by Phyllis Chesler
On December 1,1988 I was one of the women who prayed aloud with a Torah at the Western Wall for the first time in history. (On the lssues, Volume XI-1989). On November 25, 1989 I returned to Jerusalem as part of a mission to present a Torah to the women of Jerusalem from the women in the Diaspora.
1. I heard a “new song” coming from Jacob’s tent, the place of my childhood, the place of my heart, a song so brave and so sweet that it enfolded me, like a tallis (prayer shawl), like a mother, in glory and in grace, and now, a year has passed.
2. The flight is utterly uneventful – that is, until we get up to pray as a group (of women). Then, and literally only then, does the plane begin to shudder and yes, plunge through the skies. Afterwards, someone jokes and says that maybe God really isn’t on our side. “No,” I say, “It’s a fine opportunity, a rehearsal really, for learning how to focus, intensely, when you’re afraid and think you might die.”
3. We carry the Torah through the streets, wrapped in a tallis, under a chuppah (marriage canopy), supported by four flowergarlanded poles, and accompanied by more than 150 people.
4. Shulamit Magnus reads from the Torah for us. As we each finish speaking, we hold the Torah and pass it slowly from woman to woman. Then, we hand it over to the Jerusalem women. Israeli Bonna Haberman says: “The first time we received the Torah it was from Chutz La’Aretz’ (outside the land) at Mt. Sinai, and now as women, we again receive our Torah from outside the land.” Bonna and Anat Hoffman have brought their young and wide-eyed children along. They help them hold the Torah. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach has come to serenade “you noble ladies whom all of Israel should be here to greet.”
5. The weather forecast said rain, terrible rain and it rains all night, until a little after dawn, when it suddenly stops. We can go! Rabbi Leah Novick leads the service; Rabbi Helene Ferris interprets the Torah reading for us; we celebrate Ann Lewis’ marriage of a few days ago. Then, the rain begins again – but not until we complete our Torah reading.
Other signs and coincidences: two of our participants, Ruth Laibson and Naomi Seigel are identical twins. The Torah reading – which itself is about the twins, Jacob and Esau – is also exactly what our twins read on their joint Bat Mitzvah more than 35 years ago. As we are about to leave the Old City, a group of about 20 elderly North African Jews, men and women, enter through the gates, take one look at us, come right over, and one by one, kiss the Torah. Here is our missing Sephardic contingent – and they act like it was an everyday event to meet a group of women holding a Torah at the Jerusalem Gates. Perhaps they’re angels, I think, because our chance meeting illuminates our souls.
More than a thousand people contributed to the Torah purchase; however the Mission would not have been possible without the generosity of Linda Bronfman, Jonathan Jacoby, Francine Klagsbrun, Harriet Kurlander, Michelle Landsberg, Lynda Levinson, Belda and Marcel Lindenbaum and Virginia Snitow.