THE BLOG
02/20/2013 03:50 pm ET Updated Apr 22, 2013

Turn It, Turn It, Turn It Upside Down: Liberating the Western Wall Again

Some things are predictable, like tomorrow's sunrise or a Bruce Willis movie. Some are utter surprises, like the news that Pope Benedict is abdicating his position for the first time since 1415. It is, however, the combination of what should be predictable and what is surprising that produces the moments that change the world.

For example, on the Jewish calendar each time the moon completes its cycle and begins again marks the celebration of another Jewish month, or Rosh Chodesh. While that celebration takes place throughout the Jewish world, it has also become the norm that each new month will be a new opportunity for a group called Women of the Wall to pray together at the Kotel, the Western Wall, wearing the prayer shawls and other implements that both men and women wear in many Jewish communities, but are restricted to men by the Orthodox rules that govern this shared Jewish holy site. So each Jewish month will bring with it new stories of women harassed, disrupted and even detained by the police who have been charged to enforce these laws. And so it was today.

And yet there are several less predictable pieces to the story that might in fact make a difference. Among the 10 women arrested this week were three rabbis with U.S. citizenship -- two of my Conservative colleagues and a Reform rabbi who happens to be the sister of Sarah Silverman, a comedienne not known for taking anything quietly. Also, among the crowd of supporters and participants across the Wall's gender divide were men who occupy a special place in how Israelis think about the Western Wall. These men were the paratroopers who helped to free the Kotel from Jordanian hands in 1967, and ushered in the current privilege of Jewish control over this unparalleled sacred place. The picture of these soldiers praying at the Kotel, became the symbol of its liberation. They came to stand in support of these women at the Kotel, because they had not fought for Jerusalem for the sake of religious intolerance, but to restore it as the capital of the Jewish people, a place for all men and women.

However, at stake in this fight over the wall is an even more far-reaching conundrum: how to honor and give reverence to those whose beliefs and practices are different. Interestingly, this day that ended with the shocking resignation of the pope, a man whose office is invested with infallibility by Catholics worldwide, began with the death of Rabbi David Hartman, a man whose life and work was marked by a passion for pluralism and the multiplicity of ways one can do G*d's work. However, it is Hartman, with no overarching religious authority over either the Vatican or the Kotel, who points the way forward in a world that simply cannot be ruled by one form of faith or restricted to one type of practice.

This entire confluence of iconic personalities and symbols of religious expression has taken place in the beginning of Adar, the month that ushers in Purim, where what seems predictable is turned on its head, and miracles occur in the most unlikely place. The key phrase in the Purim story is v'nahafokh hu, and "it was turned upside down." In a month where the predictable has vied with the unprecedented, may we be truly surprised by the reversal of policies of intolerance, and the respect for each others' own practices, beliefs and doubts.