Seven years after my arrest, Israel is still in religious handcuffs

It was a crime of passion – prayer. I had been praying at the Western Wall with Women of the Wall, wearing a tallit exactly as I had since my bat mitzvah.

‘I HAD been praying at the Western Wall with Women of the Wall, wearing a tallit exactly as I had since my bat mitzvah.’  (photo credit: REUTERS)
‘I HAD been praying at the Western Wall with Women of the Wall, wearing a tallit exactly as I had since my bat mitzvah.’
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I’m progressive, I’m a Zionist, I served my country and I was arrested by Israeli police seven years ago at age 17.
In 2006, my parents relocated my siblings and me from our cozy American suburb to a kibbutz in the Arava desert. Total 180. While the adjustment was definitely challenging at first, moving here became the best thing to happen to us both as a family and individually. Not that things are easy here at all or even make sense.
On February 11, 2013, the Jewish state’s women and men in uniform held my forearm and led me to a police van.
Mug shot.
Fingerprints.
It was a crime of passion – prayer. I had been praying at the Western Wall with Women of the Wall, wearing a tallit exactly as I had since my bat mitzvah.

Women of the Wal
l is an organization of women that have been fighting for religious freedom in Israel since the 1980s. I was arrested as I prayed, sang and chanted with the other women.
Who was not arrested? Those screaming obscenities and threats, spitting and throwing dirty diapers and trash at us, shoving us. If someone from any real democracy looked at the scene, they would be sure the police were arresting the wrong people.
My mother, Rabbi Susan Silverman, raised her children with the knowledge of Judaism that there is no complete understanding of God, no one righteous way to be Jewish and the values of Judaism mean more than anything.
We came to a compromise with the world Jewry in 2014, led by Natan Sharansky and the Jewish Agency, a compromise that never happened. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never followed through – he gave into religious extremists who disapprove of my very existence as a member of the tribe. Surprise, surprise.
While the law prohibiting women from praying with a prayer shawl was overturned, it has been seven years and nothing has happened. Nothing. Not with religious freedom, not with fighting the rabbanut’s power, nothing.
While my personal struggle with the ultra-Orthodox control over our country isn’t personal to everyone, there are so many other issues attached to this insane amount of control that everyone in Israel can relate.
For example, asylum seekers (as Jews once were before the State of Israel) are dependent on nations with values we, as Israel, are obligated to have. The Tanach states: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” [Exodus 23:9 and other places in Tanach]
The UN and Netanyahu came to a deal that would provide about half of the African asylum seekers opportunities for safe relocation to Western countries and proper papers and work visas for the other half in Israel (primarily those with children who were born here). Bibi backtracked the day after signing the deal, due to major pressure from the ultra-Orthodox parties (I guess they don’t believe the Tanach) and his extreme right-wing bloc – components of his main support base. So he tossed them, his loyal followers, red meat – human beings.
Another issue is that women in Israel are unable to receive a legal divorce without being released by their husband. How is it that, in a democracy, women’s lives are in the hands of men who believe they know God’s ultimate truth. And a spiteful, sometimes abusive, ex-husband. Our government allows it. More red meat.
Then there’s “who is a Jew” laws, determined through theocratic means, which determine citizens’ Jewishness. The irony being that they’re Jewish enough for the mandatory draft but not to be married in the very country they’re risking their lives to protect. Yes, I’m talking about people like my little brother, Adar. He had a Conservative conversation as an infant when he was adopted. He, a former combat commander on the Gaza border, is not recognized as Jewish by the rabbanut.
We’re told 36 times to protect the vulnerable and only three times to keep kosher. But what do we as a nation spend more energy on?
Do all of us – and our children and their children – a solid: vote for separation of religion and state, vote for progress. You may think your vote doesn’t matter – and maybe in the context of your life today it doesn’t. But it matters to those whose lives hang in the balance, whose lives are not given a voice. Will theocracy grow until haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbis can civilly enforce the education your children get? What you wear? Eat? Who you love? Whether you carry a pregnancy to term? Will undocumented immigrants and their children be sent into trafficking and capsizing boasts and an existential un-rootedness dependent on the decreasing kindness in the world? Will Israel thrive as a Start-Up Nation or become a mean, narrow theocracy?
Your vote is power and you can use it for the most vulnerable, for the generations to come. For us all.