Father and daughter at the Wall: Battle of the heart

On July 8, Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, senior rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, attended a Woman of the Wall prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem with his 11-year-old daughter, Noa. The Journal asked them to write about the experience, each from their own perspective.

Recently, I went to a Women of the Wall service for Rosh Chodesh Av. It was my first time at one of their services, and I thought I was prepared for the ugliness I would see on the other side. I wasn’t.

Charedi leaders bussed in more than 7,000 yeshiva girls my age and filled up the Kotel plaza to ensure that there was no room for us to pray. Jeering and yelling, blowing whistles and making faces, calling us Nazis and throwing eggs, with their eyes full of such hatred, it terrified me. These girls didn’t even know me, yet they despised me. They had been brought up to loathe all of the women I was praying with, and it was somehow deemed a positive learning experience for them to protest against us. Among the men, there was a 2-year-old boy being lifted up to view the spectacle, and it made me want to scream. How dare they? I thought. How dare they bring their children up to support such spiritual violence? How dare they intrude upon my religious beliefs? 

What was beautiful about the service was the power of the women. They stood through the protesting and raised their voices, never backing down. When they read Torah from a Chumash, the reader stood on a chair for all to see, including a bat mitzvah. When I saw this, I felt stronger, and more able to withstand the terrible. A group of girls were making faces at me and taking pictures of me with their cellphones. I blew them kisses.

[Read the other side of this story here: “Amid whistles, prayer endures” by Rabbi Adam Kligfeld]

That night, my father and I sat down and discussed what had happened. I expressed to him how upset the experience made me, only to be met with a compelling argument: If Jews wanted to bring instruments to the Kotel on Shabbat, to enhance the prayer, would our pluralism demand we support that? If Messianic Jews wanted to organize a prayer service at the Wall, how would we feel? Everyone has their lines, and everyone’s lines are different. Does pluralism mean anything goes?

I went to hear Anat Hoffman and Rabbi Shlomo Riskin speak about this topic at the Hartman Institute. Afterward, I decided that it is hard for me to accept that the Israeli government has taken my beliefs, my Judaism, our shared Wall, locked all of it up and handed the keys to a rabbi who has announced that the only way is his way. How can the State of Israel allow only one leader for such an important site? I believe that the government should take back the keys, and distribute them one by one to rabbis of different denominations of Judaism so that all movements are represented.

The worst part about this war is the fact that it is Jew against Jew. We all love the Torah, we all embrace mitzvot, we all believe in one God. So why this fighting? It hurts like mad to witness fellow Jews calling you names. Women of the Wall has been struggling for 25 years. Will the battle of the heart never end?