Israel Update: Women of the Wall subjected to body searches

24 August 2017

Despite an order by the High Court of Justice in Israel banning them, invasive body searches of women at the Western Wall complex in Jerusalem are still being carried out. Daisy Bogod, a young London-based Progressive Jew who works within both Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism in the UK, has described her experience at the Kotel, where she was taken aside and made to lift both her shirt and skirt in what she describes as the most ‘invasive’ search she has ever been subjected to. She later describes seeing the same guard manhandle a protester, before going on to describe the Kotel as a ‘beautiful space of inclusion and power’.

Rabbis Laura Janner-Klausner and Danny Rich, Senior rabbis to the Reform and Liberal Movement added their voices saying:
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Israeli siblings in the Israeli Progressive movement and hope the country’s Government acts now to finally ensure equality for all. Once again the rights of Progressive Jews in Israel are being trampled on. Jewish women who want to do nothing more than pray at one of Judaism’s holiest sites are being treated like criminals.”

Daisy’s full comment reads:
I woke up early to an almost silent Jerusalem, walking quickly through the unfamiliar streets of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City. One man stopped and smiled “shalom” to me as we passed each other on Hillel, but other than that I listened to the latest Guilty Feminist podcast and worried about being late (I was, I always am).

When I got to the entrance to the Kotel Plaza everything seemed slow but okay until they found my tallit bag in my rucksack – I could hear women singing Song of the Sea in the distance and was anxious to join – which, although the guard was silent, created an air of tension as they continued to open my pencil case, turn out my bag’s pockets and summon me into a side room to be searched. It was the most physically invasive search I have (thankfully) ever been subjected to, and the woman’s dark lipstick and secular appearance really made me want to ask her why (I stayed silent as I lifted up my shirt and my skirt to show that I really had nothing on me but my tallit).

At first I didn’t know how to pray, surrounded by people screaming and blowing whistles (I later saw the same guard who’d searched me manhandle a protester outside of the cornered off section for Women of the Wall). But the beauty of hearing women passionately, loudly, intentionally sing and pray and celebrate their love for Jewish ritual and the Torah created such an air of positivity that I continued to sing the Shema over their heckling. It was such a beautiful space of inclusion and power, and so emotive watching women of all ages and backgrounds be called up for aliyot. We were here because we wanted to pray, to celebrate, to love our Judaism and ourselves as Jewish women.

Regarding the incident, IMPJ President and CEO Rabbi Gilad Kariv said:
A sad Rosh Chodesh at the Kotel. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation’s security guards, under the watch of the Israeli police, forced female rabbinical students from North America to have a full body check before entering. They were asked to lift up their skirts and shirts (in a side room with a woman guard), or else they couldn’t enter. The other women in line were of course not asked to do this. The fact that Haredi men and teens walked in with whistles and horns in order to interrupt WOW’s prayer service did not seem to bother the guards. In 4 years these women will lead Jewish communities around the world and will be working very hard to nurture a love of Israel among their congregants. There is so much evil and stupidity in how they were treated this morning. The struggle over the Kotel is not only about freedom of religious expression, but also over the character of the State of Israel.

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