By Cantor Tamar Havilio
December 5th, 2013, Tevet 2, 5774
Every morning of Rosh Chodesh when WOW does not arrange a special transportation to the Kotel, I always arrive very early, on foot. Yesterday I arrived at 7:10am and services began at 8am. As a member of the Shlichot Tzibbur team, we always arrive early to create a prayer space at the back of the Women’s section. I stood there and prayed for a quiet and uneventful prayer for us. It was a good sign already that the women’s section was fairly empty. Standing there I felt a great peace and awe. I focused on the candles flickering on the Chanukiah on the men’s side, of course, and softly sang Maoz Tzur. I took a few chairs and sat them at various places to create a circle for us to pray within. Then I sat by a prayer stand (a shtender) and placed it in the center of the chairs. As I was “setting up” a flush of birds flew above me just like all of the prayers at the Kotel flew out of mouths and into the stones of heaven.
Slowly, a group of ultra-orthodox teenage girls began watching me. They were watching me set-up and take moments of silent prayer. Then one of their teachers approached me. We are told by all of the supporters of WOW not to confront our protesters. But, this was a very different approach. She asked me if I believed in the Torah and if I do, then why do I have to wear tefillin and tzitzit. I told her that my interpretation is different from hers, but that I can respect her beliefs if she can respect mine. Then the teenagers began asking me all sorts of questions. Some were just not worth repeating, but one asked if I believe in God and why do I feel the need to pray out loud with my voice. I told her that I am a cantor and that I feel this is my pure and honest way to pray to God with my full voice. I also explained that I believe the power of silent prayer and talked about Hannah in the book of Samuel. She looked at me and said, “Oh-you know your texts, I like you.” I told her that I look at her with the full respect that I can of another Jew and never want to cause her harm, but this is how I pray. She took some of the other teenagers and walked away, “let her pray,” she said. I cannot forget this girl and her beautiful face, and her words as she walked away…let her pray. We prayed yesterday with a Sephardic style shacharit led by an amazing woman from the piyut project and the Hallel was led by an HUC Israeli rabbinic student. They were beautiful prayer interspersed with an occasional protestor. All the while, I could not forget that ultra -orthodox girl who said, “Let her pray.” I prayed all of Rosh Chodesh for peace and freedom of religion in Israel and in all lands. It was that very moment that I understood the power of our presence at the Kotel. I walked back from the Old City on Rosh Chodesh Tevet with hope in my feet and determination and love in my heart.
A miracle of Chanukah had just begun as the stones heard our prayer and flew to heaven.
Vandalism, graffiti, found this morning at the home of WOW Board member Peggy Cidor, for the second time this year. Women of the Wall condemns this act of violence, vandalism and threat. The threats, hate speech found by police on Cidor’s walls this morning read: Peggy Watch Out and Women of the Wall are Villains.
The organization and leaders have recently been the victims of an onslaught of false accusations and attacks by right-wing, Orthodox journalists and other bloggers. The connection is clear- hate speech, incitement and false claims attacking WOW and their board members in the media directly cause a real, physical threat and danger to the lives of the women.
We hold those who have been disseminating lies about Women of the Wall and our leaders responsible for this rise in tensions.
Photos by Noam Revkin Fenton
by Eliana Fischel, Women of the Wall Intern and HUC-JIR first year rabbinical student
As I enter my sixth month living in Israel, I realize that I am looking for family everywhere I go. My cohort at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion was the easy first pick. This group of like-minded Americans, many of whom are also separated from their nuclear families, has proven to be the warmest, most challenging, and most comfortable Israel-family I could have ever hoped for. However, as the months start feeling a little longer, I need more. Unfortunately, Chanukkah has not helped with this feeling of misplacement. This holiday is one of the few in our year that centers on the home, filling a family’s residence with light. It turns out, when the family is not present, the light is hard to find.
As I walked to the Kotel this morning for Rosh Chodesh Tevet services, this search for family and light was a sort of undertone in my head. Usually, I am full of energy before Rosh Chodesh: excited and impassioned to pray with such thoughtful and motivated women. But today, I was already feeling slightly out of place and was, honestly, not in the mood to be in an uncomfortable location with people yelling at me for praying the way I have always prayed. I walked onto the Plaza and saw the enormous hanukkiyah in the men’s section. It was taller than me, made from some sort of metal, and was simply daunting. It looked like something out of a medieval play, certainly not like a meaningful ritual object. The hanukkiyah seemed to laugh at me: if I was looking for light, I was not going to find it here.
Then I entered the women’s section and joined Women of the Wall. Of course, there were seminary girls yelling and photographing us as if we were caged animals, but, overall, everything seemed peaceful. I hugged some of my classmates and greeted women I hadn’t seen since last Rosh Chodesh. We started praying in Sephardic melodies, melodies I am not familiar with, but I learned. Then we moved into the Torah Service and women were honored by their generation. The first Aliyah was for the grandmothers, or the older generation, our pioneers. The second Aliyah was for the mothers, the current activists and role models who are paving the way. The third was for the daughters, the generation that will continue this work. And, finally, the fourth Aliyah was for those women who needed a little extra strength for the month to come.
I found family at the Kotel this morning as Women of the Wall. We stood together, the few against the many, embracing and strengthening each other. I was challenged by things I did not know, yet felt comfortable to try and learn them. Although my grandmother and my mother were not part of these Aliyot, the collective grandmothers and mothers made me feel at home. Finally, the innocent face of a young girl standing under a tallit, reciting the blessing for studying Torah was exactly the inspiration I needed.
Thank you, Women of the Wall, for not only fearlessly working towards an Israel that accepts pluralistic prayer for women, but, specifically today, for providing a community of women that makes me feel challenged and comforted, that lets me find the light.
“A little bit of light pushes away the darkness”, Rabbi Nathalie Lastreger reflects on the beautiful, peaceful prayer Women of the Wall completed this morning at the Western Wall, in the women’s section. Women of the Wall shared a spirited prayer, many with prayer shawls (tallit) and phylacteries (tefillin), and celebrated Rosh Hodesh Tevet and Hag Habanot, Festival of Daughters. The attempt by Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Pindrus to arrange buses of protesters and ultra-Orthodox rabbis who called for protest against the women’s prayer, less than ten women stood in opposition. Several men screamed and yelled, harassing women during their prayer and one man was detained for throwing a chair at police officers. The prayer was the most peaceful in recent year, showing a true shift in the acceptance of the Western Wall as shared space for all Jews.
Throughout the prayer, Hallel Silverman, age 18, who was arrested last year for wearing a tallit held vigil with the Women of the Wall Torah scroll. Entrance with a Torah scroll is prohibited and women are refused use of one of 100 scrolls held at the Kotel by the Western Wall heritage foundation for “public” (male only) use. This Catch 22 was created and passed in an ordinance by Rabbi Rabinowitz in 2012 and serves to discriminate against women in the public, holy site. Silverman, who will be recruited to the Israel Defense Forces in March 2014, said: “I protest the ultra-Orthodox control over my life and my Jewish expression”.
Women of the Wall celebrated the Festival of Daughters today with special Sephardic melodies. Groups of women were blessed under a canopy- a tallit, prayer shawl- during the Torah service. The Torah was read from a humash, a book, as women are still forbidden access to a Torah Scroll at the Kotel.
For twenty-five years Women of the Wall has struggled for religious freedom and women’s rights at the Western Wall. As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.
Shira Pruce Director of Public Relations +972(0)546898351 email@example.com
Rosh Hodesh Tevet is celebrated by North African Jewish communities as Hag Habanot- the Festival of Daughters ( Eid al- Banat ). According to tradition, observance of Hag Habanot includes giving praise and thanks to the female heroes who were responsible for many of the miracles of Israel- starting primarily with Yehudith. Yehudith beheaded Commander of the Persian Army, Holofernes, assisting the victory of the Jews over the Greeks. Similarly, the daughter of Yohanan, the High Priest, is celebrated for her courage, for killing the Greek bishop on her wedding night, thus contributing to the victory of the Maccabees over their enemies.
Customs of the Festival of Daughters’ include: Gifts, prayers and a special blessing in honor of women, recited by rabbis. We also have evidence of communities in which women would have an aliyah, bless the Torah. Another custom is to congratulate and bless all the girls in the community who have become Bat Mitzvah that year.
By Simone Schicker, Women of the Wall Intern and HUC-JIR first year rabbinical student
This week’s Torah portion Mikeitz, is one of the more popular portions because it stars Joseph interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh followed by the visit of his brothers due to the famine that has at this time spread across the land. Despite the excitement of the story what struck me while I was reading is that there are no women mentioned in the portion at all. Joseph does not ask after his sisters nor after his mother Rachel. He asks after his father and after his brother Benjamin who has not traveled to Egypt but rather been kept behind by Jacob (who is worried that a calamity will befall Benjamin). With this in mind I decided to compare the popular version of the Hanukkah story, the story of the Maccabees, to this week’s portion and low and behold women are absent from this Hanukkah story as well.
Yet, there is hope. While the story of the Maccabees is the most popular story to tell to children about Hanukkah, there are others. The other stories have women in the lead roles. One of the most famous is the story of Yehudit (Judith), from the Book of Judith. In the story, Yehudit is the daughter of Yohanan the High Priest and through her cunning she manages to gain the trust of the Greek general, gets him drunk and then uses his own sword to behead him. The story is one of a true heroine, a woman who puts her own life at risk in order to save her people. Yehudit is one of the women celebrated in the holiday of Chag HaBanot, a North African Jewish women’s holiday that WOW is celebrating at Rosh Hodesh on December 4th. I was in high school before I heard the story of Yehudit and I know that I am not alone in this. Many powerful Jewish women’s stories have been pushed to the side to favor their masculine counterparts. As a young Jewish woman studying to be a rabbi I feel that I have a responsibility to learn each of these stories and share them.
Last week I heard another story in connection with rebellion against the Greeks during the period of the Second Temple. This one does not have its own book and its historical accuracy is questioned but I feel that it is important to share. This story also tells of the daughter of the High Priest but this time she is getting married. What should be a time of celebration is a time of great fear because the Greek government has instituted a new law. The law requires that all Jewish women who get married must go from the chuppa to the head of the army unit and have sexual relations with him. Only after this interaction may she go to her new husband. The story of this horrific practice continues with the bride tearing off all her clothes in front of the guests at the wedding before she is taken to the army. Her family is horrified and asks the bride how she can shame them in such a way? She responds how can they be horrified when they are taking her to be raped? The conclusion of the story is that her bravery gives her male relatives, and the male guests at the wedding, the courage to stand up against the Greeks and revolt.
Both of these stories are violent, as is the story of the Maccabees, which is interesting because the power of violence is placed in the hands of a woman in the first story and in the second it is the woman’s actions that lead to violence. Women are not traditionally seen, in Judaism or in Western culture generally, as violent. That these two stories are a part of our lore, historically accurate or not, says something to me as a woman and especially as a Woman of the Wall. I have the right to stand up against injustice and I should fight with whatever I have at hand (whether that is Yehudit using the general’s sword or the daughter of the High Priest using her body). To stand up for myself and especially for my fellow Jews, regardless of gender identity is kadosh, holy in its separation from societal standard. As we read these stories, and as we read the weekly Torah portions, let us remember that while we may not always see ourselves reflected in these stories there is something to be drawn from each and every one. I do not believe violence is ever the answer. I do believe that knowing that Judaism has a history of strong women making a difference in not only their lives but the lives of their communities has a profound impact on me. Just as I can draw lessons from Joseph’s story, I draw lessons from the story of Yehudit and from the daughter of the High Priest.
May this Hanukkah be one of light – both physical and spiritual. May you find guidance from the stories of our ancestors.
 While we are only given the name of Dinah, in Genesis 46:15 it says: “These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore unto Jacob in Paddan-aram, with his daughter Dinah; all the souls of his sons and his daughters were thirty and three.” (Translation is the JPS 1917 edition)
 The Book of Judith is not part of the Tanakh but it was well known to the rabbis. It is part of the Catholic Bible and some Protestants include it in the Apocrypha.
 One version of the story can be read here: http://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/article_cdo/aid/103019/jewish/Yehudit.htm
Welcome to a new segment on our blog, Spotlight: Woman of the Wall, where we will be introducing you to active members of our struggle from all different walks of life. This new segment is brought to you by Eliana Fischel, HUC-JIR Intern with Women of the Wall
SPOTLIGHT: WOMAN OF THE WALL
Why did you come pray with WOW for Rosh Chodesh Kislev?
I brought a group of travelers for the anniversary. We traveled Israel visiting sites and hearing speakers on subjects that relate to Women of the Wall: pluralism, democracy, women’s status, and more. The culmination of the trip was praying with WOW on RH Kislev.
What’s one positive experience you had at Rosh Chodesh Kislev?
The high of being with so many women on such a beautiful day. I very much felt, in the words of Hallel, “This is the day Gd made; rejoice and be happy on it.” The kavannah and energy were amazing. I was moved to see women there who were never much interested in WOW back in my day.
What’s one negative experience you had at Rosh Chodesh Kislev?
Missing some of the service because we were caught in a long line of hundreds of people waiting for security that stretched way outside Dung Gate. We didn’t realize at first that they were lined up for the Temple Mount, not the plaza!
What’s your wish for the future of the Kotel?
That women have the choice to pray freely in the Ezrat Nashim as well as any new section. A new section may be better suited to group prayer, but state-sanctioned gender discrimination in public space sets an ominous precedent, entrenching societal divisions and capitulating to violence. It’s unthinkable that pragmatic concessions on group practice at the Kotel be enshrined in law. And group willingness to compromise must not affect the rights of individual women who seek to pray in the women’s section with tallit and tefillin.
In response to question we have received in the past 12 hours from media and supporters:
Women of the Wall is not associated with the blog post written and published yesterday in the Times of Israel by Dr. Bonna Devorah Haberman, which contains language and a detailed metaphor that has offended many of our supporters. The use of the “N” word is oppressive and Women of the Wall does not support or sanction its use. Dr. Haberman contributed much to our early years at the Kotel; however she is not on the Women of the Wall board or leadership and she does not speak or write on behalf of Women of the Wall.
by Simone Schicker WOW Intern and HUC-JIR Rabbinic Student
Love your neighbor as yourself, You said
As You told us the laws by which we should live
Young boys are taught
That they have the right
That they are commanded
To taunt me on the street
When I wear my faith for you
On my head
With no sacred meaning
Except the one that Your people gave to it
My star around my neck gets no response
And my male friends
Who wear a covering but no tzitzit
Are not chastised for being reformi
But if I was to dare
In this city
To wear my love for you daily
On my head
Or on my body
I would be pushed and shoved
Not only at the Kotel
But on the street
For how dare I
Show my dedication to You
My Rock and my Redeemer
 Women of the Wall at the Western Wall in Jerusalem
By Batya Kallus
The calling card of Women of the Wall is our pluralism. We are religiously pluralistic, but also socially and politically
pluralistic. Our members include human rights lawyers and social change activists working for a more inclusive, democratic civil society, women who live in settlements and women who are active in fighting for women’s rights within the national religious community. You will find Knesset members from the Jewish Home party and Meretz advocating on behalf of women’s inclusion at the Western Wall. In the international arena, Women of the Wall also enjoys the support of a broad swath of the Jewish public reaching across the right-left divide. The miracle of this cross- cutting coalition is the shared recognition of the importance of religious freedom of expression for women.
This past week, leaders of the Women of the Wall, including Anat Hoffman and myself, were viciously attacked by some of our opponents who charged that we were actively involved in supporting or funding Israeli civil and human rights organizations which are, in their opinion, “Anti-Israeli”. We believe the instigators behind this attack were a group of ultra-orthodox and national religious men and women who oppose WOW’s presence at the Western Wall on Rosh Hodesh.
The true motivation underlying this attack is that only prayer conducted according to ultraorthodox custom is acceptable at the Western Wall. Given our opponents’ rejection of pluralism, they struggle against the presence of Women of the Wall at the Kotel every month. While I reject their position, such political struggles are legitimate.
What is not legitimate is to attack the leadership of the Women of the Wall as disloyal because of our political and social associations. By playing the anti-Israel card, our opponents hope to lessen public support and enthusiasm for the pluralistic vision of Judaism at the Kotel that our organization embodies through our inclusive prayer community.
What does this opposition to progress hope to achieve through this McCarthy-ite campaign against a staff member of committed foundation donors to the State of Israel, and the legitimate, state-recognized organizations they support? Obviously, they want to dampen support for Women of the Wall among its more right wing supporters. But will their underhanded campaign result in overturning the Sobell decision that recognizes the right of women to wear tallitot, sing out loud, and read from the Torah at the Kotel? Will it lessen government commitment to enforce the Sobell decision and its unequivocal ruling that ultra-orthodox custom is not the exclusive practice permitted at the Western Wall? Will it halt the mounting rage felt by the Israeli public toward ultra-orthodox demands for gender exclusion not only at the Kotel, but also on public buses and post offices? Will it stop the government from enacting legislation that compels ultra-orthodox to serve in the army?
The bottom line is that those who work to demonize Women of the Wall are just another mouthpiece for haredi and right wing rabbis and leaders who are threatened by the extent to which Jewish pluralism has become a legitimate social force, affecting even a site so central to our historical and spiritual narrative as the Western Wall. What they really want is to regain their political and social power and a monopoly on control of our holy places.
The Western Wall is, as Anat Hoffman so frequently says, “the tip of the trunk of the elephant” in the struggle for a pluralistic Jewish society.
Real changes are taking place within Israeli Jewish society. The government of Israel freely admits that today, the only form of Jewish practice recognized in state policy is orthodox, but they know this status quo is no longer sustainable.
This past week I endured deeply abusive written attacks in the media for my personal and professional commitments to building a democratic society based on principles of equality for all Israeli citizens and residents. These assaults questioned my motivations as a leader of Women of the Wall; stating that my underlying intentions are “anti-Israeli” and by implication, Women of the Wall’s struggle for pluralism was equally illegitimate. The people behind this campaign want to muddle the real issues through propagandistic slander tactics. Their charges are disingenuous and feel personally threatening.
My response: let’s talk about the real issue at hand; the challenge of pluralism to the orthodox status quo.
Shabbat Birkat Ha-Hodesh Kislev Women of the Wall
Temple Israel of Natick, MA
Nov. 2, 2013
It was just one month ago on Friday morning, October 4th that I was in Jerusalem welcoming Rosh Hodesh Heshvan with the Women of the Wall at the Kotel. The group has received significant media attention lately, and I know that many of you have been following what’s happening in the American and Israeli press.
Before I describe my experience and share my thoughts, let’s review briefly some historical background.
Women of the Wall, or נשות הכותל in Hebrew, is a group of Jewish women from around the world who strive to achieve the right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Each month they welcome the new month at the Kotel.
Twenty five years ago, in the morning of December 1, 1988, a group of approximately seventy women approached the Kotel with a Torah scroll to conduct a halakhic women’s prayer service. As no provisions for Torah reading existed in the women’s section, they brought a sefer Torah, stood together, and prayed out loud. Many wore tallitot. The service was disrupted with verbal and physical attacks from Ultra-Orthodox men and women who screamed, cursed, and issued threats.
That was then. In the years since, there’s been ongoing harassment, violence, arrests and legal appeals to the Israeli Supreme Court. Finally in 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that the Women of the Wall had a legal right to pray — but at Robinson’s Arch, an archaeological site next to the Kotel.
Things were relatively quiet until four years ago on Rosh Hodesh Kislev, when the police arrested a young Israeli medical student for the “crime” of wearing a tallit at the Wall. Meanwhile, confrontations and arrests continued, while synagogues and other Jewish organizations began holding solidarity events.
Throughout 2012, the police continued to arrest and detain Women of the Wall supporters for disturbing the public peace, for which the punishment is six months in prison. At one point a decree was issued forbidding women to enter the Western Wall plaza with Jewish holy articles, tallitot, or tefillin; police confiscated these items before women could enter the plaza.
In recent years, there’s been increased pressure from synagogues and Jewish organizations in the diaspora which have organized solidarity rallies in support of Women of the Wall. In light of increased pressure, last December, Jewish Agency Chair Natan Scharansky was asked to come up with a feasible solution to satisfy all parties.
In April 2013 the Jerusalem District Court handed down its decision in Israel Police versus five members of Women of the Wall who had been arrested for allegedly disrupting the peace. Judge Moshe Sobel stated that there was no cause for arrest and that the women did not disturb the public order.
The battle continues to this day — and the Women of the Wall continue to fight for legal recognition to wear prayer shawls, read from the Torah, and pray out loud at the Western Wall. Most recently, the Women of the Wall presented a list of 16 conditions, under which they would agree to meet at the egalitarian section at Robinson’s Arch rather than at the women’s section in the main Western Wall plaza. Whether a compromise solution can be achieved remains to be seen.
That’s enough with the history lesson. I know that some of you sitting here are asking yourselves, “Why should we in America care about Women of the Wall?” That’s a good question.
Admittedly, for many years, I paid little attention to the Women of the Wall. I dismissed them as a small group of North American and British women — mostly Conservative and Reform — who were trying to make a point. My attitude was basically, “What’s the fuss? There are many wonderful egalitarian services in Jerusalem so why should I pray in a place I find uncomfortable; most Israelis couldn’t care less so why should I?” But I have come to change my position.
Now let me share my own recent personal experience and why I believe that the Women of the Wall matter to each and every one of us sitting here at Temple Israel today.
It was a beautiful Friday morning in Jerusalem. Around 5:30 AM, David and I started walking to the Kotel. The sun was just starting to rise and the Jerusalem sky was magnificent. It was a picture perfect day. I was dressed in my frum long denim skirt reserved exclusively for Jerusalem.
I was excited but my enthusiasm was tempered with trepidation. As we walked down from the Jewish Quarter, we saw a large group of IDF soldiers being briefed. We knew about the physical violence that had occurred in the past and wondered what would be in store that day.
David was carrying a tallit bag with two tallitot — one tallit hidden inside another. Why?
My cousin advised us to do so. She said that I should not carry a tallit in case police confiscated it at the security check— and if they saw two tallitot, they would come to the obvious conclusion. Although the police had stopped seizing women’s tallitot in recent months, there was no predicting what would happen on a given day.
We made it through security, although there was a tense moment when a policeman asked me whether I belonged to Nashot HaKotel. I left David at the Kotel Plaza, made my way to the women’s section, and put on my tallit. Never was I so mindful of the act of donning a tallit.
The women’s section was already crowded with hundreds and hundreds — the media actually reported thousands — of Haredi women and teenage girls who had been bussed in that day, ostensibly to offer prayers of healing for Rabbi Ovadia, the Shas leader who has since passed away.
Our group consisted of approximately 200 women of different ages and religious backgrounds. Some had participated in this group for years; for others, like myself, it was a first-time experience. Before the service began, we were told that if we were provoked, simply to respond, “Hodesh Tov.” Our prayer leader was the Hazzan from Hebrew Union College; her beautiful voice set an inspirational tone for the service.
It didn’t take long before the disruption began. No, no one threw apples, oranges, or chairs at us. If you have been following the issue or saw the Women of the Wall documentary that was shown at our community selichot service a few years ago, you know what I mean.
I was standing in the first row, eyeball to eyeball with Haredi teenage girls who were facing our group. I concentrated on my siddur. I don’t think I ever prayed so hard.
Standing there facing a sea of hostile women, suddenly prayer became an act of defiance. Although I didn’t think about it consciously at the time, afterwards I realized how much it was about protecting my rights. Although I grew up in a highly progressive Conservative congregation, not until I was an adult could I be counted for a minyan or read Torah.
The Haredi girls started squeezing us in, moving away from the Wall, talking on their cell phones, mocking us, cursing us, and taking pictures of us with their cell-phones. Then the screaming and yelling began.
The more and louder they screamed —and apparently the noise level reached a record high that day — the more fervently and louder we prayed. Simultaneously, in the men’s section, the voices got louder and louder to drown us out. I understand that the only time the loudspeaker system is used in the men’s section is when the Women of the Wall come to pray.
Someone asked me whether I was afraid. The truth is these attacks provided inspiration to pray more fervently. Despite the noise, I don’t think I ever prayed more intently or focused more on the words of the prayers. At one point, when I was kissing the tzitzit during the v’ahavta, an older Haredi woman glared at me with such venom that I thought she might punch me in the face. So I just prayed louder. Meanwhile more and more policewomen came to separate “us and them.”
What I did resent that as we recited key prayers, such as the Sh’ma and the Hallel, the verbal attacks grew louder in volume. It felt very disrespectful and I truly felt violated.
I don’t think I ever davened the Hallel with such kavanah or intention. I simply cannot describe how beautiful and meaningful the prayers were, despite the hostile atmosphere all around. As a young JTS cantorial student and I discussed, we never thought praying at the Kotel could be so meaningful.
We ended by singing the Hatikva with a powerful show of force. The police then escorted the Women of the Wall out onto bullet-proof buses as protection from physical violence. One Haredi man was arrested for spitting. So began Rosh Hodesh Heshvan.
Why am I sharing this story and why do the Women of the Wall matter to us as Conservative Jews in America?
First, I want to make this crystal clear. My intent is not to bash the Ultra-Orthodox, their beliefs, and religious practices.
Picture for a minute the Kotel. If you have visited Israel, you may be thinking about your first visit there. Many of us sitting here can remember watching on television the poignant footage of Israeli paratroopers reclaiming the Kotel during the Six-Day War. Others have seen the photos. The image of the Kotel is a powerful and evocative symbol for Jews worldwide.
Please ask yourself the following: In 1967, when the Israel Defense Forces reclaimed the Kotel was it for only certain types of Jews? We need to remind ourselves that the Kotel is a holy site to Jews all across the entire spectrum of religious beliefs and practices.
Now reflect on the ongoing violence at the Kotel. Think about this the next time you visit Israel and make the choice to pray there.
I realize that some people may argue that the right of women to wear tallitot and read from the Torah runs counter to what has become “local custom” at the Wall. However, in its April 2013 court ruling, the judge declared that the women are not violating this law. Moreover, he stated that the “local custom” is to be interpreted with National and pluralistic implications, not necessarily Orthodox Jewish customs.
The custom of the place has evolved since 1967 when we won back the Kotel. At the same time, the traditional divide in Israel between secular versus Orthodox has also evolved. Young, secular Israeli Jews are now seeking meaning in Judaism rather than Eastern religions, and are finding their places in egalitarian synagogues and minyanim.
The issue is not just about the right of women to pray at the Kotel — but is much broader in scope. There are important implications for Conservative Jews who love Israel.
The issue is about religious freedom. It’s about our right to pray as Jews as we wish. Tomorrow we mark Rosh Hodesh Kislev. In a few weeks we will celebrate Hanukkah and our religious freedom as Jews. Yet, as Conservative, egalitarian Jews,
we are unable to exercise full religious freedom at the Kotel.
The issue is about the relationship between the State of Israel and those of us in the diaspora. Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and Director of the Engaging Israel Project, talks about the need for a new covenant between Israel and world Jewry based on meaning. If as American Jews we are to be meaningful partners with Israel, it’s problematic when the Kotel, which is such a powerful symbol to world Jewry, comes into conflict with these values.
It’s about mutual tolerance, respect, and civility. In their struggle for women’s rights, the Women of the Wall are opening the door for greater mutual tolerance.
Rather than “us versus them,” both the Ultra-Orthodox and the champions for religious pluralism must learn to become more tolerant of each other. It’s a great learning opportunity and one that also applies to how we relate to those whose views on Israel do not conform to our own. Instead of raising our voices, let’s learn to listen respectfully and try to understand the other side, even if we don’t agree.
Finally, here’s what I learned by davening with Women of the Wall. The rabbis taught about Yerushalahim shel ma’alah, the heavenly Jerusalem, the Jerusalem of our dreams, and Yerushalayim shel matah, the earthly Jerusalem, the Jerusalem as it exists on earth with its problems and where it’s less than perfect.
If we focus exclusively on Yerushalayim shel ma’alah — and continue to put on blinders when it comes to Jerusalem, then we are blatantly ignoring the harsh realities that exist in Jerusalem today as exemplified by the Kotel clashes.
On the other hand, if we focus exclusively on Yerushalayim shel matah —and just see the negative aspects of Jerusalem, then we don’t allow ourselves to envision what the Holy City of Jerusalem could be as a fulfillment of our dreams.
The Kotel is the emblematic symbol of Jerusalem where, as Jews, we have directed our prayers and yearnings for centuries. The challenge is to reconcile the two Jerusalems, the real Jerusalem as we know it today and the ideal Jerusalem of our dreams and spiritual aspirations.
We have a huge task ahead: If Jerusalem is truly to fulfill our dreams, we, as American Jews connected to Israel, are obligated to become partners with Israel, fulfilling what Hartman calls a new covenant.
We have much work ahead to make Jerusalem a better place — a holy makom that truly reflects our values and a place where we can feel God’s holy presence. Let’s each ask ourselves how we can personally work in partnership with God to achieve this goal.
As we lift our prayers towards Zion, the Holy City of Jerusalem, let us fervently pray that the Kotel not be a symbol of what divides us as Jews. May this sacred site reflect our Jewish values and become a symbol of Jewish unity and peace predicated on respect, tolerance, and civil behavior.
Only then can we truly view Jerusalem as Yerushalayim shel ma’alah — the Jerusalem that embodies our dreams — as a place where Jews of all kinds, including those of us living in the diaspora, can feel welcome and comfortably pray in peace, without fear, according to our own customs.
In the words of a slogan popular a few years back, HaKotel l’Kulanu, the Kotel belongs to us all. I hope that we may soon realize this dream.
Shabbat Shalom v’Hodesh Tov.
Dear Woman of the Wall,
I would like to introduce myself. My name is Isabelle. I am eleven years old. I live in New York City, in the United States.
I am studying Judaism in school. We have learned all about the branches, values, beliefs, kings, patriarchs and history about Judaism.
I myself am not Jewish, but I respect your practices and beliefs, as everyone should.
The reason I have discovered the Women of the Wall organization, is that I was working on a presentation about everything we have learned, and I am supposed to research about current events about the Jewish culture. I found a website that was talking about your 25th anniversary. I was so interested, that I researched for about your website. I read your mission statement, and everything that you could possibly read on your website. I began to be more inspired.
I told my teacher about The Women of the Wall, and she was so thrilled. Part of that was, I go to an all girls school and one of our largest encouragements is women’s empowerment.
I will now do a presentation about this organization.
I just want you to know how inspiring you are and how amazed I am of your bravery.
Congratulations on your 25th anniversary,
(This is a picture is my school’s symbol, The Wheel. It is to represent that there is no end in
learning, and the Latin “Fortiter et Recte” means bravely and rightly. The reason this is my schools motto is that women should be brave, and all peoples should be treated equally with righteousness.)
In the past days there have been accusations questioning the dedication and alliance of Women of the Wall to the State of Israel and Jerusalem. The “article” in which this main accusation was made has since been removed by the editor.
Women of the Wall’s sole goal is the free prayer of women at the Western Wall. We are proud that our work has become a beacon for the hope for pluralism in Israel. It is an honor to be a shining example of the struggle against the exclusion of women in the public sphere in Israel. As an organization, WOW has never been involved in any other political or partisan activity. Our participants and supporters come from all walks of life, political opinions, and Jewish denominations and we would never want to divide that by taking a political stand that does not directly affect free prayer at the Kotel. The leaders of Women of the Wall are individuals with lives, careers and opinions that span the political and personal spectrum- and it is these differences between us that make our particular brand of pluralism so special. WOW’s leaders are all employed by institutions which are Israeli institutions in good standing with the law. Each woman volunteers as an active independent citizen at the Western Wall.
Women of the Wall is proud to be significantly contributing to the future of State of Israel as a just and democratic Jewish state.
If Women of the Wall are accused of fighting for the rights of all Israeli citizens then we are guilty as charged.
November 4, 2013
Women of the Wall gathered today with nearly 1000 participants, including students and supporters from all over Israel and including 150 supporters who flew in from abroad for the occasion. The women’s prayer group took up more than half of the women’s section. Women of the Wall supporters extended into the upper plaza of the Western Wall. The prayer was peaceful for the most part with very minimal protest from the Ultra-Orthodox, despite the major efforts to bring protesters. Police protected the women from minor disturbances, yelling, whistles and cursing.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the government appointed administrator of the Western Wall and holy spaces, permitted the usage of loudspeakers which have been used for the past three months to drown out the women’s prayer. Also in accordance with an ordinance by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz women are barred from reading and accessing a Torah Scroll at the Kotel, a regulation which discriminates against women in the public space. In order to symbolize the absence of this important aspect of our prayer, women and girls held up the empty Torah scroll mantles during the Torah service. The women also recited a blessing together under canopies of prayer shawls, symbolizing the special gathering of this sisterhood in shared space, at the Kotel.
The peaceful prayer ended with the singing of ‘Hatikvah’, Israel’s national anthem. This represents the group’s commitment to women’s equality in prayer at the Western Wall as a holy public space in Israel.
Dr. Ella Kanner, Women of the Wall Board Member, said “Today’s prayer at the Kotel was the most uplifting and emotional yet. Today was just the prologue for the future of our group’s prayers”
For twenty-five years Women of the Wall has struggled for religious freedom and women’s rights at the Western Wall. As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.
Shira Pruce Director of Public Relations +972(0)546898351 firstname.lastname@example.org
To my dear Kotel sisters, on Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5774,
Although I cannot be with you to celebrate our 25th anniversary, I send out this prayer and my love to you:
May the Holy One who blessed our ancestors Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, Yaakov and Leah, Rachael, Bilhah and Zilpah, bless all of the Nashot Hakotel and our supporters with strength, courage, perseverance and divine grace. In the merit of our ancestors who sang out to God with their full beings in a strong voice, Miriam, Channah, Devorah, Serach bat Asher, the Shulamite and the women who came out to greet King David, in the name of Michal, Bruriah and Rashi’s daughters, in the memory of our Bubbies, many of whom were kept behind the mechitzah and out of cheders and yeshivot and colleges, and in humble recognition of our sisters in repressive religious regimes around the world today who are not free to sing out and to worship God in joy, may all women be free to worship God, each in her own way, because the time for silencing women is over! “Shiru l’Adonai shir chadash!”, sing out to God a new song!
Amen, may it be so.
Rabbi Sue Mauer Morningstar, Ashland, OR
By Cantor Tamar H. Havilio
In the story of Hannah, in the book of Samuel I, Hannah prays for a child as Eli, the priest calls her a drunkard. The Rabbis teach that this was the first initial form of prayer in the Bible. She is crying, her lips are moving and she is praying for the absence in her barren womb to be filled with new life. This may also be the first proof of a woman being demonized as “other” and “possessed.” Eli assumed that she must have “lost her mind” by being intoxicated.
I teach my students at Hebrew Union College, future cantors, educators and rabbis; the first prayer that we initially have comes from inside, deep within the soul or the voice of our belly. Like Hannah, we pray to be filled, to be freed and to be whole. That silent, most intimate prayer is where we find longing and truth from our own bodies. We cry out in sorrow, we rejoice in laughter and we finally sing, we SING.
After being called a drunkard, Hannah must be on the defense and then she cries out more and God hears her prayer and grants her Shmuel. This prayer of the belly is heightened when the voice can ring out in song and essentially dance. The first time I prayed out loud at the Kotel was Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5773, 2012. I wrote then how I felt liberated by this prayer group called “Women of the Wall.” Since then I prayed many services with them and many different scenarios have played themselves out at the Kotel. I never felt defensive at the Kotel because I was always praying from my belly. As a mother of three sons, I always pray for them. I pray for peace in Israel, especially from within the people of Israel. I pray for the healing of loved ones and the hunger that still haunts our world. I pray for redemption to come when all of us will look into each other’s eyes and see the other and between us know a longing for God. I pray for all of the women who are tortured, beaten, unloved, prostituted, battered and barren…and I sing out with all of my being.
Some people, like Eli the priest’s first impression of Hannah, think we are crazy, perhaps even “witches.” However, if we all sat down at a table and talked about prayer and what we pray for, we probably have similar prayers deep within our bellies. We probably just want to be accepted and ultimately loved.
I do not go the Kotel to provoke and politicize, really and truly…I go to pray. I go to pray with my voice, my God given voice at a place where I feel a holiness in my …belly-a gut feeling that does not let me go. I run to the Kotel to pray…both my silent prayer, and since praying with the Women of the Wall…my singing prayer…I sing my prayer and truly feel that this is what is good for women. Women should cry out and feel empowered by the voices around them and their prayers deep in their bellies.
The Chassidim believe that there are three stages of mourning: First we are silent and in shock, then we cry out, and finally we SING. We are not silent anymore, we may still cry, but now our prayer has reached song. We pray in song, we pray from the belly and we pray that we are all standing at the wall, at Sinai and we are one. We dance, we cry and we feel an empathy towards the other and a desire to what anthropologist Victor Turner called, “Spontaneous communitas.” This happens when we do not really know everyone around us but we all feel deeply connected…in our bellies.
On this Rosh Kodesh Kislev, and the 25th Anniversary of Women praying through song, let us pray, let us pray, let us pray. Let our kavanah, our focus be on prayer and not justification, legal battles and who is right or wrong. Come all, please and let us pray and bring forth our lights from within.
Three Reform Movement Missions Gather in Jerusalem to
Celebrate 25th Anniversary of Women of the Wall
Lay Leaders, Clergy and Teens from Reform Movement in North America
to Discuss Israeli Pluralism with Members of Knesset
Contact: Annette Powers
October 29, 2013, New York, NY – On November 3, three North American missions from the Reform Movement will commence their journey in the Holy Land to honor the 25th Anniversary of theWomen of the Wall, the group aimed at achieving social and legal recognition of women’s rights to wear prayer shawls, pray communally, and read from the Torah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The three missions include a lay and clergy mission with 80 participants (69 congregants and 11 clergy); a rabbinic mission from the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) and the Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN) with 17 Rabbis; and a NFTY Mission with five teens. Click here to see bios of all the mission participants.
This group of 69 lay leaders, 28 clergy and five young people, will celebrate Rosh Chodesh Kislevtogether at the Kotel, engage in study with scholars at HUC-JIR, participate in a “Freedom Ride” to support desegregation on Israel’s public buses led by the Israel Religious Action Center and meet with Natan Sharansky, influential members of Knesset and senior government officials to discuss pressing issues of religious pluralism in Israel.
Delegates will also enjoy a gala celebration at Merkaz Shimshon/Beit Shmuel featuring remarks by WoW Chairwoman Anat Hoffman and former Member of Knesset Naomi Chazan. Renowned musician Julie Silver, cantors participating on the mission, and HUC Cantorial Students will provide entertainment.
Rabbi Karyn Kedar, Senior Rabbi of Congregation B’nei Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, Illinois, commented, “Ours is a mission to fight for expanding recognition of religious pluralism in Israel. But let there be no mistake. Even as we stand in passionate opposition to discriminatory treatment of women at the Kotel, we must not take for granted that we do so in a democratic country where freedoms are guaranteed. We take our case to the Knesset, the center of political power. We take our case to the press, which is free and open. We travel without fear of persecution and we step onto the stage of history where the democracy and freedom of Israel are the cornerstones of the modern state.”
In addition to the congregational missions and the CCAR/WRN mission, there will be a North American delegation from the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) who will be in Israel representing the Reform Movement at the Zionist National Council, HUC-JIR Israeli Rabbinical Ordination, and the Jewish Agency Board of Governor’s meetings.
“Joining our Israeli brothers and sisters at the Kotel to express our support for a pluralistic Israeli society is at the core of what we do and what we stand for,” said ARZA President Rabbi Joshua Weinberg. “We look forward to bringing the message back to our members and our Movement in America.”
For more information on the Women of the Wall, please visit http://womenofthewall.org.il/
Women of the Wall Mission to Support Pluralism in Israel
Rabbi Karyn Kedar is the senior Rabbi of a Congregation BJBE, congregation of 1100 families In Deerfield Illinois, outside of Chicago. She is the author of three books on spirituality (the fourth soon to be published) and a widely recognized speaker around the country as well as appearances on television and radio. Rabbi Kedar sits on many national forums. She has three children, Ilan currently serves as an officer in the IDF, Shiri was an officer is now studying at IDC in Herzelia and Talia after serving as a medic lives with her husband and two children on Kibbutz Gonen.
Rabbi Judy Schindler is senior Rabbi of Temple Beth El, an 1100 family congregation that is the largest synagogue in the Carolinas. In a city of one million people, Rabbi Schindler was selected as Charlotte Women of the Year in 2011. She is a past Co-Chair of Women’s Rabbinic Network (the national organization of Women Reform Rabbis), sits on many local and national Boards, and is active in interfaith and social issues in her region and state. She regularly brings congregants to Israel and this November will be the third congregational trip she has led in 2013. Rabbi Schindler is the daughter of Rabbi Alexander Schindler who led the Reform Movement from 1973 to 1995.
Rabbi Debra Robbins has been a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas for 22 years. She has served as Vice President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis as well as on several national committees, in addition to participating in a variety of local Jewish and communal organization. She is a participant in the Institute for Jewish Spirituality and has published essays in several collections. This will be her 20th trip to Israel; she is married to Larry S. Robins and the mother of a sixteen year old son who will participate in the EIE Program in 2014.
Cantor Jennifer Frost is the senior cantor of Congregation BJBE, a congregation of 1100 families In Deerfield Illinois, outside of Chicago. She is well regarded as this countries leading cantor, forging a path that combines traditional hazinut, Chassidic melodies and modern and contemporary music. She is featured on many recordings of innovated Jewish music. She sits on several national commissions and boards including an active leader on the board of American Conference of Cantors.
Clergy Participants and Delegation Leaders:
Rabbi Laura Geller is Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, California. She was named one of Newsweek’s 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America and featured in the PBS Documentary called “Jewish Americans.” Rabbi Geller is a Rabbinic Fellow of the Hartman Institute, and a Fellow of the Corporation of Brown University from where she graduated in 1971. She was ordained by the Hebrew Union College in 1976, the third woman in the Reform Movement to become a rabbi.
Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz has served Temple Beth Sholom, a premier congregation in Miami Beach, Florida, for the past 20 years. In 2008, she founded The Open Tent, a Jewish engagement organization, which connects thousands of young adult Jews to Jewish learning, community and each other. Rabbi Pomerantz is passionate about the human rights issue of the Women of the Wall and speaks about it from the pulpit frequently.
Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin is the first Chinese American Rabbi. A major focus of her rabbinate is toward better inclusivity of racial and other minorities within the American Jewish community. Recently, the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco invited her to be the keynote speaker during the culminating event of the Israel-China festival.
Cantor Ilene Keys aspired to become a cantor since studying for Bat Mitzvah at one of the largest progressive synagogues in the world, Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles. Her connection to Israel was fortified by this synagogue’s strong support of Israel through Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin and as a result, Cantor Keys spent a summer in the Gadna program, Chetz V’Keshet. She has kept a very close relationship with Israel ever since, spending a year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a year at the Hebrew Union College while training to become an ordained cantor , Cantor Keys appears in the award winning film “Time Off” by Israeli Film Director Eytan Fox. She is a member of the American Conference of Cantors.
Cantor Jill Abramson is Senior Cantor at Westchester Reform Temple, a 1200 family Reform congregation in Scarsdale, NY. She also serves as adjunct faculty at Hebrew Union College, in New York where she lectures on topics of professional excellence. She brings a commitment to International social justice work and women’s issues with field work in Indonesia, Cameroon and the Middle East. Cantor Abramson serves on several committees for the American Conference of Cantors.
Rabbi/Cantor Vicki L. Axe was the first woman to serve as president of the American Conference of Cantors from 1991-1994, and is the founding Spiritual Leader of Congregation Shir Ami in Greenwich, CT. She is a past president of the American Conference of Cantors. She has taught students at HUC-JIR and AJR, and visited many congregations as scholar-in-residence. She received rabbinic ordination from the Rabbinical Academy of America in 2008 and is currently studying for her Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Care at HUC-JIR. She and her husband lived and worked in Israel from 1973-1975, Together, they are the proud parents of four sons, all 20 and 30-something, two daughters-in-law, with their first grandchild on the way.
Cantor Sherry Allen is the sole clergy for Congregation Beth Shalom in Arlington, TX. Because it is a small congregation (around 90 families), it has afforded me the opportunity to get to know congregants personally. I have been privileged to be there for some of them in crisis, which has led me to pursue a part-time career as a Hospice Chaplain as well. A big accomplishment for me is the fact that I have educated and empowered congregants to take an active part in leading services when I am not there. Little by little, both men and women have developed the skills to be shlichei tzibbur, and that is one of my proudest achievements.
Delegates joining from the Women’s Rabbinic Network and the Central Conference of American Rabbis:
Rabbi Carole B. Balin, Ph.D. is a Professor of Jewish History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York. Professor Balin writes and lectures on topics related to Jewish women, ranging from their experiences under the Tsars to the emergence of bat mitzvah in twentieth-century America. She is a contributor to the Huffington Post and appears as the narrator of PBS’s “The Jewish People: A Story of Survival,” which airs frequently nationwide. Professor Balin co-edited, with Wendy Zierler, Behikansi atah [In my entering now, Selected Works of Hava Shapiro (1878-1943)], published by Resling Press of Tel Aviv in 2008. The volume, which features Shapiro’s writings—including selections from the first diary ever written by a woman in Hebrew chronicling her interactions with the literary giants of the day, such as Y.L. Peretz, who was her mentor, and Reuven Branin, who was her lover, and the first feminist literary criticism in Hebrew—has been expanded and translated into English, and will be published next year by Wayne State University Press.
Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the founding rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood’s (CA) Reform Synagogue. She is the President-Elect of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. She has been named by the Jewish Daily Forward as one of the Forward 50, most influential Jews in the US and by the Huffington Post as the most influential LGBT Clergy person. She is Sr. Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute and has won numerous awards for her activism. She recently celebrated her 25th anniversary in the rabbinate.
Rabbi Elyse Frishman was ordained in 1981 by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. For fourteen years, she served The Reform Temple of Suffern in Suffern, NY. Since August 1995, Rabbi Frishman has been the Rabbi for Congregation B’nai Jeshurun – The Barnert Temple, in Franklin Lakes, the oldest congregation (c. 1847) in New Jersey with a membership of 400 families. Rabbi Frishman is nationally recognized as a leader in transforming Reform Jewish worship, and as a writer and editor of liturgy. She is the editor of the new American Reform prayerbook, Mishkan T’filah. Much of Rabbi Frishman’s local and national work has focused on spirituality and worship. Rabbi Frishman served on the URJ-CCAR Joint Commission on Religious Living and the CCAR Liturgy Committee, the Hebrew Union College Board of Alumni Overseers, and the Board of the CCAR. She served as an original Fellow for Synagogue 2000, a national, trans-denominational project transforming the culture of the synagogue from a corporate to spiritual center. Rabbi Frishman is also active in the work of the American Jewish World Service, and partners with her congregational leadership in developing a culture of social justice. Rabbi Frishman is married to Rabbi Daniel Freelander, Senior Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism. They have three children, Adam (30), Jonah (28) and Devra (22).
Rabbi Kim Sara Geringer was ordained in 1999, coming to the rabbinate after a first career as a psychotherapist. For 10 years she served as the Associate Director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Department of Worship, Music and Religious Living, the locus of the Reform Movement’s worship transformation initiatives, and from which she authored publications on ritual and worship. Currently, Rabbi Geringer is a member of the faculty at HUC-JIR/NY where she supervises students’ pulpit internships and teaches courses for both rabbinic and cantorial students on professional development, congregational systems theory and pastoral counselling. She is also the rabbi of Congregation Sha’aray HaYam in Manahawkin, New Jersey.
Rabbi Elyse Goldstein served for twenty years as the Director of Kolel, a unique adult education centre in Toronto, Canada which she founded. Currently she is creating a new Reform congregation called City Shul in downtown Toronto which after its first year has 200 member units including 87 kids in the school. She was graduated Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Brandeis University in 1978 and received her Doctor of Divinity, Honorius causis, from there in 2008. She writes a monthly column for the Canadian Jewish News, and is one of seven women featured in the Canadian National Film Board documentary, “Half the Kingdom.” She is the author of ReVisions: Seeing Torah through a Feminist Lens and a textbook on Women and Judaism called Seek Her Out (URJ Press), and is editor of The Women’s Torah Commentary, The Women’s Haftarah Commentary and New Jewish Feminism: Probing the Past, Forging the Future. She is the 2005 recipient of the Covenant Award for Exceptional Jewish Educators.
Rabbi Linda Joseph is the rabbi/educator of Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation in Ashburn VA located in the suburbs of Washington DC. She was ordained in 1994 at HUC-JIR and received a Masters in Jewish Education in 1995. Rabbi Joseph has in the past worked as the rabbi of synagogues in North America and Australia, and served as Regional Director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Southeast Council overseeing all the affiliated Reform Jewish synagogues of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, part of Tennessee and the Bahamas.
Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson is Director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, the international support and advocacy organization for women in the Reform rabbinate. She serves as an International Vice-Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall, is a former Chair and board member of the Hadassah Foundation, a former board member of the Rodeph Sholom School in New York, and currently is on the boards of the Yedidya Center for Jewish Spiritual Direction and Friends of Kehillat Kol HaNeshamah. Jackie has held volunteer leadership positions with the Women’s Rabbinic Network and Central Conference of American Rabbis. From 1992-2002, Jackie was the Jewish Chaplain at Harvard-Westlake School, Los Angeles, and has worked in synagogue education, adult education and hospital chaplaincy. Jackie led a Rosh Hodesh: It’s A Girl Thing! Group for four years. at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, New York and is currently teaching in the field of adult spiritual formation and development. She is a graduate of the Rabbinic Enrichment program of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, and serves as a spiritual director. Jackie received her A.B. in Psychology from Barnard College, Columbia University in 1977, and was ordained as a rabbi, receiving a Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters, by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in 1983. Jackie is married to Rabbi David Ellenson; they have five children and one grandchild.
Rabbi Emily Losben-Ostrov is the Rabbi of Sinai Reform Temple in Bay Shore, NY (Long Island). She has served SRT as their rabbi since her ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (Cincinnati, OH) in 2008. The following year, Rabbi Losben-Ostrov also became the Director of Education, as well. While at HUC-JIR, she wrote her Rabbinic Thesis on, “Naming the Unnamed: Biblical Characters Known only by their Roles or Relationships.” Rabbi Losben-Ostrov graduated from Albright College (Reading, PA) where she was in the Honors Program and received a BA in French and another BA in Political Science and Communications. She also has a Master’s Degree in “Educational Administration” from Xavier University and a Master’s Degree from HUC-JIR in “Hebrew Letters.” Rabbi Losben-Ostrov, is very proud to have founded the Pesach Project for HUC-JIR which has now allowed hundreds of Rabbinical Students to help lead seders and educational opportunities in the Former Soviet Union. She is also very passionate about fighting AIDS and has led an annual Healing Service for over a decade to raise awareness of the AIDS crisis. Prior to working at Sinai Reform Temple Rabbi Losben-Ostrov served small Jewish communities as a “Student Rabbi” in Joplin, MO; Bowling Green, KY; Bloomsburg, PA; Pine Bluff and McGehee, AR; and La Salle, IL. She has also spent time working with Jewish youth in Reading, PA; Larchmont, NY; at Camp Harlam and as the Advisor to the NFTY-Missouri Valley Region. Additionally, Rabbi Losben-Ostrov loves to teach about Judaism and teaches a weekly “Introduction to Judaism Class” for the Reform Movement in New York City.
Rabbi Oshrat Morag was born and raised in Haifa, Israel. She was ordained at HUC –JIR Jerusalem campus in 2008 and is currently a Doctorate candidate in the field of Feminist Theology at HUC-JIR Cincinnati campus. She resides in Buenos Aires, Argentina, teaching Gender Studies in the Rabbinical Seminary of Latin America and in various synagogues. She facilitates women groups, writes poems, Midrashim, prayers and life cycle ceremonies. She is the mother of three beautiful children, excitedly expecting the forth.
Rabbi Hara Person is the Publisher and Director of the CCAR Press, a division of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. She also oversees communications for the CCAR. Rabbi Person was ordained in 1998 from HUC-JIR, after graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College (1986) and receiving an MA in Fine Arts from New York University’s International Center of Photography (1992). Before coming to the CCAR, Rabbi Person was the Editor in Chief of URJ Books and Music, where she was the Managing Editor of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, named the National Jewish Book Award Book of the Year in 2008. Rabbi Person is the author of Stories of Heaven and Earth: Bible Heroes in Contemporary Children’s Literature as well as other collections. Her essays and poems have been published in various anthologies and journals. She is also the High Holy Day rabbi of Congregation B’nai Olam, Fire Island Pines, NY, and she has been named Adjunct Rabbi at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, where she teaches adult education classes. Rabbi Person lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and is the parent of two college students.
Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack has served as the rabbi of Temple Israel in West Lafayette, Indiana since August, 2002. Rabbi Pollack was ordained in 1994 from HUC-JIR in Cincinnati, OH. Before beginning her tenure in West Lafayette, Indiana, Rabbi Pollack served congregations in Glencoe, Illinois and Denver, Colorado. She was part of the first cohort of STAR Rabbis Good to Great program, a year-long innovative continuing rabbinic education program offered by STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal). Rabbi Pollack and her family spent the summer of 2010 in Israel on sabbatical with the support of the Lilly Foundation Clergy Renewal and Congregational Grant. Her sabbatical time was spent in studying text at the Shalom Hartman Institute, and Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, and learning to play the oud. She is passionate about women’s spirituality and is a strong advocate in support of Jewish women’s causes. Rabbi Pollack serves on the executive board of the national Women’s Rabbinic Network and is a founding member and continuing faculty of the Indiana Voices of Women spirituality and leadership program. Rabbi Pollack is an active member of the Women In Ministry Ecumenical Network of the Greater Lafayette area; the Inter-Religious Network of the Greater Lafayette Area, the Community Research Institutional Review Board at Purdue University and the Professional Advisory Committee for Clinical Pastoral Education Program, IU Arnett Hospital.
Rabbi Norm Roman has been the Senior Rabbi of Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, Michigan since 1986, and also serves as an Adjunct Instructor in Religious Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy. He has been honored by both the CCAR and the URJ for his lifetime of teaching youth in NFTY and at several of the Union’s Summer Camp Institutes. He is a Past President of the Michigan Board of Rabbis, the Great Lakes & Ohio Valley Association of Reform Rabbis, and the West Bloomfield Interfaith Clergy Forum. The Rabbi was born in New York City, grew up in Cleveland, and served Congregations in Ohio and Santa Monica, California before moving to Michigan. He is a composer of Jewish contemporary liturgical music, and a folksinger who has entertained both in the Jewish community nation-wide, and in Israel. Descended from Chalutzim who helped found Zichron Yaakov and Yesod HaMaala, he is an active volunteer on behalf of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, Partnership 2000 in the Central Galil, the Jordan River Village Camp for Critically-ill Children, and Yemin Orde Youth Village. Rabbi Roman and his wife, Lynne, live in West Bloomfield, and are the parents of Sarah & Adam Rochkind, Chad Rochkind, Blake Rochkind, Justin Rochkind (z”l), Caryn Roman and Benjamin Roman.
Rabbi Karen Strok graduated Phi Beta Kappa from U.C. Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Religious Studies. She continued her education in Los Angeles at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) where she received Master’s Degrees in Hebrew Letters and Jewish Education, and rabbinic ordination in 2002. Before serving as the founding director of the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning at Stephen S. Wise Temple, Rabbi Strok taught several classes at Milken Community Middle and High School, taught ethics at the Stephen S. Wise Temple Academy and the Melton School, led “Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing,” directed the Tartak Learning Center at HUC-JIR, served as an education consultant at HUC-JIR, coordinated an alternative Hebrew program at Temple Judea, and officiated at numerous life cycle events. Rabbi Strok has been happily married to Joshua Strok for 15 years and together they share the task of parenting 12-year-old Micah and 10-year-old Avi.
Rabbi Kari Tuling serves Congregation Beth Israel in Plattsburgh, New York, where she is also President of the Interfaith Council and an Adjunct Instructor at the State University of New York, Plattsburgh. She received ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati in 2004 and earned her PhD in Jewish Thought in 2013. Recent publications include “Women Rabbis and Theology” for a forthcoming book from the CCAR Press and “On the Fringes of Tradition” for the academic on-line journal Marginalia.
Rabbi Susan Warshaw was ordained in 2007 from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (Los Angeles) and has served as rabbi of Temple Bat Yam in Ocean City, Maryland since 2008. Previously she was director of education of Temple Micah in Washington, DC. Rabbi Warshaw is a second-career rabbi; her first career was as a classical pianist, and she holds a doctorate in piano performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. She is Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. She has a special interest in Judaism and health, and worked with the Kalsman Institute of Judaism and Spirituality in Los Angeles.
Delegate joining from OHALAH, Association of Jewish Renewal Rabbis
Rabbi Pamela Frydman is the founding rabbi of Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco and International Co-Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall. She was in the first cohort of women rabbinic students in the Jewish Renewal movement. She was ordained in 1989 by B’nai Or Religious Fellowship, predecessor to the ALEPH Ordination Program. She was the first woman to serve as President of OHALAH, the Renewal association of rabbis and cantors. She co-founded the Rabbinic Advisory Council of Shalom Bayit, Ending Domestic Violence in Jewish homes. She is the author ofCalling on God, Sacred Jewish Teachers for Seekers of All Faiths and Reflections: A High Holy Day Machzor.
NFTY Teen Delegation
Beth Avner Rodin will be leading the NFTY Teen Delegation. Beth began her career as a Chicago-based youth advisor then became regional director of the National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY). After completing her Masters in Jewish Professional Studies (MAJPS) at Spertus, she was promoted to a national position as NFTY’s Director of Education and Special Projects, with her master’s project being used across the country as an impactful training manual for new youth workers. Beth has recently been promoted again to Associate Director of NFTY.
Women of the Wall Present Conditions for a Third, Equal Section of the Western Wall
Anat Hoffman: “This space is revolutionary. It will allow every Jew, man and woman, to pray, celebrate and hold religious ceremonies at the Western Wall. However, know that we are resolved: We will pray there only if it is built in this spirit and according to our conditions.”
In 25 years of prayer and struggle for equality, Women of the Wall have achieved the right for women’s voices to be heard at the Kotel and the government has recognized the importance of women’s involvement in shaping the future of the Western Wall. At 10:00 this morning Women of the Wall are submitting a list of conditions for the creation of an equal, fully integrated third section of the Western Wall (Kotel) to Avichai Mandelblit, Israel’s Cabinet Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office. A pre-condition to this document is that Women of the Wall will continue to pray in the women’s section until a third section is created and completed to the satisfaction of the multi-denominational women’s prayer group.
The conditions submitted today illustrate Women of the Wall’s vision for the Western Wall, taking into consideration not only physical structure but also infrastructure, government involvement, social responsibility and budget. In designing a Kotel that accurately reflects the diversity of the people of Israel and also welcomes Jewish people from all over the world, Women of the Wall considered not only the religious aspects of the space but also cultural and national importance of the holy site. Women of the Wall’s Executive Board held discussions consulting with hundreds of active participants and supporters in Israel and abroad over the past month while formulating this document.
As Women of the Wall take steps towards this vision, they ask no less from Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, chair of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. Rabinowitz will have to loosen his grip and share the holy space with Jews from all denominations.
The group stands ardent and resolute behind these conditions:
- A contiguous plaza that can accommodate at least 500 women, in direct contact with the Western Wall. The height of the new section will be the same as that of the women’s section.
- The new section will be open to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without payment and without the need to book in advance.
- One entrance for three sections. There will be easy and comfortable access from the (northern) Western Wall Plaza to the third section.
- The new section will be renamed to include the word “Kotel.” For example: The Western Wall – Ezrat Clal Yisrael.
- Ezrat Clal Yisrael will have a managing body including members of Women of the Wall and other relevant parties. Fifty percent of the managing body will be women.
- The body managing Ezrat Clal Yisrael will enjoy state budgets at least equal in scale to those of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.
- The state’s treatment of the new section will be equal in all official references (to the men’s and women’s sections). The signage, personnel, and publications (in print and on the internet) will be completely equal. The state will act by all means at its disposal to transform the Ezrat Clal Yisrael to integrate the third section into the Kotel.
- The state, through the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Tourism, and additional relevant bodies, will refer visitors from abroad, school trips, tours by IDF soldiers, official ceremonies, and visiting dignitaries to Ezrat Clal Yisrael.
- The upper (Northern) Western Wall Plaza will be a national site open to all. The authority of Rabbi Rabinowitz and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation will be restricted to the segregated prayer sections only.
- The upper plaza will be managed by the same body that manages Ezrat Clal Yisrael. No additional space will be allocated to the segregated prayer plaza at the expense of the upper plaza.
- Women of the Wall will play an active role in designing the section. Among other functions, Women of the Wall will ensure and attend to the following:
- Women of the Wall will take part in designing the temporary partition to surround women’s groups during prayer. The partition will be accessible at all times.
- Women of the Wall’s Torah scroll will be stored in a safe, accessible, dignified place in the prayer area, as will the other Torah scrolls.
- Amplification devices will be permitted in the new section solely in accordance with rules to be determined by the managing body.
- Access to people with disabilities will be ensured. There will be no prohibition of wheelchairs on Shabbat (current Western Wall Heritage Foundation policy).
- The state will act sensitively with regard to archeological values and antiquities in the Southern Western Wall site.
- A sign will be displayed at the Western Wall commemorating the liberation of the Kotel by IDF paratroopers in 1967 (currently prohibited by Western Wall Heritage Foundation policy)
- The bodies managing the three Western Wall sections will hold joint meetings six times a year.
- Pending the completion of the new section in accordance with the above-mentioned conditions, Women of the Wall will be able to hold the Rosh Hodesh service in the women’s section, including bringing in and reading from a Torah scroll. The necessary steps will be taken to suspend the instruction of Rabbi Rabinowitz prohibiting entrance to the Kotel with Torah scrolls.
- The Mandelblit Committee will undertake to address and to prevent the actions of the Rabbi Rabinowitz and Haredi leaders who are organizing demonstrations against the Women of the Wall, effective immediately. The committee will also prevent the Rabbi Rabinowitz or persons on his behalf from using the amplification system in the Western Wall during the Women of the Wall’s Rosh Hodesh prayers.
On November 4, 2013 Women of the Wall will celebrate the organization’s 25th Anniversary. Over 450 women are already registered to attend Rosh Hodesh Kislev prayers with Women of the Wall on the women’s side of the Kotel. Groups are coming from all over Israel and North American for the festivities. On November 4, 2013 at 8AM the women will gather for their monthly prayer service. Following the prayer service, at 9:30 AM Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall Chair will address the press, as will Rachel Liel, Executive Director of the New Israel Fund.
by Jamie Cooperman
Jamie Cooperman is a senior at the University of California, Davis where she is majoring in International Relations and Spanish. Last year she completed half of her third year of study at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, Spain and the other half at the The Hebrew University of Jerusalem where she was able to participate in Rosh Hodesh services with Women of the Wall.
This past year I had the incredible opportunity of studying abroad in both Spain and Israel. As a Jewish young adult living in North America, I never encountered hardships when it came to openly practicing my religion. I have always been proud to be Jewish and there had never been a reason for me to be ashamed of my own identity. When I was in both Israel and Spain, I really understood that I have been taking advantage of possessing these simple rights.
In Spain, I found that most Jews were not open or proud of being Jewish which was such a strange concept for me. I celebrated the high holidays in the basement of a hotel that was miles away from the main attractions of Madrid and each week for Shabbat I had to go through such intense security in order to merely attend Kabbalat Shabbat services. In the United States, it would be so easy for me to just drive to my synagogue to attend any service I desired, without feeling any sense of unease or fear of not being welcomed. This had completely changed once I left my comfort zone of the United States.
When I started my spring semester in Jerusalem, I figured that I would definitely feel more comfortable expressing my Jewish identity as opposed to when I was in Madrid. I had traveled to Israel before on numerous occasions, but this was the first time that I actually lived in Israel for an extended period of time. I found that I was not able to express myself as freely as I thought I would be. In Jerusalem especially, I found that women’s voices are stifled when it comes to religion. I felt uncomfortable sharing my opinion when I was in some ultra-orthodox settings because I found that there was only one right opinion when it came to different aspects of Judaism. In the United States, I was always taught that especially within Judaism, there are various opinions on different teachings and that it was my job to listen to all of these ideas and then form my own opinion. In these settings, I felt that all that I was taught growing up was completely wrong. I became discouraged about my new feeling toward Israeli society in Jerusalem, because this was not the Israel that I loved and thought dearly of.
I found out about Women of the Wall early on during the semester and decided to try to get involved. Despite having to wake up before sunrise in order to make the trek from Har HaTzofim to the Old City, a group of friends and I were very excited to experience a Women of the Wall service. The first Rosh Hodesh shacharit service that I attended restored my warm feelings about the Jewish people and about Israel as whole. Squished together at the Kotel with hundreds of women of all ages and religious backgrounds, I finally felt the sense of belonging that I searched for during my study abroad experience. I loved being a part of an organization in Jerusalem that enabled both women and men to voice their opinions as well as practice different forms of Judaism that was unique to each individual. During the service, I looked all around me to find that I was absorbed in a cohesive unit of people singing, dancing, and praying. For a quick moment I found myself looking up at the Kotel being mesmerized by what an incredible experience that I was taking part in. This is what Judaism is to me. This is what Israel really is for me. I finally found the Israel that I was craving. Being able to come together, despite being strangers and never having met before, I felt such a sense of belonging and sense of pride for being Jewish.
In honor of the 25th Anniversary of Women of the Wall, I would like to share my deep appreciation for this organization. Thank you for restoring my faith in Israel, the Jewish people, and my own Jewish identity. We are very lucky to have an organization like this that enables people to express themselves in such a way that is inviting, loving, and nurturing. I hope others see the importance of Women of the Wall and I encourage you to support, participate, and fortify all of the efforts that this organization has done in the past 25 years and will do in the 25 years to come.
The Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN), as the international support and advocacy organization for women in the Reform rabbinate, has supported Women of the Wall (WOW) since it began its efforts to secure a meaningful place at the Western Wall for women’s prayer. We identify fully with WOW’s mission to achieve the social and legal recognition of the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall. For 25 years, many of our members have prayed with WOW, signed petitions on their behalf, contributed to legal efforts, and provided strategic assistance. Many of us are planning to celebrate Rosh Hodesh Kislev in Jerusalem with WOW, on November 4, 2013, for its 25th anniversary.
On October 7, 2013, WOW’s leadership announced that they “are prepared to be the catalyst and leaders of building a new, equal third section for all Jews to pray and celebrate at the Western Wall.” We affirm our support of WOW as it makes this landmark announcement. We stand with WOW as it insists on clarification of all aspects of the physical development of this third section of the Wall. We endorse their efforts to secure a new pluralistic model for the administration and leadership of this new, third section, which will provide a safe and sacred space for WOW and all Jews to pray with dignity and respect, autonomy and authority. We stand with Women of the Wall, and commit to continue our efforts to insure women’s presence and religious practice at the Wall.
Media Contact: Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson, Director