Time to take the horticultural view. As with shaping an ornamental tree, sometimes we’re lucky enough to see people slowly grow and change over time. But the change isn’t always predictable; here’s where the garden analogy breaks down. The lyrics from The Fantastiks might be wrong. “Plant a radish, get a radish; not a sauerkraut.” With humans, you can’t always be so sure.
The women who tell about their relationships with their fathers would not, it seems to me, have been able to predict a few years ago what their feelings are today. Time—and human effort— shaped change in unexpectedly positive ways, making possible some reconciliations between the generations, newer and deeper understandings, and loving words in the spaces where once had been bitter anger or wistful disappointment.
Another retrospective comes as we catch up with generations of LILITH’s former interns. Most of them have energetically tried to weld together their Jewish identities with a commitment to seeking out feminist options at important junctures: What work to do? Whom to marry? Whether to marry? Which battles to fight and which affronts to endure? Not many of these feisty women would have predicted the confrontations they have lived through (and oftimes created) in their own lives,
So that’s the good news. Where I see less progress over time is in a story we report on only glancingly in this issue, but which has been a focus in LILITH’s for the magazine’s entire history: women’s rights in Israel (p. 6). The scandal beginning to roil the Jewish world in North America has to do with what happened at Jerusalem’s Western Wall over Tisha B’Av this past August. A group of Conservative Jews—women and men— gathered at the plaza in front of the Wall for the traditional evening service, which includes a reading of Lamentations, the book of the Bible that mourns for the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem.
This year there was even more to lament. Israeli police, claiming that they could not protect the worshippers from what might be the ire of those opposed to mixed-sex services, pushed and shoved and forcibly ejected the Conservative group from the Old City, forcing them to pray not just away from the Wall, but actually outside the city gates.
LILITH’s e-mail has been full of justified outrage at the police harassment of law-abiding worshippers. But a painful sidelight to this shameful scene is that for nearly 10 years a group of women, the Women of the Wall, has held services in the women’s section at the Wall and in a stone “room” overlooking the plaza. These monthly Rosh Hodesh services are routinely disrupted by women and men who cannot respect even this singlesex, perfectly halachic davening. Yet the women’s mistreatment, by both Israeli police and other worshippers, has never elicited the passionate outcry that followed the Tisha B’Av debacle. I certainly find no fault with the Conservative minyan of women and men trying to pray together at the Western Wall—in fact, my own daughter Rachel was among them. But let’s recognize that the decade-long struggle of women against the hegemony of the ultra- Orthodox factions that control freedom of worship in Israel was the precursor to the current battle for pluralism. Where was the universal outcry when it was a women-only group being shoved, spat upon, and even pelted with soiled diapers? Even a sidelong glance at recent history indicates that when it comes to bucking prejudice, women have been like those canaries sent into the coal mines before the men, just to test whether or not the air was safe to breathe.