Praying at the Western Wall.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Visitors at the Western Wall expressed their frustration on Monday about the government’s decision to cancel plans to establish a plaza for egalitarian prayer at the site.
Due to pressure from the ultra-Orthodox parties within the government, the cabinet overturned a January 2016 decision that would have created a prayer space at the Western Wall for men and women to pray together.
Tourist Beth Sabo Novik said she was “disappointed, but not surprised.”
“It’s really about seeing my boys go to the Wall,” Sabo Novik said, tearing up. Hanging over the barrier in attempt to experience the Wall with her sons is frustrating for the mother of two.
“It’s about me being here with my family here at the wall. And I’m not allowed,” she said.
Others expressed their discontent over the separation of loved ones at the holy site.
“I think families should be able to pray together,” Beersheba resident Eric Fischer said.
Los Angeles native Nathan Nikhoo is having his bar mitzva at the Wall next week, and wishes he could experience the milestone with his whole family.
“I’d love to do it with my mom and sister,” he said.
Sabo Novik also said that the separation of sexes is “embarrassing” for her as a Jew. Several participants on her tour are not Jewish, she said, and they noticed the disparity between the sizes of the men’s and women’s sections. She believes it reflects badly on Judaism.
Another visitor, Jessica Hui, said the separation repels her from the Jewish religion.
“It makes me not as proud to be Jewish,” she said. “The segregation is very recursive.”
Several visitors personally support egalitarian prayer, but were not bothered by the separation “The Orthodox have some views on things that I don’t agree with,” said college student Daniel Halper. “But I don’t think this is too imposing on our values just to pray separately.”
Another student, Sally Parker, said she was sad about the decision but understood the rationale behind it.
“Maybe the separation is a good thing, because you are thinking about you and the people you are around,” the North Carolina native said.
Despite their negative feelings, many of the tourists still feel a strong connection to Israel and Judaism.
“I’m just happy to be here,” Parker said.
Hui, a participant on Birthright, said she is learning that one does not have to embrace the Jewish religion in order to embrace Judaism.
“You can still appreciate the culture and the people,” she said.