Women of the Wall – your sisters invite you to dialogue – opinion

The stones of the Kotel have born witness to cultures rising and falling, as authentic Judaism has endured.

WOMEN PRAY at the Western Wall Tunnels. (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
WOMEN PRAY at the Western Wall Tunnels.
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
Dear sister, the Women of the Wall,
Your open letter “Extending forgiveness...” to everyone who has wronged you, landed in my inbox exactly as I was leaving the Western Wall plaza after praying in the Western Wall tunnels. It was in these same tunnels that seven years ago I had the epiphany that had led me to write an article inviting you to pray in the tunnels. That article snowballed into a movement – Women For the Wall – which has since inspired tens of thousands of women, between 1,000 and 5,000 every Rosh Hodesh, to join us in a traditional prayer service at the Kotel.
It was in these Kotel tunnels I envisioned a mass grassroots movement of women, voicing their love for the Jewish tradition and gathering each month to preserve it in the spirit of Jewish unity.
As I was leaving the tunnels this time, I saw your open letter and it gave me hope. Seven years ago, before taking any other action, my colleagues and I extended our hand to you, inviting you to meet for an informal cup of coffee to discuss our different outlooks. You refused our offers again and again. Seven years later, we are still waiting for that cup of coffee. But now, with your newfound attitude of reconciliation, it finally seems that there is hope.
For the past 30 years, you have fought to be able to pray as you want. We understand your aspirations. We understand your urge to pray exactly how you see fit. Yet, in your drive to reach your goals, it seems that you have only focused on the slights to you, blowing each word of opposition out of proportion.
Somehow, you have failed to notice the thousands of women all around you that for the past 30 years have tried to communicate their own outlook, without much luck. So much so, that you have left them out of your letter.
An emphasis on doing things our way often leads us to only see our own needs and disregard everyone else around us. Concentrating on praying how you want, you have missed the beautiful palette of Jews around you. You have been painting us with broad brush strokes of black, which have prevented you from fully appreciating your fellow worshipers. You have misrepresented your fellow sisters as chattel at the hands of misogynist rabbis, thus denying our agency and dismissing our perspective.
Yet with this emerging spirit of mutual empathy, we hope that you might finally be open to understanding the position of the overwhelming majority of the ordinary Kotel worshipers, men and women, who without connections and funding campaigns, but with a strong attachment to the Kotel tradition, come to this holy site every day.
This coming Sunday, on the 18 of Elul, we will celebrate the birth of two Torah luminaries who have lit up the Jewish experience. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the hassidic movement, taught that the entire world is filled with the light of Godly consciousness. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad and the author of the Tanya, taught that every Jew is a beam of this divine light, tasked with illuminating the darkness of the world through his or her own unique prism.
Striving to become such an authentic prism for the light of Godliness, without obscuring it with our egocentric and narcissistic inclinations, is the essence of Judaism. Every day, thousands of worshipers set aside what they see fit and come to the Western Wall to serve God, based on the wishes he had expressed in his Torah 2,800 years ago. Every day, these worshipers entreat him with words of prayer to assist them on this journey.
Such aspirations may seem naïve in the I-driven, rights-oriented, micro-aggressions-touting 21st century discourse. Yet over the past three millennia, the Jewish people have seen many other philosophies come and go, while ours persevered. The stones of the Kotel have born witness to cultures rising and falling, as authentic Judaism has endured.
And so in the spirit of the holidays that are upon you, dear sisters, let’s finally get together for that cup of coffee. Let’s take the time to hear each other out and appreciate the full spectrum of light that God is shining through all of our souls.
For now, let me leave you with the timeless word of blessing, which Jews have been bestowing upon each other since time immemorial:
“The Lord shall bless you and keep you;
The Lord shall make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
The Lord shall turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
The writer is the founder of Women For the Wall, a grassroots movement of women focused on preserving the prayer tradition at the Western Wall in the spirit of Jewish unity.