(Haaretz) — “You don’t belong here,” said the man trying to shut the heavy wooden door in my face. “Get out.”
I was standing in a little-known, indoor women’s section at the Western Wall, one that can be approached only through the outdoor men’s section. The space is clearly designated – in stone and glass – as a women’s prayer area, though a glass plaque recently mounted outside announces the hours when it is actually open to women: from midnight to 8:30 A.M. on all days of the week except Monday and Thursday, when it is open from midnight until 2:30 P.M.
The space is not actually a room but a narrow corridor, perpendicular to the main tunnel which is known as Wilson’s Arch. This main tunnel, which runs along the Western Wall, is open 24 hours a day and is for men only. (A friend remembers that Wilson’s Arch had no gender segregation in the 1980s. In 1983, a mixed-gender interfaith service led by a U.S. Navy chaplain was held there.) A heavy, latticed wooden door hung with a white curtain on the women’s side separates the corridor from the main tunnel. The door is often closed when I go there, but this time it was open, latched to the wall. My friend and I were the only ones there.
Wanting some pictures of the main tunnel, I stepped a few inches beyond the doorway, taking care not to venture too far inside. I managed to get some photographs, but a few moments later a man in a long black coat approached me, addressing me in American-sounding English.
“You’re in the wrong place,” he said politely but forcefully. “The women’s section is behind you.”
I took the few steps back into the women’s section. The man followed me, unlatched the door from the wall and began to close it. I held the door and asked him to leave it open. I wanted an unobstructed view of the tunnel – after all, the door had been open when I arrived, during the time that the women’s section was posted as being open to women.
The man’s veneer of politeness quickly vanished. “Get out,” he said. “You don’t belong here.”
“What’s your name?” I asked him. “By what authority are you telling me to leave?”
“I don’t have to tell you my name,” he said, and left.