There may not be a more potent symbol of the Western Wall’s liberation than the very Israeli paratroopers who daringly took it in 1967, giving the Jewish people control over its most holy site for the first time in 2,000 years. How the Jewish people have controlled its most holy site has been an entirely different and thorny issue ever since.
This morning, six former IDF paratroopers and dozens of men joined with hundreds of activists from the Women of the Wall–an organization devoted to giving women equal worship rights at the Kotel–as they prayed in their monthly Rosh Chodesh service. In the past, the group’s services had been interrupted and shut down by Jerusalem police over the objections of the religious authorities that oppose women gathering and donning prayer shawls at the Kotel.
Today, however, in what was the largest gathering yet of the Women of the Wall, the services were not interrupted for the first time. Following the prayers, ten women were arrested including the group’s leader Anat Hoffman and Rabbi Susan Silverman, comedian Sarah Silverman’s sister.
At the conclusion of the morning service and minutes before police detained her on Monday, Hoffman said she was sure the reason police had refrained this month from interfering during the organization’s prayers was because of the presence of the former paratroopers.
“It’s because of Israelis like you who decided to get up and do something that for the first time in 22 months, we were actually able to complete the service without any interferences from the police,” Hoffman told the paratroopers after the service.
Among the paratroopers present was Dr. Yitzhak Yiftah, who was front and center in perhaps the most iconic picture of the Six-Day War–see above–featuring IDF paratroopers gathering at the Wall for the first time following its liberation.
“I decided to come here to show my support for all those who wish to pray at the Kotel whatever way they wish, so long as they are not doing anything immoral,” said Yiftah. “It breaks my heart that the ultra-Orthodox have decided the Kotel belongs to them.”
Whether this will bring a change in the policies at the Western Wall remains to be seen.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.