These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

The Other Side of the Mechitza

Posted on April 21, 2015 by David Curiel

Yesterday’s was a quiet early morning walk through the Old City. Shops weren’t yet open. The sun was peeking through the haze just enough to make the covered sections of walkway seem black. Hardly anyone was about, but there were two women just ahead of me, talking animatedly in Hebrew. When they got to the security checkpoint before entering the Kotel, one of the women got stopped. What was that in her bag? It looked like a tefillin case to me. I was waved through (with my tefillin case) while she was held up a little longer so her bag could get x-rayed. It wasn’t just any morning; it was a Women of the Wall (WoW) morning.

Some of you might have seen the headline in yesterday’s news: WoW read from a Kotel-owned sefer Torah for the first time in 25 years. There was such joy on the women’s side, and rightly so. But I was on the men’s side and, while I strongly support the actions that brought us there, I want to tell of the darker side of that victory.

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I thought I was going to daven and watch the festivities over the fence. The plan quickly became apparent to me, however: the men were going to speed-daven through to the Torah service, using one of the scrolls available at the Kotel, and then pass it over to the women so they could have their day. While I would’ve much rather been singing along with the joyful, songful service on the women’s side, I felt a distinct delight in taking the form of speed-davenning and subverting it as social action. The plan went smoothly. There was even a gate in the mechitza to pass the Torah through, so it didn’t have to be raised up and over. The man who held the scroll in his arms until the women were ready was weeping. Exhilaration? Fear? His emotion sparked mine, and I got swept up in it all. After we passed on the sefer, we danced in a tight circle for a long while, partly to dissimulate, partly to calm our jitters.

And then, the world got very small. A stream of men came toward us, headed by a couple of security employees of the Kotel, but made up largely of most of the rest of the men who had been praying there that morning. In a flash of shoving and yelling, the gate was open, and the men were attempting to wrest the Torah back into their possession. Some of our number were pushed down and trampled. I watched as one of them, the same who had been weeping earlier, bugged his eyes out in disbelief as he was pushed to the ground like a felled tree. Harsh words were exchanged, as well as verses of Torah. One man started yelling, “Ganvu haTorah! Ze Torah sheli!” (They’ve stolen the Torah! That Torah is mine!) When someone replied, “it belongs to us, to all of B’nei Israel,” another (a young guy in a black hat) said, “Atem lo B’nei Israel.” (You are not Jews.)

Sucker punch! Even though I kept a distance, witnessing (and taking a really crappy video), I felt physically attacked. Here we were, at the holiest of Jewish sites, in the days between Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron, which commemorate in some way the *collective* sacrifices of our people, including those who lost lives to gain access to the place where we stood, and we get so fight-blind as to not even recognize our own kin? I know, I know. I’m not a naif: many in some sectors of the ultra-orthodox world don’t consider me (or any liberal Jew) Jewish. This isn’t news, but somehow the brazenness of the statement to my face, in this time and place, was too much.

It might be heresy to say, but I have never felt much kedusha–holiness–at the Kotel. Not to say it isn’t there–I’ve felt leaks of it now and again. But in the place, close-up to the wall: nothing. I feel like there is a klippah–an energetic cover or block–over that spot, an entanglement of negativity and strife that doesn’t allow the light through. Perhaps the klippah stems from sinat chinam–senseless hatred–of the kind I felt for me yesterday, even though, our texts have it, the Temple at the remains of which we pray fell because of this same senseless hatred amongst ourselves. There was something very revealing about the incident yesterday–the knock-downs, the shoving, the insults: it was a bubbling up of that klippah energy, a physical manifestation of what’s always brewing under the surface.

There is something I know about energy, especially “negative” emotional energy: when unexpressed and unvented, it festers and explodes. But when released, it dissipates and clears.

There is also something I know about the world from kabbalah: each reality has four manifestations: physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual components which are at once bound up with one another, and which also need balancing amongst them.

And there is something I know about change: it is discontinuous and often starts in unlikely places.

So, I prayed yesterday and I pray today.

I pray that, like a newly opened seltzer bottle, this blocking energy, by exploding out as it did yesterday, dissipates somewhat. And perhaps we may explore better, less hurtful ways of finding its release.

I pray that this work WoW is doing, in the physical manifestation of reality, to remove barriers has in its parallel, in the spiritual manifestation of reality, a lowering of barriers amongst us, all for the purpose of bringing holiness back to the Kotel. And that we explore the healing that needs to take place in an integrated way.

I pray that the haredi man who attempted to crowd me out when we got back to our musaf prayers, heard my voice over his shoulder when I prayed Elohai Netzor–guard my tongue from evil–so that he should know that one person was abstaining from perpetuating these behaviors. And that this modest suggestion embedded in his consciousness as an unlikely seed of change.