UPDATES FROM WOMEN OF THE WALL/IRAC
Anat Hoffman, Executive Director
Sign Sasha's Bat Mitzvah Card
This past Friday, Women of the Wall (WOW) outsmarted the Western Wall's gatekeepers. They managed to bring in a tiny Torah scroll to celebrate the first bat mitzvah at the Kotel in modern Jewish history. This operation came in the wake of a WOW campaign encouraging girls in Israel to have a bat mitzvah ceremony at the Western Wall that was featured on buses in Jerusalem.
Buses featuring the ads had their tires slashed and more than half of the signs were vandalized. Yet, 100 girls have already dialed the hotline and asked to have their bat mitzvah at the Western Wall. These girls are proof that when given a choice, Israelis will choose outside the strict Orthodox menu. When given a choice, these girls want to have the same opportunities as their brothers.
Studies show that less than 5% of Israeli girls have a bat mitzvah with any religious content. The Reform Movement in Israel is trying to change this reality and revolutionize bat mitzvah ceremonies for Israeli girls through its congregations and special “mother daughter groups.” Each girl celebrating a meaningful religious bat mitzvah in Israel creates a ripple effect that sets an example for many more girls. Now imagine the effect of even one bat mitzvah ceremony at the Kotel.
For me, the first bat mitzvah at the Western Wall is another milestone on the long road of reclaiming public space for women in Israel. I see a direct line from the Western Wall to desegregating buses, and to bringing women back on the air. The discrimination of women in any public space is unnacceptable.
The Kotel is only the beginning. We will bring the flavor of choice to marriage and divorce, to cemeteries and burial, to kashrut, and to every other facet of religious life in Israel.
Do you remember entering your first ice cream parlor? Once you get used to flavors you just can't go back to plain chocolate and vanilla.
Action Alert: Sign Sasha's Bat Mitzvah Card
Write Sasha, the girl who celebrated her bat-mitzvah at the Kotel this past Friday, to congratulate her on this momentous occasion. Add your own personal message in the comments and we will hand her the signed card on your behalf.
July 28, 2014
IRAC extends our warmest congratulations to Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center, on his nomination yesterday by President Obama to the position of US Ambassador at Large for international religious freedom at the State Department.
I am moving apartments this week. It's a tough and emotional process, but like everyone else coping with these kind of challenges these days, how can you complain? Proportionality has become a fact of life in Israel, just like the sirens and the terrible images from southern Israel and Gaza. I spent this Shabbat in an empty apartment, surrounded by boxes, not sure where I packed my reading glasses, fully aware that my quiet desperation paled in comparison with the feelings of the thousands of mothers who spent this Shabbat unsure of where their sons or spouses are.
What is the significance of IRAC's work against segregation, for religious equality, and against racism in these awful times? Unfortunately, there is more than one frontline in this war. Israel's democracy is undergoing one of its hardest tests these days.
The test we face is to make sure that this war doesn't destroy the vision that a shared society is possible in Israel. On Sunday, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union of Reform Judaism, joined IRAC staff on a visit to a hospital. We came to visit victims of extremism: two young Palestinian men who were beaten up by a Jewish mob last week. They were lying in rooms just down the hall from the soldiers hurt in Gaza. We shared with all of them our prayers for their quick and full recovery and our hopes of a safe and democratic Israel.
Racism against Israeli Arabs is a threat to Israeli society. We have been struggling against racism (with the support of many of you) throughout the past decade. In times of war the fragile balance of our society becomes even more vulnerable. We are seeing mob attacks on Arab citizens and a virtual flood of racist incitement on social networks.
Over the past month, in the wake of the murder of Mohammad Abu-Khdeir, we have seen some concrete and positive changes in our struggle against racism. The police established a cyber unit to target racist incitement on the internet, and many racist Facebook pages, like that of Lehava, have been taken down. We have seen that the police force has actively prevented violence in demonstrations in Israel. And the Ministry of Justice established a new hotline to report racist incidents- with already more than 800 complaints filed. These steps are important, but we need to continue our work.
We are hopeful that Israel's leaders will soon come forward with a strong condemnation of the anti-Arab violence and racism on the streets. This is exactly the time to invest in and renew our commitment to a shared society. Like moving into a new apartment, it's a daunting task, but there's no other way to secure a better home.
June 16, 2014
We are shocked and saddened by the kidnapping of three Israeli boys on Thursday night. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Eyal Ifrach, Gil-ad Sha'ar, and Naftali Frenkel. We are praying for their safe, quick, and peaceful return.
"May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our ancestors,
That you may lead to life and peace the abducted young men Eyal Ifrach, Gil-ad Sha'ar and Naftali Frenkel, and guide them to return safely to their families and loved-ones who fear for their safety; may you save them from the hands of an enemy and he who lurks them and all calamities, and may you send a blessing to all that they do; may you hear the voice of our prayer and the prayers of all those wishing upon peace and justice, life and goodness. You listen to entreaty and prayer. Blessed are you God, who hears our prayers. Amen."
(Written by Rabbi Yehoyada Amir, Chairman of MARAM, the Reform Rabbinic Council in Israel)
June 30, 2014, Anat Hoffman added:
Today I defer to an Israeli poet, Natan Alterman, who wrote the following poem titled The Third Mother:
Singing mothers, singing mothers.
A thunder's fist is pouring, a strong silence
In the empty squares marching in rows
Red bearded street lights.
A dire autumn, a weary inconsolable autumn,
And rain with no end or beginning
And no candle in the window and no light in the world
Three mothers are singing
Says the first, I have just seen him
I shall kiss his every little finger and nail
A ship is passing in the silent sea
And my son is hanged from the topmast sail
Says the second, my son is tall and silent
And for him a holiday gown I am sewing
He walks in the fields, he is coming back
He bears in his heart a lead bullet.
And the third mother, her eyes wander,
No one was as precious to me as him
How can I shed tears for him and I don't see
I don't know where he is.
Then the tears bath her lashes
And maybe not rested, and maybe
He measures with kisses, as a devoted monk,
Your worldly path, my God
A new message from Anat Hoffman:
July 2, 2014
How much evil can we bear in one short week?
It is with a sad and heavy heart that I share with you that the body of a 15-year-old boy, Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, was found early this morning in Jerusalem. There are signs of much violence on his body. Right now, riots are breaking out in his neighborhood Shuafat in East Jerusalem. Last night, the streets of Jerusalem were lined with hundreds of rioters shouting "death to Arabs" and "revenge."
Yesterday I wept with millions over the bodies of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad who were murdered by their Arab captors. Today I am choking up with tears over an innocent Arab boy who appears to have been murdered in their revenge.
We have been monitoring previous cases of attacks against Arabs and discovered that no charges were made in either, because the files were "lost."
We must harness our energies to push the police to find all of the perpetrators and bring them to justice. The same resources that are devoted to find and punish the murderers of Eyal, Naftali, and Gilad should be devoted to finding the murderers of Muhammad Hussein.
I am turning to you today to help us fight a growing wave of racism in Israel. It is our responsibility to stop this ugliness. The pivotal moment has arrived. I am on my way to join thousands at a Tag Meir (Light Tag) demonstration at 5:30pm at Cat Square, right near Ben Yehuda street. I am going to voice my outrage at the futility of these murders, and proclaim that, "we mourn. We do not avenge."
An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind (Mahatma Gandhi).
The bereaved family of Eyal Fraenkel issued a statement this morning:
"There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder, whatever the nationality and age. There is no justification, no forgiveness and no atonement for any kind of murder."
If you agree, use our form to write to the families of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Sa'ar, and Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir to express your condolences.
June 10, 2014
I was not at my son's official wedding. Ariel and his wife got married in Cyprus. They made this choice not because of the country's wonderful sights and romantic scenery, but because they wanted to be able to marry outside of the framework of the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.
The Chief Rabbinate holds a monopoly on all Jewish marriages in Israel. There is no civil marriage, which leaves an Orthodox marriage as the only option for Jewish couples in Israel. This means that the ceremony is often performed by a rabbi who does not know the couple personally. It means stringent gender roles including pre-marital classes for women, and no option for LGBT marriages.
Ariel's marriage is part of a shift we are seeing in Israeli society of thousands of Jews who choose to be married outside of this system. "I was born in Israel, and fulfilled my obligations –I served in the Israeli army and paid my taxes. Why was I not given the right to decide how to get married in Israel? Why do I need to lie about our lifestyle and about something as intimate as the first day of my wife's period to get married?"
At least my son had a choice. The many restrictions imposed upon marriage and the lack of a civil marriage option in Israel means that hundreds of thousands of Jewish citizens whose Jewish status is not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate are unable to wed legally in their own country. This situation is unparalleled in any other democratic country.
Over 20,000 Israeli couples get married outside of Israel every year. On their flight to Cyprus, Ariel and his wife observed that the plane was filled with Israelis who were also going there for a civil marriage. The Israelis waited in line together, took photos of one-another, and sat together at a nearby Haagen-Dazs for celebratory ice cream afterwards.
IRAC knows that Israelis want and deserve control over one of the most important aspects of their life. IRAC has introduced various marriage bills in an effort to permit Israeli couples to marry outside of the religious establishments. Last night, Einat Hurvitz, the head of our legal department, and Shelly Yechimovitz, the former head of the Labor party, spoke about the necessity of freedom of marriage to young Israelis in Jerusalem. They need to know; it doesn't have to be this way.
P.S. I am seeking a large used ship, a captain, and a few willing rabbis to launch a loveboat that will travel in and out of Israeli territorial waters to perform marriage ceremonies until our law passes in Knesset.
IRAC is a driving force in creating social change in Israel. We count on your support to ensure religious freedom and equality. Help us fight religious coercion, and promote pluralism and democracy from the Negev desert to the Western Wall and beyond.
Last month, the Israel Religious Action Center, against all odds, won a case in the Supreme Court fighting the incitement of racism in Israel.
IRAC has been monitoring racist incitement in Israel for over a decade. When we saw the racist contents of the book The King’s Torah, we knew we had to take action. The book cites Jewish texts to allow the killing of gentiles-men, women, and children- whenever their presence endangers Jewish life, “even if the person is a Righteous Gentile and bears no guilt for the situation that has emerged” (page 164). It was endorsed by four well known Rabbis, including Dov Lior, who is employed by the state. We asked the Attorney General to stop the publication, but as we have seen in the past regarding decisions against racist incitement by Rabbis, the process took a long time and did not conclude in our favor.
Discontent with the outcome, we took our fight to the Supreme Court. On the eve of the decision, after more than three years of arguing this case, we were worried that conservative Chief Justice Asher Grunis would throw our case out of court. The dreidel spun in our favor. The State now has two months to either provide better reasoning for why they are not prosecuting the authors, or to take disciplinary action against the state-employed Rabbis who were involved with this book.
Rabbis who would use Jewish text to justify hate should be challenged at every turn. In order to truly realize the message of Chanukah and to be an or l’goyim, light unto other nations, we must continue to fight institutionalized racism in the name of all minorities that have no place else to turn. This Chanukah, join me in celebrating the little bit of light that can shine through a lot of darkness.
Executive Director, IRAC
June 25, 2013
Last week Barbra Streisand visited Israel. The excitement her presence creates cannot be understated. If she was only the greatest performer in a generation that would be enough of a reason to wait in line to hear her, but we all know that Barbra is much more than a world class singing voice. She is also one of the most important voices of conscience for issues of social justice. When she supports a cause it is wise to take notice, and we are so proud that she supports us.
While receiving an honorary doctorate at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Barbra spoke truth to power. In front of the President of Israel and many other government officials and dignitaries she expressed her shock and horror over the state of gender equality and civil liberties in Israel. She specifically mentioned IRAC’s struggle against gender segregation on buses and the illegal silencing of women on the public airwaves and in public events where orthodox men are in attendance. She also expressed support for making the Western Wall a more inclusive place and to ending the violence that has been perpetrated against women trying to legally pray there.
We assume that just because she is famous, speaking her mind is easy. But the reality is that standing up for what you believe in is never easy. Her comments are nothing short of courageous. Too often Jews in Israel and abroad are afraid to speak out against issues that are holding back Israel’s march towards equal rights for all its citizens. Unless the entire Jewish word and its supporters for pluralism also have the courage to speak truth to power we will never see change.
To quote Barbra Streisand: IRAC needs people. We need people from Israel and all corners of the globe to take a stand for a more pluralistic Israel. To honor her courage please use this form to ask ten people to join IRAC’s newsletter list so that our voice in Israel will be even stronger.
We applaud Barbra Streisand for her unwavering support for Israel and for her desire to see Israel stay true to its founding principles of equality for all.
Executive Director, IRAC
May 10th was a historic day at the Western Wall. It was the first test of Judge Sobel’s ruling allowing women to pray at the Western Wall in a manner they see fit without police harassment. Despite strong opposition the ruling held and hundreds of women prayed with their tallitot, tefillin, and in a strong full voice. The women who came out that day should be commended for their courage.
We entered the plaza to the sounds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox men screaming insults and throwing garbage. The difference this week was that instead of the police dragging women off in handcuffs they made a barrier of blue uniforms holding back a sea of men trying to fall upon us. The angry crowd could not drown out our songs or joy at this victory.
Friday was an important step forwards in the process of making the Western Wall an inclusive home for all Jews. The court ruling, along with the Sharansky plan to create a third and equal section of the Western Wall for egalitarian prayer, is the correct formula for respecting the rights and feelings of all Jews. As I wrote last week, this process needs the support of us all.
A few thousand screaming Haredi Jews do not represent the majority view on this issue anymore. A week before this Friday’s Rosh Chodesh service, a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute showed that, for the first time, a majority of Israelis support women’s right to pray at the Kotel as they see fit. We are on the side of the law and of Israeli, and world opinion. A recent Yediot Ahronot survey (Israel’s largest daily newspaper) showed Women of the Wall enjoy over 67% support from the Israeli public.
The new Diaspora and Religious Services Minister, Naftali Bennett from the Bayit haYehudi party, began his tenure with a promise of new politics. In spite of this promise he is now planning to impose more regulations against women praying at the Wall. He is threatening unilateral actions that would all but stop the Sharanksy process and reverse the Sobel ruling.
I need your help: we need to make it clear that stopping or even slowing down the process of respecting women’s right to pray at the Wall will be met with a tidal wave of opposition from Jews all over the world. Click here to write Minister Bennett directly, and when you have finished please forward the link to as many of your friends and family as possible.
Together we can ensure equality at the Kotel.
L’shalom, Anat Hoffman
Executive Director, IRAC
JUNE, 2013 UPDATES!
A few months ago, police were detaining female shawl-wearers; last month they arrested ultra- Orthodox chair-throwers. For 24 years, the Supreme Court placed ultra-Orthodox sensibilities before religious freedoms. Recently, lower courts have reversed those priorities. From J Post
Non-Orthodox hopeful but wary on rabbinic equality
Government to reform the current Orthodox monopoly over state-funded rabbinic posts, but questions over implementation remain. From the Times of Israel
IRAC News and Events
The new equality
Take the treatment of rabbis in Israel — all rabbis. For years, the Reform and Conservative movements have fought their inequitable treatment in general, and that of their rabbis in particular, at the hands of the government and Chief Rabbinate. The Jewish Chronicle
Education Ministry issues ultimatum to haredim on core studies
The Education Ministry will allow the haredi school system four months to reach an understanding with the State regarding core studies.From Ynet
Comment: Women of the Wall's one way street
The Orwellian quote was the first thing that came to mind, as I tried to process the fact that this Rosh Chodesh the Israel Police, for the first time since 1967, prevented hundreds of Orthodox Jews from reaching the Kotel Plaza to pray. From J Post
Barbra Streisand speaks of Women of the Wall and other issues of inequality.
Click on the link below for the news story: