Talking to the Wall

A year ago I fulfilled a dream of 3 decades and visited the Great Wall of China.The Great Wall was built in 220–206 BC by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China to protect his developing country from the enemies coming from the north. It is one of the great wonders of the world, a symbol of human achievements.

As I walked on the Great Wall of China, I thought of other walls: The Berlin Wall- the physical and ideological divide between East and West Germany; I also thought of Pink Floyd’s The Wall which follows themes of abandonment and personal isolation represented by a metaphorical wall. I thought of the British film, Shirley Valentine, in which the lead character, a lonely housewife, talks to the wall in her kitchen, for lack of any other listeners. And I even contemplated the many symbols of the modern day wall in the popular TV series Game of Thrones, trying to guess the many symbolic aspects of its construction, most not yet revealed.

Yet one wall stands out. It is embedded and engraved in the heart of every Jew, conjuring a multitude of images, memories and feelings, some extremely personal and some joint historic symbols for our nation. An evaluation of the Birthright trips over the years shows that among the multitude of exciting experiences during this first trip to Israel, over 95% of the youngsters voted the visit at the Western Wall the most meaningful.

I know this Wall so well. I can tell you about the size of those huge rocks, about the cracks in which white notes full of private aspirations, wishes and dreams are placed. I can even describe in detail the color and density of the foliage growing through the cracks. I have been praying at the Wall for 29 years with my sisters from Women of the Wall, so most of all, I know the devotion, bravery, tenacity and love of my sisters at WOW.

This Thursday, we will congregate as sisters, but not at the Wall. Rather, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, where we will be demanding, yet again, the right for every woman to pray freely at the Wall.

There is a saying in Hebrew “Talk to the wall”, an idiom implying that no one is listening.  When I pray at the Western Wall, I connect to God.  This does not imply that the Western Wall is a giant antenna broadcasting my wishes to divine forces. Rather, it is that place where I know my roots, history and connection to the generations before me, with their suffering, dreams and yearnings.  When I “talk to the Wall”, I am linked to all those who came before me, and those who will come after me.

 WOW ushers in Elul (Photo: Hila Perl)
WOW ushers in Elul
(Photo: Hila Perl)

Tomorrow WOW will be asking the Supreme Court to rule in favor of our right to worship at the Western Wall. We look to the Justices to impose the establishment of a new Sothern Egalitarian Plaza in accordance with the agreement adopted by the government nearly two years ago. In our petition, we insist on three major issues which were included in the Kotel Agreement: First, the new plaza must be legally part of the Western Wall but run by us:  women and men, liberal Jews of the world- the majority of the Jewish people. Second, the new plaza must be entered through the entrance as the “traditional” plazas, so any visitor would have a choice of where they’d like to worship. Third, the new plaza must be a respectable place of worship and not a second-rate plaza for second-rate Jews.

As I walked my path in China, I realized, we too have a great Wall. The Western Wall I envision, is one that welcomes all Jewish worshipers regardless of gender, race, age and denomination. It can be a Wall of respect, its huge stones like hearts-loving and inclusive. We hope our day in court won’t leave us feeling we’ve been “talking to the wall.”

WOW worshiper visits the Western Wall for the first time (Photo: Hila Perl)
WOW worshiper visits the Western Wall for the first time (Photo: Hila Perl)
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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