Wendy Barrish
Wendy Barrish

The Kotel: Love it or hate it?

Photo credit: WOW (Women of the Wall)

For so many Jews, Jerusalem stands as a symbol and a connection point. As a Jerusalem resident, I would assume that if given the opportunity, most Jews would take the time to visit the city. Yes, Jerusalem can be intense, with countless religious sects and communities spanning the entire city, the air itself is different in Jerusalem. Yet, Jerusalem with its history and religious significance, must be a non-negotiable for most Jews, right? And what about the Kotel? Would it be safe to assume that most Jews feel a love for such a symbolic site? I wanted to know how Jews, and liberal Jews in particular, felt about visiting the Kotel, and if we all share similar feelings about it.

On Jerusalem Day, I took a survey. On the Women of the Wall Instagram account, I asked our followers to tell us how they feel about the Kotel. Going in, my feeling was that we’d mostly see positive responses. People who choose to follow our organization on social media must have fond feelings for the Kotel.

No doubt, a place of such rich history and symbolism for the Jewish people emanates an almost other-worldly energy, which was not lost on some of our followers. About a quarter of the respondents expressed their love for and connection to the Kotel. It was quite uplifting to read comments like, “I love to pray with my sisters,” or, “the energy when I am surrounded by the women there.”

Soon it became clear that these were minority opinions. The remaining comments were unfortunately not as superb. “Love the energy but hate the division,” some respondents simply said that the Kotel is nice, but not for them. However, I began to read firsthand accounts of people who had visited the Kotel, the most important Jewish site, only to have been harassed or made to feel unwelcome. A respondent claimed that she is “always afraid to be harassed for wearing a kippah and tallit.” One woman recounted the time she was “chased away by a hareidi woman.” While others shared that “it feels inaccessible to pray (I am a Reform Jew),” or as another woman wrote “I never know if I am wearing the ‘right thing’.”

Reading these comments hurt. So many women whose desire to be a part of the Kotel experience was surpassed by their frustration at being prevented from doing just that. . Tragically, I began to sense that the majority of commenters had developed a genuine dislike for one of the Jewish people’s most cherished sites.  

“I don’t love the Kotel!!” A simple five-word sentence confirmed my suspicions with a bang. 

Worst of all is that I get it. I understand why someone would respond in that way because I have experienced the same frustrating Kotel visits myself. Every Rosh Hodesh, Women of the Wall wake up before the sun rises, and trek to the Kotel rain or shine. Their prayers and spiritual moments are greeted with the worst antagonism – yells, jeers, pushing, shoving, and even worse, physical violence. It’s not surprising that someone would declare their open disdain for the Kotel when it has become such an uninviting place. A symbol for the Jewish people, perhaps. Open and accessible for all Jews, absolutely not. 

On Jerusalem Day, we celebrate the incredible privilege of being a people reunited with their capital and the Kotel. But as our commenters made clear, the celebrations are empty of meaning until the people reunite with each other and welcome Jews of all sects and denominations to pray as they desire. Women of the Wall is dedicated to bringing women of all backgrounds together to pray at the Kotel, so that a proper connection can be forged – with both the Wall and the greater Jewish People.  

About the Author
Wendy is originally from Far Rockaway, NY and grew up going to Bais Yaakov schools from first through 12th grade. After high school she attended seminary at Darchei Binah, and then returned to New York to attend Touro College. After graduating with her BA, Wendy returned to Israel to visit on her own and was able to see the country in a new light, one which she loved, and led to her decision to move to Israel permanently. In 2016, she made Aliyah on her own, and has been happily living here since. She currently lives in Jerusalem and among other things, works as the Media Manager for Women of the Wall.
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