"So my family and I took part in a quickly-organized protest rally convened by a consortium of groups under the banner “Free Jerusalem” on the last Saturday night of November in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem press reported that a few hundred “secular Jerusalemites” marched. In truth it was close to 2500 people of all ages, with many, many kipot and tzitzit, skirts and hair-covering scarves. The Conservative and Reform movements were there in full form. Secular? If by that you mean those who do not wear or live in black-and-white. The speeches emphasized the willingness of the protesters to dialogue with the haredim, and their desire for a peaceful and united city, but their unwillingness to let Jerusalem devolve into a fundamentalist city with its own brand of morality police, run by those who do not recognize the rights of all citizens of that city. Speakers from the Knesset held kowtowing politicians responsible for placating and turning a blind eye to violent, disruptive, and even illegal haredi acts and the growing haredi coercion in all levels of local and national politics. Frenkel spoke eloquently of her simple desire to “serve The Creator in joy” as a woman. We sang “Jerusalem of Gold” and then, most powerfully, we were asked to sing Hatikva— ‘lihiyot am chofshi- to be a free people in our own land, in Eretz Yisrael and in Jerusalem’— to reaffirm that our protest was a Zionist act of love for the Jewish State of Israel. People openly wept, and I felt within the crowd a fierce dedication to both Israel and to its heart, Jerusalem. The Israeli who had marched next to me saying “I’ve had it, I’m moving to Tel Aviv” turned to me at the end and said, “Now I know I can’t leave but have to become active in the movement for a free Jerusalem. I want my Jerusalem back.” "
"After the peaceful protest ended, 2500 people went up the pedestrian mall of Ben Yehuda Street, looking for felafel and making their way home. We were met by three dancing Hasidic men with huge yellow flags that said “Mashiach” on them; they had been trying valiantly to drown out the protest by singing to a recording of “Mashiach, Mashiach” as loud as possible into hand-held microphones. We tried to talk with them; they sang louder. We formed a circle and started dancing to the music; they turned off the music and moved away. I kept thinking of all the Jews who have pretty much abandoned Judaism while sending money to haredim so “they will be Jewish for us.” I kept thinking of the approaching festival of Hanukkah and its insistence on “dispelling the darkness.” In Jerusalem, a thriving new generation is trying to rekindle the light, by redefining who they will be in the years ahead. I wish them success— for Jerusalem’s sake."
Rabbi Elyse's post captures the serious, hopeful and surreal atmosphere of that Jerusalem night. It was heartening to see so many of my fellow Rabbinical students from all denominations of US Jewry (and Israeli as well!) out protesting for something that we all can believe in. Denominational differences aside, we are all Jews with a common heritage. The Western Wall, this City - they belong to all of us. It saddens me that the Wall has turned into an ultra orthodox synagogue, that there are modesty police around accosting anyone that doesn't fit in with whatever model of perfect Judaism is being represented by their leaders.
Do I sound bitter? I am a bit, but mainly I am sad. Once, many many years ago, I could go to the Wall and pray, I could be awed by the thousands of years of history that had been enacted at that spot, I could touch something material that so many women like myself (or maybe not like me...) have touched... I could feel something mystical inside of me. I can't anymore. The Wall as it was doesn't exist like that anymore - not for me nor for many others who feel disenfranchised or just alienated by the atmosphere there. I don't know what else to say, so I'll stop here. I'll just end by saying that I am happy to have had the opportunity to participate in the beginning of something - something that will hopefully bring about needed change - in a peaceful manner.
On that note: Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Sameach. (That means - Happy Chanukah!! - our Festival of Freedom. More on Chanukah next week.)