Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Kotel: Carrying Forth the Prayer

Women of the Wall during a previous Rosh Chodesh - Photo by Tanya Hoffman

Like many Jews all across the world, I spent my hours last Thursday night anxiously waiting for the sun to rise in Jerusalem some 6,000 miles away. As I was preparing for bed in the Western Hemisphere, a crowd of women were gathering at the southwest corner of the Kotel. Because of the size and emotion of the crowds that day, each one would have to enter plaza gates alone and thread her way through the masses of angry faces, jeers and taunts. Each woman would be carrying – or wearing – the telltale sign of her conviction: a tallit.

And each one would know that on Friday, May 10, 2013 more than any day in the past 25 years, her presence and her courage would be needed at the Kotel. Whether she was afraid didn’t matter. What mattered was her presence and her prayer.

The Kotel circa 1942 - courtesy of Podnox
The Jews are a people defined by prayer. There are many who would disagree and who would mistake prayer for religiousness, or for something they don’t embrace. But in the end, it’s how we carry and exhibit that prayer inside that says the most about who we are as a people.

The idea that crowds of people could actually be angry with a group of Jewish women for praying at the Western Wall seemed amazing to many who watched the events unfold on their computer screens that night. Jews – both women and men – have been coming to the Kotel to pray, to seek refuge and to reaffirm heritage for thousands of years. Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal Jews have davened at the Kotel for decades, if not centuries, just as have an equally diverse spectrum of Orthodox and Haredi Jews.

Photo by Andy Ratton
Aloud or in silence, each has prayed their own way, and in their own voice. And none can be said with any certainty to not have reached God’s ears.

But what seemed incomprehensible to me was not that there had been feelings of betrayal and scorn toward the court decision to let women don tallisim at the Kotel, but that on a day that Jews everywhere attached to spiritual expression, there was anything but joy being expressed at the foot of the Kotel.

“Rosh Chodesh,” explains Chabad on its website,  “means the “head of the new (moon),” and indeed it is a day—or two—of celebration marking the start of a new lunar month.”

Photo by Shoshanah
 The ones fulfilling this mitzvah that morning strove not to discredit or subtract from others’ prayers, but to add their voices to it and strengthen it. However unorthodox their exaltations sounded to the conventional ear, their prayers voiced what sages have been saying for millennium: that it is only in unity as a diverse and disparate people that our voice can really be measured, and can really be heard.

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