American Jews protest in solidarity with Women of the Wall

WASHINGTON (JTA) — American Jews held solidarity rallies in several U.S. cities to protest Israeli limitations on women’s prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

On Monday, some 125 demonstrators gathered outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and special solidarity services were held Tuesday in New York and Cleveland. San Francisco supporters were planning a rally for March 19.

The rallies were timed to Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the new Hebrew month, when the group Women of the Wall holds its monthly prayer service at the Western Wall, known in Israel as the Kotel. Women of the Wall participants have been subject to detentions and arrests for violating the site’s ban on women’s public prayer with tallit prayer shawls, among other restrictions.

Tuesday’s monthly service at the wall marked the first time in months that no one was arrested or detained. Three female Knesset members joined the gathering.

In Washington, women, men and children prayed and sang, with women raising their arms to hold up their prayer shawls in solidarity with their Israeli counterparts. Guitars, tambourines and clapping accompanied the singing.

“The words ‘A woman was arrested for wearing a tallit’ should not be coming out of Israel,” said Rabbi Esther Lederman of Temple Micah in Washington, who took her 1-year-old son to the protest.

A letter from Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Woman of the Wall, was read aloud to the Washington crowd.

“I want to hug each of you. I want to shake everyone’s hand,” Hoffman said in the letter read by Judy Gelmen, chair of Ameinu, one of the organizers of the Washington event. “We are one in conviction that there is more than one way to be a Jew in Israel and at the Wall.”

Embassy spokesman Aaron Sagui, who went out to greet the protesters, promised to convey the group’s message to Jerusalem.

In 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin or tallis prayer shawls at the site, or reading from a Torah scroll.

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