A dark cloud hangs over Women of the Wall’s 25th anniversary celebrations slated for November 4, as the movement stands on the verge of a major split.
More than 100 supporters from North America, who are taking part in a special anniversary trip, will join WOW’s Israeli members at a monthly prayer meeting at the Western Wall, followed by a reception and seminar.
They will be celebrating their success in uniting Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated feminists behind the mission of fighting for the right of women to pray freely at the Western Wall.
But ironically, at this key moment in its history, the group is more divided than ever.
WOW has always insisted on meeting in the Kotel’s bustling prayer gallery reserved for women. It rejected suggestions that because its prayer practices upset the ultra-Orthodox, who dominate this site, it should relocate to a quieter part of the Wall. But in early October, WOW made a U-turn and agreed to leave the Kotel plaza for a stretch of the Wall that was excavated in the 19th century, known as Robinson’s Arch.
The decision, approved by an 9-2 majority on the WOW board, left some of the organization’s members devastated at what they feel is the acceptance of a second-rate site. Now 21 of WOW’s founders, members and supporters have signed a letter pledging to continue fighting for rights at the main Kotel plaza, regardless of whatever agreements the formal WOW leadership makes with the government.
“We are committed to our dream and to the work needed to fully realize and sustain it,” the dissenters wrote. “We will maintain this commitment even if others accept the archaeological site known as Robinson’s Arch instead of the Kotel.”
WOW’s decision to compromise comes as the government is working on a proposal to establish a large egalitarian prayer section at Robinson’s Arch. Cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit is crafting the proposal in consultation with Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.