Hundreds join Women of the Wall prayers, as opponents put in poor showing

Some 1,000 women turn out for monthly prayers at Western Wall; protesters keep their cool, no reports of violence or arrests.

WoW prayers girls 4-11-13 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Women of the Wall)
WoW prayers girls 4-11-13 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Women of the Wall)
Hundreds of women turned out Monday at the Western Wall with the Women of the Wall’s regular service, marking the start of the new month in the Jewish calendar and the group’s 25th anniversary.
A call had been issued Sunday night by a senior haredi rabbi for ultra-Orthodox high school girls to deploy a past strategy of arriving at the site ahead of the WoW group, in order to fill up the women’s section. But the numbers turning up on Monday were far below previous months, and WoW was able to hold its service in the area designated for women’s prayer.
A small contingent of school girls from the Bnei Akiva religious- Zionist movement joined the several hundred ultra- Orthodox girls at the Western Wall on Monday morning, Army Radio reported, marking the first time that members of the organization had joined in the ongoing row over women’s prayers at Judaism’s holiest site.
According to the Women of the Wall’s Facebook page, at least one thousand people were in attendance.
“Twenty-five years of sisterhood prayer and struggle at the Kotel. We have arrived. With 1,000 people singing Hallel,” said the group on the page.
The group also added that men and boys were harassing one of the Women of the Wall’s board members, but there were no arrests or acts of violence reported.
Although the service passed off peacefully, WoW did note once again that loudspeakers were used in the men’s section to drown out their own prayer service, although the interruptions ended shortly after prayers began.
Yizhar Hess, director of the Conservative movement, said that Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz was complicit in the repeated use of loudspeakers when WoW holds its services, and called for him to be removed from his post.
“Instead of allowing a dignified and quiet prayer service, Rabbi Rabinowitz deployed loudspeakers,” said Hess. “He’s not directing the Western Wall but rather a war of the Jews, and he’s not [acting] with a desire for reconciliation but is instead provoking conflict and quarrels, [through] arrogance and haughtiness.”
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel, was more upbeat about Monday’s service, saying that the fact it passed off peacefully was a blow to those trying to cause provocations at the Western Wall.
“The peaceful prayer service of the Women of the Wall in the women’s section [represents] the failure of the efforts of the Rabbi of the Western Wall and other elements to create provocations at this holy site,” said Kariv.
“This is proof that it is possible...that all Jewish communities can pray according to their own customs at the Western Wall.”
Members of the Kivunim program, a pre-University year program in Israel that encourages its participants to engage in a wide variety of cultural and religious events, were in attendance of the prayer service and opted to draw on the positives from the experience.
Staff counselor, Gabi Wachs from Philadelphia, called the service a “joyous occasion,” and expressed a feeling of personal empowerment in seeing a women-led service taking place at the Western Wall.
“Today I felt I was in a community of supportive, likeminded women and men,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
Program participant 18-yearold Basia Rosenbaum of New York told the Post that the catcalls and verbal outbursts from the haredi protesters did not ruin the momentous occasion of her second visit to the Western Wall.
She was particularly impressed with the way the Women of the Wall participants made sure to include the students and help them follow along during the service.
Both said that though they had prepared for an unpleasant experience they did not witness any acts of violence beyond the occasional shouting and whistling from the protesters.