Religious Freedom in Judaism


This piece was written by Leah Bohbot after the group’s powerful experience in Poland.

It is written in the Tanakh that Jews are meant to spend the month of Adar in celebration. During Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month, the Women of the Wall (a female-run Jewish organization fighting for the right to pray and read from the Torah at the Western Wall) celebrate by congregating at the Western Wall. They pray, sing, and dance to welcome the new month. It is believed by Orthodox Jews that it isn’t kosher to hear a woman sing. Because of this, the Women of the Wall are often called harassed and called names by those who disagree with their cause.

When I attended a Rosh Chodesh ceremony, it was reported to be one the most dramatic in the history of the organization. Not only was it the beginning of the most joyous month in the Jewish calendar, it was also 30th anniversary of Women of the Wall. For weeks leading up to the day, countless advertisements were displayed in Israeli newspapers calling for Chasidic and ultra-orthodox Jews to combine forces and stop the women from praying.

On Friday morning the students of Heller High went to the Western Wall to join Women of the Wall in their celebration. We woke up around 5 am to join our respective sections and claim spot at the Western Wall. However, upon arrival we were directed away from the wall to an observation deck above the plaza where our principal, Rabbi Loren Sykes, stood to talk to us.

He explained that despite our strong desire to pray at the wall, it too dangerous for us to join them. As we listened, we were surrounded by Orthodox Jews. Not knowing what they could be thinking, some of us felt worried, while others were intrigued by their reactions.

Rabbi Sykes shared that he and his daughter Mira had been at the wall earlier and were immediately separated. He had tried to protect the women being who were attacked for praying and Mira was called terrible names. She was forcibly kept from getting close to one of the holiest sites in the Jewish tradition. After this experience, they decided it wouldn’t be safe for the students of Heller High to participate in the protest.

The Orthodox and Haredi people who disagree with Reform and Conservative Jewish ideas of prayer had decided to physically stop others from expressing their faith. They screamed and shoved the women who had shown up to pray. It felt unreasonable, like Sinat Chinam, senseless hatred. Even as spectators above the crowd, we were deeply impacted by the hatred and sadness we witnessed below. Feeling hopeless, my friends and I held each other and cried.

As we spoke with Mira, we could hear the pain behind her words, and we felt it too. But she told us that while it hurt, Judaism and the Jewish people always choose happiness. She advised us to remember this moment and take it with us as we continue to move forward.

Before we left, I was able to speak with an older woman who had lived in Israel her whole life. She told us about her life and how in her lifetime she has witnessed a shift in Israeli Judaism. Before she left, she commanded us to return to Israel and promised that we would return to a better land. The promised land is still coming, but we need to work to ensure all Jews are allowed to coexist and thrive there.


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