We started at 6:30am outside the Western Wall. Some of us had been on the road since 3am and others had come from New York and further. There were 14 Torah scrolls and hundreds of committed Jews standing with one goal: to hold an egalitarian service at the Kotel. We started singing “Do not be afraid” and slowly made our way arm and arm to the entrance of the Western Wall complex.
State-paid ushers immediately grabbed our Torah scrolls, pulled at our clothes, and demanded that we turn back. No one was spared the violence. Many others were roughly manhandled, including Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Steve Warnick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. But they held on to their Torah and moved forward. We all followed.
Everyone who held a Torah today and who was able to push through the mob will never be the same. When you are protecting the Torah with your body, the right to read from that scroll becomes so much more precious. When you are protecting that Torah from other Jews who want to do you harm, that makes the shock and pain even more pronounced.
In spite of today’s violence, we changed the reality on the ground. For the first time ever, Israelis saw an image of what a liberated Kotel could look like, and the sky did not fall. Men and women prayed and read from the Torah together, and now Israel knows there is enough room for everyone. For a few hours, we saw our vision become a reality because Reform, Conservative, and even Modern Orthodox Jews stood their ground and said this place is also ours.
The service we conducted today would have been familiar to most Jews. Welcoming the new month at the Western Wall should not be controversial, but until the government respects its promises and agreements we will continue to demand equality. We will reach the promised land in the promise land as long as we know you are all with us.