Parashat Bemidbar (Numbers 1:1 – 4:20) lays out “marching orders” for the Israelites on their desert trek to the Promised Land. The nation is arrayed, by tribe, surrounding the Mishkan, the holy Tabernacle building. The Mishkan is the people’s spiritual and moral center of gravity, housing the Aron (Ark), the Two Tablets, and the very presence of God. However, the same communal arrangement also serves, sadly, to marginalize Israelite women. The tribal census (Numbers 1:2) only counts the men, relegating females to secondary status, a condition less than palatable to those of us committed to egalitarian principles. Fast forward through the centuries, when the mobile Mishkan gave way to the 1st and 2nd Temples in Jerusalem as the sacred centers of Judaism, until all traces of those structures were nearly obliterated by Roman, Christian, and Muslim conquerors. Still, one small corner of the Temple complex, its Western Wall, the Kotel, endures as a place of pilgrimage and as a potent symbol of Jewish history and identity. At sundown on Tuesday, May 23rd, Iyar 28, we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, now 50 years since Jerusalem was liberated during the Six Day War. Emblematic of that liberation was the moment Israeli forces stood before the Kotel, after so many years of denied access. However, to my mind, the triumph is slightly muted so long as the Israeli Government, and the Rabbanut, can use the Kotel to keep women on the periphery. Torah Scrolls are not allowed in the Ezrat Nashim, Women of the Wall, and their supporters, are harassed, and the authorities seem to be reneging on, or delaying, the promise of a fully egalitarian section at the southern edge of the plaza. Isaiah proclaimed that God’s House should be “a House of Prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56:7).” Yet, the imperative is unrealized. I urge us to mark Yom Yerushalayim as a moment of collective strength and resilience, hope and optimism. At the same time, let us endeavor to fulfill the prophetic aspiration for a spiritual center and sacred space that is inclusive and welcoming for the entire community.
David Bernat, PhD is the Executive Director, Synagogue Council of Massachusetts and is a Schechter parent and alumni parent.