Friday, October 19, 2012

Hannah, Henrietta and Anat: Women of the Wall and Real Zionism

This past Simchat Torah I left a scroll in the ark, as I've done the last couple of years. I started doing it when members of Women of the Wall (Nashot HaKotel in Hebrew) were arrested, and the police tried to take away their Torah scroll while they prayed at the Kotel, or the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem. The idea that women could not carry a scroll, could not have equal standing at a Jewish Holy site that should be open to all, was anathema to me. This year, when I made my announcement, it felt somehow trope-like, as liturgies and traditions often do, and I wondered if it was time to put that tradition away.

This week proved me wrong.

As many of you know, Anat Hoffman, head of the Israel Religious Action Center, was meeting with about 200 members of Hadassah at the Western Wall, when she began leading them in the Shema. For that act, singing "The Watchword of our Faith", was arrested , shackled, dragged across the floor of the police precinct, strip searched, and released only on condition that she not return to the Wall for 30 days. Two other Leaders of Women of the Wall were arrested leading services for Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan (the beginning of the New Month of Cheshvan).

Others have written more eloquently on the subject already, including at Jewschool and my colleague Wendi Geffen's piece at Huffpo. Hadassah has come out with a brief resolution supporting Hoffman and WoW as well, as have the Women's Rabbinic Network, Women for Reform Judaism, the URJ, USCJ, and a whole alphabet of Jewish organizations.

It simply boggles my mind that we're still having this conversation, that a woman can be arrested for reciting the Shema in public, that words of prayer can be called incitement. It conjures up images of Hannah, Samuel's mother, in the High Holiday haftarah, whispering her prayer, and being railed against by Eli the Priest for her drunken behavior. Only instead of stern words from a cohein, this version has Hannah dragged across the floor of the sanctuary, shackled and banned from the sacred precinct.

Perhaps it shouldn't surprise me: with young girls becoming targets of terrorists for wanting to learn to read, perhaps we should expect this behavior, where women in our own country make 72% less than their XY counterparts (the link takes you to a great interactive map showing exactly how disparate the wage gap is state by state). But Israel was supposed to be a place of Egalitarianism, has espoused itself as a place of equality, where women teach men how to serve in the army and serve as Prime Minister. Instead those principles are threatened so we can validate and placate an extremist minority.

I say 'we' because, as Zionists and supporters of Israel, we bear a responsibility. When we spend more time talking about Iran at AIPAC and external existential threats rather than the internal issues that threaten the Common Weal; when groups like Hadassah honor Prime Minister Netanyahu with the Henrietta Szold award when it is his government that perpetuates the "Status Quo", one that Szold herself would have rallied against, when we refuse to speak on the corrosive nature of these issues because we fear our reasoned and thoughtful discourse will be turned into antisemitic demagoguery by those on the right and left with an anti-Israel agenda, then we, bluntly, are the ones who are responsible. And unless we do more to raise awareness and speak out against this anti-egalitarian, backwards and shameful policy, we will continue to be to blame.

Fifteen Years ago, when Bibi was voted out of office, there was a placard that many protesters held up: "We don't want to become Iran". Sadly, that placard is still relevant, that slogan still ringing in my head. Real Zionism is one where we don't sacrifice our values to help support an Israel we cannot recognize. Real Zionism is where we fight for an Israel that believes in all Jews and Jewish expression. Real Zionism doesn't permit a woman to be locked up and strip searched for wearing her tallit and singing the shema. Real Zionism endorses the sentiments in this prayer by Rahel Sharon Jaskow

May it be Your will, our God and God of our mothers and fathers, to bless this prayer group and all who pray within it: them, their families and all that is theirs, together with all the women and girls of your people Israel. Strengthen us and direct our hearts to serve You in truth, reverence and love. May our prayer be desirable and acceptable to You like the prayers of our holy mothers, Sarah, Rivka, Rahel and Leah. May our song ascend to Your Glorious Throne in holiness and purity, like the songs of Miriam the Prophet, Devorah the Judge, and Hannah in Shilo, and may it be pleasing to you as a sweet savor and fine incense.
And for our sisters, all the women and girls of your people Israel: let us merit to see their joy and hear their voices raised before You in song and praise. May no woman or girl be silenced ever again among Your people Israel or in all the world. God of justice, let us merit to see justice and salvation soon, for the sanctification of Your name and the repair of Your world, as it is written: Zion will hear and be glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, over Your judgments, O God. And it is written: For Zion’s sake I will not be still and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be silent, until her righteousness shines forth like a great light and her salvation like a flaming torch.

For Torah shall go forth from Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem. Amen, selah.

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