Not to beat a dead horse (or an immodestly dressed one, I guess), but I wanted to mention an incident that happened to me yesterday. A friend’s family is visiting from Canada. Mom and Dad are Israeli, but the kids are Canadian born and raised. This was the 13-year-old daughter’s and the seven-year-old son’s first visit to Israel, so we took them to the Kotel. After a long, rambling walk with many a stop (definitely should do all my traveling before I have kids), we made it to the Kotel around 10, 10:30 at night. The 13-year-old is sharp as a tack and told Mom she wasn’t so comfortable and didn’t want to go to the Wall. I’m guessing it was the crowded, cramped female quarters that were off-putting. I know I’ve personally never touched the Wall itself, because it was never so important to me to shove aside three layers of adolescent seminary girls to touch something that holds only cultural meaning to me. I’ve never felt the need to leave a note, so I’ve never needed to be close enough to slip something between the cracks.
Now, I wish I could tell you that our young lady had gotten a mistaken sense of the Kotel, walked up to the Wall, left the notes she’d brought all the way from Toronto for her cousins, and we all went home. But you knew that wasn’t what happened, because otherwise it wouldn’t’ve been worth a mention. However, instead, this became my first experience with the Modesty Police. A religious woman approached our party and asked me and Mom to cover ourselves with a shawl. Mom was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I was wearing pants and a sleeveless shirt. Because we’re in a heatwave here in Jerusalem. Neither of us were indecent, but we definitely wouldn’t have wandered around Mea Shearim. But we were at the Kotel, not an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. Neither of us were dressed immodestly (defined in a secular way), but this woman would not leave us alone after both of us politely declined. I eventually simply told her it wasn’t going to happen, and Mom, in order to approach the wall, wrapped her legs.
What I did not say to the woman, who kept harping on “respect for the place,” was that, as a tax-paying Israeli citizen, she needs to respect that I dress the way I do, and all the while I pay for her husband to study, and for her seven children’s free education. Since moving to Israel, I’ve found that I’m reevaluating whether I want to get married and whether I want to have children, not because of the religious state they may be forced to grow up in, but because I genuinely don’t know how I’m going to afford raising my children and paying for the Haredi hordes to go to school. But that seemed sort of confrontational, so I left it alone.
Discussion of the proper role of religion in the State of Israel is a popular subject on this blog, and is a national debate. Bibi just lost his coalition because he wouldn’t stand up to the religious fanaticism that he’s allied himself with in the Knesset. Refusal to even discuss army or national service, which is what it sounds like when ultra-Orthodox parents get their children to protest against a universal draft, sounds a heck of a lot like “we’re not a part of this state and we don’t want to be.” But if that’s the case, you shouldn’t get control over holy sites. Allowing the ultra-Orthodox to walk all over all visitors at the Kotel is exactly equivalent to letting the Waqf control the Temple Mount (or Haram al Sharif), where non-Muslims are severely restricted, both in where and when they can go. The ultra-Orthodox need to decide whether they’re an active part of Israeli society, but I shouldn’t have to support my own repression. And every little Jewish girl who comes to the Kotel and feels uncomfortable or alienated from her own culture is a failure of the experiment that is our Jewish state. There has to be a middle ground, but we have to find it together, which means that everyone has to join the conversation.