An American immigrant who was detained by police last week for passing a Torah scroll from the men’s section of the Western Wall to members of a feminist prayer group is threatening to take legal action if his name is not cleared.
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Charlie Kalech, the owner of a digital marketing company in Jerusalem, suffered injuries to his head when he was physically assaulted by a man on the scene who identified himself as an employee of the organization that administers the Jewish holy site. Kalech was detained by police after he filed a complaint against his assailant and in the process revealed the circumstances surrounding the confrontation.
“So far, nothing has been done to bring this man to justice,” he told Haaretz. “If the police continue to do nothing, which I’ve been told by my lawyers is very possible, then I will consider bringing a private suit against the man who attacked me.”
Although he does not know the name of his assailant, Kalech said, the man would be easy to identify through photos that were taken while the confrontation was under way.
“He came up to me and told me to move away,” Kalech recalled. “I asked him why and he told me that he worked there, even though he had no uniform on and nothing identifying him as an employee of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. I told him to call the police if he wanted me to move, and then he proceeded to grab me by the arm and then by the neck. He then shoved me backward and I fell.”
Kalech, a member of the Conservative movement who moved to Israel 25 years ago from New Jersey, has been a longstanding supporter of Women of the Wall, the multidenominational prayer group that has been fighting for women to pray as they see fit at the Jewish holy site. Last week was the first time the group, founded 25 year ago, read from one of the full-size public Torah scrolls available at the men’s section of the Western Wall.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which is run by the Orthodox movement, considers women reading from the Torah to be a violation of “local custom” and, therefore, bans the practice.
Kalech was questioned for several hours by police on the day of the incident, he said, and told that there were charges pending against him for disturbing the peace. “They took my fingerprints and a mug shot of me,” he reported, “and they also took my cellphone. When I finally got it back, I saw that they had taken photos off of it.”
His lawyers, Kalech said, think it unlikely that charges will be pressed against him or that the file will be closed. “In their opinion, they will just let the file sit there,” he said. “But I’m determined to have it closed because it now means I have a criminal record.”
Kalech said he intends to continue to attend the monthly morning prayer service held by Women of the Wall to show his support for the group. “Nothing changed for me from that point of view,” he said.