illustration by Pepe Fainberg
My back thudded on paving stones worn smooth by millions of pious Jewish feet. I cried out, gasping for air as a twelve-stone policewoman with a Meg Ryan coiffure sat herself on my chest and lit a cigarette. She seemed quite at east despite the chants of “Nazis!” “Heretics!” and “Anti-Semites” coming from the black-cloaked men and long-sleeved woman who were pressing forward in their battle to halt the desecration of the Kotel. Why not? They were not yelling at her.
Noticing that my face was turning blue, she shifted her weight off my diaphragm. I took a deep breath and she blew smoke into my face.
“I’m innocent!” I coughed before once again going into severe oxygen deprivation.
“Right. That’s what they all say.” She considered my Arapahoe Basin t-shirt and Levis. “Although you do stand out in this crowd.”
I shook my head and she lifted herself up ever so slightly. “Respirate,” she ordered, before reinstating her full weight on my abdomen. “My name’s Maya. Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Haim,” I gasped, adding: “I’m on their side.” I waved in the general direction of the gaggle of designer prayer-shawls on the other side of the police cordon.
“Sure,” she said. “Which is why you were about to throw that bottle of piss at them.”
“What bottle …” I exclaimed, but an overwrought Litvak yeshiva bucher stepped on my face.
“That bottle in your right hand,” she said. “The one with the yellow liquid in it.”
I gingerly removed the dress shoe from my nose so that I could answer her. “That’s not piss,” I said. “It’s ginger ale.”
She guffawed. “Yeah, right.”
“If you would perhaps consider allowing my alimentary apparatus to operate normally, I would be glad to take a gulp to prove it,” I suggested.
She considered the option and then decided it was too risky. “What would that prove?” she pointed out. “We learned in our riot control course that one of the most successful anti-occupation movements in history was led by people who drank their own piss.”
“Do I look like a Gandhi?” I pleaded. “I mean, look, I’m wearing a shirt. Hey, if that girl covering her eyes with the prayer book takes one more step I’ll be looking up her skirt.”
“Move on, move on,” the policewoman told the girl, giving her a little shove. And then she aimed her steely eyes at me. “Let’s go over to the paddy wagon. I’ll put you down for disturbing the peace and sexual harassment.”
I wanted to point out that she was the one who had chosen to sit dangerously close to my private parts. But I thought the better of it. She grabbed my arm and pulled me up to my feet like the crane at the Holyland complex pulling an iron girder into the air.
I glanced over the police barrier at the Women of the Wall.
“Just in time,” I told her. “Kedusha.” I placed my feet together and bobbed piously.
“Kedusha!” a white-bearded man in a Homburg cried out in horror. “Kedusha means holyiness! This isn’t holy! It’s sacrilege!”
“It sure is,” I said. “It’s like the worst thing that’s happened to the Jewish people since the destruction of the Second Temple.”
I looked over Maya’s shoulder at the pad where she was jotting down everything I said. “That’s ‘Second Temple,’ capital S, capital T,” I corrected her.
“‘Temple’ is a generic term,” she objected. “Do you know my score on the English section of the psychometric exam?”
“No, it’s the Temple,” I said.
“Where?” she said, looking all around.
“That’s just the point,” I said.
“You must be one of those fanatics that are always trying to go pray in that mosque up there,” she said, making a note to the effect that “preventative detention recommended.”
“It really is sacrilege,” I said. “Look at this. This is a holy site. People should be praying, meditating, studying, communing with the ineffable. Not staging a flash mob.”
“All I know is my orders,” my personal policewoman said, smartly snapping a set of handcuffs on my wrists. “This month, those women are to be allowed to … to …” She glanced at her pad. “This month they are allowed to wear prayer shawls but not read from a Torah scroll. It’s hard to remember. Each month it’s different.”
“Abba!” a voice screamed.
“Excuse me, my daughter,” I told Maya. She looked around suspiciously at the girls in the long white sleeves, most of whom were gossiping happily but a few of whom were in the throes of a spiritual experience, or perhaps monthly cramps.
“I don’t see anyone around here who looks like she could be your daughter,” the policewoman declared.
“No, over there!” I said, pushing through the crowd toward the Women of the Wall with my personal sentry in tow. With a little pushing and shoving, I managed to get up to the police barrier, where a girl in an IDF uniform, bearing a tag showing a desert cat, was waiting for me impatiently.
“Hi Misgav,” I said, just as Maya tackled me again and resumed her favorite seat. “Meet Maya. We just met and we’re already very close.”
“Abba, what’s going on?” Misgav said hopelessly, and rather loudly so that she could be heard above the insult-chanting crowd. “Why do you have to embarrass me whenever we go anywhere together?”
“Are you this guy’s daughter?” Maya asked, slowly getting up and dusting herself off. She pulled me to my feet again.
Misgav considered a second before she reluctantly acknowledged the relationship.
“Do you know that he was trying to throw a bottle of urine at you?”
Misgav rolled her eyes.
“Ginger ale,” I said. “She sent me to get her some ginger ale.”
“I like ginger ale,” Misgav explained.
“Wait a minute,” Maya said. She scrunched up her eyes and thought deeply. Then she asked Misgav: “Are you what they call a Woman of the Wall?”
“Well, I’m not a member,” said Misgav, “but I came this morning to lend my support to the right of women to pray at Judaism’s holiest site as they see fit.”
She then turned to me. “And you let your daughter pray as she sees fit? What are you, one of these modern permissive parents? Let me tell you that my father kept a tight ship. When I was a girl we couldn’t pray until we’d finish mopping the floor and doing all the dishes.”
“Well,” I said, “that sort of explains why you’ve been taking out so much frustration on me this morning.”
“I don’t get it,” Maya said, reluctantly unlocking the handcuffs. “If you want to be religious, do it all the way like these guys.” She waved her hands at the gevalding ultra-Orthodox crowd around us. “Or don’t pray at all, like me. Why make such an issue of it?”
“If making an issue of it got my daughter up at 6 a.m. to daven,” I said. “I’m all for it.”
Maya shook her head and moved the barrier aside so I could join Misgav and the other walling women. “Get in there. But you’ve been warned. Don’t let me catch you putting on a talit.”
“But I’m a guy,” I said.
Maya checked her pad. “It says here that women are allowed. It doesn’t say anything about guys. So don’t try my patience.”
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