I woke up this morning at 5:35 a.m., hopped on my bicycle, and pedaled toward downtown Jerusalem. I quickly locked up my bike and boarded a police-escorted miniature bus headed toward the Kotel.
I, like many other men in their 20’s, don’t often see that side of 6 a.m. My excitement kept me awake as I nervously ate Cheerios during the bus ride while small-talking with two Orthodox Women of the Wall members.
After disembarking, I walked toward the Kotel behind a young man from the youth movement “HaNoar HaOved VeHalomed” whose shirt read Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof. Justice, justice, shall you pursue. Those words reflect my Judaism and my upbringing. They are the reasons why I, as a man and as a feminist, support Women of the Wall and their mission.
I first visited the wall seven years ago with my two sisters and my mother. Perhaps it is for this reason that I have always linked the Kotel with the women of my family. Last month, the day before Rosh Chodesh Sivan, my mother emailed me a picture of her wearing a tallit, standing alongside sisterhood members. The caption read, “Temple Sholom in Broomall stands with Women of the Wall.” My mother wore that same tallit at my Bar Mitzvah when she and my father passed the Torah, its teachings, and its responsibilities down to me. She wore that tallit while leading our congregation in a Torah service. Hopefully, one day, she can wear that tallit while reading the Torah at the Kotel without fear of heckling or arrest.
I didn’t show up simply to honor my mother. I showed up for everyone’s mother. I showed up for everyone’s sister. And perhaps most importantly, I showed up for the daughters I hope to one day have. The daughters who may want to read Torah at the Kotel and celebrate their B’not Mitzvah there. The daughters who may want to humbly raise their voices in prayer with their friends at Judaism’s most holy site. I came to show my support for Women of the Wall because I care about imparting the Jewish tradition of justice to the next generation. I see it as my duty to stand with the Women of the Wall.
While the women prayed on the women’s side of the wall, I found myself surrounded by like-minded men who gathered behind the women’s area in support of their wives, their friends, their daughters and their values. Women of the Wall is a women’s movement, started by women and focused on women’s religious freedom. While we men support the mission of Women of the Wall, we cannot know what they feel. We, on any day of the week, have the male privilege to walk into the plaza, wrap tefillin, read Torah and pray without fear. It is a privilege I struggle with. It is a privilege I wish I could share.
While each woman and each man had their own reasons for choosing to bring in Rosh Chodesh with Women of the Wall, one thing is sure; we were all a part of sanctifying that place this morning.
My upbringing as a Reform Jew informed my feminism. As an active member of a Reform congregation and a two-year alum of URJ Jacobs Camp, I was introduced to the texts behind the Jewish values of equal opportunity, tikkun olam and justice. I brought these values with me in August as I started to participate in my 10-month volunteer program, OTZMA.
I came on OTZMA to learn, to volunteer and to work toward a more just world. Whether I am establishing a running club in Karmiel to bring together diverse groups of Israelis or teaching English at Hand in Hand’s Jerusalem School for Jewish-Arab education, I always try to keep my actions informed by my Jewish values. Supporting Women of the Wall and the rights of Jewish women to pray freely at the wall is the Jewish thing to do. On most days when I pray at the Kotel, I “do” Judaism with my heart and mind. This morning, I also had the chance to pray with my feet and I am grateful for that opportunity.
It is possible to tell a story about this morning’s services that focuses on conflict, but it would be misleading. Eggs were thrown at the men, but the splatter didn’t cause so much as a stutter when they were reciting the Kaddish. Insults were yelled at the women but the slurs could not sour the melody of Hinei Ma Tov. A young man was harassed when trying to pick up a prayer book from the men’s side of the Kotel, but he was quickly escorted back to safety by the police where he was given access to a prayer book by a friend. The words of prayer truly soared higher than this morning’s distractions.
This morning, the air was electric with the power of spiritual and women praising God, singing psalms and bringing in the month of Tammuz.
Marc Hendel recently graduated from Washington University in St. Louis where he majored in Mathematics and History. He is currently a participant on OTZMA, a year-long Israel volunteering program. He is passionate about Israel, running, and sharing his love of Judaism with the children at URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp. As an undergraduate, he founded and directed the Take Steps for Kids 5K supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri. In Israel, he hopes to continue creating enduring relationships among diverse groups of children by sharing his love of sport, math, and the outdoors.