Despite fears, haredi protest against WoW minimal

Police: There were no problems at Western Wall this time because we separated Women of Wall from haredi protesters with barriers.

Anti WoW protest at Kotel 370 (photo credit: News 24 Agency)
Anti WoW protest at Kotel 370
(photo credit: News 24 Agency)
The Women of the Wall prayed at their monthly gathering at the Western Wall on Sunday morning without incident, despite heightened police alerts – and an accompanying media frenzy – due to a scheduled mass protest organized by the senior haredi rabbinic leadership.
Although thousands of haredi protesters threatened to gather at the Kotel to condemn the women’s organization for donning traditionally male prayer garb while praying, less than 200 demonstrators came to the holy site, most of whom kept to themselves.

Regardless of the low haredi turnout, members of WoW were protected at all times by iron police barricades and hundreds of officers who stood between them and potential aggressors.
Additionally, a police helicopter hovered above the scene for the duration of their prayers to ensure order.
While relieved that no violence ensued, worshipers expressed frustration that their morning prayers took on a circus-like environment due to the hundreds of police, media and gawkers clustering together in case of a confrontation.
“I have seen this escalation going on for a long time and it’s ridiculous,” said Hanna, an Orthodox woman who requested her last name not be published. “This isn’t the place for a fight – it’s the place for prayer.”
Still, Hanna conceded that Sunday morning’s prayers were far better than last month’s riotous atmosphere, marred by unruly ultra- Orthodox youths who threw water bottles, rocks, garbage and chairs; spat on children and fought with the police, resulting in injuries and three arrests.
“Compared to last month this is amazing, but when you have two [groups of] extremists clashing, the people in the middle – like me – get stomped on,” she continued.
“They need to have an open dialogue about the situation, just not here.”
Eli, a yeshiva student who came to pray and requested his last name not be published, said he didn’t object to the Women of the Wall wearing tefillin, but agreed with Hanna that they were using an inappropriate venue to air their differences.
“I don’t have a problem with [WoW] coming to pray, I have a problem with them attempting to change the laws of Judaism at its holiest site,” he said. “They’re trying to change the way things have been for thousands of years and it’s creating problems for everyone.”
Jerusalem-based Conservative Rabbi Jim Lebeau praised WoW and the police handling of the potentially combustible protest.
“Rosh Hodesh Tammuz 5773 was the finest service I’ve witnessed,” said Lebeau.
“I credit this to the sensitivity of the leaders of WoW and to the concern of the Israeli police. The women were not provocative and agreed to some requests of the police that required compromise.”
Labeau continued, “The police deserve praise for their plan of separation. We were separate but equal.”
Indeed, a police officer at the scene attributed the peaceful outcome to extensive preparations.
“There were no problems this time because we separated them with the barriers,” said the officer. “Last time there was no barrier, so people were fighting. This time we kept them apart and it worked.”