My tallit is from Israel. It is the tallit that I wore daily during my year in Israel, wore when I was ordained, stood under when I was married, and used to swaddle my son during his bris. It is the one I use it regularly now when I lead services at my congregation. It is a gorgeous handwoven black and white Gabrielli.
But I had not ever worn it at the Western Wall – until now.
I did not wear it out of fear. I was afraid of being heckled, of being spat upon, of being arrested, of having a chair thrown at me. I was afraid that if I practiced Judaism according to the norms of my community – the community that I lead – while standing in this holy place in Israel, I would be harassed or hurt.
I had, in fact, quietly stayed away from Israel for this reason: it hurts too much to go to the very center of the Jewish world and find yourself marginalized and invisible. I did not advertise my sorrow: I just turned away.
But (as I explained in my earlier post), I came to realize, as I was writing my Yom Kippur eve sermon, that I really needed to be there when the Women of the Wall celebrated its 25th anniversary. Merely preaching my agreement with their cause would not make the same powerful statement as standing with them in solidarity.
So, on Monday, I proudly joined my sisters in prayer, engaged in this moving, wonderful service, wearing our tallit and singing in full voices. We were praying together in the women’s section, surrounded by female soldiers who were protecting us. Scattered through the crowd were cantors with earpieces connected to our central sound system who could help lead the hundreds upon hundreds of women who came to pray, enabling us to sing with one voice.
For the third aliyah, in fact, all of the women there were invited to recite the blessings. And to include us all we raised our tallitot above our heads, creating a safe space for all of us to encounter this palpable sense of God’s protection.
So here is my own dream, my own vision of the future:
We know, from numerous studies, that visiting Israel cements Jewish identity in a way few other things are able to do.
But the marginalization of liberal Jews has been an enormous obstacle for us: the holiest sites are alienating to us, due to the insistence that we conform to the orthodox interpretation of the tradition.
So this is my plea and my prayer: we need the state of Israel to help us, to work to fix the situation, negotiate with the Women of the Wall, and change the facts on the ground, so that it might be possible for us to bring our congregants, our families, our friends, and let them fall in love with all that Israel might possibly become.
Rabbi Kari Tuling is the rabbi of Temple Beth Israel, in Plattsburgh, NY.