Time to Teach Tolerance and Nonviolence

As spokeswoman for Women of the Wall this week alone I have been called a communist, a whore, a man, a non-Jew (intended as an insult, which is double-rude), a reformist (not sure this is a word and Reform is not a curse word, a feminist (also not a curse), blasphemous and provocative (an honor to share this last one several times a day with my suffragette sisters).

It is not my style to respond to detractors and opposition. I respect the voices of others. I do admit that I can get quite heated at the blatant vilification of the women I have come to love and work to protect.  I know the women who pray with us each month and they are holy, spiritually and ritually dedicated, genuine, kind people.  To insult and vilify these women, as is the sole mission of the new fringe group Women FOR the Wall, is nothing short of “lashon hara” (Hebrew: the evil tongue), the halakhic (Jewish law) term for derogatory speech about another person”.

We do not need to agree- but we can still respect each other and allow each other to worship according to her belief. There is more than enough room at the Western Wall (Kotel) for all of us to pray. The law has established that Women of the Wall have the right to pray there, alongside everyone else.

That all being said I must set the record straight and come to the defense of the women who so genuinely pray with us.

Here are some myths, straight from Women FOR the Wall’s Facebook page, followed by the facts to set the lies straight:

MYTH: Women For The Wall June 10, 2013: Ok, Women For the Wall supporters- we have a golden opportunity here. We need to recruit people to write op eds, flood the media with op eds about what happened today- that chareidim were barred from the kotel and the old city was on lockdown. If you want to be part of our team, send me a buzz to rmpeski@…

FACT: Women of the Wall has no knowledge of a “lockdown” or people being barred from the Kotel. According to all official accounts, Haredim did not show up at that morning either because of lack of interest or the Rabbi’s calls to return to their studies. This was choice, not force. If indeed there was a “lockdown”, it was the police’s orders. If Women FOR the Wall was truly concerned about this issue, then they would legally challenge this with the police/state and to begin to educate within their community for tolerance and non-violence  so that it does not happen again.

MYTH: Ronit H Peskin June 11, 2013 (in a comment on Susan Silverman’s Forward article): You do know that WoW has a 6 million surplus budget each year, yes?

FACT: I wish this was true. If it were, I am sure I wouldn’t be driving a Hyundai Getz!  Our 2013 budget is currently around $200,000, up from last year’s budget of $110,000- due to the large influx of interest in our cause and work (expenses). We do not work off of a surplus, like most NGOs. Our donors are Israeli and American foundations and individuals from all over the world. We are an Israeli Amuta and have always been. We have 3 staff members- one 1 full time, the rest part time. The bulk of the work that goes into our cause is done by amazing volunteers. They are the heart of our movement, including our board and Anat Hoffman, and thousands of others around the world.   

MYTH: Women For The Wall June 12, 2013: So it turns out that Women Of The Wall have deleted all comments on their facebook page disagreeing with them, and banned any non member from commenting and/or liking things there. Why is WoW afraid of dialogue? W4W has kept our page open to everyone, and have not banned even those that most vocally disagree with us. When someone is afraid of letting opposing opinions be heard, it makes you wonder- why not? What are you afraid of? Are you afraid that people will be convinced otherwise?

FACT:  Since the violence against our group injured three police officers and threatened the lives of our leadership (coincidentally the same month that Women for the Wall began inciting the haredi community against us), we made a decision for security reasons to begin to ban threats and incitement from our social networking sites. This is done to protect our leaders and to decrease the contact that our opposition has with our volunteers and supporters. Our supporters are so genuine that they are truly hurt and offended by the comments of our detractors who attack and degrade their religious, spiritual beliefs. We want our sites to be a safe space for our supporters- they have asked for this and we are providing it. The Kotel is a public space, where all have the right to be and express themselves. Women of the Wall’s websites are ours, for us to do with it and administer it as we see fit.

At the Kotel however, this approach is unacceptable. It is a holy but also public site, administered by the government for all of the Jewish people. The Declaration of Establishment of State of Israel states: “THE STATE OF ISRAEL … will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions…” The District Court of Jerusalem recently reestablished this fact in its decision that Women of the Wall’s prayer in no way violates the law or disturbs the peace and that the local custom of the Western Wall should be defined by the most pluralist, inclusive terms.

Those are the facts. Here is what I believe: The best thing for the unity of the Jewish people right now would for all involved to accept that there are many ritual differences within Judaism. Women of the Wall did not invent the Houses of Hilllel and Shamai (two leading rabbis of the early 1st century CE who founded opposing schools of Jewish thought). We all pray to the same one God and that God is the only one fit to judge.

I do have one final message to Women FOR the Wall: Sisters, please take careful responsibility of your words and actions. Instead of blaming Women of the Wall, who have been praying at the Kotel in relative peace for 24 years, try looking at the connection between the two months of violence and threats and your 2 months in existence. Fight the urge to participate in “lashon hara”, hold your tongues from speaking ill of others and focus on yourselves and your community. Take your platform as an opportunity to teach tolerance, nonviolence and prayer. Get to know the Women of the Wall personally, before you take to the media. Take a siddur and say the “Shema” with us at the Kotel when you next join us there.

On behalf of Women of the Wall, I welcome all Jewish women to come in peace and truly open your minds to our genuine prayer. We plan to meet next formally on July 8, 2013 at 7AM at the Kotel.  Join us, listen to our voices, speak to those who join us and hear that our prayer is one of unity, inclusiveness, spiritual connection to God and sisterhood. 

For more information on Women of the Wall, visit www.womenofthewall.org.il and watch: