“Lady, Miss, Lady….you need this. You need this right now.” A woman draped a paisley shirt over my shoulders. “You need to cover yourself.”
“Seriously?” I am practically 50. Covering one’s shoulders is for the realm of the young and firm.
“Please. Just put it on and then you and your daughter can go to the Wall.” She was clearly tired of having to explain to women like me that we need to have our shoulders covered.
“Fine,” I said. “Fine. Whatever. I don’t care.” I put my arms through the shirt holes and walked up to the Western Wall.
For the last decade, I have spent a privileged existence as a history editor at a well-known press in Toronto. I am somewhat versed in the history of the Wall in front of me. I know that it was the outside Wall of the Second Temple that was destroyed in 70 A.D. I know that it was the Roman Emperor’s son who did the destroying. I know that the platform on which my black Converse High Tops stand is what remains along with its Western Wall, which my 9-year-old daughter, Olivia, looks upon.
“Why can’t I go with Daddy and Raffi and Uncle Michael and Max and Levi?” She sees the barrier that separates us from her father, her brother, her favorite uncle, and her young cousins. “Seriously? I seriously can’t go with Daddy and Raffi?”
“Seriously. You cannot.”
“And what happens if I do go over there?”
“Well, you are going to piss everyone off and someone will yell at us. You need to be respectful of these people.” Did I really just say to my daughter that she needs to be respectful of sexism? What century are we in? And aren ‘t these people my people, too?
“Why? They don’t respect me! Why should I respect them? This is stupid.” She knows that she is meant to say a prayer, write a note, and stick it in the Wall. She refuses to even touch it. I try to placate her while the cognitive dissonance rumbles.
“So the guys over there think that we will get in the way of their praying. They think we are distracting.”
“Mama, Raffi is so much more distracting that I am. He’s probably yacking about baseball or some episode of “House.” And Max and Levi are probably crying! How come they get to go over there with Daddy in the big section and we are stuck here in this little section?” She got a little teary. “I want to go back to Tel Aviv! I want to go back to the beach!”
I know that the story of how women feel when they go to the Western Wall has been told a billion times already. I know all about the Women of the Wall and how women are trying to change things. And while I support their efforts, I kind of question why they care so much. The Wall is really just another history lesson. It belongs in a museum complete with postcards and popsicles.
But that’s just me. I have patience to wait for change. But my daughter isn’t interested in change tomorrow. She wants it today. For her. Not being able to be with the boys is just wrong. Insane and wrong.
“OK, Olivia. Here’s the real deal. Those guys are worried that instead of focusing on God, they will focus on me. So they separate the men and the women.” She looks at me for a minute.
“Mama, no offense, but you are too old for men to focus on you.” She’s right. I’m way past my Best Before Date. “And Mama, I am too young for them to focus on me either.” Again, she’s right. If those men would rather focus on my kid than on God, their computers should probably be checked for kiddie porn.
The filter that prevents inappropriate thoughts from outing themselves has a hole in it.
“You know what, Liv, I have no fucking idea why we are here. It’s a fucking Wall. It’s a stupid fucking Wall. If God is in that Wall watching the shit going on in front of it and doing sweet fuck all, then this isn’t a God I want to believe in. And as for writing those dumbass notes, the paper is bad for the fucking environment!” I pause and look at her.
My daughter attends what the marketing people call an alternative Jewish Day School in downtown Toronto. She wears a kippah. She does whatever the boys do. We occasionally go to an egalitarian Orthodox synagogue. We both wear a kippah. We do what the boys do.
In the world of the sane, Olivia has no sense that she is less of a Jew than her male classmates.
But at the outside, supporting Wall of a destroyed temple, this shrine, this symbol of Judaism, this holy place, she is less of a Jew.
A born-again Jew from New Jersey named Bobbi took me to the Wall for the first time when I was about 25. I did exactly what my religious school teachers and rabbis had told me to do. I went up to the Wall and touched it. I said a Shehechiyanu. I wrote a note. I had the full Wailing Experience. And, despite all the contradiction in my head, I did the same things again in front of my daughter who stood with her back to the Wall.
There will be no wailing at the Western Wall for Olivia and her gal pals. They will see the discrimination. They will call bullshit on it. And they will walk away and head for the beach.