Amid ongoing controversy about female prayer at the Kotel in Jerusalem, Lisa Richman, a teacher at the Perelman Jewish Day School, Stern Center, whose daughter, Rebecca, made aliyah last year and is serving in the Israel Defense Forces, wrote from Israel about her experiences with the Women of the Wall earlier this week:
It all began for me when my niece was born 16 years ago and I was offered an aliyah to the Torah. Out of deference to my father, I asked for the honor to be given to someone else. My dad elbowed me, insisting that I knew more than half the men gathered there and that I should take it.
At that moment, I decided to learn to read Torah so I could read as my daughters, Sarah and Rebecca, became B’nai Mitzvah. Since then, I've become very entrenched in the Conservative Movement — school, camp and synagogue. I respect the women who want to put on tallit and tefillin and I respect the Orthodox women who support the Women of the Wall but still want a mechitzah.
Last Monday — Rosh Chodesh Av — I met with a friend and at about 6 a.m. we boarded the buses that had been arranged for us. We were mostly women, but there were men in our group as well. Police stopped Jerusalem rush hour traffic as we made our way very easily through the narrow streets toward the Old City. We got off the buses and walked freely toward the Kotel — until we arrived at the barricades set up at the entrance to the plaza.
We evidently weren’t early enough as we could not get all the way to the Kotel. There were hundreds and hundreds of young male students, with some older men scattered throughout in black hats, on the opposite side of the barricade. On our side were police, shoulder to shoulder, two deep — and then us. Higher up, in the back of the plaza, were hundreds of young girls, covered from neck to toe.
I wanted to support the women who go to pray at the Kotel on a regular basis. I wanted to enjoy the voices of women praying together at the Kotel, which I don’t think happens very frequently since I’ve always only seen women standing alone to pray. I thought it would be truly awesome to experience prayer — Rosh Chodesh especially — in this way. I felt safe while I was there although I’d heard of a few egg- and bottle-throwing incidents after I had already departed. I wasn’t going ‘davka’ (‘just because’) or to mix politics and prayer. I am not an extremist, but I recognize and appreciate those who have the courage to push beyond certain barricades.