THE BLOG
06/10/2013 11:51 am ET Updated Aug 10, 2013

A New Month for Miriam

Her pink collared shirt buttoned to the top and opaque tights encasing her legs under a long dark blue skirt, she extends her semi-limp, damp hand to me nervously.

"I am Miriam."

"Hodesh tov, I am Bonna."

"This is my first time," her eyes studying the black leather tefilla box on my head containing hand-scribed scrolls from the Torah.

"Welcome," I smile. "You are named after a great leader who defied oppression," I say.

Side-by-side with me, Miriam follows the Torah chanting in her thick prayer-book, then our festive singing in honor of a new bride, then a tear-jerking prayer to remove hatred from all hearts. We are accompanied by ultra-Orthodox women lined up along the barricade shouting Psalms in our faces at close range. How does Miriam feel in our midst?

A motley array of women who do not follow the herd, we are corralled in a steel pen on the right side of the women's section -- for our own protection, reason the police. They spirited us into the area via a hidden passageway through archeological excavations. We passed by crates with meticulously ordered ancient jug handles, pouring lips, vessels -- perhaps used in Temple times.

Justice Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court ruled in April 2013 that the police have no grounds to harass women at prayer, and that the custom at the Western Wall must embrace pluralist practices, including those of Women of the Wall. Whereas a few short months ago police searched, confiscated our prayer shawls, detained and arrested us, this month police secure our safety meticulously. A number of officers stationed on the wooden bridge up to the Temple Mount peer down, curious, some even fascinated by our celebration.

Last month, young men were arrested for vile behavior against Women of the Wall. Thousands of young women seminary students bussed in to fill the Kotel plaza excluded Women of the Wall from entering the women's section. One young woman said to her neighbor, "I thought they wanted to pray in the men's section in bikinis." The young seminary students discovered that we wrap our female bodies and souls in prayer-shawls, crown our free-thinking heads with phylacteries, chant from the Torah, and constitute a prayer quorum -- in full public view. They clicked us into their camera-phones, and into their consciousness. Perhaps Miriam was among them, or someone shared us with her. This month, the decisive rabbis decided against exposing their young women to our subversive activity again. Miriam came nonetheless.

This month, married male yeshiva students and other adults, asked by their senior haredi rabbis to behave "in accordance with the Torah," protested the desecration of the Western Wall by women who consecrate the re-birth of the Jewish People in our homeland -- in our full joyous diversity. Some men held signs accusing us of provocation; in blatant violation of the regulations governing holy sites (2,a,6); some men threw eggs at our male supporters and police; a couple of hundred men booed and jeered.

This is not a remedial Israeli issue; this is a cutting edge global issue. Freedom from discrimination is not fulfilled anywhere on earth. In the liberal American Jewish world, according to a Forward survey of 75 major American Jewish communal organizations, fewer than one in six are run by women who are paid 61 cents to every dollar earned by men. Women occupy 14.3 percent of the top positions in federations, advocacy and social service organizations, and religious and educational institutions. This is an even lower percentage than the women in the U.S. Congress (17.9 percent) and in the Knesset (21.6 percent). The same global status quo that limits women's public power and ritual tolerates the violation and oppression of women.

Women of the Wall beckon toward a new human era when women are fully safe and at home in the public domain -- as leaders and decision-makers -- in spiritual, ritual, community and political life. We connect Judaism with society, prayer with meaning, text with action.

After I wound away my phylacteries, and the full Kaddish was recited, we approached the additional prayer, mussaf of the new Hebrew month. Miriam turned to me, softly. "When you led the morning prayers, you mentioned our mothers. You can do that?"

I smiled back, and we recited their names together, slowly, our eyes locked, "Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah." She nodded and we both turned to face the massive stone Wall, a simple symbol that bound us to an eternal moment in sacred space.

We each began silently, bowing, our intentions soaring toward the divine.