shot of the paratroopers liberating the wall in 1967 after the Six-Day War. Sympathetic to Women of the Wall, he also shot the second photo above, staged as a counterpoint to the original, with Women of the Wall standing in their prayer shawls. This is new publicity in honor of their 25th anniversary. I hadn’t realized the incredible serendipity of my being here in their anniversary year, as I had been there at the beginning. At the conclusion of today’s service, we were asked to take out our tallitot and wear them proudly, see above (though some took them out from under their coats during the recitation of the Shema, in which the fringes/tzitzit of the prayershawl are a focus of meditation).
This is a hot-button civil rights issue in Israel (and in the American Jewish community) today because of the brutality of the arrests at last month’s gathering. Just a few days ago the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and Women of the Wall filed a petition with the Israeli Supreme Court (along with several organizations, including the Reform and Conservative movements) that calls into question the legality, ethics, and financial dealings of the bodies that control the Wall. If you want to keep abreast of this situation, you can get updates directly from Women of the Wall (www.womenofthewall.org.il). And don’t forget about my own belief in the justice of Israel’s Supreme Court as discussed the other day — I hope that this case proves me right.
What I also want to say in reference to this gathering today is that I had a very difficult time getting myself psyched to go to the Wall this morning. I assumed they would have a minyan without me, and I personally don’t any longer feel connected spiritually to the Wall as a holy place (though I very much respect those who do and am very moved watching others pray so faithfully there). However, I ultimately went for my 11-year old niece Hannah, my sister’s daughter. Hannah has not had a formal Jewish education of any kind, but she sent me an email at the beginning of my trip to Israel merely to ask me to take pictures of the Wall for her. Why this was the place she knows and asked about, I’m not sure. But I do want her to stay connected to whatever it is she knows and feels about this historic sacred place without it being “uglified” by politics and intolerance. Then I thought that maybe I myself lost the own sense of sanctity about the Wall because of these ugly politics. So I got myself there this morning, committed to being part of the solution for all of the Hannahs out there, and ultimately for myself, as well.
And it was meaningful, and yes, it was spiritual.
Comic-tary Group (Yisrael, Gary, Dahlia, Maayan, and Susan)
From the Wall, I went to my friend Susan’s first Comics and Rabbis Torah study group (“Comic-tary”), which was a blast. Yisrael and Gary are comics/comedy writers, Maayan and I are rabbis, and Susan sees herself as the bridge, both rabbi and comic (all three of her sisters are also comediennes, including her most famous sister, Sarah Silverman). The woman in the middle, Dahlia, was the special invited guest — a journalist for Slate, currently writing a book about the women on the Supreme Court (her comic side came through when she said she’s thinking about calling the book either The Supremes or Ovary-Ruled). In the small world department, it also turns out that her rabbi in the U.S. is a very close friend of mine and that she knows my cousin who writes for Slate, as well. More small-world tidbits: Chaim and I have seen Yisrael (Campbell) perform his show “Circumcise Me” in New York, and Gary (who is also an architect) is married to Jodi Rudoren whom I mentioned previously is the current New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief. These kinds of coincidences, which are common in Israel, also add to the potential for “Jerusalem syndrome.”
One of Yisrael’s (who converted to Judaism from Catholicism) most-quoted jokes is about his aunt, a nun, “which of course makes Jesus my uncle, allowing for easier parking in Jerusalem.”
Chaim had very much wanted me to “ordain” him as a comic so that he could join us today, too, so I’ve been given special dispensation to bring him to our next session on Sunday morning (especially since I volunteered us to guide the next discussion).
Kfar Chabad — poster of the Rebbe
Home where Chaim grew up (with massive olive tree)
Replica of 770 Eastern Parkway
From Torah study, Chaim and I took a bus to Kfar Chabad, the ultra-Orthodox (Chabad-Lubavitcher) village where he grew up. Messianic posters of the Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, hang everywhere within the community. The poster above, on the road into Kfar Chabad, reads “Our generation is the last generation of Galut/Exile and the first generation of the Geulah/Redemption.” The sign next to it reads “This is a religious settlement. There is no entrance [via car] on Shabbat or holy days.”
Schneerson died in 1994, and many of his followers consider him the Messiah. One of the newer buildings since Chaim lived on Kfar Chabad is a replica of 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, which was where the Rebbe lived and worked. This same building has been replicated in Lubavitch communities around the world.
Chaim chose to go incognito in Kfar Chabad today. I found it very easy and comfortable to walk around (in pants) — there were a few curious looks, but nothing hostile. We saw the synagogue where he prayed and some of the newer homes.
Chaim’s sister called him today. He asked her if our driver yesterday (who drove her from her home in Kiryat Malachi to pick us up to go to the Mount of Olives and then to B’nai Brak) was the same driver who takes her every year to visit their parents’ graves on the yahrzeit/anniversary of their deaths. She said yes, but that she expected that next year it wouldn’t be necessary since they would come to her (meaning that they would be resurrected). He was so moved by her absolute faith, while at the same time disdainful of this community (who generally are the largest voting bloc for the racist Kahanist party). And yet, as he remarked to our friend Julie on Shabbat when she asked him about his Lubavitcher upbringing, “You can take me out of Kfar Chabad, but you can’t take Chabad out of me.” He had a sense of community there that he believes is absolutely unattainable in a liberal Jewish community. He had a complicated upbringing that leaves a complicated legacy in its wake. I was so glad to finally get to visit and see it with my own eyes, and through his eyes.
It was quite a day.
6 Shevat/January 16, 2013