Members of the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), including Pittsburgher and Temple Sinai member Lynn Magid Lazar, stood in solidarity with their Israeli sisters at the Western Wall in Jerusalem last week to promote religious freedom for women in the Jewish state.
Twenty-eight members of the WRJ joined with the Women of the Wall (WOW) in prayer to mark the start of the month of Nisan.
Members of WOW are typically detained when wearing tallitot and tefillin and reading Torah at the Wall, cited as being in violation of a ban on those activities. Yet, last week’s Rosh Chodesh service marked “the first time in over 22 months [that] women were allowed to pray … without police intervention,” according to the WOW website.
The lack of police detention might be attributed to the fact that WOW was joined in prayer by three female Members of the Knesset: Stav Shaffir, Michal Rozin and Tamar Zandberg.
“I don’t know why no one was detained, but I speculate that there being [Members of the Knesset] there was probably helpful,” said Lazar, who is national president of WRJ.
“I think the public pressure and the publicity was also probably helpful in not having people detained,” she said.
The 220 women who joined in last week’s Rosh Chodesh service did, however, meet with loud, verbal opposition from Orthodox protestors.
Prior to the service, posters had been displayed around local haredi neighborhoods calling for opponents to come to the Wall on the morning of Rosh Chodesh Nisan.
Lazar called the posters “unnerving.”
“We didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “We didn’t know if they would be prone to violence.”
But the protestors’ attacks were limited to verbal assaults.
There was a “strong police presence” at the service, Lazar said, and also several international journalists and photographers.
“The police presence was there to keep things as calm as possible,” she said. “I didn’t feel any threat or danger.”
WRJ is the women’s affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America. Lazar had been traveling with WRJ on a centennial trip to Israel and Berlin. While in Berlin, the WRJ connected with Abraham Geiger College, the first post-Holocaust seminary for rabbis and cantors in continental Europe, founded by Rabbi Walter Jacob, rabbi emeritus of Rodef Shalom Congregation.
This was the second time Lazar had joined WOW in prayer at the Wall, known in Hebrew as the Kotel.
“I think it’s important that we, as Jews, have a right to pray where we want to pray,” she said. “Women of the Wall are trying to make that statement every single month. The Wall is not an Orthodox synagogue, but a public, historical place for all Jews. We want to support a woman’s right to pray as we are accustomed to praying.”
“It’s a very powerful experience to stand with women and pray in Jerusalem and pray at the Wall,” she added. “It’s powerful to be with a group of women.”
Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, was asked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last December to find a solution to the current situation at the Western Wall, according to “The Times of Israel.” Sharansky was tasked with offering recommendations to make the Wall accommodating to all Jews, including the Women of the Wall.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)