NEW YORK (Apr. 24)
Some 200 Jewish women from all four major branches of Judaism, and nearly every political ilk and age group, filled the Bnai Zion hall here Monday morning, where they conducted a full Shacharit service with not a word or melody excised.
They davened in unity and simultaneously with their sisters in Jerusalem and at least eight other North American cities.
In Philadelphia, about 35 women gathered across the street from the Liberty Bell. In Montreal, 80 women prayed in the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue.
Services also were held in Baltimore, Boston, Seattle, Toronto and Teaneck, N.J. Another service reportedly was held in Vancouver, but that could not immediately be confirmed.
The women’s prayer services, incorporating all the rites of Pesach, the counting of the Omer and the Monday morning Torah reading, were intended to show solidarity with the women involved in recent clashes at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
There, the Women’s Kotel Tefillah, which includes many Orthodox Jewish women, has been physically attacked on several occasions by ultra-Orthodox men and women enraged to see women conducting services.
The idea for the services was actually conceived long before the spate of clashes by Rivka Haut, a member of the Women’s Tefillah Group of Brooklyn, which coordinates prayer groups for halachicly observant women.
Each service ran a little less than two hours and included different readings and niggunim (melodies). In Montreal, they read from the works of the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as well as a poem by Hannah Senesh, the Hungarian Jewish wartime hero and martyr.
‘THE WALL IS FOR ALL OF US’
The New York gathering brought together women from the mainstream and women from fringe groups, older women, younger women and even children.
Organizers and participants included author and psychologist Phyllis Chesler; former Congress-woman Bella Abzug, who chairs the International Jewish Feminist Network set up last December in Jerusalem; and Harriet Kurlander, director of the American Jewish Congress Commission for Women’s Equality.
Marion Shulevitz, who at 56 plans to be ordained a Conservative rabbi next month, recalled being harassed at the Wall in Jerusalem by Orthodox women. “The wall is for all of us,” she said.
Rabbi Nina Cardin, one of about 10 leaders of the New York service, read from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), which noted that women had been present on the Temple Mount.
Cardin, who was ordained a Conservative rabbi last year by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, handed out a tambourine symbolizing the tumbrel, the instrument Jewish women carried into the Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt. It was signed by all to be sent to the Jerusalem women’s group.
The services emphasized not only solidarity among Jewish women but a unique bridge of differences among the different branches of Judaism.
“We are all Orthodox in that we all have the same true opinion concerning the rights of all Jewish women to pray to their God without fear for their safety,” said Rabbi Helene Ferris of New York’s Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, a leader of the service here.
“We are Conservative as we strive to preserve the teachings of our tradition,” she said. “Reconstructionist in our understanding that our religion will survive only if it exists for us and not the other way around, and we are Reform Jews as we strive to change our male-oriented tradition to a more egalitarian one.”
In Montreal, the women sent a petition protesting the treatment of the women at the Wall to the Jerusalem women’s group as well as Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and the Chief Rabbinate, Norma Josephs of the Montreal Tefillah Group reported.
Haut said the Women’s Tefillah Group has contacted major Jewish organizations to send letters and telegrams decrying the attacks on women at the Wall to Shamir, the Chief Rabbinate, Religious Affairs Minister Zevulun Hammer and Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek.