An Open Letter To The Women Of The Wall

I consider myself quasi-Chareidi, but live in a mixed community with people across the religious spectrum. My next door neighbor and best friend is someone who certainly wouldn’t be classified as Chareidi, and yet somehow, we manage to be very close friends. I admire her and respect her and think she is a wonderful woman, even if our values are not always the same, and I hope she can say the same about me.

The way our friendship works is that we take turns listening to each other speak, try to hear where the other person is coming from, try to understand how they feel, even if it is diametrically opposed to what we hold dear. And sometimes we try to convince each other of our opinion, and sometimes it works, but more often than not, it doesn’t. So we have our very different opinions, agree to disagree, and move on to more important things.

The reason it works is that at the basis of our friendship is an undercurrent of respect. We know that the other person is not a nasty person, but truly has a good heart, wanting to do the right thing, even if we may not agree on what that thing is. That alone is the foundation for respect, and how we manage to be good friends, despite differences in some of our core beliefs.

I suspect that our friendship is not unique. There are many people who manage to be good friends despite having different values, even about very important things. Most mature people have disagreements about many subjects with their friends and acquaintances, but try to find a common ground for their relationship.

And yet, when there are groups of people with different core values, all this often flies out the window.

I just read an article about this very topic– in which the author challenged people on both sides of the Women of the Wall issue to “empathize with the other side and acknowledge their right to have their opinions.”

I decided that, as the founder of Women For The Wall, an organization whose purpose, in part, is to stand up for the opposite of what the Women of the Wall stand for, keeping tradition and status quo at the Kotel, I would take up the writer on her challenge, and in the spirit of Lag BaOmer, where the message seems to be one of unity and Ahavat Yisrael, and reach out to you, the Women of the Wall, as a gesture of friendship.

First off, I wanted to get back to my friend, that I mentioned above. She and I have irreconcilable differences, but we manage to be friends because instead of looking at what divides us, we try to focus on what we have in common. I think the reason why people fighting for causes tend to fight and be nasty towards each other is because when there are organizations, there tend to be anonymous entities, so it’s hard to see past the differences and look for the common ground. Organizations standing up to organizations tend to dehumanize things- we tend to forget there are people behind these organizations, fighting for these causes.

I was reading some articles tonight about the Women of the Wall and all of a sudden, a name stuck out at me- Cheryl Mack- one of the board members of the Women of the Wall.

All of a sudden, Women of the Wall had a very real face for me.

You see, I’ve known Cheryl for a very, very long time. In fact, I don’t even know how old I was when I met her- I was a very little kid- my dad was good friends with her husband- they davened together in shul, my mother good friends with her, and they and their kids would come over to our house on many Shabbatot; we had many meals together. We fell out of touch when my family moved to Israel, but Cheryl and I bumped into each other a few times on the streets of Jerusalem where we spoke and caught up, updating each other on our families and our current lives.

I know for a fact that Cheryl is a very caring, wonderful woman with a heart of gold. I know for a fact that she is a truth seeker and always tries to help people.

And I know that with her a board member of Women of the Wall, and myself a founder of Women For The Wall, we stand on opposite ends of a chasm of religious differences, but now I see we have a bridge connecting the two ends- our mutual quest for truth, and desire to help people.

Now that I’m more aware of the role Cheryl plays in your organization, dearest members of the Women of the Wall, I call out to you:

Dear sisters,

We live in a country surrounded by people who want to kill us, and we’re at each other’s throats because of differences of beliefs? Why does it have to be that way? Why can’t we be like my friend and I- with very different opinions, but still respectful of each other?

Lets try to find a common ground. Lets try to find a way that we can all get what we want. Lets try to find a mutually acceptable solution so that we can all pray to our loving God- without any arrests, without any tension, without any struggles. Just connecting to our Creator.

I know you want to be able to pray at the Kotel, on the women’s side, without anyone bothering you. I know there are many halachic arguments permitting what you’re doing. I understand it is offensive to you that many people don’t consider your way of serving God to be valid. I understand that you’re fighting for a cause you feel is just.

I hear you. You, as fellow Jewish sisters, have much in common with us, Women For The Wall- we’re both fighting for what we believe is just.

I ask that you recognize that we also want to be able to pray at the Kotel on the women’s side without anyone bothering us. I ask that you recognize that there are many halachic arguments forbidding what you’re doing. I ask that you understand that it us offensive to us that many members of your organization have said publicly that they don’t consider our way of serving God to be valid.

I understand that many of you don’t understand just why it is that we find it very offensive when a group of women wearing talleisim and tefillin and yarmulkas and reading from the Sefer Torah comes to pray in the women’s section of the Kotel where we’re trying to pray, and I acknowledge that most of you probably won’t ever understand just why we find it offensive and disruptive. I’m not asking you to understand us or agree with our line of thought, I’m asking that you acknowledge that we find it very offensive and disruptive, the same way I’m acknowledging that you find it offensive when other people don’t consider your way of serving God to be valid.

If we could just meet for coffee, I’m sure we’d see that many of us have much in common. From some brief correspondence that we had, I see that Rachel Cohen Yeshurun and I have a similar background- both from Bnei Akiva type families, having learned on Bais Yaakovs.

If we could just meet and speak about our various goals, I’m sure we could come up with a solution where everyone would be able to pray as they want without offending anyone else, regardless of whether or not we feel the other person has a right to be offended.

Because everyone has a right to their feelings. And trying to tell someone why they shouldn’t have that feeling doesn’t change the fact that they will feel that way.

People on both sides are getting offended.

We’re a smart people- I’m sure we could figure out a solution where we all get what we want, at least 95%.

So- a date, anyone?

Aroma Coffee shop?

About the Author
Ronit Peskin is a chareidi single mother of 4 living in Kochav Yaakov, activist for mental health awareness, blogger at about living a life with mindful spending, and foraging instructor, attempting to make a kiddush Hashem every day via her interactions with others.
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