These and Those

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

[Alumni Guest Post] Toward God’s Love

Posted on May 22, 2013 by Rabbi Julie Gordon

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R. Julie Gordon (PEP '12) recollects:

Here are some of my thoughts after my experience davenning with Women of the Wall (WOW) on May 10, 2013.

Rabbi Julie Gordon praying with Women of the Wall

Rabbi Julie Gordon praying with Women of the Wall

I was exhilarated on the day after my bat mitzvah when I learned how to lay tefillin through the wisdom and care of Bert Cooper, z”l, our Albert Lea, MN para-rabbi. I felt empowered and joyful. Safely ensconced in our community and our shared relationship with God. My Baba had given me my Zayde’s tefillin. On that day when I held them in my hands, we both cried. She said, “Zayde would be so proud that you will be using his tefillin as he laid tefillin six days a week.” I remember those words every day as I wrap them around my arms, even now 40 years later, the soft leather straps worn thin and replaced twice. The scrolls checked and rechecked by sofrei stam. I am the only person on my mother’s side of the family who lays tefillin and I do it with care.

Last week, on my 56th birthday, I was preparing to lay my Zeyde’s teffilin, and to wrap myself in his memory, as I feel commanded to do this mitzvah. But, for the first time, I felt afraid.

On May 10th, I went to the Kotel to daven Shaharit and celebrate Rosh Chodesh Sivan with Women of the Wall (WOW). We were met with huge crowds of our fellow Jews, Haredim, Ultra-Orthodox Jews. It was painful to see some men throw rocks and hatefully yell “Whore!” and “Nazi” and “You’re going to give us all cancer!” and some women spit globs upon us, misunderstanding our sincerity.

I made my way into the center of my women’s prayer group, WOW, wrapped myself in my brightly colored silk tallit that depicts the walls of the old city of Jerusalem, and laid my tefillin. Soon my fear melted with the rising joyous song and spirited Hallel prayers — psalms welcoming the month that brings Shavuot – our celebration of receiving the Torah at Sinai where we stood together as one people before God, each according to our own strengths and abilities.

And limitations, I supposed, as the loud whistles and screams and obscenities meant to drown out our prayer rained upon us, harsher even than the rocks, coffee, trash and spit. The police were professional and effective, enforcing the court verdict allowing us to pray according to our pluralistic, feminist, and egalitarian customs, keeping the violence mostly at bay.

Amidst it all, I focused my mind and spirit toward prayer, toward God’s love. And recalling that moment at Sinai, joined hearts with my people, including the vast majority of our ultra-Orthodox sisters and brothers who, like us, peacefully prayed to God seeking God’s strength and wisdom to make our world a better place.