Sounding the Shofar for tolerance

On Rosh Hodesh Elul, the Jewish world begins a time of introspection, a time to take stock of our actions, to do teshuva, and to ask forgiveness for our misdeeds of the year in preparation for Rosh Hashanah.
Women of the Wall dedicated our prayer on Rosh Hodesh Elul to tolerance and pluralism in the memory of Shira Banki z”l the young woman who was stabbed two weeks ago at the Jerusalem Pride March in an act of extreme hatred and religious intolerance.
The night before our service, after Shabbat, Women of the Wall leaders (I was not able to be there) smuggled a Torah Scroll into the women’s section of the Kotel and began an all-night vigil so that we would be able to read Torah in the morning. We were forced to bring the Torah in to the Kotel by subterfuge because the Kotel administrator Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, in violation of the 2013 Sobel ruling which allows our Torah reading, refuses to allow us to bring a Torah scroll into the Kotel or to use one of the 200 scrolls at the site. Time after time, our Torah has been turned away, our leadership has been arrested for attempting to bring a Torah in, and male supporters who helped us bring a Torah into the women’s section have been assaulted.
At about four am a policeman entered the women’s section and asked to inspect the group’s bags. When he saw the Sefer Torah, the police officer demanded they go with him to the police station. Leslie Sachs WoW’s executive director explained that we were allowed to have a Torah scroll in the Women’s section but it was necessary to call Avi Biton, the chief of police for the Old City (and waking him up during his vacation) who then ordered the officers to leave the women alone.
Board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun says, “I am tired of this cat and mouse game. Wouldn’t it be more respectful of the Torah, and most importantly more respectful of the people – men and women like us who pray at the Kotel – to just allow us to bring our Torah in?”
But the employees of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation continue to harass us. They refused to allow us to bring in Shofarot, even though the sounds of the shofar from the men’s section could be clearly heard at the security station. Next, they refused to allow us to bring in siddurim. The police chief had to intervene again.
Sadly, the joyous celebration of our service was marred by an increased incitement and hatred. Haredi men and women yelled threats that our actions are sacrilegious and punishable by death. At the same time that Dana Sharon, chair of the Jerusalem House for Pride and Tolerance, was called to the Torah and we read a prayer in memory of Shira Banki z”l, an ultra-Orthodox woman, who assaulted one of our board members two years ago, screeched: “the judgement day is near!” and started blowing her shrill whistle to disrupt our service. Several women who were trying to pray by the wall came over and pleaded with her to stop but she wouldn’t. A full ten minutes later, a police woman came over and told her to desist. Unlike the zeal displayed for public order at four in the morning this month, no police confiscated the whistle or hauled this woman off to the station.
Two years ago, the Women of the Wall board, had to remove all public listings of our addresses because the police believed that there were credible threats of violence against us. Today, we believe there is even a greater threat to our board.
There is an increased level of violent threats against anyone who dares to challenge the strangle-hold the Haredim have on religious affairs in Israel. The Tzohar rabbis that started their own conversion courts are under police protection and even President Rivlin is being targeted.
Jewish religious extremists and the acts of terror committed in the name of God are destroying Israel’s soul. In this season of repentance, as we hear the sounds of the shofar, it is time for the country to pull together and challenge Ultra-Orthodox hegemony at the Kotel and beyond.