Hundreds of people around the world on Monday simultaneously recited the shema
prayer in a unique flashmob event, in response to the arrest of Women of the
Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman last week.
Hoffman was arrested during a
late night event on October 16 while accompanying approximately 250 members of
the Hadassah Women’s Organization to the Western Wall.
The group wanted
to recite the shema at the Kotel in honor of the organization’s 100th
anniversary. Just before they could begin, policemen approached Hoffman,
handcuffed her, and detained her for questioning.
spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Hoffman was “shouting and causing a public
disturbance,” as well as wearing a male-style tallit. She was kept overnight
after refusing to sign a restraining order that prevented her from going to the
Western Wall for 30 days.
“I was handcuffed, strip searched, laid on the
bare floor,” Hoffman wrote in an article on The Huffington Post about her night
in the Russian Compound jail in downtown Jerusalem.
“I was not allowed to
call my lawyer. I was dragged on the floor with my hands cuffed and worst of
all, locked in a tiny cell with a crying young Russian woman accused of
prostitution, who was the target of every filthy comment male inmates could
utter. Her tears and their words are the hardest memory for me to move on
Hoffman’s treatment prompted an outpouring of
“There has been an unbelievable tsunami of reactions from people
all over the world, wanting to do things, appalled at what happened,” said Women
of the Wall executive director Lesley Sachs.
Sachs was arrested October
17 during the monthly Rosh Hodesh (“new month”) service along with Women of the Wall board member Rachel
Cohen Yeshurun. The police spokesman said the women were also “shouting and
screaming and wearing tallitot.”
In response, the United Synagogue of
Conservative Judaism in New York organized the “Global Shema Flashmob” via their
“The arrest of Anat Hoffman compels us to be participants
in the creation of a Jewish homeland for all Jews,” the organization wrote. In
Jerusalem, students from the Hebrew Union College organized a shema flashmob in
downtown Jerusalem’s Zion Square that drew more than 50 people.
around the world were encouraged to upload videos of themselves saying the shema
and explaining why pluralism is important in Israel.
“It’s a hug of
solidarity that we’re getting from all over the world,” said Sachs.
said that Diaspora Jews are more outraged by the treatment of Women of the Wall
than Israelis, because they feel a deep connection to the Kotel, and they have
grown up in countries with greater religious freedom. She reserved hope that the
treatment of Hoffman would inspire change towards the group.
“I hope that
each one of these [arrests] is another dent and another chip in wall of
indifference that exists here,” she said. “I hope that our leaders here will
understand, especially now before elections, that they have to give clear
messages about religious pluralism because this is something that matters. One
expects Jews all over the world to support Israel and to be here for
“Then Israel must understand what’s important to them, and this is
important to them: the Kotel and women’s rights.”
The Jerusalem flashmob
organizer Alli Cohen, a first-year rabbinical student from Hebrew Union College,
was standing right next to Hoffman when she was arrested on Tuesday
Both Cohen and fellow Hebrew Union College student Jennifer
Rueben, a cantorial student, said that as Americans it was surprising to realize
that in Israel not everyone can pray as they wish.
“Here [in Israel],
there’s a very Orthodox mentality, even the secular people have an Orthodox
mentality because they grew up in an Orthodox world,” said Rueben.
noted that abroad there is a much larger community of Reform Jews, which could
be one reason why they are more vocal.
“But it’s not just about Reform
[Judaism], it’s about everyone’s ability to pray in the way that gets them
closest to God without persecution and certainly without prosecution,” said
Arrests have become a frequent occurrence at the Women of the
Wall Rosh Hodesh services, with one or two women usually detained for a number
of hours. Police have recently started enforcing a ban on women wearing “male”
tallits – black and white or blue and white tallit draped over the
Police differentiate these from the “female” tallits, the more
colorful tallit worn around the neck like a scarf.