09 Aug 2016

Tuesday Morning Torah – August 9, 2016

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By this time next week I will be in Israel. As always, I am greatly looking forward to spending some time in our national homeland and experiencing the history, sights, smells tastes, and even the politics of Israel these days. But there is one site that I am fairly ambivalent about visiting- the kotel (western wall).
The kotel will always hold a special place in my heart because it was there that I became a bar mitzvah. But  my heart will also forever be stained by the memory of standing at that very kotel, in 1997, with an egalitarian prayer group in the very back of the plaza and fearing for my safety. I will never forget the sea of black hats, the hatred on their faces, the spitting, the name calling (Nazi’s and worse), the screaming of “religious songs” meant to intimidate, the hurling of chairs, and the throwing of dirty diapers from the yeshiva overlooking the plaza to frighten, intimidate, and drive out our group during Shavuot of that year. Yes, you read correctly- we were driven out of Judaism’s most sacred place simply for praying together, quietly, in the very back section of the plaza outside of the actual area designated for prayer. I was not there to make a statement. Indeed I found myself an innocent “tag along” who had joined this group because my friends were there. But that moment forever changed the way in which I relate to one of our most sacred historical sites.
Ironically, I will be heading to Israel at the same time of year that we are commemorating 9 b’av, the day that the Temple was destroyed,  leaving the very retaining wall that remains such a flashpoint for religious tensions. Our rabbis teach that the second Temple was destroyed because of senseless hatred between various Jewish factions. We are taught that because these various Jewish groups could not get along, and fought so incessantly- the Temple no longer deserved to stand.
As I make my way back to Israel, I am left to wonder. How far have we come? How is it that the kotel has become such an intolerant place? How is it that a girl who wants to pray in the woman’s section of the kotel- gets xerox papers of old Torah readings confiscated from her because they are somehow deemed a threat?! (  Click here to read that article). Why is it that the compromise deal that was agreed to out between the liberal streams of Judaism along with the Women of the wall and the current Israeli government has now essentially fallen apart?  (  Click here for the article explaining the current stalemate, and   here for the letter written to Prime Minister Netanyahu from the liberal streams of Judaism). I am heading back to one of our most sacred sites this week. But I am doing so with a great sense of sadness.
That summer day in 1997 after our group was forcibly removed by a mob for praying at the kotel, I promised myself that I would go back to that very space, alone.  I was determined that these fanatics would not ruin a place that is sacred to our people, and holds a special place in my heart. I returned the next day and I prayed, but the place was never the same. Next week, when I return again. This time, with my children. As the girls go off with mommy and the boys stay with me, and I have to answer the anticipated questions about just why that is the case, I will say a silent prayer hoping that one day the kotel will somehow truly be a place that treats all Jews as sacred equals.
For a neat view of history- check out this   video done by Steven Spielberg depicting The first film of Palestine in 1911. Look towards the end and you will see a western wall with no mechitzah. 
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