- Love, Hate, G-d and Poetry
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I am in a time of transition, redefining my relationship to the world as my status changes from educator and student to rabbi. Yet this status is not recognized by many in the Orthodox world. I studied in Israel during the last two summers; much of the spiritual part of that journey involved defining my relationship to the Orthodox—particularly the ultra-Orthodox. This is what I wrote after a particularly dramatic encounter:
On Monday July 12, 2010, three Reconstructionist Rabbinical College students, their partners, and a Reconstructionist rabbi gathered at the Western Wall for morning prayers with Women of the Wall, a group that advocates for women's prayer space and equality at Judaism's holiest site. As we called out to G-d in praise, the police shushed us so the men on the other side of the mechitzah (separator between men and women) would not hear us too loudly. I could not bring myself to quiet the intensity of my prayer as we enter the month of Av, and approach Tisha B'Av, a day of mourning for the destruction of the first and second Temples, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. We gathered as one community united in our desire as women to pray openly with a female service leader and with tallitot (prayer shawls). Our tallitot were pushed back in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling that requires women to wear tallitot as scarves rather than prayer shawls.
Progressive men stood close to the women's section in support, while others heckled us insisting [End Page 188] we would bring the downfall of Jerusalem. One heckler yelled out "Sinat hinam," senseless hatred between fellows (considered the traditional reason for the destruction of one of the Temples), yet he did not hear the hatred in his own voice toward us, his fellow Jews. More than anything, in that moment, I knew that I did not want to return hatred with hatred. I felt in my heart this was a time for progressive Jews everywhere to mourn the brokenness in our communities and to strengthen ourselves in our ability to speak our truths, not with hate and resentment toward those ultra-Orthodox who stand against us, but instead with courage and love.
Soon after, Anat Hoffman, the head of Women of the Wall, was arrested for carrying the Torah in the Western Wall plaza. We were praying and singing as we walked behind her toward Robinson's Arch, outside the plaza, where women are permitted to have a Torah service. Anat was taken, with the Torah, to the police station in Jaffa. Instead of heading to Robinson's Arch without the Torah, we continued to pray and read Torah from a chumash outside the Jaffa police station while she was questioned by police. How powerful that the Women of the Wall Torah was with her in the station. May the Torah's teachings of Love between Jews and of compassion be by our side as we struggle for our rights as women to fully participate in religious life and for our vision of a pluralistic Judaism. May this time of mourning open our hearts and strengthen us as we move ahead.
I look back on that event as one of my most important prayer experiences. For me, prayer and action are directly interrelated. At times when our community is most shattered, justice and prayer are closest to my heart. I found it neither desirable nor sustainable to return the hatred of the ultra-right-wing in kind. It doesn't work for me to hate my fellow Jews, no matter how fanatical I find them.
Becca, your story evoked many different responses—happiness that you had this wonderful pivotal experience and happiness that you stayed safe.
As a rebellious very secular but Torah-loving Jew, I find G-d ever more distant... just another character in the rich drama and mythology of our people. Yet the intensity of your prayer and the subsequent insight you gained feel familiar to me as a...