As a member of Women of the Wall for more than 20 years, and as part of the group’s negotiating team, I believe that the creation of a third section of the Kotel sets a strong precedent in women’s status in Israel: women as administrators of a holy site, women as leaders, women as an influential force not to be ignored or silenced.
If and when the new plan is fully implemented, this section will make way for great change. Women will pray at the Kotel as active participants and leaders in rituals, ceremonies and, of course, Torah readings. But they will achieve much more than the women’s equality they have fought for over the past 27 years.
The vision for the new Kotel section is of a physical and conceptual space open to all forms of Jewish prayer. Instead of splitting up the existing pie into ever smaller, more divided pieces, we are making the pie much larger and sharing the new space. Unlike the northern Kotel prayer sections, where ultra-Orthodox social norms are forced on all who visit, the southern section of the Kotel welcomes all visitors to pray according to their own traditions.
When you enter the Kotel’s upper plaza from any entrance, this section will be visible. And, although similar in design aesthetic to the northern Kotel prayer spaces, it will provide religious services featuring ideological diversity, including myriad choices of prayer books and a strict policy of inclusion, tolerance and acceptance of all who worship there.
Now, all Kotel visitors will see a range of choices in front of them: the ultra-Orthodox prayer sections as well as a spacious, open, welcoming pluralist prayer section for groups of all kinds. Schoolchildren who visit the Kotel on mandatory educational trips will see all of the Jewish possibilities before them. Families who wish to celebrate Jewish life cycle events will no longer have to sneak in a Torah for women, stand on plastic chairs to catch a glimpse of a bar mitzvah (currently there is no option of an official bat mitzvah ceremony at the Kotel), or face harassment. Most important, Israeli girls will see that women need not be excluded, marginalized and silenced by Judaism.
It is our belief that once it is completed, all visitors, worshippers, soldiers, immigrants, families, groups and individuals of all kinds will find their place in the new section. It stands to reason that a public prayer space at the Kotel created with great care to reflect the diverse identities of Am Yisrael will attract just that — the whole Jewish people.