Friday, February 22, 2013

The Courage to Stand Up

Yesterday we commemorated the fast of Esther. The Persian queen made Jewish history when she risked her own personal safety to approach the king and advocate for her people. We have many important lessons to draw upon in this story, but one in particular stands out for me today.

Yesterday's Jerusalem Post boasts a front page photo and story following up on the saga of the Women of the Wall. For those of you who ignore the news, for ten years a group of women has gathered at the Wailing Wall, or as we call it here, the Kotel, on the first of the lunar month to pray. The women gather in a public space, and conduct themselves with grace and modesty as is required of all visitors to this most sacred space. They read from the Torah and sing hymns of praise. They dance joyfully and lift their voices to the Heavens. Some wear prayer shawls, some do not. Some of the prayer shawls are of a design traditionally worn by men.

 If you're still not up to speed, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that a number of these acts are illegal, including dancing, singing and wearing of certain prayer shawls. What?? Yeah,  I know. In the flagship democratic state of Israel. In a place where we enjoy paid maternity leave, socialized medicine, free day care, and a rigorous protection of the accessibility of all holy places to one and all. Unless you're a Jewish woman and want to pray in a prayer shawl at the Kotel.

The Women of the Wall have been gaining publicity recently, and the winds of change are in the air. Hallel Silverman, daughter of Rabbi Susan Silverman and Yossi Abramovitz (with whom I was a camp  counselor in 1982 at Camp Sprout Lake) has been all over the news following her arrest. Her latest gem:

"The Jewish state that asks us to proudly wear its uniform should never ask us to remove our prayer shawls. Or to give in to the extremist demands of the ultra-Orthodox who proudly wear their prayer shawls but refuse to don the Jewish state’s uniform."

It is, indeed, a shocking fact. And I could not be more proud of this poised, articulate and courageous young woman for standing up for the cause. Now back to Queen Esther.

What happened when Esther learned of the Royal Declaration of war on the Jews of Persia? At first, nothing. She probably believed two things:

1) that she was powerless to change the situation, and
2) that it would not directly affect her

Her cousin Mordechai reminded her that neither of these assumptions were true. And this is what we need to learn from the story of Queen Esther.

While we sit and quietly applaud Hallel Silverman and the brave women and a few men who gather once a month to pray in an act of civil disobedience worthy of MLK, this is not enough. It is time for all of us to stand up to religious tyranny for two reasons: Because we CAN and because it AFFECTS US. The fact of this injustice affects the core of our national identity. It is inconsistent with how we view ourselves as Israelis, and therefore must change.

So, I'll see you all at 9:45 am on Monday morning for Women of the Wall's reading of Megilat Esther. We will follow in the footsteps of those who fought for our rights and our freedom. And in the words of our sages,
"Justice, justice shall you pursue."