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Responding to Narrowness With Strength and Courage

Responding to Narrowness With Strength and Courage

Women of the Wall members blowing shofar at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh Elul

I could not sleep last night after watching the full-scale presidential meltdown in Phoenix. To see the president of the United States so unhinged, and so full of venom, was horrifying. To hear him vow to protect “our heritage” was to hear true demagoguery. To watch the crowd respond to his naked appeals to divisiveness was to fear for our nation’s future.

I was up late enough, in fact, to also be able to watch the live stream of the Women of the Wall’s Rosh Chodesh Elul service at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem. To hear them sing was to be inspired. To watch them dance with a Torah scroll they had smuggled in, was uplifting. To join their world-wide community in celebrating was comforting.

But, it was almost impossible to hear the service at the Kotel. The ultra-Orthodox women protesting the service with screams, shouts, and loud whistles nearly drowned out the beautiful voices of the prayer leaders.

Almost, but not quite. Showing unimaginable commitment and strength, the worshippers went on. Joyfully so.

While tossing and turning, I realized what the two events had in common: In both Phoenix and Jerusalem, those who benefit most from the status quo rallied to defend it. To do so, they vilified those seeking change and social progress.

The same fear that drives some Americans to demonize other Americans also drives some in Israel to try to disrupt the prayers of women who want nothing more – and nothing less – than to worship and read Torah together at the Kotel.

What should be our response? How can we fight such narrowness and close-mindedness? We can follow the lead of Women of the Wall and the Israel Religious Action Center, and let nothing stop us from living our values. As we prepare for what promise to be dark days in the United States, I hope and pray we can find the strength and courage they bring to their prayers.

Mark Pelavin is the chief program officer and director of the Biennial at the Union for Reform Judaism.

Mark J. Pelavin
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