By Cantor Tamar Havilio
December 5, 2013 / Tevet 2, 5774
Every morning of Rosh Chodesh when Women of the Wall does not arrange a special transportation to the Kotel, I always arrive very early, on foot. Yesterday I arrived at 7:10am and services began at 8am. As a member of the Shlichot Tzibbur team, we always arrive early to create a prayer space at the back of the Women's section. I stood there and prayed for a quiet and uneventful prayer for us. It was a good sign already that the women's section was fairly empty. Standing there I felt a great peace and awe. I focused on the candles flickering on the Chanukiah on the men's side, of course, and softly sang Maoz Tzur. I took a few chairs and sat them at various places to create a circle for us to pray within. Then I sat by a prayer stand (a shtender) and placed it in the center of the chairs. As I was "setting up" a flush of birds flew above me just like all of the prayers at the Kotel flew out of mouths and into the stones of heaven.
Slowly, a group of ultra-Orthodox teenage girls began watching me. They were watching me set-up and take moments of silent prayer. Then one of their teachers approached me. We are told by all of the supporters of WOW not to confront our protesters. But, this was a very different approach. She asked me if I believed in the Torah and if I do, then why do I have to wear tefillin and tzitzit. I told her that my interpretation is different from hers, but that I can respect her beliefs if she can respect mine. Then the teenagers began asking me all sorts of questions. Some were just not worth repeating, but one asked if I believe in God and why do I feel the need to pray out loud with my voice. I told her that I am a cantor and that I feel this is my pure and honest way to pray to God with my full voice. I also explained that I believe the power of silent prayer and talked about Hannah in the book of Samuel. She looked at me and said, "Oh, you know your texts, I like you." I told her that I look at her with the full respect that I can of another Jew and never want to cause her harm, but this is how I pray. She took some of the other teenagers and walked away, "let her pray," she said.
I cannot forget this girl and her beautiful face, and her words as she walked away…"Let her pray." We prayed yesterday with a Sephardic style shacharit led by an amazing woman from the piyut project and the Hallel was led by an HUC-JIR Israel Rabbinic Student. They were beautiful prayers interspersed with an occasional protestor. All the while, I could not forget that ultra-Orthodox girl who said, "Let her pray." I prayed all of Rosh Chodesh for peace and freedom of religion in Israel and in all lands. It was that very moment that I understood the power of our presence at the Kotel. I walked back from the Old City on Rosh Chodesh Tevet with hope in my feet and determination and love in my heart. A miracle of Chanukah had just begun as the stones heard our prayer and flew to heaven.
Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's first institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu