Natalie Kimchi (right), Head of External Affairs for the Israel Supreme Court holds packets of hundreds of letters in support of Women of the Wall on behalf of Justices Eliyakim Rubenstein and Salim Jubran while speaking with Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, International Vice Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall and member of the Steering Committee of Bay Area Friends of Women of the Wall.
From January 24-29, a delegation of 30 Rabbis from Northern California various high-ranking officials in Israel. The delegation, which
was arranged by Israeli Consul General for the Pacific Northwest Akiva Tor, included Consul Tor and Rabbis from the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal movements. As participant Rabbi Rosalind Glazer explained, “Our joint participation is a model of Jewish diversity in the U.S. We hope that our unified voice can make a powerful statement about the underlying value of, and need for, religious pluralism in Israel. As American Jews, our voices need to be taken seriously at this critical juncture in the history of Israel and the Jewish people.” The Rabbis met with M.K.’s Yuli Edelstein (Likud) and Nachman Shai (Kadima), Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Supreme Court Justices Elyakim Rubenstein and Salim Jubran, and Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky.
The delegation spent Friday, January 28, in the Old City of Jerusalem visiting the Kotel tunnels, Robinson’s Arch, and the City of David. The day began with an early-morning meeting with Anat Hoffman, the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, who shared the group’s political and legal history. Hoffman said, “Israel could choose to be a leader in the Jewish world. There could be a bat mitzvah at the Kotel.” The rabbis flooded Hoffman with questions and snapped photos of her wearing a Women of the Wall tallit and head covering. Hoffman encouraged supporters to sell the Women of the Wall tallit in their gift shops, invite congregants to write letters to Israeli government officials, and bring their synagogue trips to Women of the Wall services on Rosh Hodesh.
Many of the rabbis in the delegation have been long-time supporters of Women of the Wall. In October 2010, Bay Area Rabbi Pamela Frydman and Rabbi Menachem Creditor launched an international campaign called “Rabbis for Women of the Wall.” Over 600 Rabbis, 85 Cantors, 60 organizations and 1000 individuals have since signed a statement to Israeli officials demanding that that they define a time or place at the Kotel where women are allowed to lead worship, wear a tallit, wear tefillin, hold the Torah and read from the Torah. Rabbi Frydman, who participated in the January delegation, presented a packet to each government official (and Head of External Affairs Natalie Kimchi on behalf of the Supreme Court Justices) containing the statement and accompanying signatures as well as a new set of letters signed by hundreds of rabbis, cantors, rabbinic and cantorial associations, social justice organizations, congregations and individuals. In addition, Rabbi Glazer presented a letter from Bay Area Friends of Women of the Wall.
In addition to the letter-writing campaigns, many congregations participated in Women of the Wall’s photo campaign last summer, when thousands of women all over the world were photographed holding a Sefer Torah. Rabbi Chaim Schwartz, President of Congregation Chadesh Yameinu in Santa Cruz said of the photo campaign, “Women were in tears. Many of them had never held a Torah before, because they had never been invited to do so.”
Rabbi Shoshanah Devorah of Congregation Kol HaEmek in Mendocino County, participated in the January delegation. She was present at Women of the Wall’s second gathering in 1988, and participated regularly until 1995 when she moved to the U.S. Rabbi Devorah remembers the tear gas used by police during one of Women of the Wall’s services in 1988, and said she felt like she was “at a civil rights protest in the U.S. in the ‘60s.” Devorah, who became a Rabbi at the age of 59, recalled fondly that “Women of the Wall was very important in my own spiritual development. It was the first place that I put on a tallit.”
Rabbi Rosalind Glazer of Congregation Beth Israel Judea in San Francisco is an International Vice-Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall and also serves on the Steering Committee for Friends of Women of the Wall, a San Francisco Bay Area group of women and men who advocate for the acceptance of all streams of Judaism in Israel. Rabbi Glazer was in tears as she spoke about women at the Kotel, “Mayor Barkat told us that the Kotel is for all Jews. But, that is not true today. Jews in the diaspora want a place to be spiritual. It is the first place they go and it is the first place they get slapped in the face. The message that they get on their first experience is ‘you’re not equal; you’re not welcome.’”
Rabbi Stephen Pearce, Senior Rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco recently joined Glazer and twenty-one others as an International Vice Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall. Explaining his decision, Pearce said, “I am thrilled to help pursue a sense of justice. The struggle of Women of the Wall is a model of how Israel can learn to compromise and pursue conflict resolution in other areas.”
Rabbi Mauricio Balter, President of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel also recently became an International Vice Chair, joining Rabbi Andrew M. Sacks, Director of the RA in Israel, one of the original Vice Chairs. “I feel that it’s a very big z’chut [privilege] to serve” said Balter of his new role.