The sun’s rays stream into the room, illuminating the cymbals. They have become blurry, golden stars in Emory’s hand. Her tallit floats over her shoulders and arms. She is awash in light.
When I first saw that photograph, I turned to my husband, Ralf.
“Honey,” I said, “I need to show you a picture.”
“Beautiful,” he said. “That’s beautiful.”
“I’m giving it a name,” I added. “Emory aglow.”
Emory and Bryston were bar and bat mitzvahed on October 20. The week before, a woman was arrested at the Western Wall for chanting the Shema while wearing a tallit.
That woman was Anat Hoffman, a leader of the Women of the Wall, an organization that has striven, for almost three decades, to get the Israeli government to realize that the Wall should be open to prayer on terms that are not solely defined by Orthodox Judaism.
Currently, women are not allowed to pray at the Wall while wearing a tallit or tefillen. They may not read aloud from Torah.
Hoffman wants Israel’s courts to allow her group to pray for one hour per month at the Wall. She would like for the Wall’s council to allow some time for prayers without a mechitza – the divider separating women and men.
She’s not asking for much.
Hoffman has been detained by police before. This time she was arrested. According to Hoffman, she was strip searched, her legs were chained together, and she was dragged across the floor of a police station before being imprisoned overnight in a cell without a bed. She lay, she says, only in her tallit.
Imagine that somewhere else in the world, somewhere outside Israel, a Jewish woman was arrested for chanting the Shema and wearing a tallit. What images would be evoked? What memories? What ancient anguish?
The morning of Bryston and Emory’s bar and bat mitzvah arrived. Emory’s tallit was made of many brilliant colors. It was a tallit of planets and stars. We wrapped her in the universe.
She was radiant.
For years I have encouraged the women of our congregation to wear tallitot and kippot. Imagine yourselves enclosed God’s wings when you bring it over your shoulders, I would tell them. Let a beautiful kippah be God’s blessing on your head.
My generation was born in the “look, but don’t touch” Jewish world. We were to watch men praying, cloaked in their tallitot. Men shook the lulav. Men gave the sermons. Men led prayers.
But Jewish women have, in recent decades, insisted on their right to reach for Jewish learning and practice that unnecessarily – even cruelly – excluded them for hundreds of years. We want to sing and chant and pray fearlessly. We want to acknowledge the Mother Lodes in our tradition and honor them without fear.
We have gained much – especially in this country. We have much yet to gain – here and elsewhere.
At the beginning of our Shabbat service, after we had celebrated coming together by singing joyous opening prayers, I asked Emory to stand and turn in front of her congregation and guests. I asked everyone to look at her in her tallit.
Then, I asked everyone to pray with me.
May all our daughters experience no restraints, but only joy from their tradition. May they immerse themselves in love of Torah. May all women have the right – no matter their faith tradition – to pray and to learn and to speak freely.
May we all be so aglow.