Thursday morning, we got on a bus and drove to Katamon, where we met Inbal, our program coordinator, and Rabbi Levi Lauer, with whom we had learned a few months ago. He spoke about his organization, ATZUM, and the work they do on human trafficking in Israel. It was a powerful discussion. One thing at really stood out of the discussion was this question: not only how do I lead a meaningful life, but rather how do I lead others to do meaningful work? How can I work with others to make life meaningful? We talked about the intersection between Judaism and social justice and how we cannot separate the two. I felt that at the end of the discussion, if we are to identify as Jewish (religiously or not), we must be working on social justice.
We then took a tour of the Supreme Court and learned about how the judicial system works with halakhah (or not) and the contrast between the religious courts and the state courts. Afterwards, we met with two women who are active in social justice in different ways. The first worked for the Jewish Agency on their service learning programs and had been active for a while in two causes: socially responsible restaurants in Jerusalem and disability rights in Israel. We spoke about the differences between working for a small organization and for the "establishment," or a big organization like the Jewish Agency. The next woman we spoke to was in her early 20s, Modern Orthodox, and working for a political think tank. She spent time in Egypt and Morocco and is fluent in Arabic. She writes for Open Zion and travels often to the West Bank. She literally was amazing. I had read an article she wrote for Open Zion on the Daily Beast the day before about Orthodox women rabbis, not knowing that we were going to meet her.
On Friday, I went to the Kotel with Savyonne for Rosh Chodesh. Women of the Wall were there and we wanted to see what was happening. Last week, the Supreme Court gave a ruling that the women had the right to pray at the Kotel as they wish, to the dismay of many ultra-Orthodox. When we got there around 7am, we could not see anything. There were so many seminary girls and other ultra-Orthodox crowding. We saw someone get arrested, we think. We attempted to get to the front where the group usually meets, but it was just too chaotic. We left after about 30 minutes. Later in the morning, we met with an ultra-Orthodox guy who gave us a tour of a girls' school in Geula, a Haredi neighborhood near Mea Shearim, and he spoke briefly about Women of the Wall. He felt the Orthodox were going about it in the wrong way. If the Women of the Wall were doing this all for provocation, then the Orthodox should have just ignored them and let them attempt to pray. Without all the hubbub, they would have stopped. He asked if they pray everyday, and I said I don't know, but I'm sure many do. I asked what he thought would have happened if they continued to pray because this is the way they pray. I don't remember the answer, but I think that if the Orthodox had ignored it, then the women praying in the way they want would not be a big deal at all. They would be able to pray as they want without issue.
After this, we went to the shuk and had time to hang out there before we returned to get ready for Shabbat. Our Israeli friends joined us for Shabbat. We had a discussion about what Jerusalem means to us and where we hope it will be in the future. Then, we lit candles and some of us went to services at Shira Chadasha, a feminist, egalitarian Orthodox synagogue on Emek Refaim. I've been here before, and I love it. Some of the service is led by a woman and some by a man, and women sing loudly and beautifully. While there is a still a mechitza, the room is divided down the middle and there is plenty of space for everyone.
In the morning, we walked to the Tayelet, where we went for Sigd back in November. We had a mock panel, where each of us took on a different role regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, and we had a great time acting it out. We ate lunch and promptly returned to our apartment to take afternoon Shabbat naps! We then walked to the Old City and completed part of the Rampart's Walk, where you walk along the outer wall. At the end, we split and many went to the Kotel, while a few of us returned to the apartments to prepare for dinner and Havdalah. After Shabbat was over, we said goodbye to our Israeli friends who had to return home.
On Sunday, we had a discussion about Shavuot and read the Book of Ruth, a story I hadn't read in a long time. Then, we went to Nachlaot, where we met with two people who work for an organization that encourages Mizrachi Jews to learn about and embrace their heritage. In a way, this is similar to the work we do with the Ethiopian Jews, and it was cool to hear about other identity work happening in Israel. Finally, we had our check in and went home.
I came back yesterday for Shavuot, and what an experience it was! I stayed with a friend and we went to dinner in Nachlaot, then to hear rabbis speak at 1am and 2am at Mayanot. My favorite part was the singing around 3am. Then we walked to the Kotel and stayed there until after sunrise. There were so many people there, even more so maybe than when I went last week. It was so packed. After the sun rose, the morning services began, and while it wasn't how I imagined it would be, it was cool. On the way back home around 7am, I was thinking about what the man had said last week about Women of the Wall being there at times other than Rosh Chodesh, and I wondered how it would have been different if there were pluralistic services on Shavuot or everyday, for that matter. There were very few non-Orthodox women at the Kotel - I saw a few in pants, a few in more Modern Orthodox clothes, but not many. What if we had had a pluralistic service every morning or at least on other days than Rosh Chodesh? Would not that make an event stronger argument for the need to have space to do so? I would have loved to have a service to go to. As someone who isn't Orthodox and doesn't know all the prayers, I would have loved to be able to follow along with a service, but instead, all the women prayed silently to themselves while the men were loud and praying together.
I figured I would not have this opportunity again - to spend Shavuot in Jerusalem, staying up late, going to the Kotel for sunrise and walking the streets of Jerusalem along with everyone else in the middle of the night. Maybe only some of that is false. In fact, I have at least 6 months when I move to Jerusalem to be able to do some of this. Will I? We will see. Regardless, it was an amazing new experience!