Israeli activist Anat Hoffman is not afraid to speak her mind or let her actions do the talking.
When Hoffman put on her prayer shawl during her talk May 23 in Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple’s Bonda Chapel in Beachwood, she drew a loud ovation from the crowd of about 200 people.
“The fact that wearing a tallit was an illegal act for so long, and that women were arrested and handcuffed and leg-ironed and strip-searched and jailed for wearing a tallit, is unacceptable,” she said.
Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center and chair of Women of the Wall, spoke for about 25 minutes on “The Fight for Social Justice and Civil Rights for All Israelis,” and then took questions for another 30 minutes.
She said Judge Moshe Sobel’s April 25 ruling in Jerusalem District Court that women can legally pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem wearing prayer shawls – contrary to Orthodox practice enforced at the site – was a “landmark decision.”
“He decided that Women of the Wall have been around for 24 of the 46 years that the Wall has been in Israel’s hands,” she said. “They cannot be stopped; it can’t be illegal. Nobody can decide that the Wall is an ultra-Orthodox synagogue.”
A major leader for social justice in Israel, Hoffman has led the struggle for the right of women to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. She said support from women in North America has played an important role in the progress the Women of the Wall have made in Israel.
“I think it’s your victory,” she said. “You wouldn’t stand for it. I’m looking at some of you, like Fran Gordon (of Beachwood), who has been our sister way before anyone else thought this was an important issue.”
Hoffman asked the parents of Rabbi Stacey Blank – Ilene and Jim Nolish of Beachwood – to stand up in the audience. Blank is rabbi of a Reform congregation in Tzur Hadassah, a suburb of Jerusalem.
“You have contributed something amazing to Israel,” she said of Blank, a former Fairmount Temple member.
A Jerusalem native who still lives there, Hoffman was a city council member for 14 years in the city. Her talk in Cleveland was part of a United States tour that began May 13 and ends Friday, May 31.
The Association of Reform Zionists of America was the main sponsor of Hoffman's appearance. Co-sponsors were Fairmount Temple, Beth Israel-The West Temple in Cleveland, Congregation Kol Chadash in Solon, Suburban Temple-Kol Ami in Beachwood, Temple Emanu El in Orange and The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood and Cleveland.
Loree Resnik, ARZA’s vice chair of financial resources, called Hoffman a “rebel with a cause” and a “poster girl for women’s rights” when she introduced her.
Cantor Sarah Sager led the singing of “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, before Hoffman spoke. A dessert reception followed the program.
The event was live-streamed over the Internet. An archived version is available on Fairmount Temple's website, fairmounttemple.org.
Several audience members were asked what they thought of Anat Hoffman’s talk. Here are their responses:
• “I thought she was extraordinarily well informed and articulate,” said Sue Wintner of Pepper Pike. “She was extremely sensitive to the issues at hand, particularly with regard to women, to Reform and Conservative Judaism and to non-observant (Jews).”
• “She brings a very passionate presentation about her work,” said Allan Morris of Beachwood. “As head of the IRAC (Israel Religious Action Center), she’s a wonderful advocate for women’s rights and religious pluralism in Israel.”
• “I think it's amazing that 24 years have gone by, and she’s still fighting the same fight and still making progress,” said Robin Lieberman of Cleveland Heights, past president of the Cleveland chapter of NA’AMAT. “Listening to her makes me feel proud of being an active member of a women’s Zionist organization.”
• “She really brought us up to date about what’s happening with Women of the Wall and other issues she’s dealing with right now,” said Sue Arnold of Beachwood. “I’ve heard her speak before; she’s a phenomenal speaker.”