Joyous Bat Mitzvah Ceremonies at the Kotel, Despite a Bitter Start to the Month of Heshvan

October 14, 2015

Today Women of the Wall gathered at the Western Wall for Rosh Hodesh, the new Jewish month of Heshvan, often called MarHeshvan. Mar in Hebrew means bitter and the term definitely applies as we start this month with Israel in the grips of a major wave of violence. Despite the high threat levels in Jerusalem, 48 people gathered for prayers this morning, to pray for peace and to celebrate two bat mitzvahs of two girls who travelled over 6,000 miles each for the unique experience. Aliya Mayana Glatt came from America with her mother, grandmother and family to celebrate her bat mitzvah at the Kotel. Leora Cytrynbaum travelled from Brazil with her mother for the occasion.

The bitterness of this marHeshvan is compounded by the fact that these two girls, who have studied and trained for months prior to this day, did not have a Torah scroll to read from. Even though there are hundreds of Torah scrolls less than 15 feet from our prayers service, these bat mitzvah girls, their mothers and grandmothers were refused the use of even one Torah. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, administrator of the Western Wall, has decided that only boys are allowed to read from Torah scrolls at the Kotel. He uses his authority and the resources at his disposal to enforce this discriminatory regulation.

This week, Anat Hoffman sent a letter to Rabinowitz to let him know that the leadership of Women of the Wall has decided, out of a deep sense of responsibility, not to attempt to smuggle a Torah scroll in to the Kotel this month, so as not to challenge the security forces during this time of high threat levels. Hoffman repeated a request she has made many times before: allow women to use one of the hundreds of Torah scrolls at his disposal, for Rosh Hodesh and these important bat mitzvah ceremonies. Rabinowitz runs a lucrative bar mitzvah trade on the men’s side of the Western Wall while denying women this right, despite the guarantee of equal rights to worship made by the Sobel Decision in April 2013. Hoffman writes, “I hope that you will receive this request in the spirit of understanding and reconciliation.” No response to the letter was received.

In addition to the touching and joyous bat mitzvah ceremonies, Women of the Wall delivered 133 notes to the Kotel this morning, which were sent from WOW supporters from Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, France, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Kenya, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States. The women and girls at the Kotel were honored to hand-deliver these prayers and place them in the Kotel. The notes contained personal prayers as well as a unified wish for the future, “I love Israel and equality is a central value in my life. Please soften the heart of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, that he will embrace equality and provide Torah for women at Israel’s holiest site. Strengthen the voices of Women of the Wall in this holy struggle. I have hope that in 5776 we can and must achieve equal rights for women at the Kotel.”

For 26 years Women of the Wall has continued to fight 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.

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