Fighting for religious freedom in Israel — Women of the Wall

Me at a march for religious freedom in Jerusalem, spring of 2010. The bumper sticker says "Ha-kotel l'kulam/n -- the Kotel for all" with all being written in both the masculine third person plural and the feminine third person plural.

Me at a march for religious freedom in Jerusalem, spring of 2010. The bumper sticker says “Ha-kotel l’kulam/n — the Kotel for all” with “all” being written in both the masculine third person plural and the feminine third person plural.

Exciting news in the fight for religious freedom in Israel. After years of Rosh Chodesh prayer services at the Kotel (Western Wall), with minimal disturbance until the last few years, when participants have been detained and arrested for simply wearing a tallit (prayer shawl), Women of the Wall are poised to win a great victory.

As reported in the New York Times, a proposal has been brought forth to add the Robinson’s Arch area, currently out of the way and only accessible at certain times, to the main complex of the Kotel, thereby equalizing access and honor to the area.

Women of the Wall had rejected a solution the state had already offered of holding egalitarian services at Robinson’s Arch, saying that was not an equal option. Currently part of an archeological garden, the area is tucked around a corner, out of sight, and access is limited to certain times.

Mr. Sharansky’s vision calls for unfettered access to the area and for platforms to be used to bring it to the same level as the rest of the Western Wall, a remnant of the retaining wall of the mount revered by Jews as the site where their ancient temples once stood in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The renovated area must be connected to the wall itself, Mr. Sharansky added, and there must be one entrance for all worshipers, regardless of the section in which they choose to pray.

I appreciate what Rabbi Anat Hoffman said about the plan, because she is trying to make it work. Compromising now, I think, can leave room for further pushing later, as women’s roles in prayer are normalized in the Kotel complex.

“It’s very ambitious, a dramatic change, and it will make history,” Ms. Hoffman, who is currently in the United States, was quoted as saying. “It’s not everything we were hoping for, but we will compromise. You don’t always have to be right, you have to be smart, and compromise is a sign of maturity and understanding what’s at stake here.”

I think Natan Sharansky’s framing of the issue in his press releases shows the success of Women of the Wall and others, who have been framing the issue this way all along:

“One Western Wall for one Jewish people…. The Kotel will once again be a symbol of unity among the Jewish people, and not one of discord and strife.”  (See article in The Forward here.)

More links with info:

And for fun, here’s a photo of me with Women of the Wall on January 1, 2006.

Fall 2005 044

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