STANDING ON THREE LEGS
I have been in Israel for three months now and I can
honestly say that until today I felt welcome. I have prayed in public spaces and worn a kippah on my head around the city numerous times. Until today, that was okay.
This morning I attended Rosh Chodesh Elul at the Kotel with Women of the Wall. This was my second experience with WoW, so I knew that not everything would be perfect. I expected that there would be orthodox protestors, and I anticipated a large crowd, as we are approaching the High Holy Days. But I could not possibly have planned for this.
Along with around 15 other students and a professor, I woke up early and headed into the old city. As usual we stood in line to get through security. Last time I came with my tallit, they pulled it out of the bag with zero respect and the matching kippah fell to the ground... I thought that was bad. This time, I was "prepared." I separated the kippah and put it in my purse.
It turns out I was not prepared. I was lucky among my group of friends. I got through without hassle. Two of my friends were not so lucky...
These two young women, dressed appropriately and acting respectfully, were pulled to the side into a separate room and forced to lift their shirts and skirts with no explanation as to why. Later the guards stated that it was to make sure they were not smuggling in Torah.
Not only was this experience uncomfortable for them, but it was illegal. The law states that those officers only have the right to strip search people if they are suspected terrorists, and I can promise you these women are not (and do not look) threatening at all.
What happened next shook me. One of my friends is trans, and she was running a few minutes late and was quite a few people behind us in the security line. After experiencing two other students being strip searched, we were nervous for her. When she approached the security gate and they attempted to take her aside for the stip search, but luckily we had the support of our cantorial advisor and IRAC lawyers. For almost an hour they fought with security to get her through to no avail. Eventually they moved onto another gate and she was allowed in. We cheered in excitement and relief as she walked toward us.
Many times during that hour of waiting we were told we should go to the service. We shouldn't miss it. The lawyers were with our friend and she would be fine. But each of us knew that this was a battle that we needed to fight together. Without conversation, we all stated that we were staying and waiting.
Don't get me wrong, the prayer is important and that is why we are there, to fight for equal prayer. But unfortunately this, it is part of the fight too. No woman should be subjected to a strip search in order to be allowed to pray. I mean, just imagine if you had to be strip searched to enter your church, synagogue or mosque. Not acceptable.
Once we finally entered the prayer space, we wrapped ourselves in tallit and I placed my kippah upon my head, which I proudly wore for the rest of the day (and was later laughed at for by an orthodox man on the street). Young girls stood just the other side of the barrier and screamed at the top of their lungs in order to drown out the sounds of our prayer.
I didn't realize their age until a group of us were recounting the experience later. I am still heartbroken to think of these girls, as young as ten if not younger, being taught to practice such hate and disrespect. Just as in any tradition, we can teach our children love, or we can teach them hate. Young minds are vulnerable and we mustn't take that for granted.
It has been a hard few months getting back into the swing of being a student...but today, I was reminded why I am here studying at HUC. The world we live in, it is not equal, not even equitable. Here in Israel and back home in America, I will stand up for what is just. I will live through תורה Torah (teaching), עבודה avodah (service), and גמילות חסדים gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness). I will not sit quietly by as our rights are stripped away. I am here, and I am not going anywhere...