A round table meeting

My appetite grew with each whiff of fresh bourekas in the Carmel Market.

My friend Cheryl and I ordered a platter of savory pastries to share. Typical of the Carmel Market on Friday afternoon, the tiny eatery was packed, with no room to move. An older Israeli woman, with a copper hamsa and a silver chain of grandchildren dangling from her neck, leaned in to ask if she can share our table. We shifted to make space for our new acquaintance, and all fixated on the scrumptious treats before us.

As the tray of bourekas dwindled, we slipped into cheerful introductions. Cheryl spoke of her travels and her leadership in her Jewish community. Then our new friend shared anecdotes about the Jewish text study programming she organizes for religious women in her community.

Cheryl and I smirked at each other, warming up to the kind stranger. She signaled to me and promptly took her cue: “Lesley is the Executive Director of Women of the Wall,” she interjects. “Have you heard about our thirty years of resilient fighting for equality at the Kotel?”

You should have seen our new friend’s face. You would have thought she had mistaken me for Barbra Streisand.

“No way! You are so awesome! So courageous, fearless and doing such holy work!” she exclaimed, and immediately began brainstorming a plan to bring her women’s study group to join WOW at the Kotel for a Rosh Hodesh service. She asked for my business card, glimpsed it over and remarked: “this is magnificent!” She immediately stashed it in her bag for safekeeping.

Her enthusiasm, wholehearted and supportive, inspires me with new energy because it reminds me that people are taking notice of WOW’s work and accomplishments, and perhaps this is the best indicator of success. While the “powers that be” – namely, the Rabbinate and its affiliates – ignore or belittle our pleas for equal access to the Torah, for freedom of religious expression and to be fully included in a central national site, there are indeed others who hear us loud and clear. And it is to these “women of valor,” and for their sake, we continue to speak up.

I wished our new friend Shabbat Shalom. As her face glowed, she grabbed my arm and said, “I feel as though I am touching a mezuzah!”  Now this was a compliment I had never heard before – and it was a bit humbling. But her words meant the world to me, not as a personal flattery, but as a sign of something “clicking,” a small but sure step toward a more expansive Jewish vision. To be a “mezuzah,” a symbolic reminder of the sacred, a point of contact with tradition, is key to WOW’s mission.

When Jewish women feel empowered to raise their voices to celebrate the vibrancy of Jewish life, as they wish, then we are succeeding.

Women of the Wall amplifies the message that the Rabbinate and Western Wall Authorities attempt to silence: This Wall, this tradition, is yours too: men and women equally. All must be welcome.

A wave of change is transpiring, both in the harmonies of Hallel sung aloud by women at the Kotel, and in the moments of solidarity shared over a plate of bourekas. In this revolution, Women of the Wall supports all women in their pursuit of freedom of religious expression. We stand with you, our sisters, in the shuk and at the Kotel.

About the Author
Lesley Sachs is the 2014 recipient of the NCJW Jewel Bellush Outstanding Israeli Feminist award and was one of the founding members of “Isha L’isha – Haifa’s Feminist Center” and worked for 10 years in the Israel Women’s Network. Lesley served as executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), vice president of the World Union For Progressive Judaism and founding director of Project, Kesher Israel. She is currently working as the executive director of Women of the Wall. She served on the board of directors for the Jerusalem Women’s Shelter, board of directors for the JNF-KKL and currently she is chair of the pre-army mechina Michmanim in Jaffa.
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