Short update from Israel.
Last Friday my group went to the Kotel to daven Friday evening services. Immediately upon arriving, our leaders told us that the boys would go to the male side, and that the girls would go to the female side. I was not surprised–I have prayed at the Kotel many times before, and have unhappily become used to being forced to pray separately from men there. However, being used to it did not make it any less frustrating.
A group of friends and mine decided to lead our own Kabbalat Shabbat services separate from the boys, and it ended up being really nice; we stood in a circle behind the lines of women praying silently to themselves and, amidst many slightly dismayed looks from onlookers, sung aloud together. The sense of community we created was great, but what made it even more beautiful was the fact that a couple strangers decided to join in and pray with us.
However, after finishing the first part of the Friday evening services, we arrived at Ma’ariv, something that according to Orthodox Judaism, women are not supposed to lead. (Women are allowed to lead the first part, excepting a few things.) Because the girl who led the first part of our services is Orthodox, she did not want to lead the second part, and so she, as well as a few other girls decided to pray on their own. Our group quickly dismantled, and I ended up praying Ma’ariv on my own. It was nice to pray at the Western Wall, but it was basically almost that; all of the spirituality that otherwise would have been inspired by the sense of human longing and desire and hope was diminished by the feeling that I was missing out on the amazing communal prayer that I was hearing from the male side.
Walking away from the Wall, all I could think about was how their should be three areas there: one for men, one for women, and one for men and women to pray together. Israel should not be a state only for Orthodox people–it should be a state where all Jews (and non-Jews, but that’s a different topic) feel comfortable, that accommodates all of our needs. Women of the Wall serve as an inspiration for all women who feel frustrated with the limitations imposed on them at the Wall, but the fact that women have been arrested for reading Torah at the Wall is simply depressing. Something needs to change.