My Journey Back to the Kotel

I admit it, I have not been really in touch with what has been going on in the world the past few years. I have been working full time, taking care of my family, raising my four young children, getting my PhD, even donating a kidney. I had stopped paying attention to what was going on in the world, even to Israel, a place that has a place so close to my heart. A place that is on my lips during my daily prayers. Read a newspaper, who has time? I was focused inward on building up my family and on my career. I figured that Israel and the Kotel were in the hands of Jews and our traditions would always be maintained and respected there. I took it for granted that the Kotel would always be a place of unity for the Jewish people, a place where our traditions would be maintained with the utmost respect and loyalty.

A few months ago, I read something that shook me out of my complacency. I came across an article where Barbara Streisand condemned Israel for discriminating against women and not allowing them to pray at the Kotel. As I read more, I found a description of Women of the Wall (WOW) and their efforts to liberate the Kotel. This article stated that a group of women, were being excluded from praying at the Kotel, the remaining Western Wall of the Holy Temple. It stated that misogynistic Rabbis were discriminating against Jewish Women and had arrested them for praying. I was horrified. This did not make sense to me as on my trips to Israel when I visited the Kotel weekly, I was never excluded from praying. I was there with thousands of other women Jews and non-Jews alike, Traditional, Secular, Chareidi, praying silently, kissing the stones, tears falling down our cheeks. We were all together in the holiest place on earth. I felt the direct connection with G-d, to the entire Jewish people, to our past, to our forefathers, in the plaza right outside the wall where the Holy Temple once stood. For me, my time at the Kotel was enlightening, spiritual, amazing.

I decided to research this issue further. I began reading all forms of media on this topic, almost obsessively. I read newspapers, magazines, the internet and social media. I began to research WOW and learned about their leaders and their financial backers. I found out that for the past 25 years, the WOW group has consisted of a small group of women, anywhere from 50-200, who believe they represent “pluralistic” prayer and a new face for Jewish women. They come to the Kotel, once a month and conduct a loud, colorful, non-traditional, often disruptive, prayer service, accompanied by a large media circus and 50-100 angry protestors. I found much of the media coverage of this story extremely critical of Traditional and Orthodox Jewry. The majority of the articles I read made it sound like in traditional Judaism, men do not allow Jewish women to pray at all. While others made it sound like men throw bottles and eggs anytime women want to pray at the Kotel. I also found the portrayal of Traditional and Orthodox Jewish women personally offensive. We were being portrayed as mindless followers who had no opinions of their own. One article stated, that when Traditional and Orthodox women would see liberal, progressive women praying with Tallis and Tefilin they would begin to doubt their lifestyle, they would begin to think…

The more articles and Op-Eds I read, the more incensed I became. I wondered how can anyone think that I was a mindless follower? That all the wonderful, traditional, religious women I interact with daily and have known throughout my life are subjugated, almost as if they are suffering from a collective, worldwide Stockholm Syndrome that has spanned millennia? I have always thought of myself and my peers as intelligent, educated people. Every choice I have made for myself and my family has been made consciously, with my full heart. It is my personal belief that Torah Judaism, including its belief in separate but complementary gender roles and a more spiritually inward role for women, is the best choice for me and my family. I believe that Traditional Jewish beliefs and practices are the anchor that has preserved the Jewish nation for the past two thousand years. I cherish my role as a mother, educator, spiritual force of the home. The more I read the American and Israeli media, the more I realized that the voice of Traditional and Orthodox Jewish women was not being represented at all. A small group of women, with ideals contrary to mine, were claiming to speak for all Jewish women, but their voice was not representing my ideals and beliefs.

I began to feel the need to speak out. In my readings, I found out about Women for the Wall (W4W), a grassroots organization that has emerged to protect the sanctity of the Kotel. When I saw how in just a few days they were able to get the backing of our biggest Rabbanim and Gedolim and get thousands of women to come to the Kotel to pray, I was inspired. When I began to read the Op-Eds by Women for the Wall members and their supporters, about Feminism in Torah Judaism and the special role that women play in the traditional Jewish lifestyle, I felt like Women for the Wall was giving me and the thousands of Secular, Traditional and Orthodox Jewish Women who respect the status quo at the Kotel a unified voice. When I saw the thousands of women and girls praying quietly at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh, I saw myself, I saw my daughters and granddaughters. This is our voice. This is our Kotel.

About the Author
Sara Davis-Conway PhD is a mother of four and a licensed neuropsycholgist in Flushing, NY.