Friday, Feb. 26
Written by Rabbi Joel Nickerson
The day began with a detailed conversation about the Women of the Wall organization and their work to bring equal prayer opportunities to women at the Western Wall (aka Kotel). Rabbi Susan Silverman (her sister is comedian Sarah Silverman) spoke to us about the new deal that was reached in an unprecedented collaboration between the various denominations and the Israeli government. The Mandleblit Plan, as it’s called, supports the creation of a third and equally accessible section of the Kotel where egalitarian prayer will take place (mixed prayer space). A space DOES exist now, with it’s own entrance off the Kotel plaza, but very few people know about it and the space is constrained and limited in its capacity. The plan calls for a new entrance to be established for all people interested in praying at the Kotel and that from the new entrance, everyone will have a clear view of all three prayer space options – men’s section, women’s section, and the Ezrat Israel section for mixed gender prayer. The new set up is going to cost A LOT of money and there are a lot of parties against it, such as the archeologists who will have to become creative in how they will maintain the artifacts that are currently in the same area as the egalitarian section, the Jordanian religious authority which controls the Temple Mount (because the bridge from the Kotel to the Temple Mount will be effected by any changes), and of course, the Ultra-Orthodox. Rabbi Silverman talked about all of these complications in detail and also told us about the split within the Women of the Wall organization – the ‘original’ WoW group and the newer members. The ‘o’WoW spent 25 years building up a viable women’s only prayer experience where Torah was read and women could wear tallit and tefillin (all taking place in the women’s section of the Kotel). But the new plan, they fear, will lead to significant set-backs to that work and will give up all opportunities for women to create more ‘liberal’ prayer experiences in the women’s section. Instead, all the focus will be on the newer, egalitarian section, where men and women will be sharing the space. Is success found in the establishment of a third section for men and women to pray together, or is success found in the ability to maintain opportunities for women to create meaningful prayer experiences for themselves, separate from male integration? Rabbi Silverman seems to believe that both can occur under this new plan and that over time, both the women’s section and the egalitarian section will flourish and bring an entirely new set of Jews to the Kotel for meaningful experiences that they otherwise could never enjoy.
And of course, she did talk briefly about her family – what it’s like to have three other sisters with one of them being the famous Sarah Silverman. And how her father has a twitter account called @RantsFromBoca where he goes off on wealthy people in a humorous way.