About 130 Pittsburgh area men and women showed their solidarity with jailed Israeli activist Anat Hoffman Sunday by donning their tallitot and reciting the Shema — the precise reasons police have arrested Hoffman and other women like her.
Hoffman, the chairperson of Women of the Wall, was arrested Oct. 16 for “disturbing public order” while praying the Shema at the Western Wall. She was handcuffed, strip-searched, and held overnight before being released.
Sunday’s so-called “Shema–in” at Rodef Shalom Congregation’s Levy Hall, was how many in Jewish Pittsburgh reacted to her treatment.
Rabbis Sharyn Henry of Rodef Shalom and Michael Werbow of Congregation Beth Shalom, along with Deborah Fidel, the executive director of the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee, organized the program, which brought together members of the community with students from the Joint Jewish Education Program — the combined religious school of Beth Shalom and Rodef Shalom — to pray the Shema.
Werbow said he got involved because it’s important “to be in support of Anat Hoffman and the Women of the Wall, who are working to bring about religious equality in Israel.”
The organizers chose the Shema because it best demonstrated their solidarity with Hoffman, who lectured in Pittsburgh on April 30 this year on the need to stamp out injustice in the Jewish state.
“We’re doing the Shema specifically because it signifies the oneness of the Jewish people,” Henry said. “It shows the pluralism and equality of Judaism.”
Many of those who gathered were students from the religious school. Before reciting the Shema, Werbow explained to them what happened to Hoffman and why he and the other organizers of the program believed that the students should be a part of the Shema-in.
“The Kotel [Western Wall] is the central place in our religion,” Werbow said. “The Talmud tells us to pray toward the Kotel, wherever you are; we face east, and in Haifa, for example, they face south.”
Men and women pray separately at the Kotel, he continued. While men pray freely there, women cannot pray out loud.
He invited all of the women and girls in attendance to put on tallitot, come to the bima and lead the assembly in the Shema. Israeli police have also arrested women for wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall.
The Shema-in was videotaped, copies of which will be sent to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as to the Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren. Hoffman also will receive a copy, Henry said, to demonstrate support or her among Jewish Pittsburghers.
One of the women who came to the bima was Marcia Levaur, president of the Atlantic District of Women of Reform Judaism.
“This is the 21st century and women should be entitled to pray at the Kotel just as men are,” Levaur said. “Plus, the way that they treated her [Hoffman] was horrendous.”
The turnout for the event was impressive, according to its organizers.
“We’re thrilled that all of these people are coming together in support of equality and in support of Women of the Wall,” said Rodef Shalom President Ann Roth.
During the program, a man approached Susan Loether, a director of the Joint Jewish Education Program, and asked her if the event had to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It’s not about Muslims,” she replied. “It’s about women having the ability to say our central prayer without being strip-searched.”
(Sam Lapin can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.)