Slated to speak this week in New Brunswick, the executive director of Women of the Wall said she welcomes negotiations that would allow egalitarian prayer at Robinson’s Arch, an area adjacent to the Western Wall plaza and in direct contact with the Kotel.
“We decided to go into these negotiations because we have a vision,” said Lesley Sachs, whose organization has long fought for the right of women to pray wearing tallitot and tefillin and chant from the Torah at Judaism’s holiest site.
Last month, the organization’s multi-denominational board voted to join negotiations with the government’s secretary, who, Sachs said, is an emissary of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to create “a pluralistic, equal, and fully integrated third section of the Kotel” to be governed by a board of Jewish leaders, 50 percent of whom will be women.
Sachs said WOW would like the new section to have easy and comfortable access and include a large entrance open 24 hours a day.
On Friday, Nov. 22, Sachs will speak about her group’s mission during Shabbat services at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick.
In an e-mail interview from Israel, Sachs said that “a new era” at the Kotel began with an April court ruling in the case of five women, including her, arrested for wearing their prayer shawls at the Western Wall. The magistrate found no cause for the arrest and ruled the women were not disturbing the peace by praying.
Police appealed the case but the ruling was upheld by Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe Sobel, who ordered that women’s prayer must be legalized. That ruling gained the support of Israel’s attorney general as well as Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni.
Since then, the landscape has changed from one in which women at the Wall were arrested and harassed by police to one in which they are protected by authorities from angry protestors, who often surround them during their monthly Rosh Hodesh service.
Sachs, a native of South Africa whose family moved to Haifa when she was five, has long been an activist in the fight for religious pluralism and advancement of women in Israel. She is also director of Project Kesher and a founding member of the Pluralist Forum. She previously served as vice president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center and of Israel Women’s Network, and chair of the International Coalition for Aguna Rights.
Sachs said WOW’s new position of respectability was achieved with support from all over the world, especially North America.
“Our battle and victory are a result of a true partnership with liberal-thinking men and women in the Diaspora and in Israel,” she said. “Will we get everything we want? Probably not, but now it will be a new era at the Kotel for most Israelis and the Jews of the world. We know we have changed the way people think of the Kotel, the way people think of women and prayer.
“Women of the Wall has made a difference.”