A major story this past week was the court victory for Women of the Wall. While we can't predict what will happen in the next few months, the victory illustrates both the evolving nature of the Jewish world, and what can be accomplished in the continuing struggle for inclusivity when passion is wed to the willingness to take risk. It took 20 years for this this day to come.
You may have noticed that this post's title is "Woman of the Wall", and not "Women of the Wall." That is because as a result of the action of many brave and relentless women, the boundary of where and how women can pray at The Western Wall has been moved. It reminded me of the following true story, about a woman, and a wall.
Lee Bluemel, a Unitarian Universalist minister tells the story:
"It happened in the years preceding the Second World War. A Quaker woman came to work as a nurse in a small Catholic village in Poland. There were no other nurses or doctors there, so the Quaker nurse did just about everything. She birthed the babies, tended the sick, set broken bones, cared for the dying. There was plenty to do, and it was good work, so the Quaker nurse stayed on.
She stayed for the year, and then a second year, and a fourth year, a tenth year and by then the villagers stopped counting. The Quaker nurse was practically one of them. The villagers loved her. The first babies she had delivered turned into fine young men and strong young women. Their aging mothers came to her with confidences and hot chicken pot pies.
Then one day the Quaker nurse died.
The villagers needed a place to say their good-byes and bury the body so she could rest in peace. But the village was a small one, and it had only one cemetery – A Catholic cemetery. You couldn’t bury a Quaker nurse in a Catholic cemetery. It was illegal. There was nowhere for her to go ...or so it seemed.
The villagers got together. They asked one another: What could be done? After much deliberation, they decided to bury the Quaker nurse just outside the cemetery’s stone wall. It was the best they could do. The young men dug the grave, the villagers said their good-byes. They had loved her. Some cried. Then as the sun began to set, slowly they walked back to their homes. Darkness came. All was quiet.......Except for one sound – an odd sound—out be the cemetery. If you listened very carefully, you could tell it was the sound of stone scraping against stone. And, there was another sound too – the sound of labored breathing. The young men and the young women were moving the stones of the cemetery wall. They worked in silence, breathing hard, with the help of their mothers and fathers.
When the sun came up the next day, it turned out that the Catholic cemetery in the little Polish village was just a bit larger than it ever had been before. As for how it got that way, when the villagers were asked, no one seemed to know. But the next night all of the villagers – even the Quaker nurse – rested in peace.”
Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and