These and Those

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

Toxic Davening

Posted on April 11, 2013 by Shoshana Rosen

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From my blog:

When you are praying the words “Shema Yisrael”, “Listen Israel”, but instead you hear the sound of people yelling at you.

When there are more photographers and journalists than people praying.

After months of hesitation and apprehension I visit the kotel for Rosh Chodesh. I go to finally see what it is like to be a part of Women of the Wall, an organization that some of my friends have been very active in all year. I have come up with every excuse in the book to not go: “I’m too tired, I really need to sleep”, or “I don’t want to get arrested for being there when I don’t even know how I feel about it”. But after realizing I have successfully not gone for 9 months, and I only have 1 or 2 more opportunities before I leave Israel this time, I pushed my self to wake up and go.

I was waiting on line with this huge group of Argentinian Jews who, from overhearing their conversation, had just come from Poland. And they looked like it, exhausted, drained, and happy to be in Eretz Yisrael. With the look in their eyes, like they know the last week of their lives changed them forever, even if some haven’t realized it yet.

I walk into the gathering of where Women of the Wall are davening (praying), and I realize very quickly that I feel so uncomfortable.

I watched as the women prayed, singing the words of the prayers like they are songs, to show off their high and beautiful voices.

I see and hear the men on the other side shouting and yelling, and I think to myself: “I really hope that a lot of these women here do not understand Hebrew well enough to understand what they are yelling”. Luckily, many did not.

I see the very religious women on our side of the kotel plaza, also yelling at us, giving us despicable looks.

I see the photographers just waiting for something to happen, like some big event is supposed to occur from our praying.

I have never prayed like that before. It felt like I was in a rally, and my prayers were the protest chant. I was looking around at the women who were wearing beautiful tallitot and wearing teffilin, and for the first time in my life, I saw religious garments become the signs and posters of their protest.

aBut the thing that struck me the most, and almost brought tears to my eyes, was watching the group that had just come back from Poland.

After leaving a place which is full of the remains of hate, loathing, and anger, and finally coming to Israel, a place of hope, of a Jewish land, one of the holiest places on earth, some for the first time, to put a note in the old stones of the Wall. This is not what I wish they would have seen.

Instead the kotel has turned into a place of hate, anger, and fear. Jews yelling at Jews. Jews calling each other terrible names, all part of a game of who can pray the loudest, all for a political agenda.

I look at those teenagers again, with the same flags they covered themselves with in Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Majdanek, and now the kotel, still using them as shields from the hate, only now it isn’t from the Poles, or the Germans, but from our own people, the Jews. I think back to the dream of being able to have our own state, to finally have this holy site back, and I highly doubt that this is what our dreamers had in mind.


Nothing makes me sadder in the whole world than seeing our very small Jewish population fight each other out of hate.

According to the Women of the Wall website, their mission is to be able to have

“social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall”.

I would love to see everyone feel comfortable and be able to pray in the way that makes them feel moved and connected. I do wish that the kotel could one day be that place.

I have never seen the kotel like that (full of hate and fear), and I hope to never see it like that again.

I flashback to after the big snow storm in Jerusalem this year, when the plaza was covered in white, a snow man was made in front of the kotel, and everyone had smiles on their faces. That is the image I would like to keep.

I leave us with a blessing that we read every day during our prayer service, at the end of the Amida, one that stuck out to me particularly this morning:

“for by the light of Your face You have given us, Lord our G-d, the Torah of life and love of kindness, righteousness, blessing, compassion, life and peace”.

**This post is about my experiences and feelings towards what I saw this morning. I know every month is different, and every person’s experience is different. I do have respect for the Women of the Wall mission, and I do pray that one day we can all go to this holy place and pray in a safe, comfortable environment.