The sounding of the shofar to mark the beginning of the month of Elul, the bold notes and the plaintive wailing, call Jews to repentance, while inspiring them to pray for the perfection of the world.
The symbolism of the shofar was apropos this week, as community members gathered at Rodef Shalom Congregation’s Wechsler Gallery to usher in the new month while showing support for Anat Hoffman, the leader of the Women of the Wall prayer group who was arrested last month for holding a sefer Torah during a Rosh Chodesh Av celebration at the Western Wall.
Women of the Wall is a group of Jewish women from around the world who strive to achieve the right for women to wear prayer shawls and pray freely at the Western Wall. Their efforts are often met with harassment.
An Israeli Supreme Court ruling prohibits women from reading the Torah at the holy site. Although Hoffman was arrested on suspicion of reading the Torah, Women of the Wall maintain that she was only holding the scroll.
Hoffman, while holding the Torah, had been leading about 150 women from the women’s section of the Western Wall in a procession toward Robinson’s Arch, where they are permitted to read from it, according to Women of the Wall’s account of the incident, as reported by the JTA.
Rodef Shalom’s Solidarity at Sunrise service on Wednesday, Aug. 11, at 7:30 a.m., was expected to draw both men and women from throughout the Pittsburgh Jewish community to gather in prayer and blow their shofars in unity with Hoffman, who has been barred from the Wall for 30 days. Hoffman has been sounding the shofar at the Wall for the last 20 years to welcome Elul, but has been prohibited from doing so this year as a consequence of her recent arrest.
Rabbi Sharyn Henry, associate rabbi at Rodef Shalom, has been leading the Rosh Chodesh Solidarity at Sunrise group since the month of Nisan this past spring. She sees this month’s service as a gift to Hoffman, who also serves as executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel.
“We invited people to come and bring their shofars,” Henry said, adding that the service would be recorded on video, and then sent to Hoffman “so she can watch it and see our support.”
“The service is for anyone who supports religious pluralism,” Henry added.
While the Rosh Chodesh Nisan service drew a crowd of about 50 people, subsequent services have seen only about 15 in attendance. Still, the regulars are devoted to the cause.
“I have only missed one [of the services],” said Sheila Solow, a member of Rodef Shalom. “I like to be in solidarity with the women who want to pray at the Wall. If this is what they want, then why not? Why can’t they carry a Torah if they want to? Why should they be second-class citizens?
“This is my way of protesting,” she added. “I can’t protest over there [in Israel], so I’ll do what I can here. I think these women are very brave.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)