The Western Wall and WOW


Netflix isn’t a streaming service. No. It is an alternate Universe of entertainment and education. Movies. Documentaries. Limited series. Old tv shows. Going to Netflix is like entering a casino with old familiar games and new ones you’ve never played before. I’m sure there’s a systematic way of surveying what’s available… but I don’t know it.

Last month while hunting Netflix for something to watch, I came upon an Israeli series called Shtisel. It follows the ins and outs of the Shtisels, a haredi (ultra-Orthodox, non-Hasidic) family in Jerusalem. As they speak a very stylized Hebrew and Yiddish (there are English subtitles), we learn about a unique, and little known Jewish sub-culture. We follow their complicated lives, observing their universal struggles through a very particular lens.

In so many ways, the show humanizes this Jewish sect that is generally seen as fundamentalist and extreme in behavior and ideology. Yes, we bump up against the sharp edges that are a part of haredi life, and the generally low opinion they have of the secular world – which is, essentially, everybody that is not them. But we also encounter a family’s deep love for each other, the loneliness of old age and widowhood, the ease with which they lie without any seeming pangs of conscience, the restrictive ways the rules bind and chafe at them.

As I watch Shtisel, I feel a kind of affection for the family and their humanity. I see the struggles that are a part of preserving their world, and the difficulties with living up to impossible expectations. It is a moving show.I thought of the Shtisel Family today as I watched coverage from Jerusalem of the Women of the Wall (WOW) celebrating the 30th anniversary of their movement. Or at least they were trying to celebrate. Unfortunately, ultra-Orthodox yeshivot and girls’ schools sent thousands of young students to block public access to the woman’s side of the Wall and ‘assigned’ the students to do whatever they could to disrupt the approximately 150 Women of the Wall and their supporters who showed up.

Anat Hoffman, the director of WOW, was there, proudly proclaiming the rights of all Jewish women to express themselves freely as Jews. She is a true champion of religious pluralism and of the rights of all Israeli citizens to equal treatment under the law. All they want is to read from the Torah, to wear a tallit, and to proclaim their love of God and the Jewish people. It is a public space of equal significance to all Jews.On her Facebook page, Melissa Carp, a member of our temple, a first-year rabbinic student, and an intern at WOW, wrote the following:

Today was probably one of the scariest days of my adult life. I have been anticipating Rosh Chodesh Adar II, that coincides with International Women’s Day and the 30th Women of the Wall Nashot HaKotel anniversary for months. I came ready to daven with revolutionary women that have been dedicated to this fight for over three decades. Instead I was greeted by 8,000 people in opposition, with such hate in their eyes they seemed completely soulless.Young girls were praised for their effective technique of bulldozing WOW supporters with their bodies, giggling and smiling at the older women that they had successfully knocked to the ground. I was almost trampled by these thousands of girls dozens of times, my feet in pain from using all my strength not to fall over.I’m tired. I’m tired of the word “Reform,” the denomination of Judaism that I hope to one day serve being used as an insult. I’m tired of the monolithic control of the Orthodox Rabbinate. I’m tired of panicking over the well being of my classmates at Shacharit. Yet, after today, I’m even more motivated. I’m even more motivated to repair today’s devastation and so grateful for the people I am lucky enough to stand with.

I watched film clips of the confrontation at the Wall. I watched ultra-Orthodox girls spitting on women, scratching their faces, pushing them down. I watched ultra-Orthodox men pushing, shoving and grabbing at the men who were there to support WOW. It was what Reb Shulem Shtisel would’ve called ‘a shanda,’ a shameful event. Yet it is also likely that the fictional rabbi would’ve sent his students to harass the Women of the Wall.

I’ve never managed to understand how it is possible to call oneself a Jew and then seek to destroy or to defame other Jews. I’m not naïve… I’ve seen it throughout Jewish history right up to the present day. It is a case where we are, once again, our own worst enemy.Until there is a willingness to talk, until we are able to see our shared history as a bond and a gift rather than a millstone around our necks, this madness will continue.

I wish Reb Shtisel and his family a gut shabbos. I wish they would respond with love and not violence. I wish words of kindness would flow from their lips instead of spit and revilement.

We are so proud of Melissa Carp and the other men and women who walked into the plaza of the Western Wall,outnumbered and vulnerable. The police did little to protect WOW, and stood by as they were abused by the crowd. But Melissa stood tall and proud. We salute her and wish her well.

When Anat Hoffman comes to TBA on March 29th, I hope you will join us at Friday night services to get her take on her recent experience as well as to hear Anat’s remarks on the future of pluralism and democracy in Israel. This is something around which we must all unite.

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