Jewish women in the United States, Canada and Europe have been joining forces in an effort to show solidarity with the “Women at the Wall.”
In April, simultaneous women’s prayer service were held in Jerusalem and several U.S. and Canadian cities. Now, Rivka Haut, an organizer of the first women’s service at the Wall, fellow New Yorkers Susan Aranoff and Phyllis Chesler, Montreal activist Norma Joseph and Rabbis Helene Ferris (Reform) and Nina Beth Cardin (Conservative) are organizing the International Committee for Women of the Wall that will dedicate itself to the right of women to pray at the Wall with a Torah.
According to Haut, the April prayer service had been planned in New York long before it became clear that the women in Israel would need support.
“Events built up and it turned into a North American event’,’ said Haut.” It means that the symbol of the Kotel (Wall) created a momentum for women’s daven–ing (praying) around the country.”
Haut, Aranoff and Susan Alter met in New York with Rabbi Avraham Shapira, the Ash-kenazic chief rabbi of Israel, in April for over an hour to discuss the issues surrounding women’s prayer groups, particularly at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He himself suggested that he speak with the women in Jerusalem, according to Haut. “Our meeting was on the whole positive and pleasant. He heard what we said, and he expressed his views. We didn’t exactly concur. He felt that the women were creating a problem and angering the ultra-Orthodox.”
The three women, along with Chesler and Rabbi Gilbert Klap-perman, rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue on Long Island, New York, also met in New York with Zevulun Hammer, Israeli minister for religious affairs, to discuss these issues. He promised to meet with the Women of the Wall. (He has since met with them.) According to Haut, Hammer seemed ill-informed concerning the issues surrounding the women’s prayer services at the Wall. She stressed that it’s important to be meeting openly with representatives of the Israeli religious community. “It shows that there is an ongoing dialogue.”
A retreat has been planned for mid-July.
“We are going to set an agenda to deal with this and other issues that need urgent attention in terms of the unity and health of the Jewish people!’ Haut said.
“People say, ‘You don’t live (in Israel), it’s not something that affects your life,'” said Aranoff. “But this is not a legitimate complaint. The Wall is the center for Jews wherever they live — the atmosphere there is important for Jews all over the world.”
The group is collecting money to pay for the legal expenses of the women in Jerusalem. For information about the committee or to donate money, call (718)252-0661.