Noa Rabin went to the Western Wall to daven, not to demonstrate. But when she went to pray on May 10, the 18-year-old yeshiva student from Highland Park inadvertently found herself in the middle of an angry, sometimes violent protest over Women of the Wall.
That morning, some 400 women — many wearing tallitot and kipot — arrived at the Kotel to observe Rosh Hodesh, or the new moon service, and to test a Jerusalem court decision that allowed them to wear such religious garb without fearing arrest for breaking “local custom” at the site.
Anticipating the women’s service, hundreds of haredi, or fervently Orthodox, women began packing the women’s section of the wall as early as 6:30 a.m., apparently to prevent Women of the Wall from drawing close to the Kotel. Also crowding the Western Wall plaza were hundreds of young haredi men, yelling, making obscene gestures, and throwing rocks to protest the women’s prayer service.
Rabin, caught between the Women of the Wall worshipers and the protesters, was so upset by what she witnessed that she wrote an essay published in part two days later by the Jerusalem Post.
“The fact that this group turned to violence was horrifying,” Rabin wrote. “Police had to make human chains around the Women of the Wall to protect them. The fact that this was necessary is in itself sad. A man was climbing over the mehitza [separation barrier] to yell at this group of people, while his friends cheered him on. Whistles were being blown so that the women would not be able to pray, forgetting about everyone else at the Kotel who wanted to daven.
“Their agenda of trying to stop these women trumped everything else going on in the plaza.”
Police arrested three haredi protesters, and a police spokesman at the time said more arrests may be in the offing as police review video.
Rabin, a 2012 graduate of Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, is spending the year at Midreshet Moriah, a seminary in Jerusalem. She plans to start college at Rutgers University in New Brunswick in September.
“She went to the Wall to daven for Rosh Hodesh, not to protest,” said her mother, Karen Small, associate director of Rutgers’ Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life. “She is not a liberal. She was not there to support Women of the Wall.
“But Noa believes in treating people with respect and allowing people to pray,” her mother told NJJN.
In the response she submitted to the Post, Rabin wrote of witnessing “something unreal” when “a man picked up a chair and threw it at the women.”
“The people who came to protest have completely lost their minds,” she wrote. “They must have forgotten that we weren’t at a playground or having a water fight. We were at the Kotel. The Kotel. The Jewish people’s most sacred place.
“Someone once told me that Jews ruin Judaism,” she concluded. “That was proven to me last Friday in so many ways and on so many levels.”