Yesterday I met a hero. I had coffee with my friend Alden Solovy who is a poet and liturgest from Jerusalem. You can read his work on his website www.tobendlight.com. We had this meeting set up to discuss a workshop he will lead for my temple group in Israel this summer. But who knew that I would be meeting with a person the Haredim (the fantical religious Orthodox) in Israel called “a man of wickedness”? Alden is not wicked at all but my hero.
On Rosh Chodesh Iyar on Monday Alden helped defend the Torah at the Kotel. The Western Wall in Jerusalem. As usual on the first day of the new month Alden and many others go early in the morning with Nashot HaKotel Women of the Wall to celebrate the new month. Nashot HaKotel, Women of the Wall led by the amazing Anat Hoffman has been working for more than 2 decades to create women’s equal prayer space at the Kotel. The Kotel through the years has become an Orthodox synagogue. There is a mechitza, a dividing wall separating men and women worshippers and over the years the women’s side has gotten smaller and smaller. Egalitarian prayer and women’s prayer leadership-hallmarks of Reform and Conservative Judaism isn’t allowed but Nashot HaKotel has been trying to institute that. Women led prayer including reading from a Torah scroll has been forbidden even by the Supreme Court. But a few years ago-a Jerusalem judge ruled that women must by allowed equal access. The Women of the Wall have been sneaking in a small mini-Torah at times.
But on Rosh Chodesh earlier in the week, a group of supportive men passed a full size Torah (one of the 100 state owned Torah scrolls at the Kotel) to the women’s side. There Nashot HaKotel danced and prayed with the Scroll. But as the gate pass through opened several of the state-paid ushers and few Haredi men rushed the men’s group. My friend Alden and another man Charlie Kalech who was also part of the supporters were beaten by thugs. Both sustained injuries and rather than arresting the thugs at the Wall, Charlie was arrested.
These men and the men who supported the Women of the Wall are heros! They believe in the equality of men and women in spiritual Jewish life and became warriors for Torah. Sometimes in civil disobedience there is violence, even when we try to live by the code of non-violence. It certainly wasn’t the Women of the Wall or their supporters that engaged in violence. They just wanted to read from and pray from and dance with the Torah. But rather the so-called Orthodox who threw punches, and stomped on others. This kind of Jew against Jew brought our Temple down according to the Talmud. As another great Jewish thinker, Bob Dylan said: “When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?”
But I got to have coffee with a hero yesterday. Thank you for taking a punch for Torah, justice, equality and women’s prayer. May you heal quickly from the bruises to your body and your soul and may you never know violence again.