A Time to Act: In Support of Women of the Wall

I am dismayed by the polarizing decisions made recently by the Israeli government concerning Nashot Hakotel (Women of the Wall) and on conversion.   Please read this editorial piece by Lesley Sachs of Nashot Hakotel.

NYTimes: Jewish Women vs. The Jewish State

I had the opportunity to hear Lesley Sachs in Seattle a couple of months ago. It did not appear that she or anyone else saw this decision coming. So much progress had been made. But a short term political decision has evaporated any goodwill that had been built up by years of negotiation and activism.

Unfortunately, these two decisions have driven a wedge between the Israeli government and the much of the American Jewish Diaspora. I am a longtime supporter of Women of the Wall. I have prayed with them in the past.   I raise my voice alongside their voices in support of overturning the shortsighted and hypocritical decisions by the Netanyahu government to cave into the demands of the ultra Orthodox parties in the Knesset.

I am sharing the mission of Women of the Wall, so you can understand the importance of their work. I urge you to support them at this difficult time. A link to their sight is below the mission statement.

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As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to attain social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear wow083prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah, collectively and aloud, at the Western Wall.

We work to further our mission through social advocacy, education and empowerment.

In our social advocacy work, we aim to change the status-quo that is currently preventing women from being able to pray freely at the Western Wall. This goal has tremendous ramifications for women’s rights in Judaism and in Israel, and must be achieved through social advocacy in order to raise awareness and change social perception of these issues.

We take it upon ourselves to educate Jewish women and the public about the social, political and personal ramifications of limiting or eliminating women’s right to pray as a group at a holy site. When the law and society silence women in prayer – literally, publicly and deliberately – it is a violation of civil rights, human rights and religious freedom. Education is the key to changing perspectives, laws and lives.

Every time we meet to pray, we empower and encourage Jewish women to embrace religion freely, in their own way. We stand proudly and strongly in the forefront of the movement for religious pluralism in Israel, with the hope to inspire and empower women from all over the world and across the spectrum of Jewish movements to find their spiritual voices and create meaningful Jewish identities.

With this powerful mission before us, our vision is to strengthen and expand our organization, to reach out and influence policy makers and leaders and to demand full access for women to prayer at the Western Wall. In addition, Women of the Wall works to expand our network of supporters and partners around the world who will advocate and take action with us.

“Will you annihilate the virtuous with the wicked?” 

And Abraham came forward and said (to YHWH).  “Will you annihilate the virtuous with the wicked?  Maybe there are fifty virtuous who are in it (the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah)?  Far be it from you to do a thing like this, to kill the virtuous with wicked–and it will be the same for the virtuous and the wicked-far be it from you. Will the judge of all the earth not do justice?” Genesis 18:23-25

Here is an excerpt from a story today in The New York Times about a family impacted by Trump’s ban.

Had all gone according to plan, after an overnight flight from Doha, Qatar, Hamidyah Al Saeedi, 65, would have landed at Kennedy Airport in New York on Saturday and then boarded a connecting flight to Raleigh, N.C., to meet her son Ali Alsaeedy, whom she had not seen in five years.

It was not by chance that her new life as an American immigrant would begin in North Carolina. Her son is a sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division, which is based at Fort Bragg.

When she did not show up at the airport, Sgt. Alsaeedy’s immediate fear was that his mother, who does not speak English, had somehow gotten lost.

He flew to New York, where another reality awaited him. His mother was not lost: She was being held somewhere in Terminal 4 by authorities who were threatening to deport her. “They wouldn’t even let me see her,” Sgt. Alsaeedy, a newly minted American citizen, said by phone on Sunday morning from the airport, where he was still waiting for his mother.

A native of Baghdad, Sgt. Alsaeedy has been working for the American government for much of his life. After the 2003 invasion, he was an interpreter for seven years, working for the American military and the United States Agency for International Development. For his service, he eventually received a special immigrant visa and emigrated to the United States.

He joined the Army and returned to Iraq in 2015, this time as a United States soldier with the 82nd Airborne Division. “I cannot tell you what I was doing,” he said when asked about his role. All he would say was this: “The mission we were doing there, I was a part of it.”

For years, he had been filling out endless forms so that his mother and his father could join him in America. “I started the process five years ago to bring both parents to this country,” Sgt. Alsaeedy said.

In December, his father died. A few weeks later, his mother’s visa was approved. He immediately booked a flight for her. At the moment that the president signed the immigration order, at 4:42 p.m. in Washington on Friday, she was probably waiting to board her flight in Doha.

The ban issued by the president is arbitrary, sudden, and cruel.  I also believe it is counter to American interests and will not keep us safe from terrorism. 

As a Jew I am outraged by the President’s action.  Abraham’s “hagasha” coming forward to God, sets a precedent for us to come forward and protest this cruel order.  As an American and a descendent of immigrants I find this action reprehensible and contrary to the powerful words expressed by another Jew that are engraved on the Statue of Liberty.  

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Yesterday, I spoke with my adult children who are fighting despair over the reckless acts of this new administration.  We had an extended discussion on what these times will demand of us and ultimately, what the God of Abraham demands of us.  It is time “l’hagish” to come forward to protest and to work together with others to reverse these evil decrees. 

I hope you will join with me. 

Please share my words with others who may take them to heart, and please share with me  your thoughts about what the present moment demands at dov@panimhadashot or in the comment section to the Panim Hadashot Blog at www.panimhadashot.org. 

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Panim Hadashot-New Faces

Monday, January 30, 2017