Hamodia: Women for the Wall’s (W4W) Founder Speaks Out

by Debbie Stern, 5/14/13

Last Friday, a group called Women for the Wall (W4W) arranged a gathering at the Kosel as a response to Nashot Hakotel, or Women of the Wall (WoW), a group of women set on violating the sanctity of the Kosel by repeatedly attempting to daven at the holiest of sites in tallis and tefillin. Thousands of women responded, as well as a handful of troublemakers intent on turning a peaceful gathering into an angry protest. Hamodia spoke to Mrs. Ronit Peskin, a founder of Women for the Wall, about her group’s intent, accomplishments, and future goals.

1. When was Women for the Wall created?

Less than a month ago.

2. Why?

Because until now, the only side the media was showing and the world was hearing was the side of the Women of the Wall, portrayed as a women’s rights group and the side of some chareidim who harassed them. We felt that it was time for women to stand up to these other women and show how most of the women who come to the Kosel really feel, that we want the Kosel to remain a place of kedushah, and we don’t need the Women of the Wall to “liberate us,” as they claim to be doing.

3. How many women belong to the actual organization, (meaning, members rather than the mass assembly that gathered in support)?

We’re a team of 3 core women, with 9 other people helping us out.

4. How was transportation arranged for Friday’s gathering?

We sent out notices to different communities, designated community organizers, and in communities that had sizable numbers of people agreeing to come, we sent buses. A woman in W4W ordered the buses. Askanim in the chareidi community also ordered buses for the Bais Yaakovs.

5. Who took care of all the details?

We started off contacting Rebbetzins such as Tzipora Heller, Baila Berger, Sara Yoheved Rigler, calling the seminaries, etc., telling them about the event and asking them to come. We sent out a massive [number of ] emails in various communities. We contacted Rabbi Pesach Lerner [of the National Council of Young Israel], who was going to be in Israel and had contacts, and he went to many Gedolim on our behalf, asked them what they thought about what we were planning with W4W, got their verbal haskamos and in some cases written, and they ended up putting out a mass call to bring the seminaries. One of the ladies working with us contacted the Dati Leumi Gedolim and got their haskamos as well.

6. What was the overall atmosphere at the Kosel on Friday morning?

The overall atmosphere on the women’s side was beautiful — seeing thousands of women davening together. It was very “kedushadik,” felt like we were part of something greater that reached back thousands of years. It was a very special feeling.

7. Do you feel Women for the Wall accomplished its purpose?

Absolutely. The government has paid attention to us, and can’t ignore our voice. And the media is trying to ignore us, but fortunately some of them are paying attention to us and telling our side of the story.

8. What was the cause of the dissension at the Kosel? How many people were involved?

Women of the Wall came to be davkaniks, to make a scene, and accomplished it. They pushed their way through the thousands of daveners, with police protection, in order to have their “tefillah show” davka in the middle of the thousands of daveners, when they could have gone to Robinson’s Arch right next door and davened at the actual Kosel, where no one would bother them, and where they wouldn’t be [provoking] anyone, but they didn’t want to do that. They wanted to situate themselves right in the middle of everyone. And they started singing, and guys started blowing whistles and screaming at them, and the police were surrounding the WoW, and some guys were throwing stuff at them.

Some women in their talleisim went up to the guys and were trying to rile them up, the guys responded to the provocation and rushed at the women and the police had to stop them. There were some really immature guys there who didn’t know what they were doing and refused to listen to the Rabbanim there who passed on the message from the Gedolim that there had to be absolutely no violence and that they were making a chillul Hashem. There probably were 50 troublemakers and 100 guys watching them make trouble, not actually making trouble themselves but not stopping them either — they were watching the “ekshon” [action].

9. What would you say to critics, on both the non-Orthodox side as well as the chareidi side?

I’ve heard two things from critics — from the modern Orthodox and secular world, I was told that I’m hateful and causing
division and don’t support freedom of religion. To them, I’d say that I don’t have any hate in my heart towards anyone, I just strongly disagree with what they’re trying to do, that the division was already caused by WoW and we’re just trying to combat it, that these women are free to daven however they want wherever they want, and the fact that they want to do it davka at the Kosel means that THEY don’t respect the feelings and religion of the people davening at the Kosel.

To the chareidi critics that say that ignoring this is the answer, I say that ignoring WoW for this long has made the situation as bad as it is, that the government has been on their side and about to draft laws to accomodate them, and that this is about more than just the Kosel, but about how religion works in Israel altogether. And fortunately the Gedolei Hador agree with me, so I can rely on their haskamos that I’m doing the right thing.

10. Do you foresee any further gatherings by Women for the Wall? Will the group continue in other ways?

We’ll definitely be there next Rosh Chodesh as well, and try to figure out other ways to make sure the chillul Hashem doesn’t happen again. We’ll continue trying to fight the Women of the Wall in the media, as we have been so far.

Thank you for clarifying W4W’s purpose. Hatzlachah in future, peaceful endeavors.