It’s a small victory, but Hallel Abramowitz-Silverman believes it’s worth celebrating.
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The 17-year-old was triumphant on Tuesday after Jerusalem police nullified her signature on a document where she had committed to stay away from the Western Wall for 15 days, following her arrest with nine other women on February 11. The nullification of the document means she will be able to celebrate the festival of Purim at the wall.
She said she was surprised how quickly the police backed down when she came to their meeting together with her father and her lawyer to argue for the cancellation of the agreement. Within minutes, the police agreed, and she was on her way home.
“I was hoping it would happen, but I didn't know if it would, especially not so quickly. It’s a good step - it feels like we are on a roll.”
By “we” she means the Women of the Wall, who hold a morning prayer session at the beginning of every Hebrew month. Last week, ten members of the group were arrested and brought to two separate police stations, ostensibly for wearing prayer shawls. Abramowitz-Silverman was among them. She was taken with her mother, Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman - sister of the famous comedian Sarah - to the Kishle station. There they were told, along with the other women, after they were fingerprinted and photographed, that they could leave only if they signed the document. Otherwise, they would be charged in court.
“I wasn’t going to sign, but my Mom had a flight leaving in a few hours, and we were afraid there would be complications and she would miss her flight,” she told Haaretz. “Plus, I was nervous. After all, I am 17 years old and I was being held in a police station.”
Too nervous, she says, to do the math and figure out that by agreeing to stay away from the Wall for 15 days, she would miss the annual reading of the Book of Esther held by the Women of the Wall, which she wanted to participate in, scheduled for Monday.
“I was feeling so pressured, I didn't realize it would mean missing the Megillah,” she said. “If I had really understood this, I don’t know if I would have signed.”
She may be a teenager, but she feels a commitment to the cause of women being able to pray freely in a group at the wall, clad in ritual garb, including a prayer shawl. Her mother has said that it was her daughter’s desire to participate in the service that brought her to the wall a week ago.
Abramowitz-Silverman moved to Israel from Newton, Massachusetts with her family when she was 11 years old. “My mother is a rabbi and we grew up in a Jewish suburb in America where a woman rabbi was totally normal. I didn't know about the Haredim and how they felt about women until I moved here, and when I did, I felt very shocked. Because of the way I was raised, I feel very connected to the cause.”
When she went to attend the service, she said, she didn’t expect to be arrested, and she certainly didn’t expect the glare of the media spotlight. But her connection to her aunt Sarah brought the attention, particularly after the comedian tweeted support her way in typical raunchy style: "So proud of my amazing sister and niece for their balls out civil disobedience. Ur the tits!"
A few days later, her famous aunt issued a longer statement of support: "I don't care much for people who use religion as a cloak to justify hatred, injustice and fear. And I can't imagine God, should He or She or It exist, does either. I am so proud of my sister and niece for fighting for what they believe in - by having the nerve to pray at a wall of prayer while being female."
While she welcomed her aunt’s support, she admits she was a little shocked by the international attention that came with it.
“Believe me, I was more surprised than anyone when I ended up in the middle of all this. It is new and fun. I do feel I’m a little undeserving of all this attention just because I have a famous family member, but, if it helps the cause, why not use it to help the Women of the Wall keep fighting?”
Abramowitz-Silverman has completed high school and plans to spend a year volunteering at a youth village in Rwanda before serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
She turns 18 on the day after Purim, and, if all goes well, she’ll celebrate her birthday without another experience at the police station under her belt.
In its announcement of the Purim event on the Women of the Wall Facebook page, the group appeared to have optimistic expectations: “Will you be there to join us for the fun and laughter? Megillah Reading on Shushan Purim at the Kotel, 10 A.M., February 25, 2013. In our many years of reading Megillah on Purim at the Kotel, we have NEVER had a problem with police. We hope this will be the case next week...”