Where Will We Stand, in Elul and 5771, and How Loud Will We Be?

An inter-denominational group demonstrated outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, on July 22 in support of religious freedom in Israel, in opposition to the arrest of Anat Hoffman for carrying a Torah at the Kotel and in protest of growing violence against women throughout Israel.

Hoffman is the Executive Director of Israel Religious Action Center and chair of Women of the Wall. She was arrested on Rosh Chodesh Av (July 12) as WOW held their usual monthly service. A woman who was with WOW on July 12 described the event (see second of three demonstration videos). She reported that the arresting officer became visibly upset as a female cantor sang Hallel (psalms of praise recited on festivals, Rosh Chodesh [beginning of a new month] and Chanukah.)

Where will we stand — and how loud will we be — on Rosh Chodesh Elul and in the new year?

Cross-Community Support

The DC demonstration was held ten days after the arrest and just after Tisha B’av [ninth of the month of Av], which closes a three-week period of mourning focusing on destruction of the Temples. The July 22 event was organized by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, rabbi of Ohev Shalom (orthodox). Participants, including a number of local rabbis, represented a range of the Jewish community.

Rabbi Ita Paskind — who began her job as assistant rabbi at Olam Tikvah (Conservative) in Fairfax, VA, only four days before — said she felt she was also representing rabbinic students, many of whom have stood with WOW while studying in Israel.

Rabbi Gerry Serotta, of Shirat HaNefesh (independent) in Silver Spring, MD, spoke of “the one conversation” he had with Reb Shlomo Carlebach. It was Jerusalem, 1971. Even then, he said, Carlebach was disturbed by the scene at the Kotel. People arriving at the Wall, Serotta recalled Carlebach saying, should “be embraced. They should be greeted: ‘Holy brother, holy sister, you’ve made it here!’ instead of being told to put on a certain hat or cover part of their bodies.” (See first of three demonstration videos)

Serotta, along with others who spoke at the demonstration, noted the need for unity and respect among Jews, many noting the irony that Tisha B’av’s destruction has traditionally been attributed to sinat chinam [baseless hatred], while the arrest took place on Rosh Chodesh Av.

In addition, said Elaine Reuben, of Fabrangen Havurah (independent), the current hatred being displayed is “not in the best interest of the the State and the peace that we all pray for.” She urged all friends of Israel to consider how Jerusalem will be shared: “If we can’t share it with each other, the hope of sharing it with others is really in danger.” (Third of three demonstration videos)

Another participant, Rebecca Sender-Israel — who identified herself as a layer and the grandchild of people who fought for Israel — spoke of distress at the growing violence against women, when a woman is seen with tefillin straps, for example. “I fear for the Israel I love.”

A number of Reform rabbis spoke, as did Temple Micah member — and song writer/performer — Doug Mishkin. Noting misgivings with use of the term, “great American,” and unwilling to weigh in on what makes a “great Jew,” Mishkin declared: “I know a great Israeli when I meet one. Anat and the work she is doing are really central to making Israel what it can and should be.”

Standing with WOW

The Sisterhood of Adas Israel (Conservative; Washington, DC) organizes prayer in solidarity with WOW. More information.

Demonstrators urge citizens to contact the Israeli Embassy, urging Ambassador Oren to speak about against the arrest.

One thought on “Where Will We Stand, in Elul and 5771, and How Loud Will We Be?

  1. Thanks Virginia,
    In response I’d like to share a commentary from the text you and I are currently studying.

    My People’s Prayerbook, Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries, Vol. 2 – The Amidah, c.1998 & Edited by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, 2009 HC edition, Fourth Printing, Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, Vermont.

    From p. 154, 159,160 – [ this is an excerpt from Marcia Falk’s commentary (Feminism) on 17. Avodah (“Sacrificial Service”)] :

    “Who restores his [the divine] presence to Zion” The seventeenth blessing is called Avodah, usually translated as “Worship.” In context, though, it refers to the sacrificial cult that was practiced as the primary vehicle of Jewish devotion as long as the Temple stood. Probably the most ancient (and antiquated) part of the Amidah, this blessing asks that God restore the Temple service (i.e., the sacrifices) and concludes by praising God, who ‘restores his presence [sh’khinato] to Zion.”
    Despite its archaic nature, I believe this blessing contains promising potential for interpretation and re-creation into a meaningful contemporary analogue. We might begin by focusing on the word sh’khinato, “his [God’s] presence,” which is a possessive form of the word sh’khinah, “presence” or ”indwelling.” Over the course of Jewish history, Sh’khinah has been used as a name for the divine and, specifically, for divine immanence. The Hebrew word itself is grammatically feminine, and the figure of Shekhinah (now also a term in the English language) was explicitly portrayed as female in Kabbalah. One would be hard pressed to make the claim that the kabbalistic images of the divine were liberating for woemn, however, in that they were always defined in subordinate relationship to their male parallels. Nonetheless, today, the term shkhinah has been revived in some Jewish feminist circles, where it is used as a symbol for women and as a name for the divine.
    The mention of Zion in this blessing is also resonant, especially when taken as a name for the Jewish homeland rather than as a reference to the ancient Temple. Seeking the restoration of the Shekhinah to the Jewish homeland can mean several distinct but related things: that Israel be a place in which we live with reverence for all life; that divine immanence be sought out wherever we make our homes; and that women’s experience be honored as part of the divine presence. I have tried to weave these ideas together in my new blessing (in The Book of Blessings): Nachazir et hash’khinha limkomah / b’tziyon uvateiveil kulah. The English version separates out the interwoven meanings of the Hebrew:
    “Let us restore Shekhinah to her place
    in Israel and throughout the world,
    and let us infuse all places
    with her presence.””

    Marcia Falk, PhD, is the author of The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival (HarperSanFrancisco).

    I don’t think the experience of Jewish women worshipers is being honored as part of the divine presence in Jewish worship at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Marcia Falk’s interpretation of the Avodah blessing in the Amidah is inspiring me to seek ways to honor women’s experience as part of the divine presence during the month of Elul leading up to Yom Kippur. I think the Jewish community needs to focus on teshuvah, on making amends for the subordination of women in Judaism, and for the subordination of any people anywhere, and for the violence and any other harm that facilitates subordination. I agree with Elaine Reuben, this is an important peace issue for Israel: we won’t find peaceful ways to share our historic holy places with others if we can’t figure out how to share them peacefully as fellow Jews.
    Thanks for your idea to do something to further this peace during the month of Elul.
    Amy Brookman

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