Bridges, Walls, and Leadership

“There was a large crowd of people…They were throwing things and shouting…”

This is not a quote from the Women of the Wall, but it might as well be. I was killing time on Facebook yesterday when I read this status update:

wow_status

and it reminded me of something from a children’s book I used to love when I was a little girl, “The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles . In the book, he describes how Ruby Bridges,  six year old African American girl was volunteered to be one of the first children to attend a white school. In the quote she describes walking to school, escorted by police men, through the crowds of protesters shouting and throwing things. One morning, her teacher watches through the window while Ruby stops in the middle of the crowd and refuses to move for several minutes. “I saw you talking,” Mrs. Henry told her later when Ruby finally agreed to enter the school building. “I wasn’t talking,” said Ruby, “I was praying.”

IMG088

Ruby was six years old at the time. She was the only black girl in a school full of white children with angry parents, and somehow she found it inside her to pray for the people who crowded around and shouted and threw things at her. And thank goodness that she did that. Thank goodness that she kept going with the police men every day even though so many people tried to silence her. In the end, she paved the road for integration in schools. Eventually she was able to go to school without being accompanied by police.

I loved The Story of Ruby Bridges. She was like a hero to me. I even used her character once in a project in ceramics, because to me she was proof that great leadership can come in any size or color. And that is what the Women of the Wall show young girls all over the world.

Thank goodness that the Women of the Wall refuse to be silenced. Thank goodness that despite all the people who try to discourage them, they keep fighting. I hope that soon we can see them going to pray at the Wall without being escorted by the police. The Story of Ruby Bridges teaches us that equality and tolerance will triumph in the end. And boy will that be awkward for the people on the other side.

IMG087

Advertisements

Women Talk to a Wall – and Get Arrested

On the first day of every Jewish month, women all over the world hold their breath. Some of us cross our fingers; some of us pray or meditate. Some of us can’t be there to support them, so wherever we are we hold still and hope really hard that the Women of the Wall don’t go to jail this month. We know what they are doing is illegal. We know it upsets people. We know it’s looked down upon by authorities. But for some reason we get it into our head that maybe this time it won’t bother anyone.

The Women of the Wall struggle with a limitation of religious freedom in the state of Israel. Personally, it baffles me that this is a problem in a state which is one of the most socially progressive in the whole world in equality for women, where we have free health care, free day care, and such fierce laws protecting women’s rights. Moreover, it seems ironic that it would be a problem to practice a Jewish custom in what is supposed to be the Jewish state. (I’ll elaborate in the next few paragraphs.)

Women of the Wall

As it turned out this month not many people were bothered, and still ten women got arrested. The Women of the Wall gathered as usual and held an inspiring, exciting prayer on the women’s side of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. They danced and sang and wore prayer shawls. These actions are what have been deemed illegal by the Supreme Court of Israel.

1. Wearing a prayer shawl. For those unfamiliar with the different religious practices: in Orthodox Judaism it is traditional only for men to wear a shawl during prayer, and if a woman wants to wear one it is looked down upon, but it is one hundred percent allowed and backed up by some of the greatest Rabbis in our history.

2. Conducting a religious service. It seems odd to me that this sort of thing would be prohibited at a holy site. But the law is the law.

3. Singing and dancing. These actions are prohibited because in Orthodox Judaism it is considered immodest for a woman to sing or dance in the presence of a man (who is not her husband). As far as I understand, the idea behind this tradition is that a woman’s singing voice (or dancing) can cause a man to become sexually aroused. So to avoid adultery, we (women) avoid public singing and mixed dancing.

At this point, I would like to recommend this post I read on one of my favorite blogs, the Good Men Project. It talks about why saying ‘men are slaves to their sex drive’ is offensive to men. Please take a minute to look over it, it’s awesome.

With all this in mind, I would like to express my confusion about why the Women of the Wall get arrested. It seems to me that the ruling of the Supreme Court which prohibits these women’s prayer was made out of fear. If religious extremists complain that a group of women are ‘being provocative’ and ‘disrespecting the holy site’, and threaten to start a riot, obviously we should take action to make sure no one gets hurt. But last time I checked, threatening, black mail, and violence were illegal. So the Supreme Court appears to be telling us that we, the Jewish people living in the state of Israel, give in to fear instead of standing up for religious freedom. It seems like the Women of the Wall get arrested because someone out there might get angry and start acting violent. It sounds like we’re blaming the victim. It seems like we are holding women responsible for the actions of men. Here’s where the Good Men Project would say we’re wrong. Men are responsible for their own actions. They can control themselves and make their own decisions, and saying otherwise sets us back centuries. We should hold these extremists responsible for their own actions. People who use violence should be arrested, not people who just want to worship God in their own way.

In the Israeli national anthem, called ‘Hatikva’ which means ‘Our Hope’, we sing about our hope to one day be a truly free nation in our country. We hope to have full religious freedom. We hope to have liberty to make decisions based on our principles, not our fear. The Women of the Wall are the manifestation of this hope, just like the paratroopers who liberated the Wailing Wall in 1967.