The proposal to create an expanded section for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem has picked up a crucial supporter: Anat Hoffman, director of the Israel Religious Action Center and chair of Women of the Wall, the group of women that has for decades sought to pray and read Torah at Judaism’s holiest site.
“It’s very ambitious, a dramatic change, and it will make history,” Hoffman said in a phone interview today. “It’s not everything we were hoping for, but we will compromise. You don’t always have to be right, you have to be smart, and compromise is a sign of maturity and understanding what’s at stake here.”
Hoffman’s remarks came after Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, presented a plan to American Jewish religious leaders that would expand the southern end of the Wall at Robinson’s Arch to create a plaza equal in size and presentation to the existing sections where prayer is segregated by gender. As the Forward reported earlier today, Sharansky’s plan attempts to resolve the growing dispute between women who wish to pray at the Kotel wearing prayer shawls and tefillin, and the Orthodox authorities who have insisted on ever-stringent codes of conduct at a site they control.
While voicing her unequivocal support for Sharansky’s work, Hoffman, who has been arrested with other women at WOW’s monthly services, said she is worried about what will happen before the ambitious, expensive plan is approved and implemented. The next flashpoint will be Thursday, the first of the new month of Iyar, when Women of the Wall have already been threatened if they try to pray in their usual manner at the Wall.
But she praised Sharansky’s proposal for creating a space “where all different Jewish expressions will be welcome… I was very impressed at the courage and support that Mr. Sharansky was able to muster. He listened a lot. It was a bit out of character. It takes courage and vision. [The plan] is a wonderful message for Israelis, for Jews from abroad, for everyone.”
Sharansky could not be reached for comment. While Hoffman herself was not at today’s meeting, she said she was told the outcome was positive and that Sharansky will now present his plan to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Jane Eisner, a pioneer in journalism, is writer-at-large at the Forward and the 2019 Koeppel Fellow in Journalism at Wesleyan University. For more than a decade, she was editor-in-chief of the Forward, the first woman to hold the position at the influential Jewish national news organization. Under her leadership, the Forward’s digital readership grew significantly, and won numerous regional and national awards for its original journalism, in print and online.