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Saturday, April 13, 2013 

Reform girl students at Western Wall feel rejected by Haredi students

A Reform adherent who'd been involved with Women of the Wall recounts this experience:
This past February, we took 16 8th grade students from Congregation Beth Elohim on a trip to Israel. With little explanation of the politics, and in the context of aliyah l’regel, or religious pilgrimage, we took them to the Kotel to put notes in the wall and to pray. Our boys went with our tour guide Tzvi to the relatively empty large men’s section, and I took nine 13 and 14-year-old girls towards the crowded women’s section. At that very moment, three busloads of teen girls from an Ultra-Orthodox school came to the Kotel Plaza for mincha (afternoon prayers). With their prayer books in hand, girls in dark skirts streamed past our girls towards the wall, filling in all of the spaces between the women in chairs, swaying with silent fervor, leaning in with hand against the stone, tears running down some faces. Notes in hand, now standing behind a wall of uniformed daveners, our girls immediately retreated, and did not push towards the wall. [...]

At the Kotel, I urged my students to take a place at the wall, to put in a note. With long faces, the girls told me that it was crowded, and that they didn’t feel like they belonged here. I snaked my way up the wall, placed my arm through a small gap, and had each girl come next to me to reach over the girls and women who had front row places and to put in their notes. Feeling the disdainful looks from those around us, who made no move to let us in, we placed our notes and quickly retreated.

As we waited for the boys, the girls shared how they had waited for so long to see this place, and they got there to find that there was literally no room for them. They felt disconnected, disinherited, and dispirited. To add to the insult, the boys came back radiant, elated. They had been invited to join a mincha minyan, each had time and space in the wide and fairly empty plaza and had left their notes with prayers and singing.

I explained to Tzvi what our girls had said, and we immediately decided to change our plans and headed down to Robinson’s Arch, paying hundreds of shekels in entrance fees so that we could give them a different experience and perspective on this place to which we always turn in prayer. We looked at the steps, the two arching doorways now blocked in stones, the remains of mikvahs below us--and we prepared ourselves, with another narrative.
If this is correct, it sounds like maybe two things: the Reform students felt uncomfortable, possibly because the Haredi students were taking up all the possible space with no consideration for anyone else, and because they were giving signs of "I don't like you because you're not like us", which might've been taught in their schools. My beefs with the Reform movement are their questionable views of Israel, yet I get the feeling that wasn't the reason why those Haredi students gave any looks of disdain, knowing how questionable their own views of Israel are too.

No wonder even Conservatives don't feel wanted in Israel - because Haredis are driving all the dislike of many other forms of Judaism, and that includes simpler forms of Orthodox, and even people already disenchanted with Haredis do nothing to combat these views properly.

Thanks a lot to the Haredis for treating non-Orthodox and even non-Haredi like aliens from outer space. And thanks a lot to many other people in Israel for not objecting to disturbing policies that can harm women's lives. It only hurts Israel's rep, and if nobody had a problem with the WoW years before when they were first founded, why do they suddenly have one now? One more reason why, regardless of having an Egalitarian section, this kind of hostility has to stop.

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