The Canadian Jeiwsh News

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

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Being detained at the Kotel

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Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin, Special to The CJN


It was either coincidence or bashert that I was in Jerusalem for Rosh Chodesh Adar and thus able to support and join the Women of the Wall (WOTW) for minyan. My colleague, Rabbi Debra Cantor of Connecticut, along with many male rabbinic supporters, awoke early and flocked to the Old City. We had all heard of Women of the Wall, but had never davened with them before.

At 7 a.m., I joined hundreds of women, as we opened our prayerbooks and began with the opening blessings. Behind us and beside us, on the other side of the mechitzah, were a combination of male supporters and photographers.

After a melodious Hallel, we left the Kotel en masse for Robinson’s Arch to begin the Torah service, as is the custom of WOTW. I was very nervous as we sang and walked over, because I was supposed to read the fourth aliyah. However, that never happened, because as soon as I exited the metal detector at the Kotel plaza, a police officer asked for my identity papers. I explained that I had a Canadian passport, so she asked for that. When I asked her why, I did not receive an answer. At that moment, I realized I might not actually be able to attend my back-to-back meetings as a delegate of the Jewish Federations of North America’s rabbinic cabinet anymore.

Nine other women joined me at a satellite police station in the Old City. We stood in a courtyard and introduced ourselves to one another. While some of the women had been detained before, there did not seem to be a clear reason as to why others were chosen. David Barhoom, the WOTW lawyer who spent some time with us, could not even figure out why we were detained.

Throughout the morning, we were taken into an interrogation room, one at a time. While I was asked numerous questions, I also requested that the lovely Druze police officer answer some of my questions as well. It was important to me to know why I was there. He shared that my two crimes were that I violated the regulations of holy places and that I behaved in a way that may violate public safety.

It might not have been the right thing to do, but I laughed when he said that. How was it that only 10 out of hundreds of women were violating public safety? What was going to happen? We were not picketing or demonstrating. We were praying to God. It still makes no sense to me.

I have read many accounts of our situation last Monday morning, and I would like to clarify that we were detained, not arrested. There were no handcuffs involved. We were not placed in a cell.  The experience was surreal, not scary. In fact, my only fear was that I would miss my flight, which was scheduled for later that night.

After some time, the officers brought us tea and we began to chat with them. I asked one of them if he liked to babysit women who don’t actually commit crimes. With a smile, he responded that he did it every month. The sense that I got was that these officers go through this processing routine every month, and they, too, think it is ridiculous. But, they have a job to do. 

After some time, we were told that we could be released, as long as we signed a surety document that stated we would not come to the Kotel for 15 days. I signed the document, and then at about noon, we were taken from the satellite police station to a larger one. Once there, we were fingerprinted and had our pictures taken. And then we were free to go.

I have more faith and love in the Jewish People because of the overwhelming positive response I received following this experience. The status quo will change. But change takes time, and Israel is not even 65 years old yet. I have faith that her golden years will shine on all Jews, no matter our religious affiliation.

Originally from Toronto, Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin, is spiritual leader of Israel Center of Conservative Judaism in Queens, N.Y.

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