Why Women of the Wall Must Continue — Terror Attacks or No

On Hanukkah we sing, “Banu Hosheh Legaresh” (We came to drive out the darkness), as we remember the unlikely victory of the Maccabees against the Assyrians in Jerusalem.

So too, Judith led the defeat of Holofernes, against all odds when the Israelites were in a very dark place of despair, having almost given up hope.

Hanukkah reminds us of the great miracle of modern Judaism: we are still here in 2015, thriving, diverse, strong.

As the holiday approaches this year, we find ourselves covered by an all-to-familiar darkness: terrorism. Violent attacks against innocent people of all ages and religions in Israel, Paris, Nigeria, Syria and more. In Israel, we have been suffering for months under a wave of stabbings in the streets, leaving us all feeling vulnerable and scared.

As Director of Public Relations for Women of the Wall for the past 5 years, through three wars and “sprinkles” of rockets, stabbings, and other attacks, I am asked: “Why must you fight this fight now? Wouldn’t it be prudent to put your agenda aside while Israel is under attack?”

My answer is always the same: No.

For Zion’s sake, we cannot stop progress in Israel because of terrorism. We must not.

Our researchers must keep working on a cure for cancer. Our environmental engineers must keep working on water preservation. Our musicians must keep writing songs. Our social activists must keep fighting for change. This is precisely the miracle of the Jewish people: they cannot keep us down!

Women of the Wall have been praying at the Kotel for 27 years — in the snow, in the rain and during wartime.

I see this work as a Zionist pursuit — to strengthen Israel’s democracy and uphold the promise in our Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel:

“The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.”

Women of the Wall seek exactly that: freedom, justice in a State of Israel free of discrimination based on gender and equal access to the Kotel, Judaism’s holiest site. Only a strong democratic Israel will stand the test of time — and women’s rights are a cornerstone of every democracy.

This is why we must hold our politicians and legal system accountable for discrimination against women. We must not let terrorism derail progress in Israel. We must keep on fighting for equal rights and advancing our country and its people.

Women of the Wall are dedicating the month of December to this goal: strengthening Israel and celebrating Hanukkah by shining light on the Kotel.

On Hanukkah each year, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Administrator of the Western Wall, under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office, holds an official national Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony in the men’s section of the Kotel.

Rabinowitz invites only men to participate. From the women’s section, we can’t even see the lights.

This year, Women of the Wall turn to Israeli leaders and Prime Minister Netanyahu to ensure that women are equal participants in this ceremony at the Kotel. This can be done by holding a parallel, identical ceremony in the women’s section or by holding the ceremony in the upper plaza with men and women participating equally, together.

With God’s help we will see an immediate end to these terror attacks. However, even if they continue Women of the Wall’s struggle must go on until we see an end to the exclusion of women in the public sphere. The result of our struggle — the inclusion and empowerment of women — will multiply the miracles of the Jewish people: more prayers for peace, more voices against the violence, more light to shut out the darkness.

Hundreds of women have gone to the Women of the Wall website and sent letters to Prime Minister Netanyahu to tell him: It’s my right to light.

Join them and be counted.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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