by Rabbi Sari Laufer
Once, I was hit by an egg. It was hard-boiled, it was thrown at me, it hit me in the neck, and it hurt.
Let me rewind. Thirty years ago, in December 1988, a group of women—Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and everything in between—gathered at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Now, women come to the Kotel every day, so on the surface there would be nothing surprising about this. But these women came with a Torah; they came to lead a traditional service, according to Jewish law, in which they could wear tallitot, read from and bless the sefer Torah, and sing in their full voices.
Within minutes, they had attracted quite a crowd….and not the type they were hoping for. Men and women all over the Kotel plaza raised their voices in protest. There was screaming and cursing, and even physical intimidation and violence. This was 30 years ago, and despite court decisions giving them the right to do so, the Women of the Wall are still fighting for the right to pray, in full voice with a sefer Torah, at Judaism’s holy site. The years have been marked with court appearances, arrests, physical threats, and more.
On a summer morning in July 2013, I stood at the Kotel with 350 women from all over—Israel, America, and beyond. Just as in other gatherings, we were not a monolithic group. There were women there who would probably not pray in a Reform setting, there were women there who would never sit behind a mechitzah (barrier). But all of us, each of us, wanted to pray. We wanted to raise our voices in song and praise, and read the words passed down from generation to generation. Instead, we were met by yelling, loud whistles, and then…I got hit by an egg. It was not what I expected for my 15 minutes of fame, but there you have it.
There was some irony, I think, that this incident (sadly, not a unique event) happened on Rosh Hodesh Av, the beginning of the month in which we mourn the destruction of the Temple. But, the Women of the Wall—and we here at Wise—are marking this 30th anniversary for Rosh Hodesh Adar II—for the second month of Adar, the month that is meant to bring us joy. And, probably not coincidentally, Women’s History Month as well. And, of course, in just a few weeks we read a story in which a woman’s voice saves us all.
Reflecting on that July day, I wrote:
The men on the other side of the barricades alternated between screaming and blowing whistles to disrupt us, or simply trying to pray louder. I preferred the latter. Because there was a moment, maybe just before the egg jolted me back to reality, where I was able to live in a different reality. In that moment, the voices of women were raised in prayer and song, and the voices of the men were raised as well. And I imagined–just for those moments–that together the voices of Israel, the voices of the Jewish people, reached straight up to heaven.
I feel lucky to live my life in prayer spaces like Stephen Wise, where we do create this opportunity and reality in our beautiful music and prayers. In that spirit, we invite you, men and women alike, to join us on Saturday, March 16, as we honor the Women of the Wall in song and in prayer during our Shabbat morning services. We might serve eggs, but we won’t throw them.
P.S. Happy International Women’s Day!