Maybe I could oversleep. Does public transportation even run at 6 a.m.? Or maybe I could convince my friend that she didn’t want to go and use the excuse that I couldn’t go alone. Am I too old to blame my mom for not letting me go? All valid (kind of) reasons why I could theoretically miss this morning’s Rosh Chodesh Tammuz prayers with Women of the Wall.
Call me a victim of the media, but all the buildup and hoopla surrounding this month’s Rosh Hodesh was kind of getting to me. Emails saying, “Urgent message for Sunday, Rosh Chodesh Tammuz prayers at the Kotel: The police have asked that none of us go to the Kotel on our own that morning, since they can ensure our safety only in a group…” are just slightly intimidating. Not to mention, it’s just so early.
I attended my first Women of the Wall service last month, an intimate gathering of supporters and thousands of haredi protestors. Getting bussed away from the Kotel as deeply impassioned and violent haredi men threw rocks is an experience I certainly was not expecting and one I debated telling my mom about. If she knew that, she definitely wouldn’t let me go today!
Nonetheless I believe in what Women of the Wall is doing, and what good are beliefs if you don’t make them known? Through OTZMA, I’ve spent the last ten months volunteering my time and learning how to be a leader in my community. OTZMA gave me the opportunity to be in Israel and I should be taking full advantage of that. Leaders don’t stay in bed when the going gets tough. After all, my time in Israel is winding down and I don’t know when I’ll be back. And therein lay my biggest dilemma.
Lurking in the back of mind during all of this and what I think was the biggest reason why I was hesitant to attend this morning’s prayers; I’m an American who is leaving Israel in 21 days. Where does my opinion lie in all of this? Does it even deserve a place in Israeli society? I’ve heard people argue that Women of the Wall is nothing but female expatriates looking to stir the pot of social unrest in Israel and I must say, it caused me to step back for a moment. I’m not even a permanent ex pat; my time in Israel is dwindling. Do I really want to scream ‘Inequality!’ and then walk away? This is what I spent all day Saturday contemplating, and as the perfect storm of excuses to not attend this morning’s prayers began to intensify, I found myself lying in bed reading news updates from the Kotel. Not one of my proudest moments, but one to be acknowledged.
I fault no one except my overactive imagination and nervousness for not attending. And maybe the media; news reports might have scared me slightly as well. In the end, I was nervous something extreme would happen, but I was also really bothered by that nagging part of me that believed I didn’t belong. Then I woke up, literally and figuratively, and realized that while I was in bed, other people were out there fighting for my right to pray freely in Israel.
My entire Jewish education presented Israel as a nation that existed for all Jews: a Jewish state to exist as a stark contrast to the places in the world where Jews were unwanted, unwelcome and unsafe. Here I was, shying away from my ability to influence the state that is supposed to be my home. Not all Jews are blessed with the good fortune of being born within the boundaries of the state of Israel, but does that mean our opinions and beliefs are unwelcome? I don’t think so.
For those of us who wish to be connected to the Jewish state, we deserve the right to fight for our Jewish state. Would my opinion only be justified if I were to make aliyah tomorrow, which could happen (again, don’t tell my mom). The beauty of Israel is the simple fact of its existence as a Jewish state for Jews of any background, color or religious leaning.
I want to be proud of Israel and of the country it has become. When I go home, it will feel like I’m leaving behind a part of myself that forever belongs here. When I come back, I want to feel that I’m in an Israel that respects my beliefs and rights as a woman and a Jew. I don’t think this is asking for a lot. If I’ve gained anything on OTZMA besides a deeper connection to Israel, it would be a belief in myself and the desire to make myself heard.
So, at the end of the day if I could rewind time and go back to 5:30 this morning I would have sprung out of bed, confident and determined to make a place for myself among the discontented of this country. Unfortunately, despite the great miracles that have occurred in this place, I don’t think that is going to happen. The best I can do now is to write about how I’m feeling and share what I believe. I don’t know when I’ll be coming back to Israel next but I when I do, you’ll find me at the Kotel.
Rachel Frank is currently living in Jerusalem as a participant on OTZMA, and interning for both Kids4Peace and OTZMA. She has also spent time this year living and volunteering in Karmiel and Ofakim. She graduated from American University in Washington D.C. with a B.A. in Sociology and International Relations in May 2012.