Last week, Rosh Chodesh Iyyar came and went, the beginning of the new Jewish month. A year has now passed since Charlie Kalech and I were brutalized for helping to provide a Sefer Torah for women’s prayer at the Western Wall. It’s an anniversary I need to forget. It’s an act of service already forgotten by Women of the Wall.
The events are well-known in some liberal Jewish and feminist circles. Charlie and I were among a group of men who provided a full-sized Torah scroll to Women of the Wall from the men’s side of the Kotel. In retaliation, we were roughed up at our own holy site.
Two of us were brutalized. Charlie was grabbed by the throat and thrown to the ground. I was stomped on in the stomach after holding back a man from attacking the women’s Torah reading.
The men who attacked us are free, never held accountable for their violence. I faced bowel trauma: three months of trouble eating and almost constant bowel pain. The emotional trauma lingered. I lost confidence in my work. I started projects that I couldn’t finish. At home alone, I was lost. Thankfully, in the last month — with a lot of support — I’ve begun to recover my energy and confidence.
It was a morning of counterpoints, joy at women’s Torah reading, dismay after the attack and concern over our physical injuries. It was shocking to hear a WOW board member chide me for defending the women’s Torah reading. “You should have let that man attack us,” she said. “It [violence against women praying] would have made great publicity.”
WOW has lost its way. It traded the goal of women’s prayer at the Kotel for administrative control of egalitarian prayer at Robinson’s Arch. It’s traded its grassroots feminism to become a branch of the Reform and Conservative Movements. Its leadership has stopped listening to loyalists who question decisions. Its spokespersons approach real concerns as attacks. WOW has adopted a black and white attitude which brooks no challenge. Both Charlie and I have been publicly critical. No wonder WOW’s leadership skipped over the anniversary.
So did I. On the anniversary of the attack, I didn’t go pray with WOW. I can’t support the so-called deal for two reasons: i) it attempts to trade away inalienable rights of women at the Kotel to secure control of Robinson’s Arch; and ii) it enshrines ultra-Orthodox authority over the main Kotel plaza into the Israeli regulations governing holy sites. It’s a betrayal of the founding goals of the organization and a capitulation to ultra-Orthodox dominance of the Kotel plaza.
Be clear: by stepping on the rights of women at the Western Wall, it’s the deal that WOW negotiated and advocates that pits egalitarian worship at Robinson’s Arch against women’s prayer at the Kotel.
Be clear: I still support freedom of women’s Jewish expression at the Western Wall. And, like the Original Woman of the Wall — the women who’ve never wavered in their dedication to women’s prayer at the Wall — I will not walk away from the Kotel.
Be clear: I wish WOW success expanding the existing egalitarian prayer space at Robinson’s Arch. I support the drive to increase political power for Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel. I no longer support many of WOW’s tactics. I vehemently oppose their willingness to trade away women’s prayer rights at the Kotel.
I’m still grateful to WOW and proud that I’ve been a front-lines supporter for these many years.
Today, I stand with the Original Woman of the Wall.