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Praying with Women of the Wall

Praying with Women of the Wall

Praying with the Women of the Wall is a very unique experience. On Rosh Chodesh Adar, I joined 200 other people packed into the very back part of the women's section with a dozen men standing on chairs on the men's side in order to participate in the service. Most of it was prayed silently with a few prayers sung all together. During Hallel, the part of the service where we sing special praises on Rosh Chodesh and other holidays, half of the woman joined in a circle and started to dance.

A little unusual, maybe, but one might just think it was a slightly different ritual than one to which we are accustomed. The really unique part was the constant feeling that I had no idea what might happen next. An Orthodox woman behind us started yelling and walked away clearly annoyed. There were reporters and photographers everywhere. Police officers were wandering through the crowd. At one point, the male officer tapped three women on the shoulder, all of whom were wearing tallitot, and asked them to come with him. They promptly sat down where they were and wouldn't budge. He and the female officer who was filming the whole thing walked away. Reporters from above would yell Anat Hoffman's name so they could capture her face for a picture. I kept losing my place in the service because, quite frankly, the prayer piece was entirely secondary to everything else that was going on.

At the end of the service, everyone moved toward Robinson's Arch, the Southern Wall (less well known but equally as significant), to commence the Torah service. Multiple people remarked to me that it was the first time in over a year that no one was arrested. On our way out, Elaya and I heard singing in the far corner of the plaza and saw a few of the women, including Anat Hoffman, linked arm and arm with a number of police escorts. It turns out, they were being detained, the police had just decided not to interrupt the service.

It was strange, really. I had imagined that the power of the arrests was to do it in full view of everyone, but this was almost on the sly. The service was over. No riot to contain. Ten women in all were detained. Six were released when they signed a document that said they were barred from coming to the wall for fifteen days. Two weeks short of the next Rosh Chodesh when the Women of the Wall will be back praying with tallitot once again. The other four refused to sign and insisted on talking to a judge. The police refused their request and then, apparently, simply let them go.

That it all is a little ridiculous is, to me, a good sign. It is still illegal to go against the ruling of the rabbi who has dominion over the wall, thus, the police need to make their arrests. But, they were caught on record saying some pretty ridiculous things, like, they are only going to arrest the women in masculine tallitot, the big ones with the blue or black stripes, not the ones that just wrap around the shoulders and are colorful and clearly feminine tallitot. Never mind that Anat Hoffman, who heads Women of the Wall, was on the front page of the paper in her purple and pink tallit, being detained. The reasons for having to arrest  women are becoming harder and harder to find. And, the fact that it has such good press suggests that Israelis are starting to find the story more and more interesting. In fact, the paratroopers who liberated the Kotel, some of whom are in the famous picture from 1967, joined the Women of the Wall on Rosh Chodesh Adar to protest the ultra-Orthodox stronghold. 

Bit by bit, the Women of the Wall are pecking away at this ongoing injustice, and I think it is working. ndred Two hupeople gathered in support, the front page on multiple newspapers, Jews irate all over the world. Sounds like the makings for change.

Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin is the senior rabbi at Temple Sinai in Oakland, CA. She was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York, in 2002. She served as the assistant rabbi at Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, N.Y., then as the sssociate rabbi at Temple Sinai in Oakland; she became the senior rabbi in 2014. She was honored to be appointed to the Union for Reform Judaism's board as representative of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 2018. Rabbi Mates-Muchin is the first Chinese American Rabbi.

Throughout her career, she had graciously accepted requests to speak, offered programs and served on multiple panels, locally and nationally, to help bring greater awareness of the diversity within the Jewish Community. Topics have ranged from how to raise multi-racial Jewish children to how to inclusively greet others at an Oneg Shabbat. Rabbi Mates-Muchin, her husband JT, and their four children are featured in a traveling exhibit entitled “Bay Area Jews.”

Rabbi Mates-Muchin grew up in San Francisco where hers was one of only a handful of multiracial families in their synagogue. She is thrilled to see the growing diversity today, and appreciative of the national conversation on inclusion and recognition of the diversity within the Reform Jewish world.

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