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Women of the Wall — Moving forward

On WOW's decision to cooperate with the government -- and on its list of demands -- for a new pluralistic area at the Kotel

In bringing together and engaging Jews in Israel and around the world, f003we have succeeded in making our voices heard. For the first time in our 25 years of prayer and striving for inclusion, the Prime Minister of Israel reached out to Women of the Wall (WOW) for participation and leadership in order to bring about enduring justice at the Western Wall (Kotel). WOW has been asked to add our voices to the decision making process, which will shape the foreseeable future at the Kotel.

The facts on the ground have not changed: Judge Sobel’s landmark April 2013 decision in State of Israel vs. Ras et. al recognizes the right of women to pray freely out loud at the Kotel with tallit and tefillin and without fear of arrest. Nevertheless, women are still barred from bringing a Torah into the women’s section. Robinson’s Arch still has neither the status, the budget nor the amenities to be considered an alternative prayer site of kedushah/holiness at the Kotel. This fact was recognized by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky by Judge Sobel and by Israel’s Supreme Court. Many changes need to be made in terms of structure and infrastructure in order to make this space an equal, fully integrated prayer space at the Wall.

f001For 25 years, we have endured harassment from onlookers. For the past year, violent protests have been held at the Kotel against WOW each time we come to pray on Rosh Hodesh, and the Kotel administrator and the Haredi leadership have not only done nothing to stop this sinat hinam (baseless hatred) and desecration of the holy place, they support it and participate in it. They scream, spit, blow shrill whistles, throw eggs and garbage. They turn loudspeakers on us to drown out our prayer. The Jewish world is shocked by their behavior.

On Rosh Hodesh Kislev Nov 4, 2013, we will pray in the women’s section of the Kotel with hundreds of our sisters, commemorating the celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the Women of the Wall, and the establishment of our vision for full prayer rights for women at the Kotel. We continue to pray at the women’s section as is our right and we will continue to stand for the voice of women’s rights and religious empowerment at the Western Wall. However, we cannot in good conscience lobby Israeli society and the government to listen to our voices for 25 years and then refuse an invitation to speak directly to the government when it is offered to us.

In furtherance of its responsibility to pursue all significant opportunities to realize WOW’s mission, the WOW board decided last week to compile a list of demands for the Prime Minister – the necessary requirements for a third, pluralistic and equal section of the Wall. Equal to the women’s and men’s section in size, budget and topography, the new section would allow for egalitarian prayer but it would also have partitions available to allow for those who seek women’s only prayers. Unlike the current men and women’s sections, this section would not be administered by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz. The pluralistic section would be governed under the auspices of a group of leaders from all of the Jewish denominations, with 50% women and Women of the Wall representatives.

Some of our supporters are having difficulty with this decision. They are disappointed, as are we, that the Israeli government has chosen to support Haredi overseers at Israel’s most important national monument and holy site. The timing is not ideal, as we are just weeks away from our 25th anniversary celebrations, but we were presented with this invitation in the middle of September 2013 and the deadline for the Prime Minister’s committee on the issue was imminent.

This new section is now a vision. Until the last brick is put in place and all of the requirements are fulfilled, Women of the Wall will continue to stand strong in prayer in the women’s section of the Kotel. As we look toward the future, we will make certain that Women of the Wall pray at the Kotel, either in the women’s section, or in the new pluralist section, when it is created according to our requirements. Thanks to our thousands upon thousands of steadfast supporters both in Israel and abroad, we have the opportunity to create a new vision and to also continue to stand in support of our unchanging mission.

About the Author
Shira Pruce is an activist and communications professional. After living in Israel for 13 years, she has recently moved back to New Jersey. She is former director of public relations for Women of the Wall, and has advanced the work of MASLAN- the Negev’s Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Support Center and the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, to name just a few. She received her BA in Women and Gender Studies at Douglass College, Rutgers University.
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