by Jonah Rank, cross-posted with permission from Jonah Rank on WordPress
Editor’s note: Women of the Wall (נשות הכותל ) is an international group of Jewish women who are working to grant women the right to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem, Israel. Each month on Rosh Hodesh they gather early in the morning to pray at the Kotel.
Men praying in the Men’s section specifically with Women of the Wall were few. I only counted one friend of mine and myself.
It was a cold, windy morning with a slight drizzle. This means the weather wasn’t clear enough for the reappearance of the guy who shouted some angry polemics at me last month. Nobody bothered to substitute for him.
I stood fairly close to the mechitzah (partition) that divides the men from the women. I was able to hear the women’s voices just clearly enough to sing along from my side of the Wall.
No one stopped me. I was permitted by all.
Today was the first time I’ve prayed with Women of the Wall without talking to a single police officer or curious onlooker. I felt a greater sense of freedom today than I have ever felt at the Wall.
Amidst this quietude and liberty, my friend Sam pointed out to me a whole collective of birds watching over us as we prayed.
Contemplating those birds seated at the top of the Wall before us, my mind immediately turned to all those birds intermittently referenced in the Psalm for Rosh Chodesh (Psalm 104): “Alongside them, the birds of the sky dwell, and amidst the foliage, they give voice;” (verse 12), “thereupon birds nest, and, for the stork, the cypresses are her home” (verse 17).
The Psalm for Rosh Chodesh envelopes the worshiper with flora and fauna from all over the natural world as the human choir joins a choir of birds.
Reflecting on the chirping birds above and the officers presiding almost invisibly in the back, I find increasingly profound inspiration in Sam’s musing.
Today, I felt my actions were carefully watched by neither police officers nor other men. I was just there. Praying. With birds.
If anyone other than the Divine needs to watch me in my prayer, and if I need to be aware of their presence, I hope that they won’t always be police officers.
Today was quiet enough to give me hope that maybe one day we won’t need policing at the Wall. Maybe we won’t need to fear there that one Jew will hurt another because of our differences. Maybe the only ones who will come to watch us at the Kotel will be birds.
It might be a Messianic dream, but I don’t think we’re too far away.
After all, wouldn’t that be a real Rosh Chodesh?
Jonah Rank is a musician and a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary currently studying at the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem. His writing appears on his personal website, Oholiav: A Community for Viewing Arts & Entertainment Through a Jewish Lens (which Jonah co-founded), and elsewhere.