The great Kotel schlep

On Purim at the Kotel, I will refuse pompous demands - in this case that women keep quiet.

February 20, 2013 23:48
2 minute read.
HALAL ABRAMOWITZ-SILVERMAN leaves court in Jerusalem, Tuesday.

Silverman370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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Last week, on Rosh Hodesh Adar, my mother, eight other women and I were detained by police for wearing a tallit and singing at the Western Wall. Halfway through our detainment some of us were moved, without our lawyer, to a different police station. A police officer presented me with an agreement to stay away from the Kotel for 15 days. I nervously and reluctantly signed.

In the story of Purim you read about two courageous young women, Vashti and Esther, who have always been role models for me.

Shortly before my fifth birthday, listening to the megila, I heard Vashti say “no” when the king summoned her. I perked up immediately and said excitedly, “Like Rosa Parks!” Later in the megila, I nervously awaited the king’s response to Esther’s uninvited visit.

Women should not be stopped as we read Megilat Esther at the Kotel. Wearing a tallit is a personal spiritual choice. At first I was going to respect the pledge not to got to the Kotel for 15 days, because I thought the next time the Women of the Wall were gathering would be Rosh Hodesh, March 12, but women’s megila readings will take place on Monday, February 25, at 9:45 a.m. at the Kotel.

I WENT to Jewish day school in Boston, Young Judaea Zionist camps and celebrated my bat mitzva in Israel. I made aliya with my family in 2006, when I was 11, to Kibbutz Ketura and now live in Jerusalem where I am a member of Kol Haneshama. Given that Purim is my favorite holiday, sometimes falls on my American birthday, and its protagonists are brave, inspiring women, I need to say “no” like Vashti, and, like Esther, approach authority uninvited – in this case not Persian royalty but the Israeli police, the civil authorities who enforce the extremist desire to control my prayer.

So, on Tuesday this week I followed Esther’s lead and showed up unannounced at the Kishle Police Station inside Jaffa Gate and requested an exemption for Purim. Miraculously, the police backed down and granted it! (Thank you Anat Hoffman and David Barhom.) Now, on to Purim at the Kotel, where I will follow Vashti’s lead and refuse pompous demands, in this case that women keep quiet.

There’s something I did not notice when I heard megila all those years ago – Mordechai’s question to Esther: “Mi yodea?” “Who knows?” Perhaps the ultra-Orthodox should learn from the humility of that question.

I’m calling on the women of Jerusalem, young and old, secular and religious, to join me in costume celebrating the courage of Esther and Vashti, and of Women of the Wall. For those of you outside Israel, it would be a wonderful act of solidarity to wear a tallit over your costume when you, wherever you are, from the US to Persia – freely recite and hear the megila.

The Jewish state that asks us to proudly wear its uniform should never ask us to remove our prayer shawls. Or to give in to the extremist demands of the ultra-Orthodox who proudly wear their prayer shawls but refuse to don the Jewish state’s uniform.

The author recently completed high school and hopes to participate in Agahazo Shalom, a volunteer youth village in Rwanda. She can be followed on twitter at @purplelettuce95

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