As I pushed through the jampacked Kotel on Rosh Hodesh Sivan, thousands of religious girls pointed at my kippa and screamed in my face. Not only did they stick out their tongues, but they made the shape of a gun with their hands and rotated between pointing it at their heads and pointing it at mine. Scanning through the faces of the young girls, I wondered if in a different setting, we could’ve been braiding challah or lighting Shabbat candles together as friends. Some of their eyes leaked with hatrid and disgust, while some overflowed with intrigue, curiosity, and at times boredom. A large portion of the girls seemed to be mulling about, happy to be spending time with friends, and waiting for us to leave.
Squeezing my body through the mob, my stomach tightened—my breathing shortened—my legs shook uncontrollably. Overstruck with anxiety, I felt despised and alone. Whistles being blown, men screaming and throwing chairs and water bottles, police holding back violence — it was absolute chaos. I needed to find Women of the Wall. Trying desperately to obtain some sort of security, my heart swelled with relief when I found Women of the Wall praying peacefully between the men and women’s sections of the Kotel. I blocked out the hostility coming from every direction when I saw the genuine smiles of my group and our supporters as we sang “Hallel.” Suddenly, I no longer felt alone, and I joined along in the prayers and the camaraderie. Women and men wearing tallitot, kippot, and tefillin danced and rejoiced in prayer, despite the surrounding pandemonium. As I prayed and ignored the raining furniture, I reminded myself that the protestors are my fellow Jews and not the enemy.
I’m a Jewish American woman, and I wear a kippa. No, this is not part of a makeshift Purim costume, and no, this is not a secret attempt at hiding my frizzy curly hair from the world. It is a religious choice. When I wear a kippa, I remind myself that God is above me, and I demonstrate pride for my Jewish culture. I make a statement that as a Reform Jewish woman, I value equality. Today was the first day I felt comfortable wearing my kippa at the Kotel, and in the future I look forward to fulfilling the mitzvah of praying with a tallit at the Kotel.
This year I am blessed to be spending 10 months in Israel on OTZMA, a volunteer leadership program run through the Israel Experience and Masa Israel Journey. In the beginning of my Israel experience, I felt discriminated against when I went to the Kotel on Yom Kippur and was told by security guards to hide my kippa and tallit in my backpack. It seemed like a You’re on Candid Camera or Punk’d sort of TV show because it didn’t feel real. I felt alone in the battle for religious tolerance and respect for women. OTZMA’s emphasis on leadership encouraged me to stop complaining and get involved with Women of the Wall. I met Anat Hoffman, Lesley Sachs, Alli Cohen and the inspiring group of women who pray at the Kotel with tallitot, tefillin, and kippot every Rosh Hodesh. I was instantly hooked.
As a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College: Jewish Institute of Religion, a future rabbi, chaplain and community leader, it is my duty to work with others to protect human rights. This is why I am completing an internship with Women of the Wall. Whether I am promoting the newsletter, visiting the Knesset, or simply gluing papers into our prayer books, I know I am investing my time in a meaningful cause.
After praying, celebrating, and most excitingly witnessing a bat mitzvah ceremony, we concluded our Rosh Hodesh service, and the police escorted Women of the Wall supporters onto buses to ensure our safe exit. As protestors spit at the buses, banged on the windows, and threw rocks, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself: Why are Jews hating Jews? What about K’lal Yisrael and Tikkun Olam? We should be united as Jews, working together to repair the world. We should be joined together in a covenent with God, celebrating a beautiful religion and a shared history. I felt as though the thousands of protestors viewed us as their enemy, but we are not their enemy. We simply want to pray freely at the Kotel and celebrate our Judaism in the way we feel called to.
Roger Baldwin stated, “Silence never won rights. They are not handed down from above; they are forced by pressures from below.” We are the pressures from below, and I believe that Women of the Wall will ensure that women have the ability to pray freely at the Kotel once and for all. Today I watched mothers hold their babies in their arms as they prayed. I pray that one day my lovable two-year-old niece, Sarina, will pray alongside and peacefully share the Kotel with Haredim and the entire Jewish people. The Kotel is meant to unite us, not to divide us.
Jenn Maggin graduated from University at Buffalo with a B.A. in English, and in June 2012 she completed an M.A. in English Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Jenn volunteered this year on Israel Experience’s OTZMA, the year-long service leadership program for recent college graduates. Jenn is currently interning with the Israel Religious Action Center and Women of the Wall in Jerusalem. She will begin her dream of attending Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion this fall.