Diaspora Jews stand with Women of the Wall

Hundreds simultaneously recite prayer in flashmob event after arrest of Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman.

Women of the Wall Flashmob 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Women of the Wall Flashmob 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Hundreds of people around the world on Monday simultaneously recited the shema prayer in a unique flashmob event, in response to the arrest of Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman last week.
Hoffman was arrested during a late night event on October 16 while accompanying approximately 250 members of the Hadassah Women’s Organization to the Western Wall.
The group wanted to recite the shema at the Kotel in honor of the organization’s 100th anniversary. Just before they could begin, policemen approached Hoffman, handcuffed her, and detained her for questioning.
National police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Hoffman was “shouting and causing a public disturbance,” as well as wearing a male-style tallit. She was kept overnight after refusing to sign a restraining order that prevented her from going to the Western Wall for 30 days.
“I was handcuffed, strip searched, laid on the bare floor,” Hoffman wrote in an article on The Huffington Post about her night in the Russian Compound jail in downtown Jerusalem.
“I was not allowed to call my lawyer. I was dragged on the floor with my hands cuffed and worst of all, locked in a tiny cell with a crying young Russian woman accused of prostitution, who was the target of every filthy comment male inmates could utter. Her tears and their words are the hardest memory for me to move on from.”
Hoffman’s treatment prompted an outpouring of outrage.
“There has been an unbelievable tsunami of reactions from people all over the world, wanting to do things, appalled at what happened,” said Women of the Wall executive director Lesley Sachs.
Sachs was arrested October 17 during the monthly Rosh Hodesh (“new month”) service along with Women of the Wall board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun. The police spokesman said the women were also “shouting and screaming and wearing tallitot.”
In response, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in New York organized the “Global Shema Flashmob” via their Facebook page.
“The arrest of Anat Hoffman compels us to be participants in the creation of a Jewish homeland for all Jews,” the organization wrote. In Jerusalem, students from the Hebrew Union College organized a shema flashmob in downtown Jerusalem’s Zion Square that drew more than 50 people.
Jews from around the world were encouraged to upload videos of themselves saying the shema and explaining why pluralism is important in Israel.
“It’s a hug of solidarity that we’re getting from all over the world,” said Sachs.
Sachs said that Diaspora Jews are more outraged by the treatment of Women of the Wall than Israelis, because they feel a deep connection to the Kotel, and they have grown up in countries with greater religious freedom. She reserved hope that the treatment of Hoffman would inspire change towards the group.
“I hope that each one of these [arrests] is another dent and another chip in wall of indifference that exists here,” she said. “I hope that our leaders here will understand, especially now before elections, that they have to give clear messages about religious pluralism because this is something that matters. One expects Jews all over the world to support Israel and to be here for us.
“Then Israel must understand what’s important to them, and this is important to them: the Kotel and women’s rights.”
The Jerusalem flashmob organizer Alli Cohen, a first-year rabbinical student from Hebrew Union College, was standing right next to Hoffman when she was arrested on Tuesday night.
Both Cohen and fellow Hebrew Union College student Jennifer Rueben, a cantorial student, said that as Americans it was surprising to realize that in Israel not everyone can pray as they wish.
“Here [in Israel], there’s a very Orthodox mentality, even the secular people have an Orthodox mentality because they grew up in an Orthodox world,” said Rueben.
Cohen noted that abroad there is a much larger community of Reform Jews, which could be one reason why they are more vocal.
“But it’s not just about Reform [Judaism], it’s about everyone’s ability to pray in the way that gets them closest to God without persecution and certainly without prosecution,” said Rueben.
Arrests have become a frequent occurrence at the Women of the Wall Rosh Hodesh services, with one or two women usually detained for a number of hours. Police have recently started enforcing a ban on women wearing “male” tallits – black and white or blue and white tallit draped over the shoulders.
Police differentiate these from the “female” tallits, the more colorful tallit worn around the neck like a scarf.