I am announcing to you today that our struggle to make the Western Wall a welcoming place for all Jews is reaching a new phase. After so many years talking to everyone except the leaders in Israel who could actually create change, we are now negotiating directly with the government to find a compromise that satisfies everyone’s needs. It looks like, in the foreseeable future, young girls will be celebrating their bat mitzvahs at the Western Wall.
I had very modest goals in mind when I began to work for the rights of women to pray at the Wall. I wanted to be able to wear my prayer shawl, sing in full voice, and read from a Torah scroll in Judaism’s holiest site. At times, it seemed like a dream that would never come to fruition. We were told that we were an abomination, and that our voices offended the feelings of others. We had chairs and stones thrown at us from every direction. We were willing to bear the insults, the arrests, and the risks, in order to pursue our vision of equality. We did not give up and we are finally seeing the fruits of our labor.
We have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Jewish world demands that the Kotel reflect Judaism’s diversity. Israeli leaders have made a decision to expand the Kotel in order to include an equal place for pluralistic prayer, including the prayer of Women of the Wall.
For four decades, the Western Wall was a place whose regulations were dictated by one minority view. We won the right to be part of shaping the Kotel’s character for future generations. We have made the Kotel a bigger place, and it is time to celebrate.
We would not be here today without the strong support from all of you. We are entering the most exciting, but also the most difficult, part of the process. In the months ahead, we will be negotiating with the Israeli government on the exact makeup of the new section. Our task is to make sure that we are treated equally on all levels. We are committed to continuing the legal and public pressure as long as it takes to achieve equality at the Kotel.
The momentum will stall if we let up for even a moment. Stay with us, and very soon we will barely remember the days when women and girls could not celebrate at the Western Wall.
Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center.