In an op-ed published in last Thursday’s Jerusalem Post, the Kotel administrator Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz penned a letter to Women of the Wall asking that we, and the National Religious, just give up, walk away, and let him run the Kotel as he sees fit.
But the glimpse of Rabinowitz’s Kotel future that we saw on the morning of Rosh Hodesh Av is a more frightening future than Charles Dickens could have imagined.
We did not accede to Rabinowitz’s request; which we can now understand was a demand and not a request, to go away. We went to the Kotel on Rosh Hodesh to pray; as our sisters have done for over twenty-six years. We had no idea that the Western Wall Heritage Foundation goon squad that work for Rabinowitz were geared up to prevent us from praying.
I knew something was up as soon as I arrived at the security booth. My overnight bag was rifled by the staff who evidently believed a Torah would be hidden amongst my worn underwear. One woman carrying in a table, which we bring because no tables are provided for women, was stopped and she was told, “Tables are not allowed.” Another woman was told that siddurim were not allowed to be brought in to the Kotel.
The restrictions, enforced by a very large intimidating man, kept coming. Journalists were told that they could not bring cameras in without prior permission from the Western Wall Heritage foundation. We waited at the entrance and were not allowed to enter until the police commander who oversees the area intervened.
As we walked to the women’s Section, we saw a solid mass of black, surrounding the back of and the walkway around the women’s section. Some of the younger men were standing on the ledge and were actually inside the women’s space. These men physically prevented our male supporters from joining our prayers, and they jeered and yelled at our davening. At Rabinowitz’s Kotel only some people are allowed to pray.
As soon as we arrived, we learned that Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, one of our board members, was taken into police custody and that our Torah was confiscated by the police. It was only later returned. She had been handcuffed, and forcibly removed from the Kotel. The police said she was arrested for acting suspiciously and trying to bring a questionable object into the Kotel. Even though the Sobel ruling declares that women are allowed to read from a Sefer Torah at the Kotel, Rabinowitz has prevented us from bringing our Torah in and from using one of the hundreds of Torahs that are already at the Kotel. At Rabinowitz’s Kotel only some people get to read Torah.
The women’s section was very empty with only a few women praying right in front of the wall when we began. But that didn’t stop two women from the Ghost of Kotel past to continuously disrupt our prayer; one by waving protest signs in our faces (the same woman who wore provocative statements taped to her clothing and kept poking us with an umbrella two years ago). One woman walked right up to us blowing a shrill whistle (she is the one who assaulted one of our board members at the Kotel two years ago). A third woman was stopping all of the women walking into the section, asking them to sign a petition to ban Women of the Wall from the Kotel. The rules forbidding protest signs, whistles or printed material at the Kotel only apply to some people at Rabinowitz’s Kotel.
For all of this to happen on Rosh Hodesh Av, at a time of national mourning, is particularly disturbing. Instead of reflecting on the first and second destructions of the Temple and Jerusalem, and the great loss of Jewish life, or the two-thousand years of exile that followed – Rabinowitz decided to use Rosh Hodesh Av to protest against Women of the Wall. He choose to use the Western Wall Heritage Foundation employees in a way that shows that he has no respect for the law of the land, or the citizens of Israel, or anyone who dares to interfere with his myopic vision of what the Kotel should be.
This glimpse of Kotel future should serve as a warning for all of Israel and Judaism. There is still time to stop this from happening. The Kotel is a national heritage site that cannot be allowed to be turned into a dictatorship that rivals George Orwell’s Oceania. Rabinowitz cannot be allowed to become Big Brother and have total power over the Kotel.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation should be dismantled now, before the Ghost of Kotel future becomes a reality.