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.