The Right To Wave

Mutar li?” “Am I allowed?”

This innocent inquiry ranks highest among the most common responses I have heard from women walking by Women of the Wall’s public booths inviting passersby to wrap tefillin and tallit and wave the lulav and etrog, the Four Species. We stand on Jaffa St. in Jerusalem, or in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, and we wait. We exude hopefulness with each woman who walks past – will she pause? Will she look quizzically at the ritual objects, nod in acknowledgment and turn away? Will she mutter under her breath, intolerant of the unfamiliar? Or – will she lean in with that curious mantra: “Mutar li? Am I allowed?”

And we say, YES. This tradition is a living one, and Women of the Wall invites you to claim it as your own.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Municipality begs to differ, taking a negative stance against permitting WOW’s Sukkot event to take place in the city’s public square. We point to Orthodox Jewish outreach organizations who sponsor similar booths regularly and we call out a clear double standard. We do not seek to attack other groups or activities; on the contrary, we believe in a flourishing marketplace of Jewish ideas and opportunities, accessible to all seekers.

Jerusalem, the pulsating center of many cultures, must be the paradigm of vitality and diversity. 

And I cannot help but consider this latest expression of inequality with particular weight given its timing, during the holiday of Sukkot. There is a traditional thought that the composition of the Lulav and Etrog bundle represents different kinds of Jewish people or practice, and in grasping them together, we express the intention to create unity amidst our differences.

This is the symbol we wanted to share on Yafo St. This is the ritual we are told is not granted to us, at least not in public. Even though we know it is fully Muttar, permitted to us. 

As we build our sukkahs, temporary dwellings, we leave sections of it open to welcome the outside world and open our hearts to the “other.” In doing so, we declare that a home is truly a home when it is inviting to all. In this spirit, WOW sisters are moved, on Sukkot and throughout the year, to empower women from all Jewish backgrounds to embrace their own religious expressions, raising the Four Species in the air, and singing the words of Hallel in harmony.

Women of the Wall are here to declare “Mutar lach,” “Yes, it is permitted to you.”

It is our hope that one day the Jerusalem Municipality will share in this sentiment of inclusion.

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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