Even when it seems that things can no longer escalate for Women of the Wall, recent events at the Western Wall and at the Knesset once again teach us otherwise.
Last month’s Rosh Hodesh service was full of violence against Women of the Wall as well as against MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv, who carried a Torah scroll from which the women could read.
Pushing, pinching, cursing and spitting, whistling, damage to property were the result. For Women of the Wall, this “greeting” is normal. A woman arrives at the Western Wall in the morning and does not know in what condition she will leave. Will she be pushed and dropped to the ground? Will someone try to rip her bag? Maybe she will be lucky to have a cup of boiling coffee poured on her, as happened to Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the organization, just a few months ago?
It’s a well-known secret that any violence directed toward Women of the Wall is ignored. The security guards of the Kotel Heritage Foundation, who receive their orders from the Kotel Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz stand aside – literally. Apart from physically blocking any attempt by anyone to bring a Torah scroll to the women’s section, they do nothing. They witness the severe violence Women of the Wall are facing – and they choose to ignore and turn their backs.
These incidents join a recent investigation of the Kotel rabbi, which reveals how the holiest site for the Jewish people is being run. Connections with wealthy people, discrimination among Kotel visitors on an economic and ideological basis, ignoring and closing their eyes when violence occurs, and of course discrimination and exclusion toward women and liberal Jews.
Recently, when MK Alon Tal (Blue and White), Mossi Raz (Meretz) and Kariv (Labor) raised the issue in the Knesset plenum, the MKs from the ultra-Orthodox parties and the Religious Zionist Party presented a united front and supported the Kotel rabbi’s side. The ultra-Orthodox MKs have also announced that they will block the entrance to the Western Wall if Kariv tries to bring a Torah scroll into the Western Wall on Rosh Hodesh Kislev. By doing so, in fact, the ultra-Orthodox MKs continue to set the area on fire and incite violence among their followers.
In recent weeks we have heard more and more promises and statements about the government intent to implement the Kotel agreement. This agreement, in practice, renovates the southern extension of the Western Wall, Ezrat Yisrael, so that it can be used for prayer by Women of the Wall, liberal Jews and the general public who prefer not to be forced to pray in an ultra-Orthodox synagogue. Haredi organizations and the haredim will do anything to prevent this from happening.
Rosh Hodesh Kislev is Friday, and we fear that the violence will be stronger than ever. Advertisements calling to come and “rescue” the Kotel are seen all over Jerusalem, ultra-Orthodox MKs threaten to “set the streets on fire” (one never knows if they mean it literally or metaphorically), and flyers for various demonstrations call to fight the Kotel agreement.
In protest of the fact that women have no access to a Torah at the Western Wall, this Rosh Hodesh Kislev we will hold a special march with 70 empty Torah mantels. With deep fear for our safety, we turned to the Police Jerusalem District Region and the minister of public security to demand tightened security.
Recent events and those that are expected prove once again that it is necessary to implement the Kotel agreement – the sooner the better. The current management of the Western Wall does nothing to control the violence at the Kotel and even goes so far as to make many Jews feel unwanted and unsafe at the holy site.
The writer is CEO of Women of the Wall.