One of the impressions I had from day one, when I first heard about Women of the Wall, was that it is an “American issue”, that Israelis do not support the Women of the Wall. But that was just my gut instinct, I had nothing to back my feelings on this matter.
We Women For The Wall have been claiming that Women of the Wall and their supporters are Americans that are trying to shove their liberal American agenda vis a vis the Kotel, on Israelis that aren’t interested in them.
And Women of the Wall have claimed that they have the support of Israelis, that Israelis are sick of the (ultra) Orthodox people being in control of an area that belongs to all Jews, not just the Orthodox.
So we were at an impasse. We each were convinced that the other was wrong, and that the majority of Israelis sided with us. But without actual numbers and data, what we had was just supposition.
This past Thursday, I decided to go to the streets of Jerusalem and the people there what they thought about the Kotel and about the Women of the Wall.
What I was hoping to accomplish- to prove that Israelis, as a whole, do not support the actions of the Women of the Wall. Or that they simply don’t care about the topic, even if they do support their cause in theory. That the only people who truly cared about what happened at the Kotel are people who oppose the Women of the Wall.
I was scared, I’ll admit. What if I was wrong? Would I have to come out publicly and claim that I was wrong, that the average Israeli does strongly support the Women of the Wall, and we Women For the Wall were a small minority trying to impose our views on a majority?
I’ll be honest, when approaching people to survey, I was a bit biased in who I picked to ask. I barely asked any Chareidi people, assuming that they supported tradition and not the Women of the Wall. I even tended to direct my questions to people who didn’t look overtly religious, because I assumed I knew the religious party line. I wanted to know what the non Orthodox thought about this topic.
These are the questions I asked in my survey:
- How would you categorize yourself religiously? Chiloni (secular), masorti (hard to define, but non religious yet culturally Jewish is the closest I can think of), dati (religious/Orthodox), or Chareidi (ultra-Orthodox)?
- How often do you go to the Kotel?
- Do you think the Kotel should be run by Orthodox standards, like it is now, or would you like there to be change, and if so, what?
- Do you want there to be a mechitza (partition between men and women) at the Kotel, or would you support it being removed?
- Have you heard of the Women of the Wall? Do you support what they’re doing?
- Is this topic in general one that’s dear to you, or do you really not care about it at all?
(I tried to ask all these questions, but those that were in a hurry, I asked fewer questions.)
In speaking to these men and women, I actually was surprised to learn that very few knew of the existence of Robinson’s Arch. I guess it is something that no one cares to mention in the media.
Another thing that I need to point out- many people that I approached weren’t interested in being part of the survey- some turned down my request the second they heard survey, and some turned down my request when they heard the survey was about the Kotel. It could be that because of that my results weren’t a true representation of the population, but who knows? All surveys, by their very nature, are self selecting.
I conducted these interviews starting from Pisgat Zeev on the train, to Ben Yehuda Street, down King George Street, back on the train, down towards the Jaffa gate, in the Kotel plaza, and in the bus stop outside the Kotel. Thursday, actually, was a time that the Kotel’s visitors weren’t actually a true representative of the visitors who usually come, as Thursday there was a hashba’a (swearing in ceremony) for Tzanchanim, an elite army unit, in the Kotel plaza, so many people there aren’t necessarily people who would come pray at the Kotel, just people who were coming for the ceremony. Other than the Kotel, these aren’t religious areas, so I would say the population I asked is a nice average of Jerusalem’s residents (unlike what would happen if I conducted a similar poll on Malchei Yisrael street in Geula.)
I divided up the people I asked into two categories- Israeli residents, and non Israelis- tourists- because I was curious what tourists coming to the Kotel feel, as tourists comprise a large percentage of visitors to the Kotel each year.
These are my results of my interviews/surveys. They are raw. They are unedited. They might be offensive to people on both sides of the divide.
But this is the truth. What the real Israelis think about this very emotional topic. And I bet it’s the first of its kind done.
Here are the results of the survey:
Israeli 1– masorti young woman. Goes to the Kotel once every 2 weeks. She likes that it’s run by Orthodox standards, likes the mechitza. She likes how everyone gets along there and respects each other; she mentioned how she is happy that there are scarves available at the Kotel to help people, like herself, who don’t come appropriately dressed, to cover up out of respect for the place. Her opinion on WoW? “Neshot Hakotel Mefagrot”. “The Women of the Wall are idiots.” This topic is very important to her.
Israeli 2– masorti young man. Goes to the Kotel 1 time a year. He likes how it is run, says it needs a mechitza because it is a holy place. His opinion on WoW? “Everyone is welcome at the Kotel, but they need to respect the rules.”
Israeli 3– Chiloni Israeli woman soldier. She goes to the Kotel once every few years. She thinks the Kotel should run by Orthodox standard, with a mechitza. Her thoughts on WoW? “They hurt the population at the Kotel, however, they have a right to pray how they want. But they should pray at Robinson’s Arch.” This isn’t an important issue for her.
Israeli 4- masorti Israeli woman soldier. Her opinion of WoW? “Zeh poge’ah badat” “Its offensive/hurts religion. They can do what they want to do in their temples all over- they should do their “thing” somewhere else, not at the Kotel.”
Israeli 5– masorti woman, goes to the Kotel once a year. She definitely wants change at the Kotel, wants the mechitza removed. Her opinion on WoW? She is a fan. “The Kotel needs to be open to all.” The topic is very important to her.
Israeli 6– masorti man. Goes to the Kotel 3 times a year. He thinks it should run according to Orthodoxy, with a mechitza. His opinion on WoW? “Let WoW do their stuff.” The issue isn’t really important to him.
Israeli 7– Traditional man, goes to the Kotel once every 2 weeks. He thinks it should be run by Orthodox standards, and that there should be a mechitza. His opinion on Wow: he supports Sharansky’s plan to open a large egalitarian prayer section at the Kotel, because it is important to be sensitive to everyone’s feelings. The issue isn’t really important to him.
Israeli 8– Chareidi woman. Goes to the Kotel once every 2 months. She likes that it’s run by Orthodox standards, likes the mechitza. Her opinion on WoW? “Its not good, it’s not appropriate.”
Israeli 9– Russian olah chadasha (new immigrant) who can’t label herself religiously. She goes to the Kotel once every 2 weeks, she wants changes in how things are run. The topic is very important to her.
Israeli 10– Dati woman, goes to the Kotel between once a week and once a month. She thinks that the Kotel absolutely needs to run by Orthodox standards, and that there needs to be a mechitza. Her opinion about WoW? “Outrageous. It stems from ignorance. They don’t understand what it means to be a Jewish woman- it means being a queen.” The topic is very important to her.
Israeli 11– Dati woman, thinks the Kotel should stay as it is, run by religious standards and with a mechitza. Her opinion on WoW? She is against them.
Israeli 12– masorti woman. She goes to the Kotel whenever she has an issue pressing her and she finds the need to pray about something. She thinks that they need to keep the mechitza, keep the Kotel as is. In her opinion, a holy place needs to be run by Orthodox/Torah laws. Her opinion on WoW: “They’re Davka, trying to make provocation. Christians, Muslims, everyone who comes to the Kotel respects the holiness of the place and those who come to pour out their hearts, but the Women of the Wall don’t. They don’t have enough other problems? Why do they have to make a fight there? If they want to fight about something important, they should fight for the right for Jews to pray on Har Habayit- the Temple Mount.” The issue is very important to her.
Israeli 13– masorti woman. Goes to the Kotel a few times a year. She thinks the Kotel should be run by religious standards with a mechitza. Her thoughts on WoW: They have a right to pray as they want, but do it at Robinson’s Arch, no provocation is needed.
Israeli 14– Dati woman, GreenPeace activist (she agreed to answer my questions if I’d listen to her try to sell GreenPeace to me). She goes to the Kotel once every few weeks. She is cool with the Kotel having a Rabbi in charge, so long as he lets people feel free to do as they see fit. Her views on WoW: She supports them. She thinks compromise is necessary, either Sharansky’s compromise, or splitting time at the Kotel. Its a very important topic to her.
Israeli 15– masorti man. Goes to the Kotel once a month. He wants to keep it run by religious standards, and keep the mechitza. His opinion on WoW: “They shouldn’t come to the Kotel”. This topic is very important to him.
Israeli 16- Dati man. He goes to the Kotel twice a year, and wants it kept by religious standards and keep the mechitza. His opinion on WoW: “They’re living in a dream world. They think they’re men.” This topic is very important to him.
Israeli 17– masorti woman. Likes the Kotel run as it is and doesn’t want the mechitza removed. Her opinion on WoW: She doesn’t support them. This topics is important to her.
Israeli 18– masorti woman. She goes to the Kotel 2 times a year. She has no complaints either way about the Kotel, either if it is kept as it is now, or if they remove the mechitza, etc… Her thoughts on WoW: they don’t bother her, but if there is a place for them to pray at Robinson’s Arch, they should pray there so they don’t bother other people.
Israelis 19, 20, and 21. Chareidi young women. They go to the Kotel once a week. They want the Kotel to be run by religious standards, want to keep the mechitza. Their opinion on Women of the Wall: “What? They want to be like men and take on men’s obligations? First value being a Jewish woman!” The topic is very important to them.
Israeli 22– Masorti woman, who is a tourguide so comes to the Kotel very very often. She wants the Kotel kept as is, run by religious standards and with a mechitza, because it is peaceful and holy that way. Her thoughts on WoW: “They are strange- they should decide, either they keep Judaism or they don’t. I’m against revolutions in general, especially Women of the Wall, because they never end up really pushing for the things they claim to be promoting. The Women of the Wall want to make a provocation. They don’t verbalize their real aim. Tradition is important. The Kotel is not for exhibitionism. We have enough people against us- why are they looking to cause a fight.” This issue is very important to her.
Israeli 23– Chiloni soldier. Rarely ever comes to the Kotel. He doesn’t care how things are run at the Kotel, but he thinks everyone should be respectful. His thoughts on Women of the Wall: he thinks freedom of religion is important. The topic isn’t important to him.
Israeli 24– masorti soldier. His thoughts on the Kotel: “Be respectful of each other. Find solutions and compromises.” His thoughts on WoW: “They shouldn’t do what they’re doing in a holy place. They should do it in their reform temples, not at the Kotel.”
Israelis 25 and 26– dati soldiers. Their thoughts on WoW: “They aren’t happy with their roles as women. Democracy is fine- do whatever you want so long as no one is getting hurt. But religious people are being hurt by the Women of the Wall.” The topic is important to them.
Israeli 27– masorti woman. She thinks its important to keep tradition and keep the mechitza. Her opinion on WoW: They’re trying to make incitement.
Israeli 28– Chiloni woman. She thinks the traditions need to be kept at the Kotel, because it’s a religious place and therefore should have religious rules. She wants the mechitza left as is. Her thoughts on WoW: They’re missing the point. There’s more important things to fight about. They go too far. This issue isn’t a big deal for her.
Israeli 29– Chiloni woman. “I don’t care either way. I understand both sides.” It’s not a big deal to her.
Israeli 30– Chiloni woman. The Kotel needs to have religious standards. Leave the mechitza. Her thoughts on WoW: She doesn’t care either way.
Israeli 32– Chiloni woman. Rarely comes to the kotel. She thinks the Kotel needs som religious standards, but cool with no mechitza, and supports WoW’s right to pray whereever.
Israelis 33, 34, and 35. Dati women. Want the Kotel kept as is, run by religious standards, and with a mechitza. Their thoughts on WoW: “They are desecrating the place.” This issue is important to them.
Ok, now to sum that up, what does that say?
Well, the numbers show that of the people I asked, only 18% support the WoW’s right to pray at the Kotel as they do now, with tallit, tefillin, and singing out lout…
Vs. 81% who are opposed to what the Women of the Wall are doing at the Kotel. This includes the 9% that supports the WoW’s right to pray how they want, but at Robinson’s Arch only, and not at the Kotel, and the 71% who are opposed completely to the WoW.
So yes, the majority of the Israelis I asked do not support the WoW, as I had thought.
And since the other part of the theory was that even if people in theory support the WoW, its not something they care about, but the people who have issues with what they’re doing do care strongly about it:
67% of the people are opposed to WoW and care strongly about the topic, and 11% support WoW and care strongly about the topic.
83% of the WoW opposers care strongly about this topic, while only 60% of the Wow supporters do.
Keep in mind that these numbers are very obviously skewed, because I specifically tried, for the most part, to not ask anyone who was obviously religious, and especially not Chareidi people. I asked mostly masortim 40%, followed by 31% datiim, followed by 17% chilonim, and only 11% Chareidi. If I had actually asked everyone, regardless of whether they looked religious or not, the numbers would have been much different. And if I had actually gone to the Kotel on a regular day, and not when there is an army ceremony going on there, and had asked the general population there, the numbers would have been even different.
Since I was trying to get the opinion of people who weren’t strictly observant, and ideally I looked for men without kippot, and women wearing pants, uncovered hair, and short sleeves, I learned that most people in Israel, or at least on the streets of Jerusalem, who you wouldn’t expect to be religious, actually are masorati or dati, not chiloni. And most of the masorti actually are opposed to what the Women of the Wall are doing.
Now another thing people are saying about the Women of the Wall- its only Americans who want to change things at the Kotel, not Israelis. That Americans come to Israel and think they should be able to tell Israel how they should run the holy sites here.
So here’s another statistic I want to look at- I asked tourists from various countries how they felt about how things run at the Kotel.
Tourists 1 and 2– American women tourists from Los Angeles, Modern Orthodox “Lite”. The Kotel shouldn’t be changed- it should be run by Orthodox standards, with a mechitza. Opinion on WoW? It bothers them but they respect their religious quest. “They should stay and pray in Robinson’s Arch and don’t make a fight in the holiest place.”
Tourists 3 and 4– American, Conservative tourists from NJ- husband and wife. The wife is more traditionally minded, and thinks that the Kotel should be left as is. The husband thinks a change needs to be made at the Kotel, women should be able to do what they want and currently only men can do what they want at the Kotel. The mechitza bothers him. His opinion on WoW- he supports the Sharansky plan but thinks its not feasible, and even if it is implemented, he thinks the Women of the Wall should keep on doing what they’re doing where they’re doing it, not in the egalitarian section. The wife wasn’t as involved in the issue, and he didn’t let her speak enough for me to know if she supported them fully or not.
Tourist 5– Dati American guy in yeshiva here, making aliya soon. He goes to the Kotel twice a year, and thinks its important to keep the Kotel run by Orthodox standards because it was started to be run by Orthodox standards since ’67 and you can’t go back on that, but if that hadn’t happened, who knows. His thoughts on WoW: “They are justified.”
Tourists 6– Group of French, Christian tourists. Their opinion on how things are at the Kotel: We don’t need it separate, but we’re cool with it being run as it is, because it is holy for Jews.
Tourists 7– Group of Eretrian and Ethiopian Orthodox Christian tourists. Their opinion on how things are run at the Kotel: “We really like it and are comfortable there, as men and women are also kept separate in our culture.”
Tourists 8– Dutch tourists. Their opinion on the topic: Tourists have no business getting involved in politics of the country they’re visiting.
In other words:
3 out of 5 American tourists had ideas about how they should change the Kotel.
All the other tourists either liked and respected how things were at the Kotel or thought that as non residents of Israel, they have no right to tell Israel how they should run the Kotel.
The numbers speak for themselves.
This is what people on the streets of Jerusalem REALLY think about the Women of the Wall and how things run at the Kotel.
Hint: Women of the Wall, you do NOT have the support you seem to think you have. You’re a small group of mostly Americans trying to impose your views on Israelis who aren’t interested in your agenda.