The real Women of the Wall

by Devora Mason
published in the Times of Israel, 5/16/13

They sit and pour their hearts out with conviction; their heart-wrenching prayers never skewed or motivated by any external publicity or intervention. The sanctuary allotted to these women is never empty, 24 hours a day 7 days a week, regardless of weather conditions or the political situation. It is never lacking in women who seek solace in the mere fact that they can pray at the closest physical place Jews are allowed to get to the Holy of Holies. They continuously pour their hearts out to God and often times leave behind them a piece of their souls on a note they inserted into the wall.

These are the true women of the wall.

They continue to serve God for the betterment of themselves, their families and the society around them. Some of them even pay to garner themselves entrance to their place of worship. They don’t argue about their rights as equal citizens, about the suppression of women or about the area they are given to open up their hearts and souls in prayer to God.

There is something serene and meaningful in their prayers which are private in this public area in the sense that these women have fought to have this area for prayer and as a result were given an area as close in proximity and as accommodating in size and space as the men have. They are not suppressed, discriminated against or humiliated.

I haven’t been actively following the ongoing hoopla of the Women of the Wall. Quite frankly, it bores me. One second they are being arrested, next second the Chareidi male perpetrators are being arrested. There is yelling and chair throwing and media coverage and then in comes the police to carry out whatever the “order of the day” is (yawn). All in all, it reminds me more of a Hollywood paparazzi scandal than Godliness. So sue me.

I am sure that everyone means well. That’s the thing about religion. Everyone believes that they are right. The key word here is belief. Religion makes people act irrationally, aggressively and even causes people to hurt one another. Self-righteousness trumps compromise, conciliation and humility every time. Hearts filled with pride and anger have no room for Godliness.

Look, I don’t like thugs and I certainly don’t condone it when ultra-orthodox men spit on women. But seriously Women of the Wall, if you want to take on the commandment of Tefillin and Tallit then treat it with respect. It is not a fashion accessory. Don’t wear it like a headband and think that you look all cutesy-pie with it tipped to the side just like your parted hair. Don’t provoke the other side by dancing provocatively in front of the men waving your Tallit in a “na na look at me” kind of way.

And truth be told, it has devolved from a women’s minyan seeking prayer to a disruptive media circus fueled by a political agenda that is lacking in the values that they so seek to uphold.

I know that these women started to fight for their right, many years ago, to serve God in the way they see fit despite the fact that it negates the existing dynamics and praying format of the Western Wall. These women are in the limelight and always have been. I even remember them trying to organize a women’s prayer group with a Torah scroll and the whole two bits when I was a teenager. The overwhelming publicity they have been receiving today is in response to their continued determination and commitment to their cause.

But to call these women the women of the wall is a mistake. They are the Paparazzi of the wall, POWs who are there as captives of a cause that, quite frankly, is no more about them serving God than the circus act they are performing.

I believe in God but I believe in my own personal private connection to God. I believe in personal service, prayer and a committed belief system. Let’s be honest, this is not about women liberating the wall. It is about them taking over and sending everyone else home. They are not trying to unify the religious women by uniting their prayer group. They are basically saying, “We’re taking over, and if you don’t like it go pray somewhere else.”

Sorry ladies, but you attract more bees with honey. Maybe one day you can merit having a prayer session that is as meaningful and spiritual as those women who pray daily at the real wall of prayer. Until then, straighten out your Tefillin and wear your Tallit with modesty and integrity. To me, the commitment to Tallit and Tefillin is not a political one; it is a daily commitment to prayer and to God.

Religiously, I am not in a place where I am prepared to commit to anything else in my life. So I won’t be donning a prayer shawl anytime soon. And the thought of walking around with bedhead after removing the Tefillin shel rosh does not appeal to me at all. Yet, I do quietly pray to God for peace and happiness in the micro and macro elements of my life. With that, I can’t help but also pray that there will be peace and prosperity in the Jerusalem I have grown to know and love without the Paparazzi or the bullying.

Prisoners of the Wall, free yourselves from your own disruptive political agendas and learn a thing or two from those around you who understand what prayer is all about.

“Who is considered wise? Someone who learns from every person.” –Pirkei Avot