Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Centre, reports on a unique gathering at the Kotel this week, at which time Women of the Wall received support from IDF Paratrooper Battalion 66 veterans, prior to the arrests of 10 women for wearing tallitot.
A unique gathering happened this morning at the Western Wall. During Women of the Wall’s usual Rosh Chodesh prayer service in the women’s section of the Kotel, we were fortunate to be supported by some very special visitors. Veterans from the IDF’s famed Paratrooper Battalion 66, the men who liberated the Western Wall in 1967, were with our supporters in the men’s section. These men are living legends and among Israel’s modern heroes.
It was only after the prayer service was over and the paratroopers had left that the police detained ten women, including myself, for committing the crime of wearing a tallit at the Western Wall. This group included two Conservative rabbis who were supposed to meet with Natan Sharansky today to discuss the Kotel issue, one Reform rabbinical student who is 8 months pregnant, two congregants from the Reform congregation in Kiryat Tivon, and several other women. As of this writing we have all been released without restrictions.
The veterans who joined us today are now in their 70s, but their days of fighting for a Jew’s right to pray at the Western Wall have not ended. When I asked one of them why they came to support us he told me that they liberated the Wall for the Jewish people, but it is not really liberated. He said that since the Western Wall Heritage Fund governs the Wall it does not represent all Jews. He told me that they came because they want to help liberate the Wall again.
These veterans of the 1967 Six Day War represent an Israel that is sane, idealistic, and courageous. They served when they were asked to serve, and when the job was done they did everything they could to build Israel into a modern and prosperous state. Their role in Israel’s history is why the authorities at the Wall waited until they left to detain us. They knew that desecrating Judaism’s holiest site in front of the men who risked their lives to liberate the Kotel for all Jews would bring on the wrath of the entire country.
Our opponents understand that they are on the wrong side of history and that their monopoly will soon come to an end. We are on the verge of winning this battle. Israelis have become accustomed to accepting the religious dictates from the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate. The best way to break out of this cycle of learned helplessness is to achieve a great victory. Once Israelis see that it is possible to change the status quo, they will demand pluralism in other areas; they will want freedom of choice in marriage and divorce; they will demand that gender segregation in the public sphere be completely done away with; they will no longer accept religious coercion from the Rabbinate.
The Western Wall was the crown jewel of the victory in 1967, and the Wall will once again be the crown jewel when it becomes the site where the battle for religious pluralism is won.
Executive Director, IRAC
The ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate and the Western Wall Heritage Fund enjoy generous financial support from the State. We do not receive state funding, but we can count on our supporters from all over the world to help us continue our work fighting for religious equality in Israel. Thank you for supporting IRAC.